SCIENCE AND FAITH: This Pioneer Of Neurosurgery Concluded Mind Isn’t Mere Matter. Why It Matters To All Of Us

What if every time you have a thought about something, anything — what’s for lunch today, how should I react when the boss wants her District weekend schedule for next week tomorrow, why doesn’t Linda stop wearing her hair like that, how much do clouds weigh — you are providing evidence for God’s existence?

Ever thought about going brain diving? (Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash)

Think about it (no pun intended!), how can we account for the mind when, unlike our brains, it has no measurable weight, shape or volume. In other words, what if mind is not matter, at least not as the latter is understood in terms of physical properties.

Why should you, as a loyal, hard-working member of a congressional staff, care one way or the other about this? If mind isn’t matter, there must be more to life than the merely physical.

If that’s the case, then we’ve got to consider the possibility that God exists and the human mind reflects His creative power and choice. Otherwise, how do we comprehend the elegance of Madison’s solution to the problem of factions in a republic?

Neurosurgery pioneer Wilder Penfield explored these kinds of questions in a direct and revealing manner years ago, by “mapping” the brains of an estimated 1,000 people who were his epilepsy patients.

In a recent “Mind Matters” podcast, Walter Bradley Center Director Robert J. Marks II, Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, interviewed neurosurgeon Michael Eignor on Penfield’s conclusion that mind and matter are not one and the same.

Eignor explains why Penfield reached that conclusion:

“He started his career as a materialist. He thought the whole mind came from the brain and he was just going to study it. And at the end of his career, 30 years later, he was a passionate dualist. He said that there is a part of the mind that is not from the brain. He had several lines of reasoning that convinced him of that.

“One line of reasoning was that, in mapping people’s brains—and again he mapped upwards of a thousand people this way—he would hundreds of individual stimulations of the surface of the brain to see what happened. And people would have all sorts of things happened.

“They would have their arm move or they would feel a tingling or they would see a flash of light. Or sometimes they’d have a memory or they would have an impediment. Sometimes they couldn’t speak for a minute or two after a certain spot was touched.”

But guess what his stimulations of those people’s brain never produced, not even once? Abstract thoughts. So where does reason come from? What is the source of thinking, that is abstract thoughts? Again, think about that for a moment and then perhaps ask yourself the what-if question: What if there really is a God who created me?

You can listen to the podcast and read key excerpts from the transcript here.

And if that’s got your mind racing, so to speak, here’s more to think about from Mind Matters: Computer engineer and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup explains why consciousness cannot merely be a byproduct of physical processes that provide humans with an evolutionary advantage, as argued by biologist Jerry Coyne.


Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland. Go here:

3 thoughts on “SCIENCE AND FAITH: This Pioneer Of Neurosurgery Concluded Mind Isn’t Mere Matter. Why It Matters To All Of Us”

  1. What if our brains are only hardware, and our software is in the air?

    The “Theory of Atmospheric Existence”

    I met a man who had half his brain removed about 20 years ago. To my understanding, 20 years ago puts him among the first to have this done. He testified to me, and I made a video, that he has had pretty normal brain function ever since.

    Scientists have weighed dying people, and found they lose a few ounces as the body transitions from alive to dead. They have concluded this represents the weight of air leaving the body for the last time.
    Numerous instances of “idiot savants” and people who remember every detail of everything that has ever happened in their lives exist. It is incomprehensible that their brains, some of which have been autopsied, are that different from more ordinary brains.

    So the theory of atmospheric existence is that we truly live, move, and have our being not in our bodies, but in our bodies and in the atmosphere around us. Our memories are stored in oxygen atoms, some which are in our body for a time and others that just hang around us. Another word for oxygen atoms might be “spirits”.

    And perhaps, not only do our own spirits occupy our body, but the spirits of others as well, in various quantities at various times. So, when your body dies, and if your spirits are free to roam the Earth’s atmosphere, where are they likely to hang out?

    I sense, non-scientifically yet, that our free spirits hang around our families, and friends. The closest true evidence I have in my life is what happened after the bodily death of my oldest son in 2005. After he died, the personality of his younger brother changed significantly, and my surviving son took on many of the traits of his older brother. So, non-scientifically, I believe that my older son is alive and well, and much of him lives in his older brother, his mother, and even in me.

    There is abundant scriptural evidence for this theory as well as we are surely “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” and “life is in the blood” as our blood carries oxygen atoms. Genesis 1:7-8 says that our atmosphere is heaven, below the water above (clouds) and above the water below (ground waters).

    Earth’s atmosphere is full of oxygen atoms, atomic number 8. 8 is the most significant number in scripture. It is our infinity symbol. It is the new day, the day when all things are made new. And it is the first day, as there are only 7 days in a week. Genesis 1 covers 6 days. In Genesis 2:3-4 we see a long passage of time, as God rests on the 7th day. And then we see the breath of God in Adam, when consciousness begins, on the 8th day. This is why the Hebrews circumcise on the 8th day.

    The atmosphere, the wind, is the Spirit, the Ruach Hakodesh. It is where we live, move, and have our being.


    1. Treyeshua Tomeny:

      I’m sympathetic to what you’re trying to do, there, with equating the “breath of life” or “spirit of God” to literal oxygen atoms, literal movement of air, literal “breath.”

      But, I don’t think it works.

      What Mark Tapscott is writing about, here, is the idea that mind can’t be made of matter, at all. He starts the argument by showing that mind can’t be made of brain matter. In response, you suggest an alternative matter, namely the stuff we breath (oxygen, nitrogen, etc.). We could, potentially, continue this exercise indefinitely. (What if it’s a particular arrangement of matter? What if it’s the air outside a person, not the air inside? What if it’s quantum entanglement between quarks in the air and quarks in the brain matter? What if….)

      Fortunately it’s possible to short-circuit all of this, simply by arguing logically about what mind is and what matter (as we understand it) is. John Searle’s “Chinese Room” argument, the Quus/Plus Argument as discussed by Saul Kripke and James Ross, and Edward Feser’s summarizing and defense of these arguments have pretty well settled the issue: In various ways, matter — any matter at all, in any amount — is insufficient as an explanation for mind.

      The easiest way to see this is to start by asking why it is that, to us, an arrangement of ink molecules on a piece of paper can mean the letter “A,” but those same molecules don’t mean “A” to the paper, or to a passing housecat, or to a person who only knows Swahili. The answer is that the arrangement of molecules forms a visible shape on the paper, the shape of an “A” ,,,but that shape’s meaning is evaluated or understood only by a mind which knows what an “A” is. There’s nothing about the molecules themselves that means “A.” You could spend your whole life looking at those molecules with an electron microscope and never find “A” in there, anywhere. The meaning “A” is in the mind; if a mind is present and aware of what an “A” is, then someone will understand that the shape on the page means “A.” If no mind is present, or the only mind present has no knowledge of “A,” then there’s nobody comprehending “A.”

      But you could say the same thing about all meanings, and about all representations. Arrangements of matter represent a concept or thought only when there’s a mind present that interprets them as being related to that thought.

      Now the failure of matter to explain mind comes from a basic error-in-reasoning; namely, the circular attempt to explain something in terms of the thing that needs explaining. People who think that our minds are reducible to the matter in our brains are saying…
      (a.) I know that my mind sees a shape on the page and, in response, understands it’s an “A”;
      (b.) I know that my brain has arrangements of matter in it;
      (c.) Maybe there’s some arrangement of matter in my brain which means “A.”

      But this is circular because the word “means” requires processing by a mind outside, and apart from, the thing being interpreted. So when the folks above surmise that some arrangement of matter in their brains “means” the letter “A,” they’re leaving out the critical question, “to what mind does that arrangement of matter have that meaning?” As Edward Feser explains, “They’re like lazy housekeepers who’ve decided to dust the entire living room by sweeping all the dust under the oriental rug…and now, they’re trying to get rid of the dust under the rug in the same fashion!”

      Matter doesn’t mean anything without a mind. This includes the matter in our brains. Therefore, if a mind isn’t otherwise present, meaning is not to be found in our brains. But minds understand meanings. Therefore, unless a mind is otherwise present, mind is not to be found in our brains. (And it can’t possibly be found in air molecules either.)

      This argument is not in any way falsified by observing that drunk people think less-clearly, or that persons with concussions experience amnesia, or anything like that. It seems clear that memory and sensation have a material component which is, itself, interpreted and comprehended by the mind. If you warp the sensation or damage the memory-storage, the mind is forced to assign corrupted meanings to corrupted data. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

      Still, there is some kind of immaterial mind separate from the brain. Its ability to react to input is damaged when the brain is damaged, and destroyed when the brain is destroyed. But the immaterial mind itself, being non-material, is not destroyed. It is not made of atoms that can be scattered; it is not composed of parts in such a way as to allow it to de-compose.

      Consequently, it is immortal; it outlives the death of the body.

      After the destruction of the brain, if the mind can in some fashion exist in relationship with some other mind, there is a hope for companionship, love, and happiness. Otherwise, it is merely a locked-in mind, with no inputs, no ability to express itself, stuck fretfully in nothingness for all eternity.

      People who think clearly about mind may not know for sure that God exists. But if they’ve reasoned carefully, they already know that without God, the only option after death is hell.


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