This is a courageous, ground-breaking book; but more significantly it is almost certainly a promise of things to come. The authors are a group of academics from Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychology departments (with the exception of Michael Grosso who comes from a more philosophical background) who have the distinction - rare in such environments - of being characterised by one overriding ambition: to take the mind seriously as mind. In their view it merits nothing less and they are determined not to submit to the common knee-jerk practice of pronouncing the mind to be `nothing but' matter.
Their basic assumptions are that scientific psychology is not at all well served by following the materialistic-naturalistic agenda of reducing all mental phenomena to the complicated operations of the neural mass in the skull. Indeed it is their view that this agenda has resulted in a kind of reductio ad absurdum within the discipline in which the practitioners of the method, writers such as the Churchlands, Dennett, Pinker, Hofstadter, Freeman, Wegner etc., despite the modish allure of their theories and the optimistic talk of a `computational theory of mind', have actually succeeded in the absurd project of pronouncing themselves non-existent. No bad thing, one may say; but this does not prevent the materialistic theory of mental function peddled by such high-profile ideologues from being the most dominant view of mind in academic circles. Academic psychology manages to live with the almost farcical situation in which we are supposed to believe inconsistent propositions of the following type:
- that the persistent conviction human beings have always entertained, and continue to entertain, about the reality of consciousness is, `in reality', a delusion;
- that the investigators of human consciousness are themselves likewise deluded, but emerging from their delusion by means of their `discoveries';
- that these investigators are `in fact' unconscious along with every other apparently conscious being despite becoming conscious of their unconsciousness through their theories;
- that the theories elaborated by such investigators not only arise from unconscious activity, however much they may broaden consciousness, but are themselves held unconsciously;
- that this unprovable `truth' is true, despite the fact - for fact it is - that no-one either inside or outside of their little coterie seriously believes anything of what they say;
- and that life, human relations, planning, intention, moral decision-making, self-awareness, empathy etc... etc. are impossible if one genuinely believes their tenets, indeed that believing and living by them would be psychopathic or psychotic.
The authors of this collection of essays will have none of all this stuff. They begin from the premise that psychology lost its way once the `matter' branch of the Cartesian bifurcation was enthusiastically pursued to the complete exclusion of the `mind' branch. They believe that the works of writers such as Frederick Myers, William James and Alfred North Whitehead among others, are not only worth rediscovering but stand in vital need of rediscovery. Thus they take seriously the entire range of mental phenomenology from the mere irrefutability of self-awareness, clear to everyone, to such `rogue' phenomena as near-death experiences, out-of-the-body experiences, reincarnation, telepathy, telekinesis, genius and so on. They neither prejudge such things nor do they pronounce them to be impossible on the basis of slavish adherence to the dogma of materialism.
The fact that such matters have preoccupied the human family for millennia means that there is a wealth of material on which to work; and the authors are determined to explore this material in a purely empirical manner, without credulous acceptance and without materialistic bias or behaviouristic preconception, in the belief not only that there is something in it, but that developments in modern quantum physics have made the business of examining such phenomena scientifically that much more credible.
These brave psychologists are to be thanked and congratulated for sticking their heads above the parapet and daring to declare in the face of academic totalitarianism and vested interest that the emperor has no clothes. The `no mind' theory of mind is a patent absurdity, whose absurdity is not diminished by means of the impressive scientific paraphernalia with which it is promulgated. The authors of this collection have simply woken up to the human reality of the situation and realised that there is a whole world of potentially paradigm-shifting discovery to be made by the application of genuine, open-minded - as opposed to doctrinaire - scientific investigations to the true range and true wealth of documented human experience.
The materialistic dogma is ripe for destruction. It works for technology but literally leads nowhere in psychology. This book deserves a wide readership, for it dares to take on an entrenched establishment, determined to diminish humanity, in the interest of normal human experience in all its variety and richness.