A few decades ago Dr. Penfield was attempting to identify the source of epileptic seizures by stimulating regions of patients’ brains. His did this by exposing the brain and delivering mild electric currents (shocks) to the conscious patient's surface neocortex. By this process he hoped to identify areas of the brain that triggered epileptic seizures. If the seizure location in a patient could be identified he would consider removing the tissue to prevent future seizures. By repeatedly stimulating brain regions in conscious patients and noting the effects, Penfield was able to construct a remarkably detailed map of localized functions in the brain, a map showing which areas of the brain controlled sensations and movements in the body.
In all his work on searching for epileptic trigger sites, Penfield noticed something very interesting. He noted that he could not locate the mind, the thing that regulates conscious decision making, reasoning, sentience, and agency.
When Penfield carried out his investigations, patients would report all sorts of sensations, memories, and movements, but these were things that happened to the patients. You see, his electrode could not stimulate patients to make a choice, to believe something, or to reason, the very things associated with the human mind.
Does this mean that the human mind was not evident in his research? On the contrary, the human mind was present. It was present in the patients’ reports of what Penfield’s electrode caused them to do and feel. For example, when the electrode caused a patient’s hand to move, the patient often said, “I didn’t do that, you did” (i.e., the patient’s mind reflected on how Penfield made his or her hand move). The patient did not say, “I wanted to move my hand (something which would indicate that Penfield stimulated the mind). Penfield concluded that “The patient’s mind, which is considering the situation in such an aloof and critical manner, can only be something quite apart from the neuronal reflex action [brain].”
When Penfield began his studies of the human brain, he had hoped to discover how the brain causes the mind, something that we are continually reminded of by atheists (i.e., there is no agentic mind/spirit, just brain neuronal activity). However, because no one has been able to find the physical areas of the brain that control the mind, we are left to wonder, where is the mind?
Penfield wrote that “it will always be quite impossible to explain the mind on the basis of neuronal activity in the brain.” Unable to find the mind in the brain, yet ever aware of the presence of the mind during his research, Penfield determined that something else must be causing the mind. And what was that something else? He declared, “What a thrill it [was] to discover that the scientist, too, can legitimately believe in the existence of the spirit!”