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Customer Review

243 of 252 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Insightful and Destined to be an Instant Classic, January 9, 2007
This review is from: Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, With CD containing F. W. H. Myers's hard-to-find classic 2-volume Human Personality (1903) and selected contemporary reviews (Hardcover)
I think that it was Carl Sagan who said, "You want to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out." This marvelous book shows that open-mindedness is entirely compatible with scientific rigor.

For the last century, the vast majority psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists have believed that thoughts, emotions and consciousness are the product of physical processes in the brain. Just recently the editor of popular psychology magazine expressed the opinion that the whole of human behavior could be reduced to reflexes.

This book provides comprehensive and detailed empirical proof that this reductive, materialistic belief is not just incomplete but false. Sagan also said that extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence and this book is full of it. But far from being a catalogue, each piece of evidence and every idea is examined critically.

The book is broken into nine sections followed by an introductory bibliography of psychical research and exactly one hundred pages of references.

Chapter 1: A View from the Mainstream: Contemporary Cognitive Neuroscience and the Consciousness Debates
Chapter 2: F. W. H. Myers and the Empirical Study of the Mind-Body Problem
Chapter 3: Psychophysiological Influence
Chapter 4: Memory
Chapter 5: Automatism and Secondary Centers of Consciousness: - Chapter 6: Unusual Experiences Near Death and Related Phenomena
Chapter 7: Genius
Chapter 8: Mystical Experience
Chapter 9: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century

It begins with a short history of 20th-century psychology from behaviorism to present-day cognitive neuroscience. This section emphasizes the inability of these theories to account for many important aspects of mind and consciousness.

We then move to an introduction to the work of Frederick Myers the 19th-century English psychologist whose work supported the view -echoed throughout this book - that the mind is not generated by the brain but is instead limited and constrained by it.

The next sections present critical reviews of a number of highly reproducible and familiar phenomena including the placebo response, stigmata and hypnotic suggestion. Though well known they demonstrate the influence of mental states on the body. We then move into some less familiar phenomena including some of those produced by yogis and distant influences on living systems. This step-by-step approach is very appealing and leads us to the inescapable conclusion that many of these phenomena are simply inexplicable using a reductionist, materialist approach to the mind and the brain.

The book presents a strong critique of the notion that memories are ONLY potentiated pathways in the brain. Later sections discuss such disparate topics as memories that survive physical death, near death experiences, automatic writing and out-of-body experiences, apparitions and deathbed visions. I have only a minor quibble about the inclusion of multiple personality disorder, which is controversial and the evidence for it not strong.

There are some very strong sections on super-normal states and a good critique of some recent attempts to reduce altered states of consciousness - including experiences induced by prayer and meditation - to brain processes. The authors rightly point out many of the limitations of the approach.

This is an astonishing book that I hope will be widely read despite weighing in at around 800 pages.

I put it in the same class as Michael Murphy's The Future of the Body, Ken Wilber's Sex, Ecology and Spirituality and the less well-known Nature of Consciousness by Jerry Wheatley.

Very highly recommended.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 24, 2010 1:14:42 PM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Mar 9, 2012 8:23:52 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 9, 2012 12:40:41 PM PST
Dr. Petty, have you read "Incomplete Nature: How mind emerged from matter" by Terrence W. Deacon, and if so, would you be so kind as post your thoughts. This book occupies the other end of the dialectic, and is diametrically opposed to Kelly's thesis, in theory and conclusion. Apparently the author articulates his position rather persuasively. It might be worthwhile as a "counter point" to the irreducible mind theory.

I have not read either as of yet, and was wondering how the two compare.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2012 2:38:59 PM PDT
NOLA Bubba says:
"...because you can't prove the existence or non-existence of the non-material..."

Today. Science has a long history of saying things can't be done, that are later done. Aircraft, car radios, controlled nuclear fission, etc etc.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 15, 2013 9:09:34 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 15, 2013 9:13:25 AM PDT
Don Salmon says:
The really cool thing is that "you can't prove the existence or non-existence of the" material either!

Think about it.

When you "see" a "rock", what is actually happening?

An image appears in awareness (notice I didn't say "your" awareness).

What is the nature of that image when it is outside the immediate field of awareness that you identify as yours?

There is not a single experiment ever conducted by any scientist in the last 400 years that can give even the slightest clue as to the answer - and not just the answer, but even the question of how to think about constructing such an experiment is beyond present day scientist.

So why not follow the founders of quantum mechanics, dispense with the outdated, 19th century, essentially meaningless (if not incoherent) concept of self-existent matter (even if you imbue it, as the panpsychists do, with mind) and simply accept that science, as presently conceived, does not need these extra-natural conceptual frameworks. Chemistry and physics work perfectly well in a dualist and idealist framework; science as presently conceived has nothing to say about them.


Maybe this will make it clearer.

I'm looking at a brown cup. Since I haven't yet touched it, the only awareness I have of it is a certain color and form (which are not really separate).

Now, I close my eyes.

What color is the cup?

Obviously, apart from perception, the word "color" (as subjective quality, not as "wavelengths', another abstraction that has no meaning apart from experience of some kind) is not relevant when (if) awareness is absent. Thus, the idea of the cup as having form independent of any kind of awareness whatsoever has no meaning either.

This is the part where materialists get confused. Where is the cup? What is its form? Try to formulate an answer to this, use the most complex physics, chemistry, etc possible, and then ask yourself, if you abstract from your answer all the impositions required by human consciousness, what is left of the cup?

And since I haven't answered, don't assume I'm implying that nothing is left. I'm not advocating any particular philosophic position, and if you think I am, this won't make any sense.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 9, 2013 11:36:06 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Feb 2, 2014 11:25:32 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 11, 2013 5:04:11 AM PDT
Don Salmon says:
Hi Zaphod - yes, nice to see you again.

I could jump into an intellectual discussion, but I didn't want to ignore your comment -

three members - good lord, in 2 years - I'm so sorry. It sounds like you are dealing with it well though it sounds like it was quite difficult for your sister. Funny, I had somehow formed a picture of you as being quite young (young compared to me, that is!), in your 20s or 30s.

But now I'm guessing you're in your 50s or 60s?

Anyway, let's see, should I drop back into "intellectual" mode? It looks like apart from nitpicking (me, not you) about Berkeley, we have very similar views.

Yes, I have to learn to put more "good" into it and less "fight." "you catch more bees with honey than vinegar" - is an old cliche but it still has a lot of wisdom, I think. I'm learning, online and in person, that people are extremely sensitive about these topics, and once you (me) adopt a fighting mode, all discussion is over.

Anyway - hope all is well now with your family. I think I offered this to you previously, and I don't even remember if you took me up on it (too many emails, too much to do!) but if you ever feel like writing directly, i'm at donsalmon7[at]

In reply to an earlier post on May 8, 2014 7:48:48 AM PDT
Anonymous says:
"When you "see" a "rock", what is actually happening?"

Hilarious. Your all too material brain makes some "connections".

Posted on May 8, 2014 7:52:09 AM PDT
Anonymous says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 19, 2014 12:48:57 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 19, 2014 12:50:13 AM PDT
Suzanne says:
[[[So why not follow the founders of quantum mechanics, dispense with the outdated, 19th century, essentially meaningless (if not incoherent) concept of self-existent matter ]]]

Because the founders of quantum mechanics are wrong and the last 30-or-so years of theoretical physics have slowly started to agree on why: they didn't take their own discovery seriously or literally enough.

[[[Maybe this will make it clearer.]]]

I'm honestly not sure what significance you think this has for materialists. No materialist (I know of) denies that our access to the material world is mediated by our senses and conscious perception of that world. You may say that they assume that it exists outside our conscious perception and that it's still there and doesn't change just because we're not perceiving it, and I guess that's fair, but I'd be satisfied with a neo-Kantian approach that merely considers a phenomenological approach that's agnostic on noumenal, ding-an-sich matters. That said, we do seem to have figured out the myriad ways in which we can manipulate phenomenon through causality and correlation, including our conscious experiences themselves.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 19, 2014 5:04:44 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 19, 2014 5:12:48 AM PDT
Don Salmon says:
Dear Suzanne:

Thanks for responding.

Let me see - as far as I understand anything about materialism (or physicalism, or naturalism, or whatever the name de jour is!), it insists ("insist" I think, is the appropriate word) that - however much we might agree that we can remain agnostic in regard to noumenal matters, that there is one most important exception - that awareness, intelligence, consciousness, sentience, perceiving - whatever you want to call it, is not a factor in the emergence or sustenance of the various "patterns" (or laws of nature, if you like) of the various noumena (can't call them phenomena since "phenomena" only "appear" to awareness) that existed several billion years before our solar system was formed.

I would be perfectly happy with the agnostic position; I think it's what is appropriate for our present day scientific quite limited quantitative methodology, but that's not what materialists say,. They go beyond the data, and insist that consciousness/awareness/perceiving/intelligence played no role:

- no role in the emergence of something out of nothing
- no role in the emergence of patterns out of randomness
- no role in the increasingly complexity of those patterns
- no role in the emergence of life, sentience, feeling, awareness, consciousness, intelligence, etc
- no role in the course of evolution

Now, this is as far from agnosticism as can be imagined. It is particularly egregious for a discipline that calls itself "scientific" as it not only consists of pure assertions in the absence of evidence - but given the fact that science, as presently construed, cannot (given the rigid catechism which forbids introspection as a fundamental methodology) even detect that actual existence of subjectivity/awaring/sentience anywhere in the universe - given this, it means that the materialists' assertions are unprovable in principle - they refer to something which is in principle unknowable, and for which there could never be any evidence - at least, not using currently acceptable methodology.

Now, before I'm going to accept such a faith-based set of assertions, regarding something (consciousness/independent physicality which, though dead, stupid and unconscious, somehow miraculously is responsible for the emergence of highly complex patterns, and which can be responsible for sustaining those patterns over billions of years - before I'm going to accept something as illogical and ultimately incoherent as this, I'm going to want to hear at least one iota of logic as to why I would want to even consider much less accept this as an explanation for anything.

If any of this is unclear, I suggest you try a thought experiment:

Sit quietly, eyes closed, imagining you are in a dream. What I think most people understand a dream to consist of is images within awareness (I'm leaving aside "my" awareness to avoid the false implication of solipsism; and don't intend this to be a defense of idealism or any other metaphysical point of view, incase anyone assumes that either)j.

Really try to feel as vividly as possible that the sounds, sensations, thoughts, etc you are aware of are all dream sounds, dream sensations, dream thoughts and so on.

Now, switch - recognize everything as sounds, sensations and so on that are occurring while you are awake.

Keep going back and forth - dream sounds, awake sounds, etc.

When you've done this enough, ask yourself - what phenomenon could I point to that would convince me that i am awake (If you don't understand this, read the "false awakening" section of my essay, "Shaving Science With Ockham's Razor"

Now, once you've established that there is no objective phenomenon that can indicate to you whether you are awake (allegedly, an isolated subject living in a purely physical world, a world which is not sustained by awareness) or dreaming (existing in an environment of images sustained by awareness) - once you get this, apply the principle of Ockham's razor - if all we can be sure of is tha we are in an environment of images sustained by awareness, the simplest assumption (and it is an assumption, I'm not asserting it's true, just saying, if you're going to go even one step beyond agnosticism regarding the noumena, the least addition to our basic experience would involve assuming that whatever the noumena are (is?) it is close to what we know by direct experience) is that it also involves images sustained by awareness.

Now, that may be totally false, This illogical, semi-psychotic perspective that the noumena are/is essentially dead, stupid and unconscious - the essence of the physicalist faith - may be true. i'm not saying it's not. But if it is true, and there' in principle no possibly of providing evidence for it - then it seems reasonable to say one must come up with some kind of logic beyond Tertullian's "It's absurd therefore I believe it" that seems to be the foundation of Dawkins', Atkins', and others faith - so terrified are they that all of science will fall apart if we consider the noumena to be anything but stupid, dead and unconscious.
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