Book Review

By I. M. Oderberg

The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation by John Horgan, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 2000; 336 pages, ISBN 0-684-86578-5, paper, $14.00.

Journalist John Horgan turns a skeptical eye on two decades of research involving mind-science, covering work in such areas as the mind, consciousness, emotions, the brain, mental disorders and their treatment, evolutionary psychology, genetics, and artificial intelligence. He points out that, despite their pretensions, the psychological and biological fields involved do not exhibit rigorous proof comparable to that in the physical sciences, and that too often their theories and "findings" are mere assertion or speculation — frequently accepted without question by a gullible press and public. The author, nevertheless, is not an unbiased critic: he views physical science as the only source of reliable knowledge, and believes the mind is unquestionably a byproduct of the brain. This leads him to emphasize the mechanical aspects of his subject; for instance, how computers approximate some of the brain's functions.

But a growing number of scientists in many fields are not satisfied with this materialistic approach to consciousness. To cite one example: in 1997 Terrence W. Deacon's The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain opened the door to understanding aspects of the mind beyond the mechanical view of the interplay of neurons, molecules, etc. (cf. Sunrise, Feb/March 1998, p. 87). Prof. Deacon summed up his conclusions by saying:

Unmasking the source of the subjective experience behind human consciousness is less likely to demonstrate how mental processes can be eliminated from material explanations than to demonstrate how they are implicit in them. And this may help us to recognize that the universe isn't, after all, the soulless, blindly spinning clockwork we fear we are part of, but is, instead, nascent heart and mind. — p. 464

Perhaps someday such "speculation" may be corroborated by far-ranging scientific research, which will reveal a new view of the world and its manifestation.

(From Sunrise magazine, December 2000/ January 2001; copyright © 2000 Theosophical University Press)


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