The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

The Age Of Materialism

As the mind-body problem became the "mind-brain problem" during the course of the 20th century, materialism begot "physicalism", according to which a mental state "is" a physical state of the brain.

Note that the emphasis on the brain is not completely natural: I feel pain in my foot, not in my brain. But progress in neurophysiology has created a fascination with the brain, which some people describe as the most complex thing in the universe. Therefore the emphasis shifted from the body to the brain although there really is no evidence to rule out that the rest of the body does not affect the mind (there is evidence to the contrary).

The “identity theory“ (the one pioneered by Feigl) states, point blank, that mental states "are" physical states of the brain (just like lightning is "identical" to a stream of electrons). Since it is a little implausible to assume that for every single mental state there is a unique neural state, a variant of identity theory relaxed this constraint: the “token identity theory“ (Donald Davidson) does assume that any mental state is identical to a physical state, but the physical state corresponding to a given mental state is not necessarily always the same one (this allows for two people to have the same feeling, or for the same person to have the same feeling twice, without having every single neuron in the same state both times).

The most difficult problem for materialism is to explain how the mind, and especially feelings, can arise from material processes: how can electrochemical activities in my brain suddenly turn into the feeling of pain or fear? John Searle has summarized the problem as a paradox: either the identity theory leaves out the mind, in which case it is implausible, or it does not, in which case it is not materialist anymore.


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