Views of consciousness

Various views of what consciousness and mind are:

  1. Nondualism — reality is in essence: the manifestation of pure and universal consciousness, or the One Mind.
  2. Mind-body dualism — two separate realms: (1) physical, (2) supernatural.
  3. Materialism/physicalism — consciousness is generated by the brain; and that's all there is to it. Various explanations of what consciousness is: (1) emergent property, (2) a mere illusion, (3) the "programs" running in the brain, (4) states and processes of the brain, (5) the flow of electrons or information in the brain.

I discuss each of these in more detail:


The view of various eastern religions and spiritual paths.

The claim is: that through the practice of deep meditation, you experience the connectedness of all things, and attain to permanent bliss as a self-actualized person. This experience of cosmic consciousness is a higher form of our normal consciousness.

Proponents of this view claim that the experience itself is proof of the view. They ignore the possibility that: the brain is able to function in this mystical mode, and that it's just another brain-generated conscious experience.

As an analogy, hallucinogenic drugs or psychotic experiences generate altered conscious states, but no one would claim these are proof of the reality of whatever so-called knowledge these states generate.


The view of Christianity.

There are two distinct realm: one physical; one supernatural. The universe is physical; things such as mind, souls, and God; these are supernatural.

This implies communication between the physical realm and the supernatural realm.

Examples of God interacting with the physical universe:

  1. He created the universe and biological life.
  2. He triggers mutations in DNA which result in evolution.
  3. He performs miracles.
  4. He answers prayer by changing what would have happened.

Examples of the soul interacting with the physical universe:

  1. Inputs from the bodily senses are pre-processed by the brain, then sent into the supernatural realm for the soul and its mind and consciousness to experience.
  2. The mind and consciousness trigger actions in the body via the brain.

The assumption of dualism is that whatever the subjective experience of consciousness is, it is an aspect of the supernatural realm. The same goes for God. There is no need to further explain these, nor is there a need to explain what the essence of the supernatural realm is except to list what is in it (God, mind, ideas, soul, consciousness with its contents, etc).


The only way for any of the materialist views of consciousness to be coherent is: if there is property of the universe called "consciousness" (or "qualia").

Just as with energy and entropy: (1) these exist, (2) they are very weird, and (3) they can be measured, having mathematical equations that describe their operation. The problem with consciousness as something like this is that no one knows how to measure it, nor to even define what it is.

But consciousness can't be measured in nondualism or mind-body dualism either.

Emergent property

A variety of materialism/physicalism.

Examples of emergent properties:

  1. Flocks of birds flying, or schools of fish swimming.
  2. Surface tension of water.
  3. The organs of biological organisms which emerge from tissues and cells.

Patterns and structures emerge from the underlying structures at a lower level.

Consciousness is just another emergent property.

The problem with this view is that is doesn't really explain anything. It merely claims that consciousness emerges from brain function. But it does not say what the subjective experience of consciousness is.


A variety of materialism/physicalism.

We think we are a person having conscious experience; but this is merely an illusion.

A common example of this is optical illusions. But the existence of optical illusions don't prove that consciousness itself is an illusion. Rather, they merely demonstrate that our perception of the world is deeply flawed.

It is true that the contents of our consciousness awareness is a very bad representation of reality.

Even if consciousness were not merely an illusion, it could never 100% correspond to reality. Here's why: Matter is, in its essence, not conscious. So therefore, our consciousness of physical objects can never exactly correspond to reality; rather, our conscious experience will be some sort of symbolic representation of reality.

A good example is our experience that rocks are hard. But in reality, the "hardness" is merely the electrostatic forces attracting and repelling within the atomic structure of the rock as we interact with it.

I think the main problems with this view are: (1) is doesn't really say anything useful, and (2) it denies that our perception of reality even exists at all. Yet it is this very perception of reality by the scientist that allows for scientific knowledge to be determined via the scientific method. You may as well call science an illusion also. Or all of reality.


A variety of materialism/physicalism.

Various brain structures and interactions within the neural network of the brain.

This view uses computer programs as an analogy for brain function. The various aspects and components that make up the totality of our conscious experience are various programs.

This view doesn't require materialism. Even in dualism, the brain has tight correspondence with conscious experience. The only thing dualism adds is the subjective experience itself, explaining it by relegating it to the supernatural realm (which doesn't actually explain it at all, it turns out).


A variety of materialism/physicalism.

This view has the advantage over the previous one, I think, in that it doesn't assume anything about the particular operation of the brain. It leaves this as an open topic for science to discover. Maybe the brain is not much like a computer at all, and maybe its operation is not much like computer programs at all.

This view merely claims that: whatever consciousness is, it is generated completely by the brain. There is nothing outside of the functioning of the brain required to explain it.


A variety of materialism/physicalism.

The flow of information within the brain.

This view proposes that it is information flowing within the neural network of the brain that is itself the essence of the subjective experience of consciousness. In other words, consciousness is not an illusion; rather, it is the flow on information.

This view hints that there may be other kinds of consciousness than what we experience; these as a result of other kinds of flows of information. Examples: (1) chemical signaling within cells, (2) sap flowing in a tree trunk, or (3) energy flowing within stars.