In a Dan Brown book, the author claims that thoughts can interact with matter, and the entire field of study associated with this is called "Noetic Sciences".

Is this actually true? What is the veracity of this claim? Is there actually any proof behind this?

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    The reference is to the institute of noetic sciences, that "brings objective scientific tools and techniques together with subjective inner knowing to study the full range of human experience", according to its director. Most scientists would characterize its activities as pseudo-science along the lines of parapsychology. The term "noetic" is also used in Husserlian phenomenology, but without the paranormal claims.
    – Conifold
    Jul 1, 2019 at 7:39
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    This is a potencial question for: skeptics.stackexchange.com
    – borjab
    Jul 1, 2019 at 17:01
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    This is the kind of people that ruins the reputation of philosophy. Utter nonsense. If anything, one should ask oneself whether there is any reason not to consider "thought" and "physical things happening in the brain" as two sides of the same medal, making the question for how the "interaction" works obsolete. Having two different perspectives on a single thing does not make two entities...
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jul 1, 2019 at 21:53
  • You lost me at "in a Dan Brown book"...
    – armand
    Jul 2, 2019 at 8:55
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    @borjab thank, actually i didn't know where to ask this question
    – user226375
    Jul 2, 2019 at 16:05

3 Answers 3


Thoughts consist of nerve impulses, and they most certainly can and do interact with matter- at least in the sense that nerve impulses can cause muscles to contract in the human body. But the context in which sensational claims are made for this (telekinesis, remote viewing, etc.) is something very different.

Claims that the mind can directly move or influence matter have been made for centuries and have gone by different names, but given the sensitivity of modern measurement tools, if any such effect did exist we would have detected it by now.

The veracity of these claims has not been demonstrated, and no proof exists that the effect is real. Furthermore, no mechanism for it has been furnished which does not in some way rely on "magic" i.e., something outside the realm of known physics.

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    "Thoughts consist of nerve impulses" is a fairly strong claim that appears to presuppose a form of reductive materialism. It strikes me as even a bit stronger than the common claim that "thoughts tightly correlate with nerve impulses". I don't think this claim is necessary for the subsequent statement that 'magical manipulation' has not been empirically demonstrated and I only highlight this because I think there's some room for further subtlety in this first bit and want to clearly delineate that disputing magic by overwhelming lack of evidence doesn't rely on it.
    – Dan Bryant
    Jul 1, 2019 at 14:23
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    @DanBryant Thoughts consist of nerve impulses as much as computations in executing software consists of electrical signals. It doesn't… but remove the signals and the thoughts stop.
    – wizzwizz4
    Jul 1, 2019 at 16:54
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    I am a reductionist, and not generally a subtle one. I prefer to leave my answer as-is. Jul 1, 2019 at 17:18
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    @ShadowRanger, Just to be clear, I have no objection to this answer. My comment is only intended to highlight a point of philosophical contention and to add my own claim that the empirical debunking of pseudoscience here isn't dependent on how one approaches the first point.
    – Dan Bryant
    Jul 1, 2019 at 17:30
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    @DanBryant Those that dispute materialism have the burden of proof. Materialism isn't a "fairly strong claim", it's simple Occam's Razor. Jul 1, 2019 at 20:34

There are a number of games available at this point which use a consumer-grade EEG machine to read brainwaves and control the action.

In order for you to play these games, your thoughts must either control or be your brainwaves and must affect some matter external to the body -- specifically the EEG sensors.

Strictly speaking there's no reason that specific circumstances couldn't result in a natural EEG sensor, either object(s) or other brains, but the effects are going to be subtle and highly dependent on the configuration and if such things were common in the general population we'd have more than folktales and anecdotes about it.

As far as practical use goes: further development of brainwave-scanning control systems for machines is far more likely to bear fruit. The energy of the human nervous system is quite detectable, but I know of no recorded instances where individuals could put all that much power into it. Developing an amplifier tuned to brainwaves might also be interesting, but the amount of power required to get significant effects from solid matter would make it a bit on the silly side and anything you could do with it you could probably do much more efficiently with more standard devices.

  • Would you have references to the EEG machines you are referring to? Welcome! Jul 1, 2019 at 22:17
  • Search for "EEG games" on practically any search engine.
    – Perkins
    Jul 1, 2019 at 23:50

The OP asks these questions regarding "noetic sciences":

Is this actually true? What is the veracity of this claim? Is there actually any proof behind this?

Dean Radin, from The Institute of Noetic Studies, provides a select bibliography citing "peer-reviewed journal articles about psi (psychic) phenomena". The topics include "Mind-Matter Interactions" that the OP is interested in.

As a partial answer for whether there exists "any proof behind this" Radin's list makes it clear that evidence does exists for the claims.

The issue of whether it is true or not should be handled carefully. As with any science the results represent defeasible reasoning which Wikipedia describes as "rationally compelling, though not deductively valid." Calling the results of any science "true" may be an inappropriate use of the word.

Furthermore, although the data is real, one could use this data to support many different metaphysical commitments. It could be used to support panpsychism, or pantheism and even traditional theism. It could support something entirely new. There are aspects of these which are not likely compatible with the others.

One thing that the data doesn't support, unless there is further modification, is the belief that our universe is a computer simulation. Alan Turing recognized this as early as 1950 when he responded to the ninth objection to the imitation game:

I assume that the reader is familiar with the idea of extrasensory perception, and the meaning of the four items of it, viz., telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis. These disturbing phenomena seem to deny all our usual scientific ideas. How we should like to discredit them! Unfortunately the statistical evidence, at least for telepathy, is overwhelming. It is very difficult to rearrange one's ideas so as to fit these new facts in. Once one has accepted them it does not seem a very big step to believe in ghosts and bogies. The idea that our bodies move simply according to the known laws of physics, together with some others not yet discovered but somewhat similar, would be one of the first to go.

This argument is to my mind quite a strong one. One can say in reply that many scientific theories seem to remain workable in practice, in spite of clashing with ESP; that in fact one can get along very nicely if one forgets about it. This is rather cold comfort, and one fears that thinking is just the kind of phenomenon where ESP may be especially relevant.

If one does not like the evidence for mind-matter interactions, one should not try to suppress it but adjust one's theories to explain it. If falsifiability is an appropriate approach to science this is how science improves.

If one does like the evidence, one should not assume it justifies more than it does.

Radin, Dean. Selected Psi Research Publications. Retrieved on July 1, 2019 at http://deanradin.com/evidence/evidence.htm

Turing, Alan (October 1950), "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", Mind, LIX (236): 433–460, doi:10.1093/mind/LIX.236.433

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, January 28). Defeasible reasoning. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:20, July 1, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Defeasible_reasoning&oldid=880695250

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    I did ctrl-f on the The Institute of Noetic Studies link you provided, searching for "bibilography", and did not see anything. The link at the end of your answer seems to be a Gish Gallop. Your answer amounts to a link-only answer, where you aren't even linking to the data in question, you're linking to page that has links to articles about meta-studies that say they saw studies that said they had data. Your answer is fifth-hand claims. Jul 1, 2019 at 20:44
  • @Acccumulation I just checked the link and it works. Make sure you are looking at the correct link or go to the Institute of Noetic Studies and search there. For what it is worth, I have had that happen to me as well with that particular link so I do not doubt what you are saying happened. I will let people know at the IONS. Thanks for letting me know the link did not work. Jul 2, 2019 at 8:04
  • The link works. Doing cntrl-f on "bibliography" does not return anything, and using the site's search tool return only "Spontaneous Remissions Bibliography", "Spontaneous Cancer Remission — Clues to Extraordinary Healing", "Do Your Focus Tools Work? Are You Drawing on Information from the Future?", and "Meditation Research: A Bridge between Worldviews" Jul 2, 2019 at 15:09
  • @Acccumulation I did run into a similar situation although not recently and I have reported it to Radin. I can access the bibliography. On Chrome I've done ctrl-shift-R to reload. One on the Mind-Matter list that I found in particular interesting is deanradin.com/evidence/RadinQuantumBiosystems2015.pdf psychophysical interactions with a double-slit optical system. Jul 2, 2019 at 17:41

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