The Mystery of Consciousness

One of the debates in the philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience is the mystery regarding the nature of consciousness. Philosopher David Chalmers introduces the problem when he writes:

Conscious experience is at once the most familiar thing in the world and the most mysterious. There is nothing we know about more directly than consciousness, but it is extraordinarily hard to reconcile it with everything else we know. Why does it exist? What does it do? How could it possibly arise from neural processes in the brain? These questions are among the most intriguing in all of science.”[1]

Is naturalism, (the view that all that exists are material entities and that’s it) an adequate explanation for the nature of conscious mental states? In exploring the private nature of consciousness we can find the answer to this all important question.

Owning What is on the Inside

We all have consciousness and are intimately aware of this fact. Mental properties or states reside in the consciousness. For example, a subject (S) can know (K) a Mental State (M) by being consciously aware of it and readily having access to such (M) states.

S perceives[2]—> (redness) of an object X. Object X is immediately Known(K) (mental state of awareness to the subjective knower) that object X is red.This results in the experience of perceiving a red object.

The ability to experience what has been perceived, like redness of an object, is a subjective aspect of the mind which cannot be explained by naturalism. Other such perceptions like thoughts, sensations, beliefs, desires, pain, the ability of human powers are properties of your mind that no one else has access. The only way they could have access is if you verbalize your thoughts or through your own behavior.

Having the sensation of being in pain is an example of a mental property or state. The holding of thought is another instance of a mental state, for example, the experience of reading when “at the very moment when we are aware that we have failed to understand a passage which consequently ends up rereading.”[3] Such conscious experiences are not available to anyone but are privative in nature. Furthermore, they are irreducible because they are owned by persons who are essentially immaterial substances, unlike physical properties which are public in nature and have physical descriptions of them.[4]

These are important distinctions because strictly physical properties do not have consciousness attached to them. Despite the efforts of some neuroscientist attempt to link neuronal states with mental states[5], the ability to think, have desires, experience pain, etc., are non-physical, immaterial, and not equivalent to the physical biomass of the human brain and its electrochemical states. It seems then, these can only be adequately accounted for if they are enjoined by the soul!

The Existence of God

How does the argument from the irreducible nature of consciousness available to the perspective of the first person support the theistic hypothesis that God exists? Those phenomena have a personal causal explanation.  Naturalism cannot explain the nature of consciousness, the mental life is enjoined by the soul and therefore is non-physical. An adequate explanation would consist of an invisible, all-powerful creator, who is responsible for order, purpose and endowed humans with the previously mentioned mental properties. Given such reasons, it is clear, God exists.

Footnotes

[1]David Chalmers, “The Puzzle of Conscious Experience.” Scientific American, v. 273, issue 6 December 1995, 86.

[2] By my eye movement-which usually precedes a motor action by a fraction of a second- as I intend to act causally directed by the object, I’m fixated on. Although I may perceive the gist of something without giving it much attention, my choosing to attend to a particular object is possible by my freedom to do so and by the marvellous design of my sense cognition reacting to stimuli of the external environment. My fixation of an object and the choosing of action, for example, making a sandwich as I reach over to grab the mayonnaise jar I will have a sequence of fixations, as I start from step one on to however many steps involved by the addition of what I may want on that sandwich. Normally the order of steps involved in my elementary process of making a sandwich is quite simple, but each person’s order of fixation remains variable from person to person. See Bruce Goldstein Sensation and Perception 7th ed. (CA: Thomson, 2007), 125 and by the same author, Cognitive Psychology (CA: Thomson, 2005), 120.

[3]Pierre Vermersch, “Introspection as Practice.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6, No.2-3, 1999, 17-42.

[4]  The late J.J.C. Smart commenting on the human person being described in terms of a mechanistic entity wrote, “It seems to me that science is increasingly giving us a viewpoint whereby organisms are able to be seen as physiochemical mechanisms: it seems that even the behavior of man himself will one day be explicable in mechanistic terms. There does seem to be, so far as science is concerned, nothing in the world but increasingly complex arrangements of physical constituents. All except for one place: in consciousness.” “Sensations and Brain Processes,” in Modern Philosophy of Mind ed. William Lyons. (London: Everyman, 1995), 118.

[5] See George Northoff and Alexander Heinzel, “First-Person Neuroscience: A new methodological approach for linking mental and neuronal states.” Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2006, 1:3.

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