Reviews etc. of Irreducible Mind [found on the Internet]
1.“Special Announcement” PAGE 1
2.Discussion by Kelly of forthcoming book PAGE 1
3.Table of Contents for Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century PAGE 2
4.Five shorter reviews PAGE 3
5.Important long review by Michael Prescott PAGES 4-9
6.Article by Michael Grosso PAGE 10
7.Review by Nate Cull Page 11
1. Special Announcement from Michael Murphy, Esalen Chairman, and Gordon Wheeler, Esalen President
No activity in Esalen's history, we believe, has more potential importance than the research that produced the book described below. The book's authors, led by Ed and Emily Kelly, professors in the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at the University of Virginia, have been members of an Esalen fellowship that has since 1998 explored empirical approaches to the question of post-mortem survival (see Esalenctr.org for a description of their meetings). The world's religious traditions give us contradictory, and often fanciful answers to this perennial question, but our fellowship has worked in the spirit of science to find a solid, empirical basis from which to explore the reality of life after death. Irreducible Mind is a report from the cutting edge of this inquiry. Its authors have donated its royalties to Esalen's Center for Theory and Research.
2. Discussion of the book "Irreducible Mind"
Ed and Emily Kelly
Ed Kelly opened the conference on Monday morning with an update on the book that is an outgrowth of this conference series, which will be titled Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology of the Twenty-first Century. The target audience for the book is undergraduate and graduate students in psychology and neuroscience. The hope is that the book can influence the outlook and choices of the up-and-coming generation of scholars.
Ed Kelly pointed out that others have written books similar to Irreducible Mind, most notably, the Nobel prize winning neuroscientist John Eccles and Roger Sperry. But in retrospect their attempts to argue for the independence of mind failed. Kelly thinks this failure resulted from not taking into account the entire range of data on the nature of the human mind (parapsychology, psi, telepathy, meditation research, NDEs, etc.). One reason they did not include this data is that prominent names in cognitive science and philosophy of mind, such as Nicholas Humphrey, still outrightly dismiss psi-phenomena. Having looked at Humphrey’s arguments, Kelly thinks they amount to nothing more than opinion statements that comfort (rather than jostle) the mainstream consensus view.
Irreducible Mind will begin by deconstructing the currently inadequate views in cognitive science. On this note, Kelly thinks that John Searle’s critique of computationalism is thorough and devastating. Thus, Kelly will build on that in the book. Searle’s own position, "biological naturalism," is better than computationalism but still not adequate to the full scope of the data about the human mind. Kelly thinks there is plenty of solid evidence to show that biological naturalism is not only incomplete but false.
Emily Kelly spoke next and introduced the participants to one of her chapters in the book, which will cover two major types of psychophysiological phenomena: 1) those in which our mind seems to have affected our own body; and 2) those in which the mind seems to have affected the bodies of other persons or other physical objects. Kelly noted that, although the placebo effect is well known and commonly accepted in the medical community, no one really understands how it works. In this chapter Kelly will cover a spectrum of mind-body phenomena stretching from commonly accepted ones, like the placebo effect, to less well-known and accepted ones, like hypnotic suggestion, stigmata, maternal impressions, and unusually pronounced birth marks. Kelly's main point will be that these phenomena fall on a continuum with no sharp dividing line between those that are accepted by the scientific and medical community and those that are not, and that the evidence for much of the latter is as strong as the evidence for the former.
Alan Gauld has contributed to the chapter on memory in the book, updating many of the ideas he has presented his own books. In particular, Gauld has looked at problems with the "trace theory" of memory, in which memory is thought to be "traces" (whatever those are?) that are recorded in the brain. In our everyday lives we somehow reactivate and recall these traces. But Gauld’s chapter scuttles this widely held theory and exposes its fundamental weakness. Despite the millions of dollars pouring into research, the study of human long-term memory is still a wide-open field. Ed Kelly concluded by briefly discussing some of the finer details of contemporary neuroscience and the state of the field of cognitive science in general. He mentioned the work of some prominent names, such as Gerald Edelman, Francis Crick, and Stanislas Dehaene. Current theorizing emphasizes brain "modularity", the idea that the brain is made up of a large number of relatively independent "modules" that perform highly specific mental tasks. The activity of these modules is thought to be coordinated over long distances – a "global workspace" - by coherent EEG oscillations in the gamma range (roughly 30 to 70 Hz), and such large-scale coherent oscillations are widely thought to be necessary in order for the brain to solve the "binding" problem, and thus to synthesize coherent mental experience. This view seems to many scientists to be supported by the fact that when these electrical rhythms are deliberately disrupted, as in general anesthesia, the usual and desired result is that we become unconscious. However, a large and growing number of case reports shows that full or even enhanced consciousness can sometimes be present under conditions of adequate general anesthesia, even when it is accompanied by cardiac arrest. In a few such cases, moreover, the patients have correctly reported verifiable external events that occurred during their procedures. These results flatly conflict with the current mainstream consensus.Overall, Ed and Emily are pleased with the progress on the book and are looking forward to someone else taking charge of the next book, which will focus less on deconstructing the inadequacies of contemporary cognitive science and instead attempt to build a viable theory of consciousness, in particular some form of interactive dualism, meaning the interaction of a semi-independent "mind" with the body and brain. Such a theory will be touched upon only briefly in the conclusion chapter to Irreducible Mind. Right now, a number of members in the group think that a transmissive theory of the mind (from William James and F.C.S. Schiller) is the most plausible hypothesis.
3. Table of Contents for IRREDUCIBLE MIND
4. Five Shorter Reviews
David Presti, Professor of Neurobiology, University of California-Berkeley:
"This is an extraordinary book. Despite the awesome achievements of 20th-century neuroscience in increasing our knowledge about the workings of the human brain, little progress has been made in the scientific understanding of mental phenomena. This book infuses new hope into the issue of scientific approaches to the study of these phenomena. In the arena of neuroscience of mind, it is the most exciting reading to have crossed my path in years."—
Charles T. Tart, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Davis campus of the University of California and Professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
"If you're content to work as a technician, refining some data within the confines of the currently popular "truths" handed down to you by the authorities, you will find this book disturbing and not like it at all. You may know next to nothing about the psychological data on which it is based but, following the lead of those authorities, you will ignore and reject it a priori, without bothering to become informed. On the other hand, if you're truly curious about the nature of the human psyche and want to be a genuine scientist of the mind and explore deeply, in the tradition of greats like William James, this book is required—and fascinating!—reading."—
"THE DAILY GRAIL"
heard a lot in the past couple of years about the physical basis of
consciousness from scientists such as Christof Koch. Now, here's a book
which sets out to balance the equation: Irreducible Mind
Current mainstream opinion in psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind holds that all aspects of human mind and consciousness are generated by physical processes occurring in brains. Views of this sort have dominated recent scholarly publication. The present volume, however, demonstrates--empirically--that this reductive materialism is not only incomplete but false. The authors systematically marshal evidence for a variety of psychological phenomena that are extremely difficult, and in some cases clearly impossible, to account for in conventional physicalist terms. Topics addressed include phenomena of extreme psychophysical influence, memory, psychological automatisms and secondary personality, near-death experiences and allied phenomena, genius-level creativity, and 'mystical' states of consciousness both spontaneous and drug-induced. The authors further show that these rogue phenomena are more readily accommodated by an alternative 'transmission' or 'filter' theory of mind/brain relationsOne of the co-authors of the book is our good friend Michael Grosso (who writes a column in Sub Rosa). At 832 pages, it's a comprehensive look at the subject. You can also find a Table of Contents as well as some capsule reviews at the website.
“I done thunk”
5. Irreducible Mind and the NDE/ MICHAEL PRESCOTT
I've been skipping around in the impressive (and impressively hefty) new volume Irreducible Mind, by Edward F. Kelly, Emily Williams Kelly, et al. The 800-page book, extensively researched and exhaustively referenced, is a major assault on reductionist or physicalist theories of neurology. The authors cite a vast array of borderline phenomena, including psychic phenomena, in order to build their case that the relationship between brain and mind cannot be reduced to simple terms of cause and effect.
One of the most interesting chapters is Chapter 6, "Unusual Experiences Near Death and Related Phenomena," which was contributed by Emily Williams Kelly, Bruce Greyson, and Edward F. Kelly. I'd like to offer a few excerpts from this chapter, partly to give you the flavor of the book, and partly to address some common criticisms of NDEs. In all these quotes, material in bold font has been emphasized by me, while material in italics has been emphasized by the authors. Also, please note that I have omitted nearly all citations.
Anyone who has studied the subject knows that reductionists like to explain near-death experiences in terms of purely physical causes. The authors show the inadequacy of all such explanations. For instance, there is the claim that oxygen deprivation can bring about an NDE.
“One of the earliest and most persistent of the physiological theories proposed for NDEs is that lowered levels of oxygen (hypoxia or anoxia), perhaps accompanied by increased levels of carbon dioxide (hypercarbia), have produced hallucinations.... One study frequently cited is that of Whinnery (1997), who compared NDEs to what he called the "dreamlets" occurring in brief periods of unconsciousness induced in fighter pilots by rapid acceleration in a centrifuge... He claimed that some features common to NDEs are also found in these hypoxic episodes, including tunnel vision, bright lights, brief fragmented visual images, a sense of floating, pleasurable sensations, and, rarely, a sense of leaving the body. The primary features of acceleration-induced hypoxia, however, are myoclonic convulsions (rhythmic jerking of the limbs), impaired memory for events just prior to the onset of unconsciousness, tingling in the extremities and around the mouth, confusion and disorientation upon awakening, and paralysis, symptoms that do not occur in association with NDEs. Moreover, contrary to NDEs, the visual images Whinnery reported frequently included living people, but never deceased people; and no life review or accurate out-of-body perceptions have been reported in acceleration-induced loss of consciousness.” [Page 379]
Then there is the ketamine model:
... the suggestion that a ketamine-like endogenous neuroprotective agent may be released in conditions of stress... Ketamine, an anesthetic agent that selectively occupies NMDA receptors, can at subanesthetic doses produce feelings of being out of the body. Moreover, ketamine sometimes produces other features common to NDEs, such as travel through a dark tunnel into light, believing that one has died, or communion with God.
This hypothesis, however, also has problems. First, it is not of all clear that ketamine experiences do in fact resemble NDEs. Unlike the vast majority of NDEs, ketamine experiences are often frightening and involve bizarre imagery, and patients usually express the wish not to repeat the experience. Most ketamine users also recognize the illusory character of their experience, in contrast to the many NDE experiencers who are firmly convinced of the reality of what they experienced and its lack of resemblance to illusions or dreams. Even if ketamine experiences do resemble NDEs in some respects, many important features of NDEs, such as seeing deceased people or a revival of memories, have not been reported with ketamine. Furthermore, ketamine typically exerts its effects in an otherwise more or less normal brain, while many NDEs occur under conditions in which brain function is severely compromised. [Pages 380-381]
The authors further note that a "naturally occurring ketamine-like substance ... has not been identified in humans." (Page 384)
And there is the view, propounded most notably by M.A. Persinger, that electrical stimulation of the brain can reproduce NDEs on demand:
Persinger has also claimed that "a vast clinical and surgical literature ... indicates that floating and rising sensations, OBEs, personally profound mystical and religious encounters, visual and auditory experiences, and dream-like sequences are evoked, usually as single events, by electrical stimulation of deep, mesiobasal temporal lobe structures". His sole reference for this strong claim is a paper by Stevens (1982). That paper, however, is confined entirely to descriptions of certain physiological observations made in studies of epileptic patients, and it contains no mention whatever of any subjective experiences or of electrical stimulation studies, much less of "a vast clinical and surgical literature" supporting Persinger's claim. Persinger goes on to claim that, using weak transcranial magnetic stimulation, he and his colleagues have produced "all of the major components of the NDE, including out-of-body experiences, floating, being pulled towards a light, hearing strange music, and profound meaningful experiences." However, we have been unable to find phenomenological descriptions of the experiences of his subjects adequate to support this claim, and the brief descriptions that he does provide in fact again bear little resemblance to NDEs (e.g., Persinger, 1994, pages 284-285)....
Neurologist Ernst Rodin stated bluntly: "In spite of having seen hundreds of patients with temporal lobe seizures during three decades of professional life, I have never come across that symptomatology [of NDEs] as part of the seizure." [Pages 382-383]
As the authors explain, the similarities between hallucinations produced by electrical stimulation of the brain and NDEs have been greatly exaggerated:
As we mentioned earlier, research frequently cited in support of a model in which abnormal temporal lobe electrical activity produces an OBE is that of neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield. Penfield is widely reported as having produced OBEs and other NDE-like phenomena in the course of stimulating various points in the exposed brains of awake epileptic patients being prepared for surgery. Only two out of his 1132 patients, however, reported anything that might be said to resemble an OBE: One patient said: "Oh God! I am leaving my body". Another patient said only: "I have a queer sensation as if I am not here... As though I were half here and half there". In later studies at the Montréal Neurological Institute (where Penfield had conducted the study's), only one of 29 patients with temporal lobe epilepsy reported "a 'floating sensation' which the patient likened at one time to the excitement felt when watching a football game and at another time to a startle" (Gloor et al., 1982, pages 131-132). Such experiences hardly qualify as phenomenologically equivalent to OBEs. [Page 396]
Having disposed of the various physicalistic theories for NDEs, the authors go on to say:
NDEs seem instead to provide direct evidence for a type of mental functioning that varies "inversely, rather than directly, with the observable activity of the nervous system" (Myers, 1891d., p. 638). Such evidence, we believe, fundamentally conflicts with the conventional doctrine that brain processes produce consciousness, and supports the alternative view that brain activity normally serves as a kind of filter, which somehow constrains the material that emerges into waking consciousness. On this latter view, the "relaxation" of the filter under certain still poorly understood circumstances may lead to drastic alterations of the normal mind-brain relation and to an associated enhancement or enlargement of consciousness. [Page 385]
In their discussion of anesthesia, they consider the claim that some aspects of NDEs can be explained by the anesthetized patient being partially awake and hearing or feeling what is being done to him. They point out that such awakenings are exceedingly rare and different in kind from reported NDEs.
The expression "adequately anesthetized" is intended here to exclude cases of literal awakening, or partial awakening, during surgical procedures. Such awakening is known to occur, even using present-day techniques, in something on the order of 0.1-0.3% of all general-surgery procedures. Higher rates occur, as might be expected, when muscle relaxants are used in combination with low levels of anesthetic agents.... The phenomenology of such awakenings, however, is altogether different from that of NDEs, and often extremely unpleasant, frightening, and even painful. The experiences are typically brief and fragmentary, and primarily auditory or tactile, and not visual. [Footnote, page 387]
In their discussion of the celebrated and controversial Pam Reynolds case, they address the objection that the heavily anesthetized patient might still have been able to hear what was going on around her:
The experience also included some verifiable features: First, despite having speakers in her ears that blocked all external sounds with 95 dB clicks, the experience began when she heard the sound of the special saw used to cut into her skull... She also noted the unexpected (to her) way in which her head had been shaved, and she heard a female voice commenting that her veins and arteries were small....
Her description of the unusual saw was verified by the neurosurgeon and by photographs of it obtained by Sabom. Also, as the patient had heard, at the time the cardiopulmonary bypass procedure was being started, the cardiac surgeon (a female) had commented that the right femoral vessels were too small to support the bypass, so that she had to prepare the left leg. Although at the time this comment was made the patient's brainstem auditory evoked potentials had not yet disappeared, the molded speakers in her ears themselves, let alone the 95 dB clicks, would have made it impossible for her to hear the comment in the ordinary way, even had she been fully conscious at the moment....
The case is not perfect. The details were not published for several years after the experience occurred. More importantly, the verifiable events that she reported observing in the operating room occurred when she was anesthetized and sensorially isolated but before and after the period of time in which she was clinically "dead."... Even so, the extremity of her condition and her heavily anesthetized state throughout the entire procedure casts serious doubt on any view of mind or consciousness as unilaterally and totally dependent on intact physiological functioning. [Pages 392-394]
There is also a brief but fascinating discussion of an "even rarer kind of deathbed experience, but one that like NDEs calls into question the absolute dependence of mental functioning on the state of the brain":
There are scattered reports of people apparently recovering from dementia shortly before death. The eminent physician Benjamin Rush, author of the first American treatise on mental illness, observed that "most of mad people discover a greater or less degree of reason in the last days or hours of their lives". Similarly, in his classic study of hallucinations, Brierre de Boismont noted that "at the approach of death we observe that ... the intellect, which may have been obscured or extinguished during many years, is again restored in all its integrity". Flournoy mentioned that French psychiatrists had recently published cases of mentally ill persons who showed sudden improvement in their condition shortly before death....
[Other examples of more recent vintage follow. Then:]
Such cases are few in number and not adequately documented, but the persistence of such reports suggest that they may represent a real phenomenon that could potentially be substantiated by further in traditions. If so, they would seriously undermine the assumption that in such diseases as Alzheimer's the mind itself is destroyed in lockstep with the brain. Like many of the experiences discussed in this chapter, such cases would suggest that in some conditions, consciousness may be enhanced, not destroyed, when constraints normally supplied by the brain are sufficiently loosened. [Pages 410-411]
I might note that Nancy Reagan reported seeing a sudden return of awareness and recognition in her husband's eyes in the last moments before his passing. At the time of President Reagan's death, some commentators observed that this phenomenon was not unusual.
And the authors observe that while awakening during anesthesia is rare and usually traumatic, there are cases in which people remember what transpired while they were anesthetized. These cases involve hypnosis:
The most impressive reports of explicit (or conscious) awareness of events during anesthesia have been elicited by hypnosis. The historically important Levinson study, for example, involved 10 highly hypnotizable subjects undergoing very similar surgical procedures carry out under a deliberately deep and uniform anesthesia regime monitored with EEG. A month later -- but only under hypnosis -- four of these patients recalled nearly verbatim, and four others recalled partially, standardized remarks made by the anesthetist in conjunction with a staged "crisis" in the procedure. These studies have never, to our knowledge, been adequately followed up, but they should be, because such results, if applicable, suggest, like NDEs, that mind is still somehow able to operate when the brain is disabled by anesthesia. Moreover, they suggest, as Myers argued, that hypnosis is a method particularly conducive to loosening the "barrier" [between ordinary consciousness and subliminal consciousness] and thus accessing subliminal levels of consciousness. [Pages 414-415]
The authors are at pains to point out that these phenomena are not merely fringe issues that can be safely ignored. Instead NDEs, OBEs, and similar events pose a paradigm-shattering challenge to reductionist orthodoxy:
How might scientists intent upon defending the conventional view respond to the challenge presented by cases occurring under conditions like [the Pam Reynolds case]? First, it will undoubtedly be objected that even in the presence of a flat-lined EEG there still could be undetected brain activity going on....
[The authors concede as much, but go on to say:]
This first objection, however, completely misses the mark. The issue is not whether there is brain activity of any kind whatsoever, but whether there is brain activity of the specific form a regarded by contemporary neuroscience as the necessary condition of conscious experience. Activity of this form is eminently detectable by current EEG technology, and as we have already shown, it is abolished both by adequate general anesthesia and by cardiac arrest. [Pages 418-419]
In a footnote, the authors add: "Representative of people who have completely missed the mark here is Woerlee (2004)." An interesting debate between Dr. Gerald Woerlee and Kevin Williams is found here.
After considering a few other objections, the authors conclude as follows:
In sum, the central challenge of NDEs lies in asking how these complex states of consciousness, including vivid mentation, sensory perception, and memory, can occur under conditions in which current neurophysiological models of the production of mind by brain deem such states impossible. This conflict between current neuroscientific orthodoxy and the occurrence of NDEs under conditions of general anesthesia and/or cardiac arrest is head-on, profound, and inescapable. [Page 421]
March 28, 2007 in Paranormal | Permalink
I studied near death experiences in the early nineties extensively and was not convinced for some time that they were valid phenomena. Then I started to find stories that some people who had had NDE's were able to leave the room and see their children or relatives in the waiting room and even hear what they were saying and how they were dressed while their physical body was in the operating room. This suggests that consciousness can leave the physical body.
Also some people were able to meet with dead relatives or dead twins that they never knew existed, return, and later talk about these people. One woman saw a tennis shoe out on a window ledge of her room during her NDE that was later confirmed. It appears that our beliefs in this life affect our NDE. To me the most profound outcome of an NDE is the lost of our fear of death and often people come back with a renewed interest in being more spiritual in their lives and service to others. But skeptics will always find an out.
Just today when I was telling my doctor about my wife’s and her sister’s experience at the hospital with their terminally ill brother and just minutes before he died the bed pads that came off the wall (twice) at the moment she asked "is our dad here in the room", my doctor said it was probably the air conditioner that kicked on and knocked them over.
We've heard a lot in the past couple of years about the physical basis of consciousness from scientists such as Christof Koch. Now, here's a book which sets out to balance the equation: Irreducible Mind:
Current mainstream opinion in psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind holds that all aspects of human mind and consciousness are generated by physical processes occurring in brains. Views of this sort have dominated recent scholarly publication. The present volume, however, demonstrates--empirically--that this reductive materialism is not only incomplete but false. The authors systematically marshal evidence for a variety of psychological phenomena that are extremely difficult, and in some cases clearly impossible, to account for in conventional physicalist terms. Topics addressed include phenomena of extreme psychophysical influence, memory, psychological automatisms and secondary personality, near-death experiences and allied phenomena, genius-level creativity, and 'mystical' states of consciousness both spontaneous and drug-induced. The authors further show that these rogue phenomena are more readily accommodated by an alternative 'transmission' or 'filter' theory of mind/brain relations
One of the co-authors of the book is our good friend Michael Grosso (who writes a column in Sub Rosa). At 832 pages, it's a comprehensive look at the subject. You can also find a Table of Contents as well as some capsule reviews at the website.
Nowadays it's hard to get a psychology researcher or a neuroscientist even to admit that there is such a thing as consciousness or the self; that's how engrained materialism has become. But attitudes are changing, as evidenced by the recent publication of Irreducible Mind by Edward F. Kelly et al. Hopefully the infatuation with behaviorist models is on its way out, and an attitude of mutual respect between researchers and test subjects can be re-established
6. Article by Michael Grosso in SUB ROSA October 2006
In the scientifically respectable world of today, the traditional idea of mind as something primary in nature is in the minority. It is more or less taken for granted in academic circles that talk of mind has something musty and folklorish about it; mainstream views prefer some version of reductive materialism. The brain is a biocomputer and terms like mind and soul may be discarded. This is the working paradigm, the official doctrine of most trained scholars and experimentalists in psychology today. In a new 832 page book, densely documented and closely argued, six authors challenge this all-too-unquestioned view. They reject it for its failure to account for the full spectrum of human experience; Irreducible Mind attempts to lay the foundations of a more comprehensive psychology. The book represents a vast undertaking. The basic strategy is to expose the reader to an immense array of neglected psychological phenomena: some of which have not been satisfactorily explained, and whose difficulties are systematically glossed over (such as memory and the placebo effect); some that are simply ignored or relegated to the margins (mysticism, genius, and secondary personality); and some that are generally repressed by the scientific culture (such as out-of-body experiences, psychokinesis, and evidence for an afterlife.) Mainstream theories are ill suited to explain at least three important classes of phenomena. The first come under the heading of normal experience. Examples would be consciousness itself, admittedly the “hard problem” for students of mind; memory, bristling with difficulties and linked to the problem of personal identity; the unity and multiplicity of the self; dissociation; co-consciousness, ecstasy, and possession. Secondly, states of creative inspiration, the variety of automatisms, and mystical states, in which we find the phenomenon of “pure consciousness.” Mysticism is important because it seems to provide a clue to the unity of the great religions. Finally, Irreducible Mind examines in detail phenomena that raise the question of consciousness functioning outside the limits of the human body, focusing on out-of-body and near-death states. The latter are particularly interesting, since the highly developed experiences during near death states ought not to occur, if mainstream models of brain and consciousness are correct. The book concludes by discussing broad theoretical issues drawn from process philosophy, quantum mechanics, and mind-brain theory that account for the extraordinary phenomena it reviews.
I can imagine several broadly useful areas of application from all this. First, this expanded psychology gives a scientific basis for higher forms of human development. One thing emerges from a study of this book; human personality is an immensely plastic and variable thing, as Pico Mirandola said during the Renaissance. If we have these capacities, we should cultivate them as part of our human legacy. The self-esteem of the species gets a boost; the book proves we can do things with our minds; shape matter through belief, intention, and imagination – sometimes directly, magically, as it were. Above all, we may even survive the death of our bodies. We are, if you like, the magicians of nature. The second application I have already mentioned. Psychology has only begun to study the phenomena of mysticism. It is a common view among many scholars that mystical states are the same in all times and places, and if so represent one of the commonalities of religious experience. In a time of virulent particularism and rampant deconstruction, the idea of a common core of religious experience could be a pacifying influence. Moreover, mysticism is nothing if not a transformative practice. The scientific study of human transformation may be an idea whose century has come; if so, Irreducible Mind might well be its Book of Genesis. Finally, a third possible area of application: Frederic Myers, the great and neglected psychologist whose ideas inspired this book, showed how “uprushes” of creative genius from the subliminal mind are possible in every mode of human experience; for Myers life in its full variety is the ultimate field of creative advance. The domain of possible creativity is hugely enlarged. The 20th century saw the triumph of reductionism in scientific psychology; Irreducible Mind points to a psychology more open to the riches of human experience. Irreducible Mind is available directly from the publisher’s website.
7. Review by Nate Cull
August 2nd, 2007
I’ve finally finished reading Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century.
It’s a hefty tome, just published this year, tracing the outlines of mainstream cognitive psychology/neuroscience versus the evidence for various forms of anomalous cognition, altered states of consciousness and extreme psychophysical interaction, with a view to proving that mind is demonstrably not a function of the brain but is something entirely elsewhere. The authors (apparently mostly involved with the Esalen Center as well as University of Virginia) recap over a century of data from hypnosis, meditation, trance mediumship, dissociation/multiple personality, psi and near-death experience studies, and seem particularly taken with the turn-of-the-century ideas of William James and Frederic Myers, both of whom were involved with the Society for Psychical Research in the 1880s to early 1900s.
The idea that the soul/spirit/mind/psyche has a separate existence from the body is not news to many religious believers, anyone who’s had any kind of anomalous experience, or even anyone who’s read any pop-science New Age book about the philosophical implications of quantum physics in the last twenty years, but coming even from the fringes of the scientific world it’s a bit startling to see stories of the kind that have long circulated in the underground laid out all in one place with real footnotes.