Friday, April 24, 2009

Causal efficacy of consciousness: empirical evidence for dualism

If mind-body dualism is true, then we'd expect that the soul, spirit or consciousness would cause effects on the brain and the body (the latter would cause effects on consciousness too, since that they interact with each other; but in this post we'll address only causation from consciousness to the brain and body). That is, if dualism is true, then consciousness is efficacious (therefore, evidence of the efficacy of consciousness is evidence for dualism).

Empirical evidence support this idea:


According to wikipedia, the placebo effect is "a medical phenomena in which a person’s beliefs about an inert substance or a sham therapy results in that treatment having the expected consequences of those beliefs upon health. The placebo effect can also be an additional boost for a real therapy or drug beyond that warranted solely by its actual physiological action"

Please, examine carefully the above definition:

1)It's a medical phenomenon (i.e., it's recognized as a medical observable fact)

2)The person's BELIEFS (=a subjective phenomenon) produce effects and consequences on bodily health. Or, as said in the definition, "the treatment having the expected consequences of those beliefs upon health" (which entails that beliefs produces, as consequences and effects, physical and biological changes according to the subjective expectation of the patient)

This point is essential, since the cause of the treatment's effectivity (in the cases of placebo effects) are the BELIEFS. And beliefs are subjetive phenomena (of consciousness), not objective ones. Hence, subjective consciousness is causally efficacious.

For example, you can't see my beliefs in this moment, you can only see my writing here (by the way, my writing is a consequence of my beliefs too!); you can infer what my beliefs are; but you can't "see" them directly, because they're subjective. But such subjective beliefs, as part of my consciousness, can have effects on my health in cases of placebo effect. Hence, consciousness has causal efficacy on the body (and on the brain, since that physiological changes on the body are mediated by the brain and the nervous system)

3)The placebo effect has a physiological action. Since that physiology includes neurological functions, it follows that placebo effect (i.e. beliefs acting on health) produces neurological changes too. Clinical and experimental evidence support it. According to this scientific study: "Our results indicate that placebo treatments of peripheral disease processes can affect physical parameters more easily and strongly than biochemical parameters. This differentiation holds true for both datasets we tested, i.e., conventional placebo-controlled clinical trials, and clinical trials that included a no-treatment arm. As a corollary, it follows that placebo-responsive subgroups may also be identified in datasets in which global averages conceal such specific responses.

Although much progress has been made in the past decade in understanding the biological basis of placebo effects in neurological conditions, e.g., pain and parkinsonian disease, the mechanisms that mediate placebo effects on peripheral organ systems still await to be further elucidated. The differential placebo responsiveness of physical versus biochemical parameters, as disclosed in the present study, offers a good starting point for theoretical considerations on possible mediating mechanisms, as well as for future investigations in this field

Materialists have a hard time explaining the placebo effect, since that (as said above) it confirms dualism, and undermine materialism. As consequence, some materialists have tried to DENY the existence of the phenomenon (dogmatists are experts explaining away facts or evidence inconsistent with their cherished beliefs). However, others materialists have accepted the phenomenon, even if they can't explain it in materialistic terms (admitting that the phenomenon "doesn't make sense"... in a materialistic framework, we could add)

In 2005, the magazine NewScientist, published an article entitled "13 things that do not make sense", and the placebo effect was the number one on the list. According to the author of the article: "We have a lot to learn about what is happening here, Benedetti says, but one thing is clear: the mind can affect the body's biochemistry. "The relationship between expectation and therapeutic outcome is a wonderful model to understand mind-body interaction," he says. Researchers now need to identify when and where placebo works. There may be diseases in which it has no effect. There may be a common mechanism in different illnesses. As yet, we just don't know"

That "the mind can affect the body's biochemistry" is what we'd expected IF dualism is true.

As has written science journalist Alun Anderson "Trust and belief are often seen as negative in science and the placebo effect is dismissed as a kind of fraud because it relies on the belief of the patient."

The placebo effect has been "dismissed as a kind of fraud" (does it remind you of similar dismissing of evidence for parapsychology and afterlife?) by those dogmatic materialists who assume that their position is true (or has to be true), despite of the evidence (i.e. evidence that conflicts with their materialistic ideology is simply non-existent, so they dismiss them as fraudulent!).

As said, confronted with facts inconsistent with their beliefs, some materialists have simply decided to deny the evidence. But curiously (and it's another example of materialist pseudo-skeptics' dishonesty and irrationality) they use the "placebo effect explanation" to dismiss positive evidence for the efficacy of some alternative medicine treatments.

In pseudo-skeptical websites, especially in the websites of those who get paid to debunk and spread propaganda against alternative medicine, you'll read that most cases of success of alternative treatments are due to placebo effect (implicating that the alternative therapy is not effective at all, and its apparent effectivity is "only" due to the placebo effect). But note that they use an explanation (the placebo effect) that actually undermine and is problematic in their own materialistic worldview! (and considered as a "a kind of fraud" for some of their fellow materialists).

Are they using a "fraud" (placebo effect) to explain the efficacy of another "fraud" (alternative medicine)? This is a good example of the "rationality" of "professional skeptics".


According to wikipedia, the "cognitive behavioural" therapy (CBT) consist in "a psychotherapeutic approach that aims to influence problematic and dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and cognitions through a goal-oriented, systematic procedure. CBT can be seen as an umbrella term for therapies that share a theoretical basis in behavioristic learning theory and cognitive psychology, and that use methods of change derived from these theories"

Bear in mind several points:

1)The CBT is a psychotherapeutic procedure, not a neurological therapy. Hence, it begins addressing the PSYCHE of the patients (i.e. their thoughts, beliefs, cognitions, etc.). It implicitly assumes dualism (mind and body, and the former acting on itself as a causative therapeutic agent).

2)The CBT therapy takes into account at least one subjetive aspect (the cognitive or thought processes) as essential part of a therapy to produce certain effects (i.e. the cognitive processes have some kind of causal influence on the own mind). In passing, it refutes epiphenomenalism (the physicalist thesis according to which the mind is a non-eficacious by product of the brain. All the empirical evidence discussed in this post refutes that position).


In his excellent book "The Mind and The Brain", neuroscientist and philosopher Jeffrey Schwartz discusses neurological findings that shows how mental conscious effort is used effectively in the treatment of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and other disorders. Also, he presents the neurological changes produced by that method.

In his paper "Mind does really matter", neuroscientist Mario Beauregard discusses part of these discoveries: "Taken together, the results of the neuroimaging studies of emotional self-regulation reviewed in this article clearly show that the conscious and voluntary use of metacognition and cognitive recontextualization selectively alters the way the brain processes and reacts to emotional stimuli. This conclusion is particularly well supported by the Ochsner et al. (2004) study. In this study, the amygdala activity associated with the visual processing of negative IAPS pictures was up- and downregulated in agreement with the regulatory goal."

In this post, we are discussed some well-known empirical evidence from mainstream science supporting the dualistic prediction that mind is causally efficacious. Intentionally, I've left aside evidence from parapsychology (like psychokinesis), and afterlife studies that (if correct) clearly refutes materialism and confirms substance dualism.

You have elements to reflect and draw your own conclusions. Avoid to discuss these things with materialistic dogmatists and propagandists; it's a waste of time and is intellectually sterile.

Study the best materialistic arguments and confront them with the whole of the evidence (not only with the evidence that supports it), and see if they stand. And compare the evidence with dualism, and see if dualism can account for them (the whole of them) in a better way.

Recommended literature:

-Jeffrey Schwartz's book The Mind and the Brain

-Sharon Beagley's book Train your mind, change your brain

-Henry Stapp's Mindful Universe

Recommended online papers:

-Titus Rivas' paper "Exit Epiphenomenalism"

-Neuroscientist Mario Beauregard's paper "Mind does really matter"

-Henry Stapp, Jeffrey Schwartz and Mario Beauregard's paper "Quantum Theory in neuroscience and psychology"