Dr. Paolo Cioni’s Lecture During the International Conference on the Origin of Life and the Universe
Now we will proceed with our second speaker. Mr. Paolo Cioni. Dr. Paolo Cioni is an Italian psychiatrist with long-term community, hospital and academic experience. He has published with all the major Italian editors in the branch of psychiatry. He has recently published in English “Paranoia: between leadership and failure” (CreateSpace, 2015), one of his favorite themes which expands paranoia from the individual psychiatric level to sociology and politics. Dr. Paolo Cioni will now deliver his speech with the title: “Psyche and The Crisis of Materialist Reductionism.” Thank you. Psyche and the crisis of materialist reductionism.
Thank you for the invitation. And also for your hospitality. Your country is very beautiful. I thank you. I start quoting famous Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka about the failure of materialist reductionism in psychology (1930): “the materialistic solution is astonishingly simple. It says: the whole problem is illusory. There are no three kinds of substance or modes of existence, matter, life, and mind: there is only one, and that is matter, composed of blindly whirling atoms which, because of their great numbers and the long time at their disposal, form all sorts of combinations, and among them those we call animals and human beings. Thinking and feeling, why, they are just movements of atoms... this view is not only a scientific conviction, but as well, or even more so, is a creed and a wish.
It is the revolt of a generation that saw a strongly entrenched church hold on to dogmas which science, growing up like a young giant, had crushed -a generation that, by the successful applications of science to technical problems, had become vanaglorious and had lost that feeling of awe which should accompany all true knowledge.
Just as the victorious barbarians, be they vandals or Calvinists, destroyed thoroughly and passionately the creations most dear to the vanquished enemies, so our materialists developed a hatred of those parts of human philosophy that pointed beyond the pale of their narrow conceptions. To be called a philosopher was an insult, and to be a believer was to belong among the Untouchables.”
Koffka has also good arguments against Darwinism: “We could easily fall into the trap of teleological explanation, looking at the result of communication and using this result as a cause of the process. To say: a certain process occurs because it is biologically useful, would be the kind of explanation we have to guard against.
For the biological advantage of a process is an effect, which has to be explained by the process, but the former cannot be used to explain the latter. The concept of biological advantage, on the other hand, does not belong to dynamics at all. And therefore teleological explanations in terms of biological advantage have no place in Gestalt theory.” Neuroscientists are reductionists and primarily monists. In its classic form materialistic monism implies that body and mind are the same thing. The identity theory posits a complete correspondence between mind and body: mental states or mental phenomena, such as feeling pain or seeing red color, would be nothing more than neural events that depend on the activation of specific neurons, cerebral structures or pathways. Thus, subjective events must be assimilated to objective ones at the bodily level: i.e., the sensation of pain would be a mere epiphenomenon of a neurobiological fact.
Mind is consequently interpreted by mainstream materialists as nothing more than a byproduct of brain activity. Warnings about this raw reductionism, though, are sent even by some of the most enlightened representatives of the physicalist position.
I hereby quote two Authors: Mark Johnson (2007): “No single method of inquiry could ever capture everything we need to help us understand the tightly interwoven phenomena of body, meaning, and mind. For example, unless human beings as a species someday lose their capacity for consciousness, we are never going to give up the phenomenological level of explanation.
At the very least, we are going to define many of the primary phenomena of mind on the basis of our felt experience over our bodies and our world. Consequently, the adequacy of explanations of other levels (such as accounts from cognitive neuroscience) is going to be judged, in part, by how well they help us understand the phenomena so described (i.e. the phenomenological body). What else could we expect, since all explanations are explanations to and for ourselves, geared to helping us understand our world?
They are necessarily going to be evaluated by us relative to our body-based capacities for meaning-making, inquiry, and thought.” Alberto Oliverio (2012): “Neuroscientists aimed at clarifying the nature of the different mechanisms of the brain, but have paid less attention to the ways in which they cooperate and to those interactions through which emerges a mind that is not derived from the simple sum of individual activities that are separated into watertight compartments.
While describing emotional mechanisms, neurotransmitters that underlie them, nervous centers that are involved, neuroscientists have not focused on the classical aspects of the emotions: their meaning, their relationships with distant experiences, the way in which emotions help to give meaning to our existence, to direct our purposes, to structure our thinking patterns.
For these reasons, although some theories of mind take into account the results deriving from neuroscientific knowledge, the mind that philosophers and psychologists look at is usually different from the one described by neuroscientists.
Despite advances in neuroscience –or maybe because of them- the contrast seems to persist between the world of objectivity and the one of subjectivity, the world of mechanisms and the one of meanings. “ The condition given by mainstream physicalists can be conceived as a unidirectional bottom-up process: the nervous system, at its highest level, produces mental properties. Mind as a separate entity might even be non- existent. This theory, however, whether the brain-mind relationship is interpreted as an identity, whether it is understood as causal relationship, seems already less convincing when one considers mental pain or distress: in the case of a person suffering from what has happened to himself, any neurobiological modification will be secondary. At this level, the aforementioned unidirectional bottom-up process takes the form of a bidirectional process, where the top-down component must, as well, be taken into account. This could lead us to ascertain that mind, once created by brain activity, has its own, somewhat independent, life. Mind interacts with itself and the product of its activity is somehow poured out on the physical structure that caused the onset of the process itself.
This way, we are able to have a better explanation of some psychophysical phenomena that are nowadays beyond the reach of explanation in conventional physicalist terms. Among them, phenomena of extreme psychophysiological influence such as stigmata, hypnotic blisters, or other skin markings of specific shapes and at specific locations induced by suggestion or vivid imagination; maternal impressions; distant mental influence on living systems;, which are not compatible with the known anatomic and physiological pathways.
But also: the central phenomena of our everyday conscious mental life including meaning, intentionality, and consciousness itself with its built-in features of unity, qualitative or phenomenal content, and subjective point of view. This concept (the mind interacting with itself and with the structure that produces it in a two-way direction) is anything but naive, and perfectly compatible with the latest developments of modern physics.
With regard to this, Henry Stapp, a renowned quantum physicist, has proposed a systematic attempt to use the implications of quantum physics for mind-brain theory. According to Stapp, there continue to be bottom-up and locally acting mechanical processes (which von Neumann calls Process 2), like the process of exocytosis in which neurotransmitter molecules are released into the synaptic cleft, but these now take the form prescribed by quantum-mechanical generalizations of the laws of classical mechanics and incorporate all of the uncertainties entailed by the quantum principles.
Operating alone, Process 2 would rapidly generate a vast proliferation of possible brain states, simultaneously existing in a state of potentiality. What actually happens, according to the quantum principle, is determined at least in part by a second process (Process 1) of fundamentally different character, which von Neumann himself specifically characterized as arising from,
or leading into, the human mind, “the intellectual inner life of the individual” (p.418).
These influences are entirely free, in the sense of not being determined by anything in the physics itself. Consciousness itself, in short, is needed to complete the quantum dynamics. In summary, according to Stapp, the conscious mental activity operates top- down, and in an inherently non-local manner, to select or enforce large-scale, quasi-stable patterns of oscillatory brain activity from the multitude of possible patterns generated by Process 2. These sorts of global activity patterns correspond in a natural way to neural correlates of mental activity, as conventionally conceived. Increasingly hard times are ahead for pure materialists. American psychiatrist Edward Kelly, with a highly qualified multidisciplinary team assembled at the University of Virginia, has produced two very thorough books on the empirical, evidence-based, and theoretical levels: “Irreducible Mind” (2007) and “Beyond physicalism” (2015).
In these books, on the path traced by F. Myers (“Human Personality and its survival from bodily death”, 1907), he outlines some research directions
widened to include phenomena, hitherto relegated to the field of "parapsychology," fully inside of the topics pertaining to psychological and psychiatric sciences. Theories must be adaptable to include observed phenomena and potentially significant elements for the advancement of specific knowledge, and not be used to exclude phenomena that are not befitting for their frameworks. Qualitative progresses of science arise, Kelly points out, not from the observation of the usual phenomena, falling into the theory, but of exceptional, unusual phenomena, that just because of their qualities, falsify the mainstream theory, and lead to drafting a new one. Just as in the field of physics, where some exceptional phenomena have led to overcome classical physics discovering relativistic and quantum reality, the same should be expected with the study of psyche.
In the psychic sphere we observe, albeit rarely compared to the usual ones, multiple phenomena that refute, and falsify the dominant theory about psyche-matter relationships and reality itself.
Kelly, referring to experiments and field observations of "Psi" phenomena
systematically collected over 130 years by researchers of "experimental parapsychology,"
says that "the basic phenomena in question involve, by definition,
correlations occurring across physical barriers that should be sufficient, on presently accepted physicalist principles, to prevent their formation."
Kelly reports also even more sensational and disturbing cases, which disrupt mainstream theories, of "true precognition", i.e. direct or unmediated apprehension of future events: “Most significant, in our view, are the many well- documented spontaneous cases involving multiple low-level factual details that are recorded at the time of the original experience (which often takes the form of an unusually vivid or intense dream), and then verifiably occur at a distant point in the future.”
The research area on post-mortem survival concerns also the so-called "apparitions," in which the percipient may see an actual visual apparition, hear a voice, have a dream, or simply feel the presence of a loved one, at or near the time that the “agent” is undergoing serious or fatal injury at some physically remote location. Bob Rosenberg has built in about the subject an archive of more than 700 individual cases. Famous neuroscientist, many of which include detailed documentation,
such as: testimonies of people or partners who attended the event, and clinical and legal data.
It seems really difficult to overlook the impact of this, taking refuge behind a simple denial. Famous neuroscientist C. Koch, who has worked for 20 years with F. Crick, co- discoverer of the DNA molecule, has recently (2009) shocked the scientific community by publishing his belief that consciousness probably does not reside exclusively in the brain, but it is an essential manifestation of reality. This view, known by philosophers as "panpsychism," today finds its highest expression in the scientific theory of consciousness of neuroscientist G. Tononi, in the past collaborator of super materialist G.M.Edelmann, Nobel Prize winner, and co- writer of the book: “A Universe of Consciousness. How Matter Becomes Imagination,” 2000. Tononi has outlined in 2004, and then developed later, the so-called ITT (Integrated Information Theory). According to this perspective, "consciousness is a fundamental property, such as mass and charge. Wherever there is an entity with multiple states, there is some consciousness. A special structure (like human nervous system) is needed to gather much of it, but consciousness is everywhere, it is a fundamental property."
This theory, so distant from the initial purely materialistic mainstream approach, is now subject to serious consideration by the neuroscience world, being based on empirically quantifiable assumptions.
The implications are vast, and unthinkable until today: the mathematical value of the information integrated into a network, known as phi, is greater than zero in every living cell, each electronic circuit, even in a proton consisting of only three elementary particles. Physicists like J. Wheeler have laid the foundation for an understanding of a completely new reality, in which matter, laws and physical constants of nature, and the whole universe are best described, not in terms of physical objects, but through '”processing of a fundamental dynamic information.”
Quantum mechanics suggests that at the deepest level of nature, the entire physical universe is interconnected. Could the total information of the Universe be integrated in some deep sense? Is the Universe in some way conscious of itself? Are we ourselves, with our separate and cooperative individual consciences the way in which the Universe is conscious of itself (as astrophysicist C. Sagan stated)? Mystery and Awe are part of our lives and accompany us through all our transformative experiences.