Neurologist: “Neuroscience is totally wrong”; touts dualism, spirituality, God

June 28, 2017 • 12:30 pm

There’s a new book out called The Mind of God: Neuroscience, Faith, and a Search for the Soul. It’s by a neuroscientist: Jay Lombard, who appears to have started out respectably but now is going the Chopra route (i.e., off the rails), as you’ll see below. In fact, the book has been endorsed by Deepakity himself:

The Mind of God is inspiring, insightful and thought provoking. This book will awaken new connections in our understanding of the exhilarating relationship between reality, reason, and faith.”
–Deepak Chopra, MD, and New York Times Bestseller of How to Know God

The book is doing pretty well, too: it was touted at HuffPo  and yesterday was #189 among all books on Amazon US. It’s #1 in Amazon’s “Science and Religion” section, just ahead of neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s bogus book Proof of Heaven, which has sold very well despite being partly questionable and partly fraudulent.  All you have to do to make a million bucks these days is write a book showing that science itself proves God, and that’s apparently what Lombard has done. I must say, the prospect is tempting: though I don’t need the bucks, I’d love to hoax the credulous, God-loving public. But now I can’t, for I’ve said it.

At any rate, you can read how Lombard touts his book by clicking on the screenshot below of his New York Times interview’. (Lombard’s photo looks like a hybrid between Steven Pinker and Harrison Ford):

Lombard appears to be a frank dualist, someone who thinks that the mind transcends the material. Although he’s a bit cagey about God in the interview, his statements are still bizarre. Here are a few:

This one espouses a God-of-the-Synaptic-Gap view, in which Lombard’s failure to fully understand the physical basis of mental illness pushes him toward the metaphysical:

Trying to find the biological origins of psychiatric disease is much more difficult than for a stroke, hypertension or A.L.S. But it’s there. And you see that no matter how reduced you get, you’re left with sand going through your hands. That took me to a completely opposite place, which was to ask questions about purpose and meaning; about suffering, and about how patients themselves make sense of their suffering; and about how I make sense of it as a clinician.

Of course “making sense” of something doesn’t mean you’ve said anything true.

This Q&A baffles me:

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

How much we are dependent on our own brains for whatever form of faith we experience in our lives. How reliant we are on the physical aspects of our spiritual being.

That’s a classic Deepity: it’s trivial (of course our beliefs depend on our brain, as does any spirituality we espouse), but sounds Deep and Meaningful.

Here’s his most egregious statement, which is basically a falsehood. It’s the second part of his answer to the question just above:

What I learned personally is that neuroscience is totally wrong. Neuroscientists don’t believe that such a thing as the mind exists. They flat-out reject the concept of mind. I find that a very scary, slippery slope. I think psychiatry has lost its mind, both literally and metaphorically. A lot of the book is about that part of our brain that connects us to our deeper, spiritual underpinnings. It’s not our rational brain; it’s our narrative brain.

Where is there a neuroscientist who says that the mind doesn’t exist as a reification of physical processes? It’s not a glob of stuff that resides in one place in the brain, nor a non-physical thing that’s detachable from the brain, but saying that mind doesn’t exist as an abstraction (even though it’s not what most people think it is) is like saying that “you” don’t exist. But I believe Lombard is a dualist, as evidenced by the stuff below and by the final bit of his interview:

Persuade someone to read “The Mind of God” in less than 50 words.

I believe we are living in a time of huge existential crisis in our society. I want people to ask themselves, first and foremost, if they have a sense of purpose. If they say yes, but they don’t know what it is, they should read the book.

Ten to one that “purpose” says something about God, and if I’m wrong I’ll eat three freeze-dried mealworms. But wait–there’s more! Here are a few screenshots from the book itself, which you can preview on The Mind of God‘s Amazon page:

p. 12, an espousal of Intelligent Design and a claim of a creator God:

p. 40: Some misunderstanding of evolution and a claim that human compassion comes from the “feeling of God”. I’d be curious to see if Lombard takes the position that there really is a God, which is implied above, or claims that the mere idea of God is sufficient to motivate us, regardless of whether it’s true:

I’m a bit distressed but not surprised that the NYT ran this palaver. It’s woo: a scientific rationale for God (Templeton must love it). But the NYT really needs to look at this crap more closely. It didn’t even review Lawrence Krauss’s new book The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far, which is a true history of modern physics, but the paper gave publicity to the kind of woo described above. Oh, the humanity!

h/t: Michael

61 thoughts on “Neurologist: “Neuroscience is totally wrong”; touts dualism, spirituality, God

  1. Dumb piled on dumb. Lombard and the Americans who follow him.

    Like a dazzling game show host who presents a prize behind door number three and there’s nothing there, but the crowd wants the big screen TV so bad they convince themselves its right there.

  2. See the July 2017 issue of Scientific American, in which Michael Shermer wrote an article titled Who Are You? Memories, points of view and the self. He remarks on a 2017 Netflix film, The Discovery, starring Robert Redford, who “plays a scientist who proves that the afterlife is real.” Shermer is writing a book on the topic of Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife,Immortality and Utopia (Henry Holt, 2018).

  3. Neuroscientists don’t believe that such a thing as the mind exists. They flat-out reject the concept of mind.

    Well, Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, the first that happened to come to my mind as I read that, and Sam’s devoted much of his academic career, much of his non-academic life, and at least one of his trade books to studying the mind.

    And V.S. Ramachandran, perhaps today’s most famous neuroscientist, has at least two books available on Amazon with “mind” in the title or subtitle: The Emerging Mind and Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind

    If that’s the most surprising thing he learned while writing his own book, it would be because what he learned isn’t true.



      1. The list would, of course, rapidly expand to include 99 44/100% or more of all neuroscientists. That the best-known “militantly” atheistic materialist neuroscientist and the best-known neuroscientist, period, demonstrate the absurdity of the claim.

        Indeed, I’d be interested to hear of just one single neuroscientist who denies the reality of the mind. Neverending debate over what it is and its nature and all the rest, but even those who will describe the self as an illusion will be the first to tell you that the mind (and the self) is very real, just that it’s not what most people think it is.

        …for that matter, Sam is quite fond of stating that the one-and-only thing that cannot possibly be an illusion is consciousness itself. You may well be a brain in a vat (or a subroutine of the Matrix or what-ever) and all your understanding of reality is fundamentally and fatally flawed…but the fact that you’re aware of your own awareness, that sort of recursive self-reflection can’t in any way be explained as illusory. There’s something there that’s reflecting that same something back at itself, even if the reflection is purely symbolic and exists nowhere outside of an hyperdimensional computer circuit.




    1. Quick browse of Amazon gave me neuroscience books by Daniel Levantin and Susan Greenfield with ‘Mind’ in the title, plus Oliver Sacks’ The Mind’s Eye. I’d say Sacks was just about the most famous neurologist ever.

    2. I think the assertion that “modern neurologists don’t believe that ‘mind’ exists” is the equivalent of “atheists don’t believe that ‘love’ exists.” It’s a combination of blatant insult and sly misdirection.

      If “mind” or “love” are defined in a spooky, essentialist, dualistic, supernatural way, then no, they don’t exist. But neither scientists nor atheists are denying the reality or value of the experience — which is of course what the spiritual bastards intend to imply.

      Ironically, whenever a mystic says something like “there is no mind,””there is no self,””there is no reality– all is mere illusion, ” then the very same group which condemns the scientists for being so shallow goes into transports over how deeep this is. The distinction I think is that the mystics pull on intuitions to infuse mind and meaning all the way up and down, backwards and forwards, like from like — whereas modern science inverts our intuitions and builds up mind and meaning from no-meaning no-mind.

      1. In a way, *I* deny there are minds to some degree, since a lot of what we naively think about them is false or misleading.

        This is the “weak” form of eliminative materialism.

        However, what a lot of people seem to be really getting at is the strong form, which even Paul Churchland doesn’t espouse anymore.

      2. Spot-on, as (almost) always.

        Only somewhat tangentially, it seems that the fundamental divide, between top-down and bottom-up, is something that crosses cultures and religious traditions.

        Chopra is clearly top-down, with everything complex a product of the overarching cosmic Mind. Yet Buddhism is pretty clear about how there is no permanence in anything and the ultimate cause of suffering is in the reliance upon the transient for satisfaction and fulfillment. Once you realize that this, too, shall pass, it becomes pretty clear that all we’re left with is patterns in the shifting sands, and it’s the patterns — the emergence — where the meaning is to be found. It’s not in the grains of sand, obviously, and, just as obviously, there’s no mystic hand guiding the grains; they’re simply following their own local paths of least resistance. And, yet, the patterns emerge nonetheless.

        And, in the West, we have the same divide, just as ancient, such as between Democritus and his atomic theory and Plato and his idealism.

        The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of bottom-up as the actual best-fit explanation of reality — though, to be fair, the top-down model is a good portrait of the subjective perception of the inner virtual reality that constitutes the entirety of our personal existences. Chopra’s vanishing moon makes sense if “the Moon” is your own personal mental model of the quarter-million-mile-distant hunk o’ rock as opposed to the hunk o’ rock itself, with the recognition that your consciousness cannot directly access the hunk o’ rock and is limited to investigation of your personal mental model of it.

        Still, I seem to always be amazed at how many people are so ego-centric as to mistrake their own perspective on reality for reality itself.

        …or, as I like to challenge committed theists: is there anything on which they’re convinced their favored god is worng? If not, then they’re either the only ones in history with a perfect connection with the divine…or they’re just talking to themselves. But, if so, how could they not have been convinced of the correctness of the divine?




  4. When I read the article in the NY Times I thought Lombard’s answers were so weak that the Times was printing the interview in order to let his inadequacies speak for themselves. It never occurred to me that they might be endorsing these confused and inept attempts to justify his book. Note that his publishers threw out the original text of his manuscript and essentially rewrote it themselves, retaining only the surefire best selling title.

  5. Trying to find the biological origins of psychiatric disease is much more difficult than for a stroke, hypertension or A.L.S. But it’s there. And you see that no matter how reduced you get, you’re left with sand going through your hands. That took me to a completely opposite place, which was to ask questions about purpose and meaning; about suffering, and about how patients themselves make sense of their suffering; and about how I make sense of it as a clinician.

    You can have a hundred neuroscientists say the exact opposite, yet one yahoo who doesn’t like reality gets all the press.

    Ahh to go back to the good old days when mental health was a matter of spiritual health. You don’t need meds! (Thus spoke Ron L. Hubbard) You just need prayer! There’s nothing physically wrong with you, you’re just doing it wrong! Buy my book, I’ll show you the path!

    The more the woo changes, the more it stays the same.

  6. Of course I hold to evolution. Everything is evolving and adapting, but 1 would hold that our universe was created with intent, an “intrinsic potentiality.

    Even if the universe was created with intent (which I doubt) there is no way of telling what that intent was. Dinosaurs perhaps? Or some future creature? Or some ice being in a cave in a galaxy far far away? – With humans (for all their pride) just being a bit of the backdrop processes to help the potentiality along?

    1. Well on this planet, at least, the “intent” pretty clearly was bacteria, or perhaps viruses, since there are so many of them. (Apologies to J. B. S. Haldane)

    2. Even the slightest pretense of anthropocentricism is the ultimate expression of arrogance and / or ignorance.

      I’ve written before on just how little of the Universe is even remotely habitable to humans — how almost all of everything is dark energy, almost all of what remains is dark matter, almost of what’s left is empty space, almost all of the rest is black holes, and so on — ending with the fact that most humans not only are restricted to just the surface (not interior nor atmosphere) of the Earth, but to small regions of mostly urban areas (how long would you last an hundred miles from town without any water, food, clothing, etc.?).

      But the same applies for time. Go much farther back than several millennia and there’s not an awful lot in the way of civilization; an hundred thousand years, and there’s nothing even as advanced as the most isolated and primitive societies several centuries ago. But even that represents a mere 0.0000000001% or so of the Earth’s age, which is, itself less than a third the age of the Universe. It’s incontrovertible that, even if there are any descendants of modern humans an hundred thousand years from now, they’ll be even more radically different from us today as Neandertals are from us…and the Earth is only at about half its age…and the Universe itself again some mind-numbingly-number-of zeros away from its own heat death.

      To claim some sort of cosmic special nature of humanity in the midst of all that? Seriously? How does one even begin to rebut such nonsense?

      It is, of course, true that we are ourselves self-contained virtual reality universes of which we are not merely at the center but (seemingly) complete lords and masters. Want to see a pink elephant hovering in mid-air in front of you right now? Thanks to the power of radio, you already do! But to mistrake the domain of the mind for all of reality like that…?

      Lombard is in serious need of some quality time spent in the Total Perspective Vortex.




      1. Or go forward a few billion years and the intent for our planet seems to be a giant bake-off, though humanity probably will not be around by then.

      2. “All of the intangible qualities such as hope and love and joy and compassion are found within the Mind of God.” – Jay Lombard

        My start to a rebuttal:

        All? Then include jealousy and anger and fear and hatred. Then wonder if we’re creating god in our own image.

      3. Radical difference in Neanderthal is not so radical in our big scope? The domain of mind. Mind numbing zeros. In 200,000 yrs we will be still indistinguishable from ourselves, just evolved to suit. In 55 million years from now, we could have our wings?

        Emotional grounding helps.

        I am stupid for reading stupid reviews of stupid books.

        If you seek out bad books to review this is what we get.

        Boycott stupid. Censor my comment.

        Batboy found in carmel cave.
        Long live Adam West.

    3. Yeah. “I believe in evolution, but intentionality didn’t evolve.”

      I’m in the middle of reading Dennett’s latest — From Bacteria to Bach— and grappling with how intention grew out of non- intention is interesting, involved, and intense. Better than a bland assertion made while gesturing wildly.

      As for the claim that the universe has “intrinsic potential,” I’d love to know how to tell the difference between two otherwise identical universes, one of which has intrinsic potential and the other one of which, sadly, has not. It would be nice if they’d be specific — but I don’t think anyone should count on that.

      1. Why its simple – the one with intrinsic potential was created by god, the one without developed naturally.

  7. “How much we are dependent on our own brains for whatever form of faith we experience in our lives.”

    Where did he expect to experience thoughts? In his feet because they have soles?

  8. … though I don’t need the bucks, I’d love to hoax the credulous, God-loving public. But now I can’t, for I’ve said it.

    You’ll just have to adopt a nom de hoax. I’ve long thought “Benjamin Trovato” would work well for that kind of project.

    Uh, oh, now I’ve said it, so that’s out.

    1. That might not even be necessary. I mean, look at Trump for example. He says one thing out of one side of his face, turns around and says something completely opposed to that out of the other side and people elect him for president.

    2. “Even if it is not true, it is a good story.”

      Damn, wish I could remember even half of all the esoterica you spout (always so aptly, usually with this sly humor…)

  9. “How much we are dependent on our own brains for whatever form of faith we experience in our lives.”

    Where did he expect to experience thoughts – in his feet? Because that’s the the sole(s) is?

  10. I seem to remember that Francis Collins had a deep spiritual experience when rounding a bend he saw a frozen waterfall whilst out trekking.
    I wondered at the time what if he had seen a frozen dead cat?

  11. “…Jay Lombard, who appears to have started out respectably but now is going the Chopra route…”

    In other words, he no longer cares about furthering public understanding of science (if he ever did), but he cares very much about making tons of money.

    Oy vey.

  12. “…there must have been some set of cosmological blueprints that instructed galaxies and atoms to behave as they do.” I think physicists call those “cosmological blueprints” the strong and weak nuclear forces, the electromagnetic force and gravity.

    1. Notice (I’m sure you didn’t miss it) how his default point of view as portrayed by his word selction and phrasing pre-supposes agency. And that his intent is to present evidence or an argument for why agency must be the cause of it all.

      Carny tactics and or argument from personal ignorance / incredulity.

  13. I notice, in the final image of JAC’s post, that Lombard is pushing mirror neurone woo far beyond what has been established – the remarkable, & mostly worthy, V. S. Ramachandran & plenty of others do the same. It’s like this stuff about left-brained & right-brained character traits that creative types still rabbit about in their self-absorbed media interviews.

    The brain & mind is a vast, unexplored, dark continent & simple explanations are probably wrong or unhelpful – as an example we don’t really understand the medications we are prescribing for depression, we don’t know why they work for some people & not others. There’s a good chance some of these drugs are utterly useless.

    Even the computers/algorithms we build today are reaching the horizon of what’s ‘explainable’ in a formal, useful sense. I suspect our brains & future artificial brains are always going to resist why & how questions.

    Lombard is a liar, or he’s deranged, or he wants to have a belief in something – a foundation to stand on or he’s a simpleton.

    This is a good read:

    1. “Lombard is a liar, or he’s deranged, or he wants to have a belief in something – a foundation to stand on or he’s a simpleton.”

      Or he noticed how well this shit sells…

  14. Yes, he has certainly gone off the Deepakity end.
    I would carefully check the back of his head for an attached parasitic alien thingy that has taken over his mind. That would explain a lot.

  15. “What I learned personally is that neuroscience is totally wrong.”

    I wonder if he claims that to be his “lived experience.”

    “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”- Hitch

    The gentleman is so confident in the rectitude of his opinions. He should not hesitate to accept an invitation to participate in a Sam Harris podcast interview.

  16. By helping another carrier of an identical copy of itself survive, the Selfish Gene helps itself survive, and thus accounts for evolved altruistic, even utterly selfless, behaviour of its carrier.

    Explaining compassion through evolution might be too unwieldy, like trying to explain why birds fly from a molecular and chemical level. But — of course — mirror neurons evolved, too (if we grant them as the reason for compassion). There is no shortage of naturalistic explanation why it’s possible for humans to bond with one another. Ultimately, it’s the result of brute force calculation of which we are, too, a product.

    We’re trained to think this is bleak, clinical, cold, reductionistic, and horrible, but it truly is not any more awesome (as in wonderful-yet-terrifying) than it always has been. Only infantile modern people, detached from true hardships indulge in a kind of feel-good religion denied to most of our ancestors.

    From sheer luxury, the modern religious infant complains about the very method that has allowed them their foolish and utterly infantile lifestyle, they so witlessly help undermine.

    1. For that matter…

      …take your favorite piece of work in digital format. A photo, painting, song, movie, novel — whatever. Doesn’t matter, so long as it’s digital — on the ‘Net, a CD, a book reader, anything.

      It’s “just” a really, really big binary number.

      Is the fact that the Met’s HD encore rebroadcast of Verdi’s Othello that my wife and I are about to enjoy this evening “merely” an honkin’ big binary number supposed to somehow diminish our appreciation of it?

      Or, maybe, just possibly perhaps, the fact that it’s reducible to “nothing more” than a lllllllloooooooooooooong string of ones and zeroes completely irrelevant to the question?

      This, incidentally, is closely related to Sean Carroll’s powerful ideas around the concepts of effective theories and entropy. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the opera is digitally transmitted via microwave uplink or copper wires; though the physical mechanisms of the transmission are radically different, the end result, the projection and the sound, are “close enough” as to be indistinguishable. That should tell you that meaning comes from the high-level symbology, not from the particulars of the components used to construct the symbol.

      …and, further, that the symbols that matter most to us are the ones formed by the neurophysiology of the brain that we experience as mind….




    2. I’ve always thought that those who complain that altruism, compassion, and empathy can’t be explained by evolution seem to be unaware of what they’re implying: that altruism, compassion, and empathy aren’t useful or valued by anyone.

  17. Too late to hoax the credulous because of what you wrote?

    L Ron Hubbard of Scientology

    You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.
    Response to a question from the audience during a meeting of the Eastern Science Fiction Association on (7 November 1948), as quoted in a 1994 affidavit by Sam Moskowitz.
    This statement is similar or identical to several statements Hubbard is reported to have made to various individuals or groups in the 1940s. Variants include:
    The incident is stamped indelibly in my mind because of one statement that Ron Hubbard made. What led him to say what he did I can’t recall — but in so many words Hubbard said: “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is!”
    L. Ron Hubbard to Lloyd A. Eshbach, in 1949; as quoted by Eshbach in his autobiography Over My Shoulder: Reflections On A Science Fiction Era (1983) ISBN 1-880418-11-8 .

    1. The evidence indicates that it wasn’t even Hubbard’s idea to begin with.

      “Scientology is bullshit! Man, I was there the night L. Ron Hubbard invented it, for Christ’s sakes! … We were sitting around one night… who else was there? Alfred Bester, and Cyril Kornbluth, and Lester del Rey, and Ron Hubbard, who was making a penny a word, and had been for years. And he said “This bullshit’s got to stop!” He says, “I gotta get money.” He says, “I want to get rich”. And somebody said, “why don’t you invent a new religion? They’re always big.” We were clowning! You know, “Become Elmer Gantry! You’ll make a fortune!” He says, “I’m going to do it.”

      “The Real Harlan Ellison” in Wings (November-December 1978) p. 32

  18. Even from a semi-agnostic point of view, I don’t get the opposition of compassion to survival value- the notion that compassion can not arise in nature. This strikes me as a Western preference heavily influenced (albeit unconsciously and indirectly) by Catholic Thomist philosophy.

    The same fallacy underlies much of Ayn Rand’s libertarianism.

    Wise and intelligent compassion is not counter to one’s own best interests. This is something neither Catholic Thomists nor Randian libertarians seem to understand.

    “For only he that pities is truly able to be brave;
    Only he that is frugal is able to be profuse.
    Only he that refuses to be foremost of all things
    Is truly able to become chief of all Ministers”
    – Tao Te Ching, Arthur Waley translation

    1. Exactly. Do these anti-evolutionists never realize that a group-dwelling species with complex and highly significant social relationships would select for traits which foster trust?

  19. “Cosmological blueprint” and “only survival of the fittest” are typical red flags. Read carefully when you see them: the author generally hasn’t a clue what (s)he’s talking about.

    1. Naw — photographers always throw away the shots which make the subject look like an empty, soulless shell.

      1. And then there was the hot trend in Victorian times of post-mortem photos – often vastly creepy to view.

  20. Unfortunately, he’s not the first neuroscientist to do this.

    In 1976, noted Canadian neuroscientist and neurosurgeon (unlike Ben Carson, he really was both) W. Penfield published a slim book _The Mystery of the Mind_.

    Fast forward to 1999. I’m in the last of the three classes with Mario Bunge that I did as an undergraduate. I was preparing my final paper on the relevance of neuroscience to philosophy and had read my mother’s copy of Penfield’s book out of curiosity for this purpose. It espouses psychoneural dualism out of personal incredulity. I could not find any better argument – it fails philosophy 101, never mind any even-then-contemporary philosophy of mind. (Most of the current “naturalistic” positions existed then, in case it matters.)

    I asked Bunge (since he would have been at McGill at the time) what his take was.

    Religion – he attended a public lecture where Penfield presented much the same material (:)) and got him cornered.

  21. I mean, if compassion comes from god himself, then why are these ‘religious’ people per se, so ignorant of humanity’s essence. Ofcourse they should be compassionate towards gays and atheists alike, if they have such strong beliefs towards the ‘originator of compassion’

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