Recently, distinguished South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms discussed the real state of brain research with Stonybrook neurosurgeon Michael Egnor at Theology Unleashed (October 22, 2021) In the first portion, Solms, author of The Hidden Spring (2021), began by asserting in his opening statement that “the source of consciousness in the brain is in fact in the brain stem,” not the cerebral cortex, as is almost universally assumed. Dr. Egnor then responded that his clinical experience supports the view that the mind is not merely the brain.
Now, Solms talks about the reality that discussing the fact that the mind is not merely the brain can be a career-limiting move.
A partial transcript, notes, and links to date follow:
Next, I want to talk about the way some of your peers have received your work and belief. But first, is there anything you want to respond back to that, Mark? [00:24:30] …Arjuna [host]
Consciousness is a subjective state. It’s a state of being. And you can only register consciousness from the viewpoint of being something. So, it’s an internal, it’s a subjective point of view. The objective point of view — the external one, looking at myself in the mirror, as I was saying earlier — there I see a body, part of that body is my brain. So, that’s an external manifestation. The consciousness is not there. The consciousness is here, looking at it from a different point of view. [00:25:30]Mark Solms
And it’s a very important point because of all of these powerful tools we have in neuroscience for imaging the brain — imaging even individual neurons with optogenetics as they are actively doing their thing that correlates with the mental states. Nevertheless, you will never see a mental state in those neurons or in that scan. Because mental states are not objects. They’re not things you can see from the outside. And so, the subjective perspective, which is greatly neglected in neuroscience, is absolutely fundamental, if we’re going to press these big questions. [00:26:30]
Now, that leads to the bigger point. The bigger point is, if you do address these big questions, you’re in trouble… What is the relationship between me and my body? These are fantastically important questions. And so, one pursues a career in neuroscience. You would think that’s one of the obvious places to go if you’re wanting to understand questions like this.
But my experience, upon entering the graduate program in order to pursue these questions, [was that] my professors — kindly they thought — counseled me not to ask questions like this. “It’s bad for your career.” And so, you get the sense of wonder, the naive wonder, which makes us become scientists and neuroscientists in particular in the first place, you get a beaten out view. [00:28:00]
Note: Philosopher Edward Feser cited a classic example of this sort of reductionism from a pop science article in 2012: “In the past, addiction was thought to be a weakness of character, but in recent decades research has increasingly found that addiction to drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine is a matter of brain chemistry.” In other words, discovering a chemical pathway was supposed to erase any personal factors. Pop science articles on neuroscience have not changed much since then.
And I’m not sure how many people realize that, that science is an incredibly rigid… sort of… it’s like a mafia. You have to go along with the rules of the Don, otherwise you’ve had it. So that’s the big thing I wanted to say in response to what Michael was saying: He’s expressing hard-won conclusions that he has come to as a result of struggling with the biggest questions that there are. And it’s not universally admired to do that. It’s considered… It’s something worse than a maverick, that’s it’s sort of unscientific even anti-scientific to express opinions based on the evidence on these big questions. And so when he said… that in neuroscience we have tons of answers, but we’ve forgotten what the questions are… nothing could be closer to my own experience than that statement. [00:29:30]
Next: Tellingly, the most dogmatic materialist neuroscientists have the least contact with patients.
Here’s the whole discussion in order
1.1 Here’s the first portion of the debate/discussion, where neuropsychologist Mark Solms shares his perspective: Consciousness: Is it in the cerebral cortex — or the brain stem? In a recent discussion/debate with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, neuropsychologist Mark Solms offers an unconventional but evidence-based view, favouring the brain stem. The evidence shows, says Mark Solms, author of The Hidden Spring, that the brain stem, not the cerebral cortex is the source of consciousness.
And Michael Egnor responds:
1.2. Neurosurgeon and neuropsychologist agree: Brain is not mind Michael Egnor tells Mark Solms: Neuroscience didn’t help him understand people; quite the reverse, he had to understand people, and minds, to make sense of neuroscience. Egnor saw patients who didn’t have most of their frontal lobes who were completely conscious, “in fact, rather pleasant, bright people.”
1.3. Then Solms admits what all know but few say: Neuroscientist: Mind is not just brain? That’s career limiting! Neuropsychologist Mark Solms and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor agreed that clinical experience supports a non-materialist view but that the establishment doesn’t. Mark Solms: “science is an incredibly rigid… sort of… it’s like a mafia. You have to go along with the rules of the Don, otherwise you’ve had it.”
In the second portion, they offer definitions of consciousness:
2.1 Materialist neuroscientists don’t usually see real patients. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and neuropsychologist Mark Solms find common ground: The mind can be “merely what the brain does” in an academic paper. But not in life. Egnor takes a stab at defining consciousness: Following Franz Brentano, he says, “A conscious state is an intentional state.” Next, it will be Solms’s turn.
2.2 A neuropsychologist takes a crack at defining consciousness. Frustrated by reprimands for discussing Big Questions in neuroscience, Mark Solms decided to train as a psychoanalyst as well. As a neuropsychologist, he sees consciousness, in part, as the capacity to feel things, what philosophers call “qualia” — the redness of red.
Now, about God…
3.1 Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God. Who is that God? Neuropsychologist Mark Solms admits that life is “miraculous” and sees Spinoza’s God, embedded in nature, as the ultimate explanation. In a discussion with Solms, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor argues that it makes more sense to see God as a Person than as a personification of nature.
3.2 Egnor and Solms: What does it mean to say God is a Person? Mark Solms and Michael Egnor discuss and largely agree on what we can rationally know about God, using the tools of reason. Egnor argues that, if the most remarkable thing about us is our personhood (I am), it Makes sense to think of God as a Person (I AM).
And why materialism is a dying idea…
4.1 Why neuroscientist Solms is no materialist: Information theory He points out that, to begin with, Einstein’s famous equation — E equals MC squared — makes the point that matter is derivative. It’s a state of energy. In Solms’s view, the true implications of quantum mechanics and information theory in refuting materialism are only beginning to be understood.
4.2 Discovering the non-materialist dimension in science Hint: Stephen Hawking was a fine physicist and writer but not a very good philosopher. Neurosurgeon Egnor and neuroscientist Solms agree that great physicists have often been fine philosophers; the universe and consciousness are intertwined.
You may also wish to read: Your mind vs. your brain: Ten things to know