by Marinus Jan Marijs
In science related to consciousness and the brain, it is often assumed that the brain generates consciousness. This however is not a proven fact but is rooted in a philosophical preference. David Chalmers, a renowned philosopher who is very well informed about the known literature in this area, gives the following text, which states that consciousness generated by the brain is an hypothesis and not a scientific fact.
Materialists try to explain consciousness in terms of brain activity, but according to David Chalmers:
How could a physical system such as a brain also be an experiencer? Why should there be something it is like to be such a system? Present-day scientific theories hardly touch the really difficult questions about consciousness…. We are entirely in the dark about how consciousness fits into the natural order. Many books and articles on consciousness have appeared in the past few years, and one might think that we are making progress. But on a closer look, most of this work leaves the hardest problems about consciousness untouched. Often such work addresses what might be called the “easy” problems of consciousness: How does the brain process environmental stimulation? How does it integrate information? How do we produce reports on internal states? These are important questions, but to answer them is not to solve the hard problem: Why is all this processing accompanied by an experienced inner life [i.e., consciousness—emphasis added]? Sometimes this question is ignored entirely; sometimes it is put off until another day; and sometimes it is simply declared answered. But in each case … the central problem remains as puzzling as ever….
No collection of facts about complex causation in physical systems adds up to a fact about consciousness…. To analyse consciousness in terms of some functional notion is either to change the subject or to define away the problem….
I argue that reductive explanation of consciousness is impossible and I even argue for a form of dualism [where consciousness is different from matter]….
Temperamentally, I am strongly inclined toward materialist reductive explanation, and I have no strong spiritual or religious inclinations. For a number of years, I hoped for a materialist theory; when I gave up on this hope, it was quite reluctantly. It eventually seemed plain to me that these conclusions were forced on anyone who wants to take consciousness seriously. Materialism is a beautiful and compelling view of the world, but to account for consciousness, we have to go beyond the resources it provides.…
We have not remotely come to grips with the central problem, namely conscious experience itself….
At the end of the day, we still need to explain why it is like this to be a conscious agent. An explanation of behaviour or of some causal role is simply explaining the wrong thing…. Our theories must explain what cries out for explanation.
I resisted mind-body dualism for a long time, but I have now come to the point where I accept it… I can comfortably say that I think dualism is very likely true. I have also raised the possibility of a kind of panpsychism [wherein consciousness pervades the universe]. Like mind-body dualism, this is initially counterintuitive, but the counterintuitiveness disappears with time. I am unsure whether the view is true or false, but it is at least intellectually appealing, and on reflection it is not too crazy to be acceptable.
– David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, Oxford Univ., 1996, pp. xi-xii, xiv, 103-105, 188-189, 357.
There may be neuronal correlates for these mental events, but such a correlation doesn’t necessarily mean that these mental events find their origin there.
One could use a tape recorder– radio analogy:
In a monistic materialistic worldview the brain is like a tape recorder; it records environmental input coming into the brain, remembers it and simply translates this input into images, ideas etc. like an algorithm.
But in a dualistic worldview the brain is like a radio. The soul or the ‘consciousness’ part of a person is actively seeking an experience in the physical world and the brain, because of its ‘limited’ tuning ability, enables a filtered experience of the physical world.
Nick Herbert in his book Elemental Mind asks the question:
Why is there a felt-sense of the “unity of conscious experience”: “Although we know the brain to be a massive parallel processor with many billions of operations going on at the same time, our inner experience seems to possess a single centre: whatever is going on seems to be happening to only one being.
The conclusion that consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of matter, a by-product of brain processes, becomes extremely apparent during an out of the body state. In that state one experiences clarity, peace and the extra sensory powers of perception. This is because the brain loses its limiting influence in that state. Moreover because of the absence of the limiting influence of the brain, all emotions, be it positive or negative, are experienced much stronger.
Experiences and perceptions become much intense, clearer, brighter, more luminous; unclouded. Only a part of the human spirit can express itself through the brain. That’s why people are often so positive about the way their mind functions during an out of the body experience. During an out of the body experience one can get access to what Henri Bergson called “Pure memory”.