The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Brains Cause Minds

The state of the “mind-body debate” can be appreciated by vivisecting some of its fundamental tenets.

Many contemporary philosophers, notably John Searle, would subscribe to the statement that minds are caused by brains. And the notion sounds intuitively true. A closer inspection reveals how unfounded this view is, and how misleading it can be for reasoning on consciousness. The problem is that the sentence is too informal to yield any formal, scientific discussion.

First of all, is the brain sufficient for a mind to exist? Can a brain alone yield a mind? We have no evidence whatsoever of a brain that, alone, causes a mind. Without a heart, would the brain cause a mind? Without the blood? Without the oxygen? Without all the nerves connecting to the senses? If somebody were to cut my head off and pull my brain out, I doubt that my brain would still cause my mind to exist. It would still be made of exactly the same matter, but it would not be able to cause a mind anymore. It would be, quite simply, rotting. The same object causes a mind or not depending on whether it is alive or dead. Truth is, we only have evidence of minds contained in bodies, and in living bodies. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to state that “living bodies cause minds”.

Second, is the brain necessary for a mind to exist? We have no evidence of other (non-brain) things causing minds, but then we have no way of gathering that evidence. There is no way that we can know whether a different type of thing can also cause a mind. There is no way of knowing if an insect is conscious, if bacteria are conscious, if plants are conscious, if crystals are conscious, etc. Therefore, it would be more prudent to say that “at least living bodies cause minds”. Which is a far less exciting proposition than “brains cause minds”.

But the biggest problem is that even the term “brain” needs to be qualified. What is a brain? Is the skull part of the brain? Are the eyes part of the brain? What are the borders of the brain? Where does a nerve stop being part of the brain? Where do we cut off all the nerves, veins and muscles that link it to the rest of the body? At the chin? At the throat? How much can we change in a brain without changing its being a brain? What about other animals? Do cat’s brains also qualify as brains? Do nervous systems of insects also qualify as brains? Does a computer qualify as a brain? Does a crystal qualify as a brain? What makes a brain a brain?

If minds are indeed caused by brains, what needs to be present in a conglomerate of neurons for it to become a brain that causes a mind? As a hypothetical Dr Frankenstein adds features to the ball of fibers that he assembled in his laboratory, at which point does that ugly mess become a mind that feels and thinks?

The closer we look, the less sure we are of the intuitive statement that brains cause minds.


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