The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"


The problem with dualism is how mind and body influence each other while being made of two different substances.

In the 18th century the Swiss biologist Charles Bonnet (“Essay on Psychology”, 1754) attempted to solve the dilemma by introducing "Epiphenomenalism", the idea that the mind cannot influence the body (an idea later borrowed by the British philosopher Thomas Huxley).  Bonnet expanded on Descartes' intuition that mind-body interaction must occur in the brain. He then analyzed the brain and realized that mental activity reflects brain activity.  Bonnet also expanded on Descartes' intuition that a body is a mechanical device.  He simply added that the automaton is controlled by the brain. Different animals have different functioning (an idea that Huxley married to Darwin's theory) but ultimately they are all bodies run by brains in an optimal way to survive and reproduce.  Humans, and possibly other animals as well, are also conscious, but consciousness has no role in directing the automaton. Mind cannot influence the body. The mind merely observes the behavior of the body, although it believes that it actually causes it. (Note that “mind” was pretty much synonymous with “consciousness”).

"Epiphenomenalism" therefore accepts that mind and body are made of different substances, but the mind has no influence on the body. The brain causes the mind, but the mind has no saying on the brain's work. Mental events have no material effects, whereas material events may have mental effects. Mental events are simply by-products of material events (like smoke is a by-product of a fire but has no impact on the fire).


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