When I was an undergraduate and graduate student in sociology in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was a work in the history of science that was already near canonical authority.  It postulated scientific progress through radical schisms in thought and theory as distinct from the cumulative, progressive growth of knowledge towards a closer approximation of the truth about physical reality.  Even those who do not know the book will know the term Kuhn coined to express these schisms — paradigm shift.

Whether Kuhn was right or not about scientific progress, it appears that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in neuroscience.  As Mindful Hack puts it, there are on the one hand, “non-materialist neuroscientists (= the mind is real)” and “materialist (neuroscientists) (= the mind is an illusion)” on the other.  Those who think that the mind is not fully reducible to the physical matter of the brain, and those who do.

Excerpts from remarks by Mario Beauregard to panels at the Beyond the Mind-Body Problem symposium:

…This project was supposed to involve PET scanning to examine what’s going on with regard to a chemical messenger in the brain called serotonin that is related to all sorts of functions, including mood regulation as well as various spiritual and mystical states…

I was told later that at McGill University, neuroscience and spirituality/religion should not have anything to do with each other…

For a minority of my colleagues, they think that his new kind of research is important, which tackles the mind-body problem and at the same time reveals all the shortcomings and limitations of the materialist view. I would say this is true for the minority of my colleagues who dare to say this publicly.

But in reality, many more colleagues have sent me e-mails or have had secret discussions with me saying that it’s time for a major paradigm shift in neuroscience, but since we’re only a minority of maverick scientists at this point, it’s not possible yet to reverse the old paradigm, even though a lot of young neuroscientists are very encouraged to look in this direction. But they’re still afraid of having trouble securing research funding and encountering opposition from universities. The field is still controlled by the old guard, and the old guard still believes in the old doctrine that the mind is what the brain does and that you can reduce all spiritual and mystical experiences to simply electrical or chemical processes in the brain. So there’s a battle. It’s like a cultural war, if you will. But we are making progress slowly. I’m sure that in 10 or 20 years from now, things will change dramatically, especially if we can receive important funding to do these types of studies. Interestingly, more and more private foundations are open to these questions in Europe as well as in the United States.

(Hat-tip: Brains on Purpose)