Author of the Month

Does Consciousness Depend on the Brain? (cont.)
By Chris Carter

Lamont rightly contends that the fundamental issue is the relationship of personality to body, and divides the various positions into two broad categories: monism, which asserts that body and personality are bound together and cannot exist apart; and dualism, which asserts that body and personality are separable entities which may exist apart. Lamont is convinced that the facts of modern science weigh heavily in favor of monism, and offers the following as scientific evidence that the mind depends upon the body:

  • in the evolutionary process the versatility of living forms increases with the development and complexity of their nervous systems
  • the mind matures and ages with the growth and decay of the body
  • alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs can affect the mind
  • destruction of brain tissue by disease, or by a severe blow to the head, can impair normal mental activity; the functions of seeing, hearing and speech are correlated with specific areas of the brain.
  • thinking and memory depend upon the cortex of the brain, and so “it is difficult beyond measure to understand how they could survive after the dissolution, decay or destruction of the living brain in which they had their original locus.”2

These considerations lead Lamont to the conclusion that the connection between mind and body “is so exceedingly intimate that it becomes inconceivable how one could function without the other … man is a unified whole of mind-body or personality-body so closely and completely integrated that dividing him up into two separate and more or less independent parts becomes impermissible and unintelligible.”3

Lamont briefly considers the findings of psychical research, but contends that they do not alter the picture, because of the possibility of other interpretations, such as fraud and telepathy.*

In summary, the various arguments against the possibility of survival are: the effects of age, disease, and drugs on the mind; the effect of brain damage on mental activity, and specifically, the fact that lesions of certain regions of the brain eliminates or impairs particular capacities; and the idea that memories are stored in the brain and therefore cannot survive the destruction of the brain. The inference drawn from these observations is that the correlation of mental and physical processes is so close that it is inconceivable how the mind could exist apart from the brain. Except for the appeals of the modern writers to the terminology of neuroscience, the arguments advanced in favor of the dependence of the mental on the physical are essentially the same as those advanced by Lucretius.

* Lamont’s portrayal of psychic research is extremely superficial, and contains several false and misleading statements. For an excellent critique of Lamont’s book, exposing a mass of inconsistencies and non-sequitur, see chapter XIII of A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life after Death, by C.J. Ducasse.

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