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The Power of Thought to Heal:
An Ontology of Personal Faith


Arthur Preston Smith

Claremont Graduate University: 1998

©Copyright 1998 by Arthur Preston Smith
All Rights Reserved

We, the undersigned, certify that we have read this dissertation
and approve it as adequate in scope and quality for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.

Dissertation Committee:
David Ray Griffin, Chair
John Roth, Member
Fred Sontag, Member

Abstract of the Dissertation

This dissertation discusses the philosophical issues involved with psychosomatic healing. It attempts to establish two theses. The first is that psychosomatic healing is a very real, if not common, phenomenon. The second is that it is also a natural process, i.e., it need not involve any supernatural Divine intervention. If it involves God's action at all, then God is acting through natural processes. Evidence from numerous sources, such as the placebo effect, the new science of psychoneuroimmunology, scientific studies and experiments, and historical events, is used to support the first thesis. Although this evidence strongly supports the proposition that thoughts, attitudes and beliefs can significantly affect health, it tells us nothing about the interaction involved, if any, between the mind and the brain.

The apparent mystery of psychosomatic healing can be traced to two underlying philosophical enigmas: the mind-body relationship and efficient causation as real influence, neither of which can be resolved empirically. An overview of the current mind-body debate in contemporary philosophy is presented, in which the dualists and materialists, the two major contenders in this debate, are shown to have succeeded in refuting each other. Accordingly, we must reject both positions. The idealist alternative, the prevailing paradigm among advocates of mental healing, is also examined, and it too is shown to be inadequate.

The apparent mystery of mental healing, as well as the presumption that it must somehow be supernatural, are both attributed to modern philosophy's attempt to understand efficient causation and the mind-body relationship in terms of substance-and-attribute thinking. To understand either efficient causation in general, or mind-body interaction in particular, we must change the context of the discussion from one of substance and attribute to one of process and creativity. Whitehead's philosophical model, in that it addresses this point directly, is therefore an excellent starting point in unraveling the mystery of psychosomatic healing.

Hyperlinked Contents

Part I Introduction to the Project

Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Definitions of Terms and of Regulative Principles

Part II Empirical Evidence

Chapter 3 An Overview of the Empirical Evidence
Chapter 4 Evidence from the Placebo Effect
Chapter 5 The Nascent Science of Psychoneuroimmunology
Chapter 6 Controlled Statistical Studies of Mental Healing
Chapter 7 Documented Evidence for Psychosomatic Causation

Part III Philosophical Arguments

Chapter 8 Conclusions from the Evidence
Chapter 9 Of Ghosts and Machines: Understanding the Mystery of Mind over Matter
Chapter 10 Whitehead's Process Model
Chapter 11 Objections, Replies, and Conclusion


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This dissertation is dedicated to three people who shared with me the risks and sacrifices required to complete it. The first of these was my mother, the late Dr. Margaret Smith (1914-1995), who provided both financial aid and inspiration during my graduate studies. The second is my wife, Robin Smith, who supported us financially during my years of full-time study, and who shared equally with me all the emotional and financial burdens involved. Moreover, her on-going struggle with systemic lupus erythematosus dramatically demonstrated how important and powerful the psychosomatic element in healing can be. The third is my daughter, Ariella Smith, who seems to be growing into a wonderful human being, in spite of the fact that her father was less available than he should have been during the first three years of her life.


I owe thanks to many people, whose assistance was indispensable in completing this project. First among these is David Ray Griffin, advisor and committee chair, for his thoroughness and promptness in reviewing my work in progress -- even when it involved considerable discomfort and inconvenience on his part. Without his on-going feedback, it would have been impossible to maintain the standard of scholarship that this project required. I thank Professors John Roth and Fred Sontag, for their participation in my dissertation committee, and for their valued feedback too. I thank the faculty of both the Religion and Philosophy departments of the Claremont Graduate University, for accepting and supporting a student whose interests in graduate study were somewhat unconventional. I thank my father, Dr. Carroll H. Smith, for supporting me through my undergraduate studies, and for sharing with me his medical career experiences, without which I would never understood what it is like to be medical doctor. I thank Drs. Anthony Smart and Colleen Fitzpatrick, my two physicist friends, for reviewing my work from a scientific perspective. I thank the people at Compulink Management Center, Inc., of Torrance, CA, where I worked during my years of candidacy, and whose LaserFiche® document imaging software rendered my empirical research so much easier. I thank Larry Gneiting, my personal coach, for giving me the inspiration and guidance I needed to keep going when the project appeared to be impossible. Finally, I would like to thank Rev. Linda McNamar, United Church of Religious Science, who, when acting as associate dean of the Ernest Holmes College seminary, suggested that I return to graduate school in the first place.


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Copyright© 2001 Arthur Preston Smith, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Last modified: April 20, 2011