Mark Cosgrove. The Brain, the Mind, and the Person Within: The Enduring Mystery of the Soul. Kregel Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.
Mark Cosgrove teaches psychology at Taylor University. The Brain, the Mind, and the Person Within contains Cosgrove’s reflections as a Christian on issues surrounding the brain.
Here are some of my thoughts about the book:
A. In part, what Cosgrove’s book appears to be is a defense of the existence of the soul. He does not agree with materialism or naturalism, the idea that human consciousness and mind are due entirely to the physical brain. Cosgrove does well to dispute the simplistic nature of some materialist and naturalist approaches. For example, Cosgrove doubts that certain aspects of the human mind (i.e., creativity, spirituality) can be attributed to one part of the brain, for different parts of the brain work together. But Cosgrove does not really provide a rigorous intellectual defense of the soul’s existence. A lot of the time, he provides rhetorical flourish, as he grandly asks if the nobility and magnificence of human creativity, intellect, and spirituality can be attributed merely to the brain. My question in reading this book was often, “Why not?” Cosgrove shows in the book that the structure of the brain at least relates to these things, as well as influences how humans are. Why is a soul necessary, and what role does it play? Cosgrove did not offer much of an answer to that question.
B. Cosgrove speaks empathetically and knowledgeably about people who are not neurotypical, such as Temple Grandin, who has autism and thinks in pictures. At the same time, he stresses that God wants people to be in interpersonal relationships. On the one hand, that is a necessary point to make: people with autism need people who care about them so that they do not fall through the cracks and can make the unique contribution that they make. On the other hand, the cheery evangelical “You need to be in relationships” line can make autistic Christians feel as if they are displeasing to God, since they struggle to form relationships and to reach out to others.
C. Cosgrove’s discussion of the advancements that are being made in brain-related research and technology is mind-blowing, going beyond the sorts of things that one may encounter in science fiction. To quote Cosgrove on page 142: “We hear of mind-reading and dream-reading computers, humanoid robots, immersion entertainment, cyborg military humans, linking monkeys into a shared brain network, and more.” Cosgrove also mentions potential advancements in treating Parkinson’s and depression. In some cases, Cosgrove questions whether some of these developments will deliver. He expresses doubt that humans will be able to achieve immortality by downloading their consciousness onto a computer, for can they really download their very selves (not just things that their brains have done) onto a computer? But, overall, Cosgrove sees these developments as realistic, and not as occurring in the far, far future, but rather sooner than fifty years! A lot of this was mind-blowing, and some of it was disturbing, for unexplainable reasons. The scenario of the world lacking any problems at all, and the sky being the limits in terms of what people can accomplish, does not seem quite right: it is almost as if humans would not need God anymore, since they can become gods themselves. And how would humans grow and develop character, if everything is perfect? At the same time, I cannot identify a specific reason why these new developments would be bad, or worse than the luxuries that many humans have now. Cosgrove does well to say that Christians should not simply dismiss these things as bad in a knee-jerk fashion. Overall, though, his discussion of the ethical and spiritual questions that Christians should ask in response to these developments was somewhat thin.
D. The book excels in the information and critiques that it provides. For instance, some argue that human decisions are not free but are preceded by and attributable to certain sparks in the brain. Cosgrove effectively demonstrates that the study that supposedly demonstrates this does not necessarily support it, for there are other possible explanations for what occurred in that study.
E. The book has a winsome, thoughtful quality. In terms of being a rigorous philosophical and scientific defense of the soul, it falls short. As a reflective, meandering book about the spiritual implications of research about the brain, it is charming and enjoyable to read. The book also refers to other books that attempt to tackle the mind-body problem and issues surrounding the brain, and Cosgrove does make them sound worth reading, as they likely are.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.