I would like to mention a discussion that I overheard between two participants (which I have edited for clarity):
It strikes me that materialism is self-refuting. Materialism is an idea - it cannot be reduced to a particular arrangement of matter. Yet it is an idea that denies that there is anything more than matter, hence that ideas don’t exist. Therefore it denies the existence of itself. Hence it can be dismissed as really rather dumb.
Anyone who can say that a thought is a state of the brain and no more must be extraordinarily lacking in insight. How can matter be ‘about’ something? Matter just is what it is. Such a person either must deny that a thought has content (neatly refuting his own arguments) or he has to admit that matter is not just matter but has an ‘interior’ aspect. If so, then materialism is no simple solution but a ‘weird’ philosophy that thinks everything is conscious. That might well be true, but I doubt the average materialist believes that.
The more one considers what consciousness is, and what the sense of being a self is, the harder it becomes to comprehend. To say consciousness simply ‘is’ matter is just incoherent.
I suspect that that, properly considered, consciousness alone is all the evidence needed to demonstrate that this is a meaningful transcendent reality.
I do not think your anti-materialist argument is valid, because if I understand contemporary materialism, which asserts that there is not ideas but all ideas exist as entities in a physical support such as a brain, a piece of paper, a disk, etc. The materialism that denies the existence of separate ideas of any material support, as denying the existence of separate minds of any material support. The problem is that this last statement does not exclude the possibility of the afterlife, because after death, our mind can be a material vehicle other than an organic body that can continue [c.f. survive, at least in part] with some of its functions, which makes the afterlife compatible with materialism. The materialists will say however that there is no evidence that material vehicles exist, but this is simply false by the evidence recorded by parapsychological research.
On the other hand, the argument about the intentionality seems to work, because materialists have only two options: either to consider intentionality as an illusion, and then sinking all thought including speeches about materialism, or consider that the intetionality is an inherent property of certain materials structures such as nervous system, but then that is no longer matter. I think the solution is to become aware that we are moving in two very different conceptions of the world but that it’s also necessary to understand the reality: the naturalistic conception, resulting from the study of nature and where there is not intentionality, and the mentalist conception, the result of the interaction between humans and where there is intentionality.
I later overheard a follow-up:
“Nothing bypasses the brain. Identity, personality and behaviour are all absolutely implicated in what it does. If the brain is damaged, one or more of these will be compromised.
It does not follow, however, that physical brain functions are the ultimate source of these things. No matter how successfully we correlate brain states with mental states, that’s all we have - increasingly detailed and suggestive correlations. To argue that a correlation demonstrates fundamental cause is absolutely unwarranted.”
Quite correct. However, [the author of the above quote] does bypass the fact that many believers in dualism have very definite ideas about the nature of the soul. These beliefs are explicitly and implicitly expressed in the many books dealing with near-death experiences. Not surprisingly, these same beliefs are echoed in the holy texts of many religions. But as yet no-one has successfully applied these definitions to definitively disprove or prove the reality of a soul or of some sort of controlling extracorporeal conscious mind.
This made me wonder… if it is understood that the only real proof of survival would be to die and ‘see’ for oneself,
1) How would one know without a material vehicle for memory storage?
2) What material vehicle exists to explain patients with a flat-EEG implying isoelectric brain activity and no means of electrically recording or receiving any mental data?
Monitoring of the electric activity of the cortex (EEG) has shown ischaemic changes consisting of a decrease of fast high amplitude waves and an increase of slow delta waves, and sometimes also an increase in amplitude of theta activity, progressively and ultimately declining to isoelectricity. More often initial slowing (attenuation) of the EEG waves is the first sign of cerebral ischaemia. The first ischaemic changes in the EEG are detected an average of 6.5 seconds after circulatory arrest. With prolongation of the cerebral ischaemia always a progress to an isoelectric (flat) line is monitored within 10 to 20 (mean 15) seconds from the onset of the cardiac arrest (3-6).
In cardiac arrest global anoxia of the brain occurs within seconds. Timely and adequate CPR reverses this functional loss of the brain because definitive damage of the brain cells, resulting in cell death, has been prevented. Long lasting anoxia, caused by cessation of blood flow to the brain for more than 5-10 minutes, results in irreversable damage and extensive cell death in the brain. This is called brain death, and most patients will ultimately die.
In acute myocardial infarction the duration of cardiac arrest (VF) on the CCU is usually 60-120 seconds, on the cardiac ward 2-5 minutes, and in out-of-hospital arrest it usually exceeds 5-10 minutes. Only during threshold testing of internal defibrillators or during electro physiologic stimulation studies will the duration of cardiac arrest hardly exceed 30-60 seconds.
From these studies we know that in our prospective study of patients that have been clinically dead (VF on the ECG) no electric activity of the cortex of the brain (flat EEG) must have been possible, but also the abolition of brain stem activity like the loss of the corneareflex, fixed dilated pupils and the loss of the gag reflex is a clinical finding in those patients. However, patients with an NDE can report a clear consciousness, in which cognitive functioning, emotion, sense of identity, and memory from early childhood was possible, as well as perception from a position out and above their “dead” body. Because of the sometimes reported and verifiable out-of -body experiences, like the case of the dentures reported in our study, we know that the NDE must happen during the period of unconsciousness, and not in the first or last second of this period.
So we have to conclude that NDE in our study was experienced during a transient functional loss of all functions of the cortex and of the brainstem. It is important to mention that there is a well documented report of a patient with constant registration of the EEG during cerebral surgery for an gigantic cerebral aneurysm at the base of the brain, operated with a body temperature between 10 and 15 degrees, she was put on the heart-lung machine, with VF, with all blood drained from her head, with a flat line EEG, with clicking devices in both ears, with eyes taped shut, and this patient experienced an NDE with an out-of-body experience, and all details she perceived and heard could later be verified. (8)
So if there is plainly loss of brain function wherein experiences are reported by ‘I’s, and the only vehicle known to us capable of recording an idea such as ‘I think’ or ‘I am/I exist’, is OUT OF COMMISSION for the time being… What physical force or process could explain the recording and reception of sense data?
Perhaps a far more important question regards the reaction of a particular skeptic to the startling facts of this study… which looked at cessation of brain function under cardiac arrests. How could this study lead anyone to conclude that an experience during the period of brain cell isoelectricity and indisputably wholesale loss of brain function… indicates that the experience was only material in nature and did not involve ideas? How could anyone conclude that there was a physical process responsible for this experience?
In his “Skeptic” column in Scientific American in March, 2003, Michael Shermer cited a research study published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, by Pim van Lommel and colleagues. He asserted this study “delivered a blow” to the idea that the mind and the brain could separate. Yet the researchers argued the exact opposite, and showed that conscious experience outside the body took place during a period of clinical death when the brain was flatlined. As Jay Ingram, of the ‘Canadian Discovery Channel’ commented: “His use of this study to bolster his point is bogus. He could have said, ‘The authors think there’s a mystery, but I choose to interpret their findings differently’. But he didn’t. I find that very disappointing” (Toronto Star, March 16, 2003).
Here, Pim van Lommel sets out the evidence that Shermer misrepresented:
I most certainly welcome your comments and answers to these questions and am quite certain that you’ll find confirmation of the intimate relationship between loss of brain function and loss of electrical activity in the medical, physiological, and neuroscientific literature.