Nina Slanevskaya. Interdisciplinary Neuroscience


The choice of ontology on brain and mind

The consensus exists among neuroscientists about the data of experiments concerning the structure of the brain itself (how many synapses a neuron has, what kind of neurotransmitters we have, what the role of the brain is in the nervous system, etc.), but there is a divergence in the interpretation of these data when neuroscientists start speaking about the mind and its relation to the brain. They cannot ignore the mind because their findings show that the brain work depends on our thoughts and feelings, and that there is a kind of interaction between mind and brain. Neuroscientists have to choose the ontological position on mind and brain and suitable epistemology before starting their experiments or treatment of patients.

There are two wide-spread materialist theories of mind and brain (a term “physicalism” is usually used instead of “materialism” nowadays):
(1) eliminative or reductive physicalism: all mental and physical events can be explained by physical sciences and their laws. All mental events can be eventually reduced to physics and chemistry; there is no mind, there is only a brain;
(2) “new epiphenomenalism” or non-reductive physicalism: mental and physical events exist as two distinct domains, but the mental events “emerge” from the material neurons of the brain or “supervene” on neurons, i.e. without the brain there is no mind.

One can easily get mixed reading, for example, about property dualism, non-reductive physicalism and panpsychism where mind (consciousness) and brain are discussed. What is the difference between them?
Dualism of substances stands aside and asserts that material substance (brain) and non-material substance (consciousness) are principally different and independent substances.
Dualism of properties declares that all material things can have different properties: material and non-material, i.e. the brain has material neurons and non-material consciousness. Property dualism emphasizes not an independent and equal existence of material and non-material substances that can exist independently as substance dualism does, but it always describes substance as a material one having material and non-material properties.
Non-reductive physicalism actually resembles the dualism of properties. Non-reductive physicalism declares that all material things and physical phenomena can be explained with the help of physical laws but we cannot reduce our explanation of consciousness to physical laws, which we know. Though consciousness can arise only within the brain and depends on the material brain, we cannot explain consciousness so simply like other material things because our physical laws are of lower level, and using the terms of this level it is impossible to explain consciousness. The supporters of non-reductive physicalism are often rebuked for being, in fact, the dualists of properties.
There is also another point of view, which is popular among some neuroscientists, that is panpsychism.
Panpsychism asserts that all material things (animate and inanimate: people, trees, dogs, stones, etc.) have non-material consciousness of their own. Meanwhile, substance dualism and property dualism usually mean only people (and sometimes, animals) as having consciousness, so does non-reductive physicalism.
Pantheism like panpsychism considers all things, animate and inanimate, to have consciousness but this consciousness is part of God’s consciousness: God is in all and everywhere. In panpsychism all material things, animate and inanimate, have their own soul or consciousness and it is not part of God’s consciousness.
Panpsychism is logically more convenient for science in the explanation of genesis of consciousness.

The neuroscientist Fransis Crick, a reductive physicalist (materialist), proposed the hypothesis that our joys, sorrows, memories, the sense of personal identity and free will are factually the workings of a huge number of neurons and other molecules. He seems to deny that it is a human who decides what to do, and asserts that neurons decide themselves. It is a typical reductive materialist position in neuroscience. Szasz warns us that it is not a harmless thing if a human passes the possibility of exercising free will to his anterior cingulated cortex of the brain, because the concept of responsibility will be destroyed in this case. The concept of responsibility is based on the free will of a human himself but not on the work of his anterior cingulated cortex (Szasz, 1996).
Damasio, a neuroscientist and a reductive physicalist, puts an end to the evasive talks on brain and mind and says plainly that if you think that it is not your brain that decides but you, you are not a materialist, because it is only your brain, which you have, and it produces mind (Damasio, 2006).
Speaking about criminal justice the reductive materialist and biologist Richard Dawkins compares the heads of criminals with malfunctioning computers saying that when a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it but we track down the problem and fix it by replacing a damaged component. The non-materialist neuroscientist Beauregard comments ironically that Dawkins speaks about “we” who will fix and about a criminal as “it” which will be fixed by us (Beauregard, O’Leary, 2007).
Beauregard, a dualist, points out that if free will is an illusion and there is only good or bad neurophysiology of the brain, the idea of evil and good disappears. We are left only with our desires and dislikes. If citizens have no free will, no soul, no moral understanding, and mind is an illusion, and consciousness is a biological property of a brain, the government can logically dehumanize citizens and deal with them as a farmer deals with livestock “without assuming that they have moral understanding and a higher purpose than that one determined by the farmer” (Beauregard, O’Leary, 2007: 118). Mario Beauregard is also sure that the brain is “an organ suitable for connecting a mind to the rest of the universe”, and by analogy, “Olympic swimming events require an Olympic class swimming pool. But the pool does not create the Olympic events; it makes them feasible at a given location” (Beauregard, O’Leary, 2007: xi). He accuses materialist science of playing the role of ideology: anything that contradicts materialist ideology is denied as non-existent. Such materialist science distorts the description of reality.

We see that the divergence of opinions among neuroscientists is great. Fransis Crick (Nobel laureate) and Antonio Damasio are reductive physicalists; Rodger Sperry (Nobel laureate) is a non-reductive physicalist; John Eccles (Nobel laureate), Wilder Penfield, Mario Beauregard, and Charles Sherrington (Nobel laureate) are dualists; Pim van Lommel is a panpsychist.
The nature of consciousness has been discussed for centuries. Perhaps, the greatest contributor to the brain-mind problem was the famous French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650), who said, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) and who proposed substance dualism according to which there are two independent separate substances – mental and material. If an object is destroyed and disappears, and our physical organs of sense perception cannot be used, i.e. we cannot see or touch the object, we continue to have it in our minds. It still exists in our minds though it does not exist in a physical world. The mental substance (thoughts and feelings; a soul) can exist independently of the automatically functioning physical body (Descartes’ automaton). A human body has material properties but mind does not. Descartes thought that the pineal gland of the brain was the place where the mental substance communicated with the body.

If the nature of a human being is wrongly described (similar to a chimpanzee’s), you can never understand why people create the works of art and what should be done for the right organization of their social, economic, and political life in the society.  


Non-reductive physicalism

Materialist neuroscientists put forward an improved model of brain and mind within non-reductive physicalism. Non-reductive physicalism has the category of emergence (emergence of a new property of the brain, which is our mind; this property cannot be reduced to terms and concepts of a physical brain and explained by physics at present) and the category of supervenience (a thought appears thanks to firing synapses of neurons, but the appearance of a thought depends not only on firing synapses but also on many other factors; a thought supervenes on them).

The supervenience doctrine shows that the activation of neurons in the brain, i.e. in the neurophysiological field (property G in the field А) is followed by a thought in the psychic field (property F in the field B) only under certain circumstances (C) (Х and D belong to circumstances C).

The rain Х (instead of rain there can be cultural habits or social factors in decision making) brings about the activation of neurons G, reminding an unpleasant feeling of being wet when you came out without an umbrella, and then a thought F arises: “I should take an umbrella”. This thought supervenes on the rain and memory of being wet when you came out without an umbrella. There are necessary conditions С for the appearance of thought F, which follows the neuropattern G connected with the previous experience, for example rain X. The thought follows the activation of neurons. In other words, a certain neuropattern G was formed when I got wet without an umbrella, and now, every time when I see rain Х, my neuropattern G is activated by rain X. Rain creates the conditions C for the supervenient thought F about the necessity of taking an umbrella. Such scheme of interrelations reflects both dependence (a thought depends on the activation of neurons) and irreducibility (a thought is not reduced to the level of a physical neuron: a thought is from the other field B) and gives the possibility of taking into account the influence of culture or other circumstances upon the appearance of the thought.
The non-reductive physicalist Nancey Murphy (she has put forward a supervenience hypothesis) does not approve Sperry’s idea (a non-reductive physicalist and mentalist) that the emergent property of brain (a thought) is powerful agency. Sperry’s main idea is that a new emergent mental property governs the central nervous system, i.e. consciousness becomes a powerful force, which emerges from neuronal organization and then controls it. Murphy denies the causal effect of supervenient thoughts (Murphy, 2009). Murphy suggests a new understanding of causality: a “triggering cause”, which causes direct physical consequences and a “structuring cause”, which directs or structures physical processes (Murphy, 1999). Electric impulses go along neurons according to the physical laws of ions (triggering cause), but these impulses depend on the structuring cause, i.e. the number of participating neurons, the quantity of neurotransmitters, the strength of the impulse, thus, creating necessary conditions C for the transformation of the impulse into a thought. She thinks that the mental process follows certain neuropatterns of neuronal activation, and that the mental process does not have independent force as Sperry asserts.
James Jones, a psychoneuroimmunologist and dualist, remarks that in the example with the rain, Murphy as though tries to defend mental causation but, in fact, she denies it because she does not consider it as a real cause for actions (Jones, 2005). The thought about taking an umbrella is connected with the previous experience, therefore it is the example of learning. But how does a thought make us do new things without our previous experience? How can our mind control or treat the neurophysiology of the brain if we have decided to reprogramme it with new thoughts at free will?

James Jones, practicing and teaching in the area of psychoneuroimmunology for many years, considers that non-reductive physicalists’ account of consciousness as an emergent or supervenient property is not adequate to the data of psychoneuroimmunology (Jones, 2005). He notes that clinical hypnosis is very effective in treating anxiety, chronic pain, stress-related disorders. He makes his patient imagine that they are warming their hands over fire, and it increases the blood flow to their hands, and blood vessels dilate, which helps to relieve vascular headaches. It is possible to remove warts by making a patient believe that they have disappeared. A patient just imagines what is said by the doctor, it is purely a mental act (image) on the patient’s part, but physiological changes happen. Jones speaks about human capacity to control one’s brain waves by shifting brain wave pattern via biofeedback without hypnosis at one’s own will, and to control a heart rate, skin conductance, musculoskeletal tension as well. Meditation can produce an impact on such basic physiological functions as brain hemispheric lateralization, immune system, and basic reflexes (Jones, 2005). James Jones critically analyzes non-reductive physicalism and points out that in order to be logical non-reductive physicalists have either to weaken their non-reductive position, which will make them undistinguishable from reductive physicalists, and which will contradict the clinical evidence, or to strengthen their non-reductive position about mental causation as a force on its own, but in this case, they will violate the physicalists’ doctrine of the closure of the system of nature, which demands all the events to be explained on the basis of physical sciences (Jones, 2005).


Wilder Penfield, a neurosurgeon and a dualist

Wilder Penfield (1891-1976), a neurosurgeon and a dualist, says that the fact that human consciousness can study its own brain and the content of consciousness contradicts, in principle, the logic of all material world. As soon as we start studying our own biological organism and get aware of the content of our own consciousness, we stop being biological species like other animals.
Penfield operated and treated epileptic patients. While operating or examining the altered portions of brain in which the epilepsy-producing discharge began after electrical stimulation, he preferred to speak with his patients and ask what they felt or thought when he touched the brain. The patients preserved the consciousness throughout the procedure and helped to identify the altered portion of the brain. The brain itself is not sensitive and cannot give rise to pain. Penfield used only local analgesic injected into the scalp before making the incision (Penfield, 1975). Penfield comes to the conclusion that in the brain there is the place of the highest integration of consciousness and body, and this place is not in neocortex, as all think, but in the upper part of the brain stem - diencephalon. He actually discovered two important brain mechanisms in the diencephalon: (1) the highest brain-mind mechanism, which is essential to the existence of consciousness, and (2) the automatic sensory-motor mechanism (a “computer”), which is essential to the sensory-motor coordination. It is important in what place an epileptic discharge occurs and where it goes. “When an epileptic discharge occurs in the central cortex in any of the sensory or motor areas, and if it spreads by bombardment to the higher brain-stem, the result is invariably a major convulsive attack, never, in our experience, an attack of automatism. On the other hand, as mentioned above, a local discharge in prefrontal or temporal cortex may develop into automatism” (Penfield, 1975: 40). In other words, if the first mechanism in the diencephalon (the highest brain-mind mechanism) is damaged by epileptic discharge coming from the prefrontal, or temporal cortex, the human automation replaces conscious behaviour, and the man is incapable of admiring the beauty of nature, experiencing happiness, love and compassion because “the automation is a thing that makes use of the reflexes and the skills, inborn and acquired, that are housed in the computer”) (Penfield, 1975: 47). The person may wander about aimlessly, go home, or drive a car, but he has a complete amnesia what he has been doing. Penfield’s description of human mindless automation sounds like Descartes’ automaton, i.e. a human body without a spiritual/mental substance.

Penfield describes an interesting episode from his practice. His patient suffered from epileptic attacks, and the discovered area was very close to the major speech area. In order to avoid a mistake during the forthcoming operation, which could cause permanent aphasia, Penfield tried to find the exact speech area and touched the brain with a stimulating electrode. The brain is not sensitive, and the patient did not realize what made him speechless (the electrode had touched the special spot and thus had blocked the speech ability). The patient was shown a picture of a butterfly and was asked to give the name of it. The patient could not. “Then he snapped his fingers as though in exasperation. I withdrew the electrode and he spoke at once” (Penfield, 1975: 52). The patient said, “Butterfly”, and added that he could not get that word “butterfly”, so he had tried to substitute it with the word “moth”, but failed. The patient could not speak, but he understood what was in the picture, i.e. a non-verbal concept of a “butterfly”. He did not understand why he could not pronounce “butterfly” and turned to another similar non-verbal concept “moth” at his will, and his mind approved the choice, but he could not pronounce a new word again because the speech area was still blocked. The patient called on two brain-mechanisms alternately and at will (Penfield, 1975: 52).
A lot is done automatically and with the help of reflexes by the man, but what the mind does cannot be explained by any neuronal work and neuronal mechanisms as Penfield concludes. He supposes that the mind has its own energy, and this energy differs from the energy of neurons. The mind directs the brain, and the highest brain-mind mechanism performs the role of a messenger, connecting mind with brain (Penfield, 1975).

When Penfield made another patient move his hand because he touched a certain place in the motor area of the cortex by an electrode, the patient said that it was not him who moved the hand but it was the doctor, who forced him to do it.
Penfield arrives at the conclusion that it is impossible to find any place in the brain where electrical stimulation makes the man believe that he did the action at his own will or find the place the touch of which makes the man take decisions (Penfield, 1975: 76).

In the end, Penfield had to admit the existence of two independent and interacting substances, “For my own part, after years of striving to explain the mind on the basis of brain-action alone, I have come to the conclusion that it is simpler (and far easier to be logical) if one adopts the hypothesis that our being does consist of two fundamental elements” (Penfield, 1975: 80).


Rodger Sperry, an emergentist and mentalist

The sociologist of science Mulkay says that when the analytical framework alters, so does the meaning of observation and the statements that were formulated within the previous analytical framework (Mulkay, 1983). Rodger Sperry (Nobel laureate in neuroscience) writes that in the 1950s-1960s in materialist science it was banned to use consciousness or mentality to explain phenomena because consciousness and mentality were considered to be a subjective domain, which did not yield objective facts for sciences. And only in the 1970s, it became possible to speak about the mind as a cause of physical changes in the brain (Sperry, 1983). The mental process began to be considered as a force capable of regulating biochemical and biophysical processes.
Sperry considers that the reason of ignoring mental force in favour of a human brain lies in the social system and its ideology. However, the causal force of idea is as real as the force of a molecule, cell or neural impulse. One idea interacts with another idea, and one person passes his ideas to other people, and these ideas bring objective changes to the physical world. Sperry declares that the study of mental force is the most important matter in science though it is not as accessible as we want and that to dismiss mental force in a scientific theory of brain and mind means an unscientific approach to the problem. He complains that materialism has penetrated all spheres of our life distorting reality, and the majority of scientists, about 99.9%, even dualists, continue to ignore the mental force and the influence of consciousness upon the brain (Sperry, 1983: 30). It is our mind which is in “the driver’s seat” pushing and pulling biophysical and biochemical processes in the brain. Though the more primitive electrical, atomic, molecular, cellular, and physiological forces can be switched on or off, they are necessary for normal functioning of a higher level – mental processes (Sperry, 1983). Sperry considers that mind activates brain matter as much as the organism makes its components (organs, cells) function.


Do we need a brain for thinking and sense perception?

The British neurologist, professor John Lorber studied the cases of hydrocephalus and gives the example of a student of the University who had IQ 126, higher than the middle level and socially was quite normal, he even was awarded a degree in mathematics with the best mark, but this student, nevertheless, hardly had brain at all. Lorber recalls, “We saw that instead of the normal 4.5-centimeter thickness of brain tissue between the ventricles and the cortical surface, there was just a thin layer of mantle measuring a millimeter or so. His cranium is filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid” (Lewin, 1980: 1232). Thus, the question arises: Is the brain so important for the mind at all?
The cardiologist Pim van Lommel writes about the case that happened with a nurse at the coronary care unit where he worked. The ambulance brought in a cyanotic, comatose man of 44. The man received “artificial respiration with a balloon and a mask as well as heart massage and defibrillation” (Lommel, 2010: 20). Then, before intubating the patient, the nurse removed the upper set of dentures and put it on the crash cart, and they continued extensive resuscitation. Ninety minutes later the patient had a sufficient heart rhythm and blood pressure, but he was still ventilated and intubated. He remained comatose. In this state he was transferred to the intensive care unit for further treatment. A week later, that nurse came into the ward to distribute the medication to the patients, and she suddenly heard the voice of that patient. He recognized her at once and asked her to give him back his denture. He said, “Yes, you were there when they brought me into the hospital, and you took the dentures out of my mouth and put them on that cart; it had all these bottles on it, and there was a sliding drawer underneath, and you put my teeth there” (Lommel, 2010: 21). The patient turned out to have seen his body from above and to have been watching nurses and doctors resuscitating him while lying on the bed in a comatose state. He said he had been afraid that they would stop resuscitating him, and he had made several unsuccessful attempts to tell them that he had been alive.  


Near Death Experience

The NDE (near-death experience) of Pamela Reynolds was described in many books. She had a giant aneurysm in one of her cerebral arteries near the brain stem. Reynolds was operated by the neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Spetzler at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona, who lowered the temperature of her body to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. She was on a heart-lung machine because she had cardiac arrest, and all her blood was drained from her head to prevent the burst of aneurysm and cerebral hemorrhage. She had her NDE during brain surgery. And what is important for science is that the activity of her brain stem and cerebral cortex were constantly monitored, and the loss of brain function during her NDE was documented: her electroencephalogram was silent, her brain stem response was absent, and blood did not flow through her brain. However, Pamela had a full capacity of consciousness and the sense perception without the functioning organs of sense perception due to the loss of brain function at all. After the operation, she described in detail what had been going on in the operating room. She heard sounds and had a brighter and more focused vision than normal; she was surprised at some actions of the doctors and their instruments. She thought in her NDE that she had not expected them to do what they did during the operation, she heard what nurses and doctors talked about. She got into the tunnel and went to the light. Then she met her grandmother who called her and had a clearer hearing than usual. She saw figures of light, and she recognized some of her diseased friends and relatives. It was soul-to-soul communication without putting thoughts into words. The more she was there, the more she wanted to stay in this light. But her uncle (he and her grandmother had died by that time) brought her back to the body. She said that her coming back into the body was like diving into a pool of ice water (indeed, her frozen body was very cold at that moment) (Lommel, 2010; Atwater, 2007; Holden, 2009).
Janice Miner Holden calls such a phenomenon of sense perception during the NDE, as Pamela had, “apparently nonphysical veridical NDE perception” (Holden, 2009: 186). She analyzes the cases of nonphysical veridical NDE perception and comes to the conclusion that 91.9% of the stories of such perception turned out to be true after verification, 6.3% with mistakes and 1.8% were not true.
Atwater describes the changes, which usually occur after the NDE. The changes concern both psychology and physiology. The value system and the attitude to life change (Atwater, 2007). The NDErs cannot forget the flow of light during the NDE with the strong feeling of all-encompassing sympathetic energy full of understanding and unconditional love. Communication during the NDE is telepathic, and the knowledge comes in bunches as soon as they think about something that they want to know.
Holden, Greyson and James report that between 1975-2005 approximately 55 researchers and research groups in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia published at least 65 studies involving 3,500 people, who had NDEs. The researchers described different types of NDE, the life of people after their NDE, or both (Holden, Greyson, James, 2009: 7).
Holden draws a conclusion that nonphysical NDE perception exists because objective reality of their experience was confirmed. Thus, consciousness (perception, thoughts, memory, feelings, emotions) can function outside the physical body during the reversible death. It follows logically that consciousness is potentially capable of continuing after the irreversible physical death. The most important thing worth of our close attention is the message brought us by NDErs regarding the meaning and purpose of human existence. The NDErs assert that “developing the capacity of love and acquiring knowledge are both the purposes and the most appropriate pursuits of human existence” (Holden, 2009: 188).
Holden thinks that such understanding of life, the purpose of life and consciousness can promote the commitment to more humane personal choices and humanitarian public policy, and that the results of the studies of near-death experience (NDE) will benefit experiencers themselves, humanity, and earthly existence at large. The results of studies will revolutionize human understanding of humanity and will have far-reaching implications for our life (Holden, 2009).
Do we, indeed, need the accumulation of money, career competition, social status, if the purpose of life is the development of love and knowledge? Does our social, political, and economic system match such a purpose of the humanity, which the NDErs revealed?

There are different physiological and psychological theories trying to explain the phenomenon of the NDE and among them: oxygen deficiency in the brain when the brain stops functioning; carbon dioxide overload; chemical reaction in the brain when ketamine produces hallucinations; endorphins release under the stress, which makes the man feel peace and well-being; psychodelics causing some unusual effect; the release of DMT (dimethyltryptamine), a psychoactive natural substance produced in the pineal glad of the brain and giving a sense of out-of-body experience, lucid and accelerated thoughts, a sense of unconditional love; electrical activity similar to epileptic seizure originating in the temporal lobe, which can create mystical feelings, visual hallucinations, a sense of detachment from the body; electrical stimulation sometimes causing the vision of light, dreamlike experience, memory from the past; psychological fear of death; other psychological problems (depersonalization, dissociation), fantasies and delusion (after medication) bringing about the components of the NDE.

However, summing up the discussion and arguments for and against these hypotheses, both Lommel and Atwater (Lommel, 2010; Atwater, 2007) remark that there are some serious reasons to refuse from these materialist hypotheses trying to explain the NDE because:
(1) not all people who had a clinical death had also such an experience (seeing a tunnel, light, dead relatives, sometimes dead pets; having an out-of-body experience and watching the doctors and nurses in the room; feeling love, sympathy and understanding coming from the divine light; having an easy acquisition of knowledge, a panoramic view of their life, and at the same time feeling what the other people felt dealing with them);
(2) it is not necessarily to be clinically dead to have such an experience; one can have it with a functioning brain and a heart beating normally;
(3) NDErs do not have hallucinations (hallucination means seeing an unreal event), they speak about the true events, which can be verified and confirmed;
(4) the values and the purpose of life become different after the experience;
(5) NDErs have also some long-lasting psychological and physiological changes after the experience;
(6) none of experiments with psychodelics, medication, carbon dioxide overload, electrical stimulation, etc., gives such an experience as NDErs have. The NDE cannot be brought about by medication. On the contrary, medication prevents patients from having such an experience.


The panpsychist Pim van Lommel and the use of quantum physics for the explanation of consciousness

Lommel uses the ontology of panpsychism for the explanation of brain and mind problem and some concepts of quantum physics. He supposes that the holistic interpretation of the world, in which everything is connected and entangled, suits best the explanation of many phenomena of consciousness. Besides entanglement, Lommel uses another concept of quantum physics - nonlocality (placeless and timeless interconnectedness). He thinks that nonlocality and entanglement can explain an NDEr’s experience of nonlocal instant connection with other people’s consciousnesses as though by telepathy. As soon as NDErs thought about the past or present, and sometimes future, they got there instantly in their NDEs. NDErs sometimes preserve he unusual ability of telepathic communication after the NDE and even without their desire. Such ability is called heightened intuitive sensitivity.

Quantum is the smallest amount of energy. It is a subatomic level of particles where particles exist in a certain portion - “quantum”, characterized by discontinuous interaction. Quanta have a complementary nature and can appear as waves or as particles. Due to their wave property, spatially separated particles are linked together (entangled) and can be fully described only as one whole. While measuring a wave a researcher chooses one of the probability waves, and his choice is called a collapse of wave function (also called collapse of the state vector or reduction of the wave packet). The collapse of wave function means that there is no probability left any more because the wave has already been chosen by the observer for measurement. The measurement depends on the observer himself because there is an entanglement between him, the particles he measures, and the device for measurement at the subatomic level. That is why some physicists are sure that it is the observation that creates reality. In other words, it is the process of the man’s observation that creates reality, or more exactly, it is his consciousness that determines what reality he experiences.
Such concepts of quantum physics as wave-particle complementarity, entanglement, nonlocality, probability waves, and an observer’s influence on the particles during measurement helped to create the Quantum Holographic Theory of the world. However, this holographic theory will have worse explanatory possibility for NDEs than quantum concepts themselves as Lommel remarks (Lommel, 2010). The information is not stored in the air (field itself) like in quantum physics but in the film (field’s physical medium). So the holographic explanation of the world will differ from the explanation of the world in quantum physics itself where the information is stored nonlocally as wave functions in nonlocal place, i.e. everywhere. This information is available anywhere at anytime and instantaneously (faster than the speed of light). When, for example, two particles as parts of the whole react dependently on each other, being far away from each other and instantaneously, a holographic theory seems to be not suitable for the explanation of a nonlocal connection of them (Lommel, 2010).

Lommel’s panpsychism is based on the following ideas. Nonlocal space could be called the absolute vacuum, which has no time, structure, and in this empty space all elementary particles and basic constituents of matter do not exist separately but as one whole. This space has an infinite number of possibilities and can be the foundation for consciousness. Consciousness has “a primary presence in universe, and all matter possesses subjective properties or consciousness” (Lommel, 2010: 246). All matter, or any physical reality, is formed by nonlocal consciousness. Nonlocal consciousness fills nonlocal space. Physical systems have phenomenal properties at intrinsic level (nonlocal space), so they possess subjectivity (certain degree of consciousness).
The light behaves like a particle, and its speed ranges from zero to the speed of light, but it behaves also like a wave with the speed ranging from the speed of light to infinity. During the observation, the particle’s speed goes to zero and its corresponding phase speed is infinite. It is at that time that multidimensional nonlocal space reduces to our three-dimensional physical world, space and time. It is called a “wave function collapse”. It results in an instantaneous entanglement “with everything in universe, including nonlocal aspects of consciousness” (Lommel, 2010: 247).
Lommel supposes that information from different fields is transferred with the help of resonance (the vibration with the same frequency and phase). Such vibration exists even at the smallest subcellular level as electron spin resonance and nuclear magnetic resonance.
Lommel refers to the lab studies (Julsgaard et al., 2004; Matsukevich, Kuzmich, 2004; Chaneliere et al., 2005), which prove that there is the transfer of information between matter and light via the spin of electron and nuclear spin resonance based on nonlocal entanglement. The studies showed nonlocal therapeutic effect when morphine was placed between the brain and the pulsing magnetic source. The effect was similar to that when a patient took morphine directly into the body. Lommel thinks that besides the brain, perhaps, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) has the function of the interface in each cell in the process of nuclear spin resonance between the organism and nonlocal consciousness. Lommel considers that consciousness cannot be localized in any concrete place, either in the brain, or DNA or wherever else. Consciousness is nonlocal (it is everywhere) in the form of waves of probability, therefore consciousness cannot be measured or demonstrated in the physical world. He believes in continuity of consciousness, which exists independently of the body, due to its belonging to nonlocal space and quantum entanglement. Nonlocal consciousness is the source of our “waking consciousness” when people are aware of their thoughts, ideas, feelings. Lommel distinguishes different types of consciousness.

There have also been some attempts made by physicists to create the Unified Field Theory to explain the universe, which would include all known physical fundamental forces and elementary particles. However, the alliance of Einstein’s deterministic theory of relativity and nondeterministic quantum theory is problematic as Saul-Paul Sirag thinks (Sirag, 1985). If the measurement in quantum physics depends on the observer, there must be one observer to create a unified theory in all the fields. And “what is an ultimate observer? Is it the apparatus on the physicist’s laboratory table? Is it the physicist’s eyes? His optic nerves? His brain? His consciousness?” asks Sirag. (Sirag, 1985, 329).

There are different points of view among physicists whether quantum physics can be applied to living systems at all. Schrodinger, Bohr, and Bohm thought that it was not possible, and quantum physics could explain only non-living matter. Quantum physics demands coherent and closed systems, but a living system is an open system, and it exchanges information with the surroundings followed by heat loss, respiration, thus creating the loss of information or decoherence. The processes in the brain have more deterministic character, than probabilistic.
However, other physicists and neuroscientists disagree and continue using quantum physics for the explanation. They say that a human choice presupposes the Zeno effect: if the man concentrates his attention on something, the wave function collapse takes place, and only one alternative will be fixed by the choice of the man. If you focus your attention on something, the brain keeps a certain pattern of neuronal activity as long as you concentrate your attention on it. The idea does not decay if you do not ignore it: it continues interacting with the brain. Keeping the idea in mind depends on your free will. By analogy, if a physicist observes quantum particles, they interact with the observer and do not decay or disappear.

John Beloff considers the attempts of the quantum explanation of consciousness and psi-phenomena to be absurd because mentality cannot be explained by physics, in principle, whatever new physical theory you may choose to use (Beloff, 1990a; Beloff, 1990b; Beloff, 1980; Beloff, 1988). He distinguishes two main groups of brain-mind theories based on quantum physics:
(1) communicational theories using the analogy with a radio, radar, or other forms of telecommunication (a brain is a radar);
(2) observational theories using a special interpretation of the quantum theory (the quantum theory speaks of the observer’s inclusion into the experiment and influence upon the behaviour of subatomic particles unlike the classical physical theory, which forbids the inclusion and subjectivism of the observer; a special interpretation of the quantum theory presupposes that consciousness plays the main role).

Beloff insists that the only logical explanation of brain-mind problem is radical dualism (dualism of substances) because the domain of mind is radically different from that of matter.

Mental healing

In the clinical practice, the treatment of physiological diseases of the body and brain by our mind gives unbelievable results (see further in the section "Healing")


(in Nina Slanevskaya "Brain, Mind, and Social Factors", St.Petersburg, Centre for Interdisciplinary Neuroscience, 2014)

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Nina Slanevskaya. Interdisciplinary Neuroscience


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