Tag Archives: Religious Experience

EEG device detects consciousness in persons in persistent vegetative state

Here’s an interesting article from the New Scientist.

Excerpt:

Signs of consciousness have been detected in three people previously thought to be in a vegetative state, with the help of a cheap, portable device that can be used at the bedside.

“There’s a man here who technically meets all the internationally agreed criteria for being in a vegetative state, yet he can generate 200 responses [to direct commands] with his brain,” says Adrian Owen of the University of Western Ontario. “Clearly this guy is not in a true vegetative state. He’s probably as conscious as you or I are.”

[Owen’s team] devised a test that uses the relatively inexpensive and widely available electroencephalogram (EEG).

An EEG uses electrodes attached to the scalp to record electrical activity in the brain.

Owen and his team used an EEG on 16 people thought to be in a PVS and compared the results with 12 healthy controls while they were asked to imagine performing a series of tasks.

Each person was asked to imagine at least four separate actions – either clenching their right fist or wiggling their toes.

In three of the people with PVS, brain regions known to be associated with those tasks lit up with activity, despite physical unresponsiveness. This suggested to the researchers that the subjects were carrying out a complex set of cognitive functions including hearing the command, understanding language, sustaining attention and tapping into working memory.

“It isn’t the case that just because somebody doesn’t respond they’re not conscious,” Owen says. “There’s a growing body of data now demonstrating that many of these patients aren’t what they appear.”

The rest of the article talks about how the scientists are planning to use their new technique to communicate with patients by asking them to think of specific things which will mean “yes” or “no”. The long-term goal is to get the patients to be able to communicate, perhaps even allow them to move a mouse pointer by triggering reactions in their brains by using their thoughts.

I think this research dovetails nicely with the OCD research I mentioned before. Maybe now would be a good time to talk more about that research.

William Dembski discusses the OCD research of Jeffrey Schwartz.

Excerpt:

Schwartz provides a nonmaterialist interpretation of neuroscience and argues that this interpretation is more compelling than the standard materialist interpretation. He arrived at this position as a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD sufferers recognize obsessive-compulsive thoughts and urges as separate from their intrinsic selves. For instance, after a few washings, the compulsive hand-washer realizes that his hands are clean and yet feels driven to keep washing them. It was reflection on this difference between the obvious truth (the hands are clean) and the irrational doubts (they might still be dirty) that prompted Schwartz to reassess the philosophical underpinnings of neuroscience.

From brain scans, Schwartz found that certain regions in the brain of OCD patients (the caudate nucleus in particular) exhibited abnormal patterns of activity. By itself this finding is consistent with a materialist view of mind (if, as materialism requires, the brain enables the mind, then abnormal patterns of brain activity are likely to be correlated with dysfunctional mental states). Nonetheless, having found abnormal patterns of brain activity, Schwartz then had OCD patients engage in intensive mental effort through what he called relabeling, reattributing, refocusing, and revaluing (the 4 Rs). In the case of compulsive hand-washing, this involved a patient acknowledging that his hands were in fact clean (relabeling); attributing anxieties and doubts about his hands being dirty to a misfunctioning brain (reattributing); directing his thoughts and actions away from handwashing and toward productive ends (refocusing); and, lastly, understanding at a deep level the senselessness of OCD messages (revaluing).

Schwartz documents not only that patients who undertook this therapy experienced considerable relief from OCD symptoms, but also that their brain scans indicated a lasting realignment of brain-activity patterns. Thus, without any intervention directly affecting their brains, OCD patients were able to reorganize their brains by intentionally modifying their thoughts and behaviors. The important point for Schwartz here is not simply that modified thoughts and behaviors permanently altered patterns of brain activity, but that such modifications resulted from, as he calls it, “mindful attention”-conscious and purposive thoughts or actions in which the agent adopts the stance of a detached observer.

It turns out that people can freely choose to exert “mental effort” in order to change what their brains are doing.

By the way, if you like this topic, and want a resource to show your friends, be sure and get a hold of the debate on mind vs. brain between Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Michael Shermer.

Evidence for the soul from science in the book “The Spiritual Brain”

I found a great book review of “The Spiritual Brain” on the Poached Egg – an excellent place for Christian apologists to find things to read. The book review is hosted at Probe Ministries and is authored by Heather Zeiger. The book talks about evidence from neuroscience showing that the mind cannot be reduced to merely physical processes.

Excerpt:

We have shown, however, how the evidence from neuroscience doesn’t seem to fit the materialistic worldview. As we will see, some experiments reported in The Spiritual Brain cannot be explained from this worldview. What we will find is that they fit nicely within a Christian worldview.

The first example is obsessive compulsive disorder therapy. Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, occurs when a person has distressing or unwanted thoughts that dominate their thinking, and these obsessions trigger an urge to do some kind of ritual behavior, also known as a compulsion. The interesting thing about OCD is that the person knows that the obsession is irrational and the ritual won’t really fix it, but their feelings tell them otherwise. Scientific studies have shown that the brain is actually misfiring. The part of the brain that tells a person, “There’s a problem, do something to fix it,” is firing at the wrong times. OCD is a clear case of a healthy mind and a malfunctioning brain.

A materialistic worldview would say that the only way to treat OCD is by physically fixing the bad neurons. However, the treatment that actually works involves the patients mentally fixing the bad neurons. Patients learn to take control of their OCD by recognizing when their brain is misfiring, and try to starve the urges to do the ritual. After treatment, brain scans show that the brain of an OCD patient is starting to fix itself. The patient is changing his physical brain with his mind!

Similar kinds of therapies have been applied to depression and phobias.In both cases, The Spiritual Brain reports instances where a patient’s brain chemistry was directly affected by their mind.

Another phenomenon that can’t be explained from a materialist’s worldview is the placebo effect. The patient is given a medicine that they are told will help them, but in actuality they are given a sugar pill. Interestingly, the patient’s belief that the sugar pill will help them has caused measurable, observable relief from symptoms. Many doctors say that a patient’s attitude oftentimes can help or hinder real medicines or therapies from working.

The ability of the mind to change the brain’s chemistry does not fit within a materialistic worldview. But as Christians we know that our minds are very real and can have a very real effect on our physical bodies.

You can read more about the OCD research here. The scientist is Jeffrey M. Schwartz. He has also published work on this in peer-reviewed journals.

I liked “The Spiritual Brain” so much that I gave away copies to my co-workers a few years back. When I am talking to people about the mind and the brain, I like to augment the philosophical arguments (free will, intentionality, identity over time, etc.) with arguments from neuroscience, and even corroborative near death experiences. You can make a pretty good case for the soul if you pull together evidence from lots of disciplines.

By the way, if you like this topic, and want a resource to show your friends, be sure and get a hold of the debate on mind vs. brain between Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Michael Shermer.

UPDATE: I just received word from a commenter (below) that Dr. Beauregard has a new book coming out next year. Good news!

Christian theologian C. Michael Patton writes about his depression

C. Michael Patton of Parchment & Pen is depressed.

First part is here. (The second part of his series is here)

Excerpt:

It is a very dark time in my life. I don’t know how else to describe it. About three or four weeks ago I changed.

[…]All I can say is that I have had some sort of mental breakdown. My strength is gone. Depression? Certainly. Anxiety? Definitely. Fighting with the Lord? Most assuredly. All I know is that I broke a few weeks ago and I don’t know how to fix myself. All of the advice that I have given to broken people over the years is now pointed back at me and I realize how empty it can be.

Why? I don’t know. I wish I did. I have spent the last few weeks obsessing with how to get “me” back. I have analyzed every possible turn. God seems to have gone AWOL and I can’t get in touch with him other than through the cold hard facts. Facts are facts. They are nice, but I am coming to realize how much I need his presence in other ways. He has not been seen in this neck of the woods in quit some time.

I am sometimes not in the best of spirits, but then I always fall back on my arguments and facts. I always thought that the facts would protect me, and they always have – from everything. Now I laugh at God when he lets bad things happen to me. I’m like “yeah, good one. You got me. So what do you want this time? More church? Or more prayer? More Bible reading? More donations?” I actually thank God for not trying to get my attention by going after my health or something more central to me. I am surprised that the facts failed Patton.

On the other hand, I understand why he feels depressed, because he and I have the same notion of what causes depression.

He says this:

My family was strong and they were all following you. Now everyone that I loved so dearly and saw you in is either dead, mentally incapacitated, doubting, or depressed. Some have three of the four. It is so dark at mom’s house. It used to be so wonderful. You were there. And my ministry: it was a joy I turned to so often and found you when you were gone in other places. For years you had surprise moves that energized my spirit with your presence. Now you have left the building here as well. I have come to the point where I am timid and insecure. The mandate that I had is gone.

I agree with this. It is extremely challenging to continue to do the right thing when God doesn’t seem to be supporting you. What is happening to him could happen to me, and I wish him a speedy recovery. But I do have some comments and I want to express them below, with humility.

My thoughts

My view of Christianity has always been consistent with being a secret agent. When things go wrong, your government abandons you and disowns you. My view of the Christian life has always been like that. Even the Father turned away from the Son when the Son was doing his duty on the Cross, atoning for the sins of the whole world. So a good Christian like Patton can do all the right things, but because people have free will, and natural evil happens, things may not work out – and that is OK. So, I have really low expectations.

For me, the Christian life is like the old spy series Mission Impossible.

Most episodes begin with the leader of the IMF getting orders from a hidden tape recorder and an envelope of photos and information which explains the mission. The tape always begins with “Good Morning Mr. Phelps/Briggs”, explains the situation, and ends with “Your mission, should you decide to accept it”, with a brief explanation of the goal of the mission, along with a reminder that “as always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”

I don’t expect anything – I just do my job, and try to bleed as little as possible on God’s rug when my teeth get kicked in. I think that something idealistic died in me a long time ago when I first realized that doing the right thing gets you killed. It got Jesus killed. He was without sin, yet the Father would not save him from his duty to obey. So what’s the problem? This life doesn’t work. You can do the right thing, but there are no guarantees. We need to realize that the story of Jesus doesn’t turn happy until after he dies.

This intro to the movie Casino Royale makes my point in a cool way:

Or the Bible, if you prefer:

1 Corinthians 4:1-4:

1So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

2Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

3I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

4My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

Daniel 3:13-18:

13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king,

14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?

15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.

17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.

18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel 3:18 actually has an amazing story that goes with it, but one that would never ever be preached on in the feminized church.

I think that Patton shows us that even the best Christians have a breaking point. I’m probably not as strong as he is – and he certainly attempts more for the Lord than I do, but I try to avoid exposing myself to threats. It’s best not to be overconfident about your limitations. Instead, live in a way so that you can stand your ground when God withdraws his support.

So here’s my advice. Save your money, don’t spend it on fun stuff. Make financial investments. Don’t take risks unless it’s for the Kingdom. Be careful to avoid sin. Don’t attempt to do more than you can handle. Don’t make poor decisions and hope to be bailed out by God. Run your faith like a business – think everything through the best you can, objectively. Focus on truth when building your worldview – not feelings. Find out how everything in life works so you aren’t surprised. Don’t believe that you can sin and escape the damage – you can’t, even if God forgives you. Tell your friends the truth, and teach them apologetics so that they can stand with you. Keep in mind that Satan is real and would love to crush your plans, and you with them. Be careful. Be prepared.

We all need to encourage one another intentionally – as if our lives depended on it. There’s a war on, soldier. Look out for the man next to you, and train him to be able to look out for you.

My favorite lecture of all time

Now may be a good time to point you all to the lecture that changed my life: Dr. Walter Bradley’s “Giants in the Land”.

Dr. Walter L. Bradley

  • Ph.D. in Materials Science, University of Texas at Austin, 1968
  • B.S. in Engineering Science, University of Texas at Austin, 1965

My favorite lecture of all time:

That is what Christianity is about. It’s not about what you see in church on Sundays.

Related posts