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The world of science is in the midst of unprecedented soul-searching at present. The credibility of science rests on the widespread assumption that results are replicable, and that high standards are maintained by anonymous peer review. These pillars of belief are crumbling. In September 2015, the international scientific journal Nature published a cartoon showing the temple of “Robust Science” in a state of collapse. What is going on?

Drug companies sounded an alarm several years ago. They were concerned that an increasing proportion of clinical trials was failing, and that much of their research effort was being wasted. When they looked into the reasons for their lack for success, they realized that they were basing projects on scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals, on the assumption that most of the results were reliable. But when they looked more closely, they found that most of these papers, even those in top-tier academic journals, were not reproducible. In 2011, German researchers in the drug company Bayer found in an extensive survey that more than 75% of the published findings could not be validated.

The WPA (World Psychiatric Association) has just approved the Position Statement on Spirituality and Religion in Psychiatry that was proposed by the WPA Section on Religion, Spirituality and Psychiatry.

Based on surveys showing the relevance of religion/spirituality (R/S) to most of world's population and on more than 3,000 empirical studies investigating the relationship between R/S and health, it is now well established that R/S have significant implications for prevalence, diagnosis, treatment, outcomes and prevention, as well as for quality of life and wellbeing.

The statement stresses that, for a comprehensive and person-centered approach, R/S should be considered in research, training and clinical care in psychiatry. It will be published as a paper at the February 2016 issue of the WPA journal World Psychiatry.

WPA section on Religion, Spirituality and Psychiatry

Alexander Moreira-Almeida, MD, PhD
- Associate Professor of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Federal University of Juiz de Fora (UFJF), Brazil
- Director of the Research Center in Spirituality and Health (NUPES) at UFJF, Brazil
- Chair of the Section on Religion, Spirituality and Psychiatry of the World Psychiatric Association

This essay by Ashish Dalela was written in response to the call for essays by the Royal Institute of Philosophy for their yearly essay contest. For those concerned with post-materialist science, it's a worthy read.

Abstract

An assumption implicit in this question is that non-living objects probably don’t present a problem for materialism, because if that weren’t the case, we would be asking if materialism is a sound approach for all of science and not just the study of living forms. In this essay I will argue that: (1) the problem of materialism is not unique to living forms, but exists even for non-living things, and (2) the problem originates not in materialism per se but from reductionism which reduces big things (or wholes) to small things (or parts). Reduction has been practiced in all areas of science – physics, mathematics, and computing, apart from biology – and it makes all scientific theories either inconsistent or incomplete. This is a fundamental issue and cannot be overcome, unless our approach to reduction is inverted: rather than reduce big things to small things, we must now reduce the small things to big things. This new kind of reduction can be attained if both big and small were described as ideas: the big is now an abstract concept while the small is a contingent concept, and contingent concepts are produced from abstract concepts by adding information. This leads us to a view of nature in which objects are also ideas – just more detailed than the abstractions in the mind; the abstract ideas precede the detailed ideas. When the reduction is inverted, a new kind of materialism emerges which is free from its current problems. This materialism presents a new theory of inanimate matter, not just living forms.

Read Full Essay

Kathleen Noble, Ph.D.
Professor of Consciousness
School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math
University of Washington-Bothell

In One Mind, a sweeping journey through the landscapes of consciousness, Larry Dossey says “I know a way out of hell.” (2013) Hell, of course, is the mess we humans have created for ourselves and for all the inhabitants of this fragile biosphere as a direct result of the limited and limiting materialist mindset that has dominated science since the 17th century. It may or may not be too late for humans to pull back from the brink, but one thing is clear: without the widespread recognition that we are nonphysical beings enjoying a physical existence that is embedded in a vast multidimensional reality we cannot hope to begin the journey back to a sane and healthy future.

Psychiatrists’ views on the mind-brain relationship (MBR) have marked clinical and research implications, but there is a lack of studies on this topic.

Objectives

To evaluate psychiatrists’ opinions on the MBR, and whether they are amenable to change or not.

Methods

We conducted a survey of psychiatrists’ views on the MBR just before and after a debate on the MBR at the Brazilian Congress of Psychiatry in 2014.

Results

Initially, from more than 600 participants, 53% endorsed the view that “the mind (your “I”) is a product of brain activity”, while 47% disagreed. Moreover, 72% contested the view that “the universe is composed only of matter”. After the debate, 30% changed from a materialist to a non-materialist view of mind, while 17% changed in the opposite way.

Discussion

Psychiatrists are interested in debates on the MBR, do not hold a monolithic view on the subject and their positions are open to reflection and change, suggesting the need for more in-depth studies and rigorous but open-minded debates on the subject.

Full text of paper

Charles Darwin was a firm believer in the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In his book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, Darwin gave many examples of the hereditary transmission of adaptations. He also published an account in Nature about dogs with an inborn fear of butchers. Their father had a violent antipathy to butchers, probably as a result of being mistreated by one, and this fear was transmitted not only to his children but also to his grandchildren.

Darwin knew nothing of genes or random mutations, which only became part of biology in the twentieth century. He put forward his own theory of heredity in the The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, entitled ‘The Provisional Hypothesis of Pangenesis.’ In order to understand, for example, how a dog could inherit something a parent had learned, or how a plant’s descendants could inherit its adaptations to a new environment, Darwin proposed that cells all over the body threw off microscopic ‘gemmules’ which somehow entered the egg and sperm or pollen cells, transforming them to make these characteristics hereditary.

Despite the towering intellectual and technological achievements of twentieth-century science, its spell over us has been irreversibly weakened. There are at least two important reasons for this. First, scientist and layman alike have become aware of the limits and shortcomings of scientific knowledge. Second, we realize that our perpetual hunger for spiritual understanding is real and undeniable. It can neither be defined away by subtle logic, nor be satisfied by viewing the universe as sterile, mechanistic, and accidental.[1]

— Roger S. Jones, Physics as Metaphor

The most urgent issue we humans face is how we conceive ourselves — whether as complex lumps of matter guided by the so-called blind, meaningless laws of nature, or as creatures who, although physical, are also imbued with something more: consciousness, mind, will, choice, purpose, direction, meaning and spirituality, that difficult-to-define quality that says we are connected with something that transcends our individual self and ego. Every decision we make is influenced by how we answer this great question: Who are we?

Today marks the beginning of an intriguing online dialogue between the influential biologist Rupert Sheldrake and well-known skeptic Michael Shermer, hosted by TheBestSchools.org. Remarks from each will be posted simultaneously throughout the coming three months, covering the topics of materialism in science, mental action at a distance and god and science. Opening statements on materialism in science from Rupert and Michael are now online.

Originally published in: Explore Vol. 11, Issue 1, p1–4 (PDF)

After your death you will be what you were before your birth. [1]
— Arthur Schopenhauer

Birthmarks are common, occurring in up to 80 percent of infants.[2] Many fade with time, while others persist. Parents in Western cultures often refer to them as angel kisses, stork bites, or other cute terms that are intended to diminish the concern of the affected child.

There is widespread gender bias about the origins of birthmarks. In many parts of the world, they are believed related to the thoughts and actions of the mother. They are called voglie in Italian, antojos in Spanish, and wiham in Arabic, all of which translate to "wishes," because of the assumption that birthmarks are caused by unsatisfied wishes of the mother during pregnancy. For example, if a pregnant woman does not satisfy a sudden wish or craving for strawberries, it is said that the infant may bear a strawberry birthmark; if she desires wine and does not satisfy the wish, a port-wine stain birthmark may result; if the desire for coffee is not satisfied, cafe au lait spots my result.[3] In Dutch, birthmarks are called moedervlekken, in Danish modermaerke and in German Muttermal (mother-spots) because it was thought that an infant inherited the marks solely from the mother.[2] In Iranian folklore, it is said that a birthmark appears when the pregnant mother touches a part of her body during a solar eclipse.2 Some beliefs hinge on "maternal impressions" — birthmarks and birth defects appearing when an expectant mother sees something strange or experiences profound emotional shock or fear.[3]

The Integrative Studies Historical Archive and Repository (ISHAR) is a new initiative of the Chopra Foundation which aims to collect all cultural and scientific knowledge on integrative medicine and consciousness studies, for the purpose of research, education and academic referencing. They've already assembled over 25,000 references to relevant papers and other sources... and that number grows daily. If you're involved professionally or academically in integrative medicine or consciousness studies, you can help further this effort.

A recent article in the Observer, entitled You're powered by quantum mechanics. No, really..., by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden, explores the role that quantum field theory plays in biological systems. Erwin Schrödinger was one of the first to suggest a study of quantum biology in his 1944 book What Is Life?: recent evidence is making it ever more clear that he was right to do so. As the article points out:

... as 21st-century biology probes the dynamics of ever-smaller systems - even individual atoms and molecules inside living cells - the signs of quantum mechanical behaviour in the building blocks of life are becoming increasingly apparent. Recent research indicates that some of life's most fundamental processes do indeed depend on weirdness welling up from the quantum undercurrent of reality.

In November, 2014 Al-Khalili and McFadden published a hefty tomb on the subject, Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology. In it, they describe a number of biological puzzles which quantum effects may solve, like the uncanny ability of migratory birds to detect magnetic fields (see related Open Question: How do animals navigate?), how plants photosynthesize, how our genes duplicate themselves with such precision, and even the hard problem of consciousness.


Watch Al-Khalili's talk at the Royal Society

Recently a call for an open, informed study of all aspects of consciousness was published by Etzel Cardeña at Lund University in Sweden, on behalf of 100 notable scientists.

Dismissing empirical observations a priori, based solely on biases or theoretical assumptions, underlies a distrust of the ability of the scientific process to discuss and evaluate evidence on its own merits. The undersigned differ in the extent to which we are convinced that the case for psi phenomena has already been made, but not in our view of science as a non-dogmatic, open, critical but respectful process that requires thorough consideration of all evidence as well as skepticism toward both the assumptions we already hold and those that challenge them.

Like our own Manifesto for a Post-Materialist Science here at OpenSciences.org, this cry from dedicated scientists for an open, taboo-free attitude is encouraging. Together with other evidence of expanding interests, this may herald a truly substantive shift in the broader scientific community towards truly open enquiery. As Dean Radin wrote in The Conscious Universe:

... when earth-shattering ideas move from Stage 1, "it's impossible," to Stage 2, "it's real, but too weak to be important," Stage 3 often follows. This is when the consequences of "it's real" begin to dawn on a new generation of scientists who did not have to struggle through the blinders of past prejudices.

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