Through Eyes of Faith – 4

The next chapter in Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith is titled “The Brain-Mind Connection” (Chapter 4). The main point here is to help us think about the relationship betwee the brain and the mind. Does the mind exist independent of the brain?

As the authors note, one take on this is dualism – the view that we are talking about “two distinct entities – the mind nonphysical, the body physical – but entities that somehow manage to interact wiht each other” [pp. 21-22]. The other take on this question is monism (or physicalism) – the view that “mind and body are one” [p. 22].

A current view popular among some Christians is referred to as nonreductive physicalism. What does the qualifier “nonreductive” mean here? It means that “conscious decisions are real phenomena effective in exerting ‘top-down’ causal influence on the brain’s neurophysiology” [p. 22]. So, yes, thinking does require “lower-level neural processes,” but these lower-level processes “are causal in their own right … [having] top-down causal influence on the lower-level processes” [p. 22].

Myers and Jeeves identify more with monism or physicalism, they discuss it with reference to “‘intrinsic interdependence,” by which they mean

it is the way the world is as regards the links between brains and cognitive behavior. It is also very important to remember that it is people who speak, think, and feel – not brains…. Thus, we see mental activity ’embodied’ in brain activity. The link is not a causal one in the most common way of using causal in science, with one physiclal force causing another. The relationship is between two interdependent levels. Description at both levels is necessary to give a full account of what is happening. [p. 23]

The authors acknowledge that we really don’t fully understand how consciousness comes from brain activity. It is certainly an interesting area of research and reflection. I can appreciate the desire among scientists to explain everything within a naturalistic explanatory framework. However, it would seem odd for the Christian to commit him/herself to one view because the other view rejects anything immaterial.

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