Programme 3: Mind And Consciousness

Although brain activity has long been the subject of scientific study, how the firing of billions of neurons create “mind” and “awareness” is still scarcely understood. Why we are conscious beings remains largely a mystery. Human consciousness not only “exists”, and brings awareness to our every day lives, it is capable of more complex forms of action and thinking. There are higher levels of consciousness often experienced through music and the arts, providing a new dimension to consciousness: feelings of transcendence. Furthermore, across the world, human beings express consciousness of a power higher than themselves, some call God. Are they deluded? Religious practices vary enormously from one society to another. Some conclude that these differences demonstrate the falsehood of all religions. Others highlight the significance of what these religions have in common.

Drawing on personal experiences - from religious leaders as well as those who claim God has dramatically transformed their lives - the evidence is scrutinised to try to determine whether “God consciousness” is a product of wishful thinking or instead points to humans being hardwired to connect to an immaterial mind behind the universe. Ultimately, perhaps the most intriguing question about consciousness is whether it continues beyond death. Turning to a scientific study of patients in transition between life and death, the programme evaluates the evidence to see if consciousness is truly bound to mortal existence.

Programme Contributors

Team Member

Prof Andrew Newberg

American Neuroscientist. Newberg has focused his...read more

Prof Andrew Newberg

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American Neuroscientist. Newberg has focused his professional expertise on the nature of religion, spirituality and their relationship with the functions of brain and mind. He has also studied how our fundamental belief systems arise.

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Prof Chris Frith

Professor of Neurospsychology, University College London....read more

Prof Chris Frith

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Professor of Neurospsychology, University College London. His main interest is in the applications of functional brain imaging to the study of higher cognitive functions in humans, although he is also well known for his earlier seminal work characterising the cognitive basis of schizophrenia.

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Chuck Colson

A member of the Nixon Administration, he was jailed in 1974...read more

Chuck Colson

The Theistic Perspective

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A member of the Nixon Administration, he was jailed in 1974 for his part in the Watergate Scandal. Thereafter, became a committed Christian and founded Prison Fellowship - which operates in 112 countries worldwide. Author of a number of influential Christian books.

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Prof Daniel Dennett

American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist. His...read more

Prof Daniel Dennett

The Atheist Perspective

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American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist. His research centres on the philosophy of mind, science and biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. A firm atheist and secularist. A prominent member of the New Atheists.

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Prof David Sloan Wilson

Argues that the evolutionary paradigm can adequately...read more

Prof David Sloan Wilson

The Atheist Perspective

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Argues that the evolutionary paradigm can adequately explain not only phenomena in the biological world but in the social world of religion and morality as well. There is, therefore, no need for a creator.

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Dr Dean Hamer

American geneticist and author. Profoundly skilled in...read more

Dr Dean Hamer

The Atheist Perspective

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American geneticist and author. Profoundly skilled in communicating the complexities of molecular biology to a lay audience and in linking this information to the big issues of the programme. Author of "The God Gene" which argues that spiritual experience is merely a function of the brain.

Team Member

Denyse O’Leary

Co-authored "The Spiritual Brain" which examines how the...read more

Denyse O’Leary

The Theistic Perspective

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Co-authored "The Spiritual Brain" which examines how the brain processes religious, mystical and spiritual experiences. O’Leary concludes that spirituality is a manifestation of the reality of God. She believes that the brain and the mind are separate entities.

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Father Matthew Green

Former Professor of Philosophy in a New York Catholic...read more

Father Matthew Green

The Theistic Perspective

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Former Professor of Philosophy in a New York Catholic Seminary, Father Green attempts to make the nature of spiritual experience accessible and understandable.

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Prof John Lennox

Oxford Professor of Mathematics and Philosopher of Science,...read more

Prof John Lennox

The Theistic Perspective

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Oxford Professor of Mathematics and Philosopher of Science, he is a prominent defender of Christian faith and author of several books on science and religion including "God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?" and "Gunning For God: Why The New Atheists Are Missing The Target."

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Dr John Rutter

British composer, conductor, editor, and record producer,...read more

Dr John Rutter

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British composer, conductor, editor, and record producer, mainly of choral music, he is undoubtedly one of the best known in the field of religious music. Offers insight into the connection between music and spirituality.

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Dr Justin Barrett

Founding editor of the "Journal of Cognition and Culture"...read more

Dr Justin Barrett

The Theistic Perspective

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Founding editor of the "Journal of Cognition and Culture" and is author of numerous articles and chapters concerning the cognitive science of religion. Provides key insights into the social and psychological importance of religious belief.

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Prof Keith Ward

British philosopher and theologian with specialist interest...read more

Prof Keith Ward

The Theistic Perspective

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British philosopher and theologian with specialist interest in comparative theology and the relationship between science and religion. Highly critical of the view that science can ever be a prism through which the validity of spiritual experience can be judged.

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Maitreyabandhu

Teacher at the London Buddhist Centre and a member of the...read more

Maitreyabandhu

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Teacher at the London Buddhist Centre and a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order. Has published articles on Buddhism and meditation in the UK and overseas. Passionate about insight into the nature of mind and specifically the exploration of its subconscious elements.

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Prof Peter Atkins

Former Professor of Chemistry, University of Oxford. An...read more

Prof Peter Atkins

The Atheist Perspective

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Former Professor of Chemistry, University of Oxford. An outspoken critic of any attempt to argue that science and religion are compatible. Professes total incredulity that respected scientists can believe in a God.

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Dr Peter Fenwick

Neuropsychiatrist and neurophysiologist known for his...read more

Dr Peter Fenwick

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Neuropsychiatrist and neurophysiologist known for his studies of end-of-life phenomena. He is recognised as an authority on the relationship between the mind and the brain.

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Dr Sam Parnia

Physician who researches into near-death and out-of-body...read more

Dr Sam Parnia

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Physician who researches into near-death and out-of-body experiences. Author of What Happens When We Die, based on his research which considers whether human consciousness can survive death.

Team Member

Prof Steven Pinker

Harvard College Professor in the Department of Psychology....read more

Prof Steven Pinker

The Atheist Perspective

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Harvard College Professor in the Department of Psychology. One of the most respected cognitive scientists in the world, he was named one of "Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Thinkers" in 2004. Known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind.

To help viewers determine a contributor's stance on the topics discussed, we have introduced a series-wide colour coding scheme; Theists, Atheists and Neutral Contributors.