Materialism—the idea that matter is the only reality—and reductionism—the notion that complex things can be understood by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things such as tiny material particles—are two of the main assumptions of the modern scientific worldview. During the 19th century, these assumptions narrowed, turned into dogmas, and coalesced into an ideological belief system that came to be known as “scientific materialism.” The scientific materialist ideology implies that the psyche is nothing but the physical activity of the brain, and that our thoughts cannot have any effect upon our brains and bodies, our actions, and the physical world.
This ideology became so dominant in the academic world during the 20th century that a majority of scientists started to believe that it was based on established empirical evidence, and represented the only rational view of the world. Unfortunately, faith in this ideology, as an exclusive explanatory framework for reality, has hampered the development of the scientific study of consciousness and spirituality, and has led to a severely distorted and impoverished understanding of ourselves and our place in nature.
It is paramount to realize that science is first and foremost a non-dogmatic, open-minded method of acquiring knowledge about nature through the observation, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. Science is not synonymous with materialism and should not be committed to any particular beliefs, dogmas, or ideologies.
Several lines of empirical evidence suggest that the materialist ideology is woefully incomplete and, therefore, obsolete. For instance, neuroimaging studies of emotional self-regulation, psychotherapy, and the placebo effect demonstrate that mental events significantly influence the activity of the brain. Moreover, research in psychoneuroimmunology indicates that our thoughts and emotions can markedly affect the activity of the physiological systems (e.g., immune, endocrine, cardiovascular) connected to the brain.
In other respects, psi research demonstrates that we can mentally influence—at a distance—physical devices and living organisms (including other human beings), and that we can sometimes receive meaningful information without the use of ordinary senses, and in ways that transcend the habitual space and time constraints. Furthermore, conscious mental activity can be experienced in clinical death during a cardiac arrest (this is what has been called a “near-death experience” [NDE]). Importantly, some near-death experiencers report veridical out-of-body perceptions (i.e. perceptions that can be proven to coincide with reality) that occur during cardiac arrest. Of note, the electrical activity of the brain ceases within a few seconds following a cardiac arrest.
Materialist theories fail miserably at accounting for these various lines of evidence and elucidating how brain could generate the psyche. This failure tells us that it is now time to free ourselves from the shackles and blinders of the old materialist ideology, to enlarge our concept of the natural world, and to embrace a post-materialist paradigm. According to this emerging paradigm: 1) psyche is irreducible and its ontological status is as primordial as that of matter, energy, and space-time; 2) albeit non-physical, psyche is a force because it has the capacity to cause change; 3) the brain acts as an interface for the psyche, which is not generated by this organ; and, 4) the psyche and the physical world (physis) interact because they are not really separated — they only appear to be separated (except during certain transcendent states of consciousness). But in fact, psyche and physis are deeply interconnected since they arise out of a common ground, i.e. they are complementary aspects (and manifestations) of an undividable whole.
The post-materialist paradigm seeks to expand the human capacity to better understand the wonders of nature, and in the process rediscover the importance of psyche as being part of the core fabric of the omnniverse. This paradigm has far-reaching implications. It fundamentally alters the vision we have of ourselves, giving us back our dignity and power. Additionally, the post-materialist paradigm fosters positive values such as compassion, respect, and peace. By emphasizing a profound and meaningful connection between ourselves and nature at large, it also promotes environmental awareness and the preservation of our biosphere.
Mario Beauregard, Ph.D.
Senior Research Associate
Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health
Department of Psychology
University of Arizona
Thank you, Mario, for this important post. JHS