Hearts and Minds (Reclaiming the soul of science and medicine) by Walter Alexander is a remarkable book. Alexander, a veteran writer on medical research and therapies takes us directly into an exploration of a central question of our time: Is everything—most importantly consciousness (including thinking, feeling, meaning, and values) produced ultimately by dead matter in motion—by neurons, molecules, DNA, hormones, etc. etc.? This is the position of the modern mechanistic worldview, still dominant in most of modern science, and, especially, in modern medicine. At the same time, a growing number of researchers in a variety of fields—themselves usually trained and skillful in materialistic methods of research are being led by their research itself to question the dominant mechanistic orthodoxy. In short, they are pointing to mounting evidence that consciousness is a reality in its own being, capable, in fact, of having causal effects on the material itself, most especially on the material, human body. Serious strains and cracks are appearing in the orthodox carapace. Alexander introduces us to leading personalities on both sides of the issue, many of whom he has interviewed himself, and he brings us intimately into his conversations with them. Throughout, Alexander takes us on a tour of many of the fields in which the reality of consciousness is becoming an increasingly pressing question; to name some: the evolution of consciousness in human history, the adequacy of the understanding of the heart as primarily a pump, the placebo effect, computer and human intelligence; near death and psychedelic experiences, the reality of participatory nature consciousness of indigenous peoples, as well as of ancient peoples, and other topics. It is a rich offering—always exciting, well-told, and made understandable to us less than expert readers. Alexander’s own light touch of humor and irony are a delight, and more than that, serve as a kind of surgical scalpel which he deftly wields to cut clearly to the most important issues of heart and mind.
Douglas Sloan, Ph.D. Professor of History and Education Emeritus at Teachers College, Columbia University and former Adjunct Professor of Religion and Education at Union Theological Seminary and The Jewish Theological Seminary (all three in New York City). Among his books are Insight-Imagination: The Emancipation of Thought and the Modern World, and The Redemption of the Animals