Mar 31 2010 Is it all in the mind?

Every now and then a neuroscientist pops us to tell us religion is all in the mind because he has tracked down the part of the brain that ‘controls’ and Brainaccounts for religion. Fire up this part of the brain and next thing you know, you’re getting ‘mystical’ experiences. Turn it off and you’re as irreligious as your pet dog, or Richard Dawkins.

Now a paper has been published in ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ that claims scientists can switch on and off our moral sense. Does this mean morality is all in the mind as well?

There are also plenty of scientists who tell us that free will is an illusion, for examine, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the Double Helix.

These scientists think that because they have discovered the part of the brain that accounts for our religious sense, or our moral sense, that these senses have no relationship at all to an objective reality outside of our minds that actually exists. God doesn’t exist, they say, because they can switch on or off our ability to have mystical experiences of God.

Free will doesn’t exist because everything we do is caused by neurons firing up and reacting with the environment. Morality is also an invention of the brain and of culture.

I suppose by this calculation love is also an illusion. Presumably the part of the brain that feels ‘love’ can also be turned on and off.

What never seems to occur to these scientists is that it is an experience of something objective and real that causes different parts of the brain to react in different ways to different stimuli. In other words, it’s not all in the mind.

Just because they have found the parts of the brain that produce feelings of love, or of religiosity, or of morality does not mean these phenomena don’t actually exist.