The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

The Irreducibility Problem

One elegant way of solving the “irreducibility” problem (how mind can be reduced to matter) was devised by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. He was keenly aware of the inscrutability of matter in general and of brain matter in particular: we cannot know the nature of matter (electrons, gravitational waves and so forth) other than through theories and experiments, but never feel it directly.  In particular, we cannot know the processes that occur in our own brain.

Russell thought that mind allows us to perceive, at least,  some  of those processes as they occur in the brain. He made the remark that what a neurologist really sees while examining someone else’s brain is a part of her own (the neurologist’s) brain. The irreducibility of the mental to the physical is simply an illusion: the mental and the physical are different ways of knowing the same thing, the former by consciousness and the latter by the senses. Consciousness gives us immediate, direct knowledge of what is in the brain, whereas the senses can observe (possibly aided by instruments) what is in the brain.

In Russell’s theory, the mental is not reduced to the physical, and the traditional preeminence of the physical over the mental is turned on its head: the mental is a transparent grasp of the intrinsic character of the brain. Consciousness is, basically, just another sense, a sense that, instead of perceiving colors or smells or sounds, perceives the very nature of the brain.


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