Book Project (in progress)
Hearts and Minds: how we nearly lost them weaves several interconnecting themes, all converging toward the human heart and human brain and our evolving medical and scientific understanding of them.
Our advancing technological culture has been defining the heart as fully mechanical propulsion pump and the brain as a biochemical computer. What we experience as our mind, the display screen, is merely incidental and nonessential. This culture’s direction, as prominent futurists point out, is toward an inevitable merging of human biology and mechanical systems. The goals? Prolong life, preserve and increase vitality, and if at all possible, keep your youthful looks. At the same time, other rising currents in scientific research are challenging the foundations of these fully mechanical depictions.
Something important is still missing, though. Why and what? Ours is an age of focused specialization and compartmentalization. Despite the fact that highly relevant findings from many fields appear regularly in a wide variety of popular and scientific media, the threads connecting them remain hidden or undiscovered. We have a jigsaw puzzle box with all the pieces in it, but no picture on the front of the completed puzzle. Here is where Hearts and Minds: how we nearly lost them does its work.
Historians generally ascribe science’s present power to the drive to codify its methodology while expunging all reliance on authority, subjective opinion, and superstition. Hearts and Minds traces how this impulse led us to the pump-heart and computer brain and mind, and to today’s prevailing consensus: only phenomena consistent with genetic-molecular-mathematical statistical determinism can be counted as real. We have hounded ourselves out of our own house.
A note on the author: Walter Alexander has been a medical journalist for 25+ years, mostly translating research level medical science to the practitioner level for physician/pharmacist audiences. His work has appeared in well more than fifty medical publications. He has also written extensively about non-traditional integrative medicine for both physician and popular readerships. The most recent publications in 2017 include an article about Branko Furst’s radical alternative model of blood circulation in the most widely read peer-reviewed pharmacy journal (P&T Journal), and a review of Peter Heusser’s Anthroposophy and Science in Holistic Primary Care.
Why Hearts and Minds? The latter two publications listed above represent an important breakthrough to the “conventional” medical press of clear, integrative thinking. But there is also a very urgent need for “translation” of such research level advances from a wide variety of disciplines into a narrative that engages a broader swath of interested readers. While much that is new, intriguing and highly relevant to the conduct of personal and societal life appears in diverse outlets, in essential ways the dots remain unconnected, the picture fails to emerge and the story line slips easily away. Hearts and Minds: How we nearly lost them answers this urgent need.
Donation request: Completion of the project is estimated to take up to two years. The goal is to raise $100 thousand to support the author’s work and research expenses. Approximately twenty percent has been raised to date.
Tax deductible donations by credit card can be made through the SteinerBooks website:
An email designating that the funds are to be directed to the Hearts and Minds project should be sent simultaneously to both Gene Gollogly (email@example.com) and Walter Alexander (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Checks can be made out to SteinerBooks with a designation of Hearts and Minds on the check “memo” line, and can be mailed to 610 S Main St, Great Barrington, MA 01230.
Contributions of any size will be gratefully welcomed.
Please read on to the synopsis of Hearts and Minds themes and topics.
Hearts and Minds: How we nearly lost them
Our scientific revolution with its technological and medical marvels had its origins in grand and daring acts of cognitive discipline and sacrifice by its great pioneers. They banished subjectivity, the unpredictable and unreliable realm of human qualitative experience. They stripped away protections from handed-down dogmas and orthodoxies and exposed them to the glaring light of experimentation. They drew conclusions from their experiments and then subjected them to the demand for rigorous re-testing and verification. Hearts and Minds: How we nearly lost them traces the arc of this revolution with respect to the central human organs of heart and brain. It follows the thread leading to contemporary physiochemical models: the heart is a pump; the mind is a brain-based biochemical computer.
The great and enduring virtue of the scientific method is that it makes all conclusions provisional—subject to wherever the burden of new evidence leads. The test of a scientific community’s vibrancy rests, in part, on its willingness to resist the temptation to let yesterday’s conclusions become stale dogma and the enemy of true and revolutionary insight.
Hearts and Minds shows how accumulating evidence from sources as various as clinical medicine, neuroscience, epigenetics, quantum physics and open systems biology challenge those now established models of heart-pump and brain-based mind. It explores, as well, the inevitable and ongoing confrontation between entrenched and revolutionary paradigms.
Chapter headings/themes and questions
How we got to genetic determinism and the view that consciousness is a mere epiphenomenon with little if any significance (the Benjamin Crick “pack of neurons” model). William Harvey, the abandoning of vitalism and the road leading to a physical heart and biochemical brain.
Tectonic collision: The inevitable medical confrontation over acupuncture and homeopathy
To gain formal approval for a new pharmaceutical agent or surgical or other invasive strategy, proponents need to offer not just clinical trial evidence of efficacy; they must also offer a plausible explanation for potential therapeutic effects (in medicine called a mechanism of action). Historically, both acupuncture and homeopathy had this problem until it was proven that acupuncture needles stimulate the release of endorphins, leading ultimately to acupuncture’s US Food and Drug Administration approval. Homeopathy remains implausible for the prevailing paradigm. Whenever positive results appear in homeopathy trials, they are typically dismissed as placebo effects.
Throwing out the baby with the bath water
Was the exclusion ala Francis Bacon/John Locke of “secondary qualities” from scientific study fully justified? Or were some of them cast aside simply because they are harder to test and quantify? To what extent can subjective experience be rescued and subsumed into rigorous scientific investigation?
Fallacies of perception (naïve realism)
How do commonly held notions of sense organ function vastly underestimate what past experience and cognitive processing contribute to our experiences of the world? Why can’t those born blind, but who have their sense organ defect repaired well after infancy, learn to rely on sight? Why are purported mechanisms of sense organ functions considered to be more valid than the sense impressions themselves?
The disappearance of matter
While the solar system-like atomic model of palpable whirling particles remains deeply entrenched, at least in popular consciousness, advances in physics have been eroding Democritus’s indivisible bits of hard matter for at least a century. What is left of the Cartesian worldview?
Natural selection. Does one size fit all?
Does natural selection work as an explanation for all evolutionary change and adaptation? As a handy, easy-access universal answer toward which all explanations for any physical or behavioral feature get warped, does it actually stifle inquiry?
Consciousness evolves, too! The missing link.
What if not just physical forms (animal→human) evolve over time, but conscious experience evolves also? Would this revolutionary (but not entirely new) notion show our typical explanations for cultural traces from the past to be often off target? Could the persistence of remnants of earlier phases of consciousness, for example, shed light on Sir Isaac Newton’s seemingly inexplicable fascination with alchemy? On the stubbornly retained idea of “vitalism” well into late 19th century scientific circles? What would be the characteristics of such earlier stages of consciousness? Are there clues to found in studies of isolated indigenous populations?
The quantifiable physical effects of sociocultural phenomena.
Applying the standards of “hard science” to cultural phenomena yields a surprising picture of their power and consequences. The chapter “Hamlet and the H-Bomb” proposes a radical solution.
The placebo effect
Bordering on embarrassing for medical science, the remarkably powerful influence on clinical outcomes of any human attention, especially from doctors, has finally been subject to serious testing. Analysis reveals the need for a much more highly nuanced understanding. Serious investigations out of Harvard and elsewhere document the undeniable force of “the therapeutic encounter,” even when patients know that they are receiving placebos.
The new mind and “the hard problem of consciousness”
Emmanuel Kant’s “can’t”, his avowal that we can never truly know the nature of the world, is challenged by the primacy of our cognitive capacity. Simply, our “sense of evidence” cannot be explained without using it, undermining conceptions of the world that ignore this fact. Are there implications from the quantum physics ideas of “entanglement” and “collapse of the wave function” that can be drawn about the relationship between world and mind?
The new heart
Branko Furst’s radical conception (The Heart and Circulation: An Integrative Model, Springer 2014) refutes the mechanical propulsion pump model of cardiac function and blood circulation. In its place, as posited by Rudolf Steiner a century ago and described by Dr. Furst with reference support from extensive research, blood circulates through its own power, gaining movement through a dynamic interplay between peripheral metabolism and respiration. The heart functions as a “hydraulic ram,” conferring both rhythm and pressure, and matching the pulmonary and systemic circulations. To accomplish this both the blood and heart take on roles as sense organs for the body.
Putting the pieces together
The varied woven threads of Hearts and Minds integrate an understanding of body, consciousness and cosmos. They show how open-systems biology and the principle of emergence suggest a non-reductionist picture of progressive evolutionary change.
A note on style: The narrative is distinctly non-academic and unorthodox, combining straight science with anecdotal (and humorous) illustrations that support the Hearts and Minds themes. With respect to scientific content, though, it is both accurate and rigorous.