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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

This Is Your Brain on Drugs

Denyse O'Leary has been telling us for months that she's preparing a new book in collaboration with Mario Beauregard, a researcher at the Université de Montréal in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The first publicity for this upcoming book has been spotted by an astute reader at the HarperCollins website. The title of the book is The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul. It's due to be published any day now and you can already order advance copies at Here's the description.

The Spiritual Brain
Beauregard, Mario with Denyse O'Leary

THE SPIRITUAL BRAIN is a study of the scientific evidence or otherwise for the existence of a human soul. It seeks to answer the question: Did God create the brain, or did the brain create God? Mainstream neuroscience has long held that mind, consciousness, and the soul are simply by-products of electrochemical brain processes. Thoughts, feelings, and desires are all merely random by-products of the activity of the brain as an organ, and spiritual/mystical experiences are simply delusions created by the brain.

But with THE SPIRITUAL BRAIN, University of Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard challenges this basic doctrine, and for the first time, a highly regarded neuroscientist seeks not to debunk traditional spiritual beliefs, but rather to support them. Using brain imaging technology on Carmelite nuns, known for going into deep prayer and trance, who agreed to have their brains monitored during these mystical experiences, Beauregard argues that spiritual experiences are actual connections to a presence outside ourselves, and that their power to transform our lives is a power which derives from an authentic encounter with an outside reality.

Rights sold: Portuguese (Brazil)/Record; English(Canada only)/HarperCanada
Publication: September 2007 (MP)
Estimated length: 288 pages
Mario Beauregard earned his Ph.D. at the Université de Montréal in 1991. His first postdoc was at the University of Texas Medical School (Houston) and his second was in neuroimaging at the Neurological Institute in Montreal (1994-1996). He is currently a researcher (chercheur agrégé) in the Departments of Psychology and Radiology at the Université de Montréal.

His website shows images of brains under different stimulation conditions. He lists one of his research interests as the neurobiology of the mystical experience. There are three projects in this category. One of them is to examine the brains of Carmélite nuns while they are haivng mystical experiences. Another is to look at patients who have survived clinical death experiences. The third study will look at the functional neuroanatomy of love.

There's nothing wrong with examining the activity of the brain while people are experiencing different states of mind. What's troubling about the book blurb is the implication that Marion Beauregard has scientific evidence that "spiritual experiences are actual connections to a presence outside ourselves, and that their power to transform our lives is a power which derives from an authentic encounter with an outside reality." I'm betting that he has no such evidence. Instead he's interpreting the bahvior of the nuns in terms of what he'd like to believe and not what he actually observes.

It will be interesting to see how the Canadian scientific community responds to the book when it comes out in a few days. This is the same community that has been highly critical of social scientists for merely hinting that intelligent could be taken seriously when a McGill Professor was denied a grant [Research Council Endorses Intelligent Design]. I can't wait to see how they treat a scientist who publishes with a genuine IDiot like Denyse O'Leary.


  1. Book publicist copy: Thoughts, feelings, and desires are all merely random by-products of the activity of the brain as an organ,...

    ARGH. Cretinists are always claiming that evolution is random when it's not, now the analagous deluded fools for neurobiology are making a similar claim. I guess we should call these people dualists, since they seem to believe in a duality or disconnect between the brain and the mind.

    Since when did "main-stream" neurology describe thoughts and emotions as "random"?

    What's with this word, random? Why do so many ignorant fools latch onto it inappropriately?

    Larry Moran: I'm betting that he has no such evidence.

    Agreed. How can one accumulate evidence of supernatural effects using only natural (i.e. material) methods and sensors? If there is some "outside reality", how can it possibly interact with anything in this, more familiar reality? If there's any interaction, does such phenomena immediatly become part of the natural world, and no longer "supernatural"?

  2. In Carl Sagan's latest book The Varieties of Scientific Experience, in the Q&A section, someone in the audience asks touts a study on brain activity in meditating Tibetan monks. Sagan rightly does not see this as evidence of any supernatural activity.

  3. Beauregard argues that spiritual experiences are actual connections to a presence outside ourselves

    I don't suppose Beauregard has tried to make this argument in a journal article or other reviewed publication?

  4. Like I always say (OK, not really "always," but too often, anyway, for my wife), if you doubt that thought, perception and "spiritual experience" is all just chemistry, then you haven't tried the right chemicals.

  5. Hey, Maybe this guy has an inside track with the Templeton folks who pay scientists to make up hokey shit and use their science backgrounds to promote it. 1.4 million can sway a lot of otherwise honest people to fabricate most anything.

    Larry, you gotta get yourself some of that spirit money. Invent the "Moran Effect" for communicating with the eleventh dimensional deity and put Biblical quotes on every other page. You're a sure bet.

  6. Hint: His study on the nuns was funded by the Templeton Foundation: $100.000

  7. I found this article cogent and interesting when I read it, ( didn't realise at the time that Beauregard was an ID sympathiser).

  8. Um, Update:

    On a friend's lead, I went to the Amazon page for pre-ordering the book. (He was recommending it to me as a justification for his belief that there is real scientific indication of dualism.)

    No publish date, yet. But, you can pre-order it.

  9. I've read the book. It is an excellent book that uses good science to investigate a question that is important to people. I'm amazed that the commentors on this site would actually have a problem with that.

  10. Anonymous, I can assure you that nobody here has a problem with good science. Are you sure you can recognize it when you see it?

    We know for a fact that Denyse O'Leary can't.

  11. None of you can perceive anything other than what your five senses allow you to. Whether you believe in a separate mind and body or whether you dont, (if you think either is a fact then you are ignorant) you have no evidence to support your decision outside of the narrow world that we are able to actually interact with. People need to stop pretending they "know" things because you do not. Nobody knows anything--if you think you do then you have taken the first step towards the wrong answers. Speculate with whatever evidence you prove to yourself with our "perceived world", but do not judge those who speculate with nothing because that is essentially what you have also--nothing.

  12. If you found this book intriguing, you will definitely enjoy reading My Stroke of Insight - a Brain Scientist's Personal Journey" by Jill Bolte Taylor, and her talk on TED dot com about her stroke which is an 18 minute talk you Must Not Miss! (there's a reason it's been forwarded friend to friend millions of times!). When you read the book and see the TEDTalk, you'll understand why this Harvard brain scientist was named Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People. Her unique experience, combined with her perspective as a neuroanatomist, and her sensitivity and awareness (not to mention beautiful writing style!) has produced something so powerful and so revolutionary that I think it's going to become a transformational movement in itself. Oprah also did four interviews with her (that I was able to download on the Oprah website) that are also worth checking out. I am trying to share Dr Taylor's story with as many people as I can because I truly believe if everyone saw it the world would be so much better and people would love one another and no longer fight.