Here is an excerpt from my first book, Free Will? I have always been interested in consciousness and it remains a fertile battleground for many philosophers:

Consciousness explained?


We have touched lightly on naturalism and the soul, so it would be rude, and a little short-sighted, to forget to mention consciousness. Consciousness is another sticky bog that perhaps potentially undermines any concept of determinism. Unlike the soul, we know consciousness, at least in some way (and possibly not the way we imagine at all), exists. We feel it all the time – back to our Cartesian arguments of thinking, and therefore being. It is incredible that our consciousness is the thing we spend the most time with and yet it is the thing in biology that we understand the least. It can be described as the subjective experience of thoughts, feelings and sensations – of our mind. But that is about where agreement ends amongst philosophers of the mind.

As we were discussing earlier with either naturalism or supernaturalism being foundation blocks to thinking about our beliefs, there are similar issues that we need to consider before we investigate consciousness further – materialism and dualism. There is a version of naturalism known as materialism that dictates that everything in the universe is made of matter, including consciousness. A materialist worldview asserts that consciousness is a physical thing that adheres to the laws of science like everything else in the universe.          The belief that consciousness is a purely natural, physical phenomena is sometimes known as monism – as opposed to dualism which asserts that mind and body are separate. A monist, as a result of materialist methodology, could claim that the brain pretty much equals consciousness, and that consciousness adheres to the physical laws of the universe, being essentially a ‘physical’ phenomenon. The other option of materialists is that consciousness is somehow resultant from biological processes, and is made up of something that is still physical, and adheres to physical laws. The history of the term materialism has been interesting. Originally materialism, according to Descartes, was a very “matter-driven” theory. So when electromagnetism and gravity popped along, the idea of materialism was somewhat blown out of the water, and had to grow to encompass the new states. Personally, I think physicalism is a better term to use, since we can posit that consciousness is a state that adheres to the laws of physics, but that we don’t properly understand that state yet. Much like people did not understand gravity or electromagnetism way back yonder, we do not fully understand the physics of consciousness.

The dualist, although they might possibly accept that the consciousness adheres to natural laws, believes that consciousness and the brain are separate states; the brain is physical, but consciousness is mental, it’s out there beyond the confines of the physical brain. It is another state entirely that needs explaining.

From my experience in Tippling Philosophers, and from seeing many vociferous debates among philosophers of the mind, the mind-body problem embodies some of the most closely fought battles within the realms of philosophy, science and religion. It is something that everyone can engage with, because almost everyone believes that they have some kind of consciousness. I have lost many hours of good sleep throwing emails back and forth with other members of the group in an often exasperated, and angry keyboard-tapping fashion.

The big issue with consciousness, as I mentioned earlier, is that although it is an obviously existent thing, in one form or another, we aren’t exactly sure how it works. There are, according to the experts, different types of consciousness: the experience we have of the physical sensations around us (phenomenal consciousness), and the verbal representations of our internal reasoning (access consciousness) such as perception, introspection and remembering. This latter is most connected to decision-making and intention. There are many interpretations of consciousness, and how the mechanism of the brain ‘interacts’ with it. For example, one such suggestion is that our senses build up a model of the world around us, a sort of simulated representation, and we make sense of all the data with our brain. Many say that there are philosophical issues with separating the consciousness and the body out, and that humans should be seen as a unified entity.

Language certainly plays a pivotal role within the realms of consciousness, with some arguing that only humans are conscious and only recently so, as a result of the evolution of complex linguistics. I would probably not go so far, but I certainly herald the importance of language both to consciousness and to humanity as a whole. It is very difficult to investigate consciousness and the mind due to the entirely personal and subjective nature of the beast, and our complete inability to access the consciousness of others. However, I would agree with most that the consciousness of animals is far less complex than that of humans, with the main reason being their comparative inability to communicate in such a complex manner. If an elephant was hungry and wanted to eat, I imagine its thought processes would be, internally, primarily pictorial and ‘urge-like’. On the other hand, a human has a consciousness full of internal dialogue and nuance, which can only be expressed with complex linguistics. “Ooh, I could murder a an ice cream, maybe with a chocolate flake and raspberry sauce, although it plays havoc with my sensitive teeth, so maybe I’m better off settling for a large frothy latté (even though they’re extortionate and it’s weeks from payday).”  As we can see with this conscious thought, the complexity of the nuances, constructions, the weighing up of the pros and cons and the mental images are a world apart from what an elephant must experience. Our conscious experience is intrinsically linked to our linguistic ability, which also reflects the complexity of our society. In fact, our opposable thumbs and our ability to communicate are the most important factors, to my mind, of our success as a species, allowing us to handle tools and work co-operatively, as well as weighing up choices and decisions, opportunities and costs. Our language allows us to empathise and conceptualise to a degree almost infinitely higher than any other organism.

A further debate often arises here about what comes first, thought or language, and many philosophers and linguistic experts have proposed different theories. I am attracted to the belief that the two are coextensive – that one cannot exist without the other. In other words, a human could not understand the concept of unrequited love, or philosophy of the mind, without having the language to support these concepts, and more basic language builds itself on more basic concepts so that over the millennia, humans have built brick by brick, a complex understanding of the world around them. With each new concept comes new language – new words – and these enable the person to investigate the concepts that exist higher in order above the last learned concepts. This sort of theory is borne out when considering feral children. Research into feral children has shed light on this area and the “Critical Period Hypothesis” has been put forward to explain that after a certain age, if a child has not learned to speak, then it becomes incredibly hard, if not impossible to learn language thereafter (somewhere between the ages of 5 and puberty). For example, a feral child is one that has been brought up by animals or suchlike that has not had the opportunity to learn and neurally develop the organisation of language. If they are reintroduced to society post-puberty, they will find it almost impossible to then learn language and effective human communication. With this, they can also not comprehend the higher order concepts that many humans live with, and are inspired by. The subject of this book, for example, would be way beyond the comprehension of such a person, and an internalisation of language seems very much to be the golden key. From this, we can deduce that such a child would have a much less nuanced, more animalistic life; they would be much less party to the world of choice and free will that most normal humans are used to. The influence of language has a huge impact upon the lives and society of modern humans, and the way we create intentions, desires, plans and actions.

So, what are the main arguments for a monist approach to consciousness, and what are those for a dualist approach?  To look at monism, it is probably wise to start in the realms of neuroscience. Indeed, most neuroscientists seem to be proponents of monism. As one can imagine, the unfortunate property of investigations into consciousness is that they are very difficult to do, since you cannot, in the modern world of human rights, simply dig around inside someone’s head whilst asking how it makes them feel. I’m not sure, even for a few thousand pounds, that I would accept someone poking my opened skull with a metal rod whilst having to describe to them how it inhibits my sense of self.

What is evident in clinical studies, is that the smooth running of the brain is essential for the sound running of consciousness. Problems like strokes and brain damage cause a loss of aspects of consciousness. When the brain has the misfortune of going into a vegetative state (with its lack of consciousness), it still operates its basic automatic functions. However, patients exhibiting such a vegetative state also have an impaired connectivity between the deeper and upper margins of their brains. Consciousness does seem to be rooted in several parts of the brain, and affecting these different parts with various methods can affect consciousness in different ways (such as memory recall, or the ability to resolve time). There are necessary parts of the brain required for consciousness (though on their own, they may not be sufficient). Problematically though, with there being no clear definition of exactly what consciousness is and does, then there is no clear test for consciousness, and therefore no clear understanding of from whence it comes.

Without getting bogged down with either neuroscience or philosophy of the mind, there are physical theories of the mind, saying that consciousness is somehow a physical property of the brain, that our hardware creates what we know as conscious sensations. One such theory is known as functionalism which tries to eliminate the need for a mental consciousness, seeing it more as a function of the brain, such as cleaning the blood is a function of the liver. For example, being in pain from burning the hand is the causal function of the brain in taking in the nerve and sensory inputs and showing the behaviour of swearing and pulling the hand back. This is sometimes seen as being separate from both physicalism and dualism.

Returning to the notion that certain, more complex animals have consciousness, many believe that the more complex the animal, the more complex the consciousness, such that monkeys and dolphins would have a more complex consciousness than hedgehogs and robins. This suggests that consciousness has a real, tangible function; that it is a direct result of evolutionary processes. If so, what would these functions be?  Well, many functions could be suggested such as planning, learning, problem solving, the imagining of alternatives and so forth. These are the things that make humans what they are, and the things that give us an (evolutionary) advantage over other species around us. Our ability to live and work co-operatively has allowed humanity to spread so successfully around the world that in the last sixty years the world population has over doubled to almost seven billion, reflecting our conscious ability to manipulate technology and each other. These evolutionary functions to consciousness hint strongly at its possible physical nature, developed over millennia of adaption and natural selection.

As far as dualism is concerned, there are many proposed versions of consciousness and how it exists in a separate format from the body / brain. Some certain types of dualism state that consciousness, though effectively separate, still emerges from the physicality of the brain. Such an example of this is the fascinating theory known as Epiphenomenalism, which claims that consciousness is nothing but a reflection of what the brain has already decided to do. It is as if your brain has decided to act, and then at the same time, or just after, it sends impulses to the consciousness that give the impression that the consciousness is intending the actions, but in reality they have already been determined by the brain. An example here would be Andy, at Tippling Philosophers, deciding to get the second round in[1]. His thinking “I’d better get a round in before last orders” might well have been a decision that his non-conscious brain had already taken, and his thoughts are merely a later reflection of that, a by-product of his non-conscious machinations. Thus, in this case, consciousness is nothing but an illusion of control over the body, and simply appears to be a sort of fictional movie of what is going on, shown in the internal cinema of the mind, but not the actual reality. A good explanation is given by Julian Baggini in The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten:


Let’s say you’re trying to work out a solution to a tricky logical or mathematical problem. Eventually, the eureka moment comes. In this case, surely the actual thinking has to play a part in the explanation for your actions?

Well, no. Why can’t I believe that the conscious experience of thinking is just the by-product of the computing that is going on at brain level?  It may be the necessary by-product. But just as the noise that a boiling pot of water makes is an inevitable by-product of the heating without that meaning it is the noise that cooks the egg, so thought could be the necessary by-product of neural computation that doesn’t itself produce the solution to the problem.

(Baggini 2006, p.62-63)


The most commonly accepted version of dualism is known as interactionism which proposes that there is an interacting causal chain between brain / body and mind. Such an example would be the chef in the Bella Causa Pizzeria preparing a pasta meal, cutting some parsley, and then cutting his finger. His cries of pain can be heard in the restaurant outside. This makes the owner put down the bottle of wine that he is pouring. Feeling a sense of fear that something really bad has happened in the kitchen, he runs back to the kitchen. Here we have a physical event causing a mental event, which causes a physical event and a mental event. There is clear interaction here between the mental and the physical, and vice versa. This is generally the position that people hold, especially people that haven’t ever really pondered how consciousness or causality works. This version of events is taken for granted, and supposed in all our conversations about why we do things and why something happened. In a way, this becomes the crux of the free will debate – can this version of events be correct?

Arguments for dualism or against dualism range in form, but I will try to sum some of them up here. The first, and perhaps one of the foremost arguments to support dualism is the idea that mental and physical qualities are very different. This is known as dealing with qualia, which are the subjective sensations associated with a mental experience (the phenomenal aspect of consciousness). For example, what it feels like to look at your newly painted burgundy wall, or what it feels like to cut your finger, or how nice it feels to see your family again after climbing Mount Everest. These feelings seem to be extremely difficult to express in physical terms. In a physical sense, we can know all there is to know about, say, a dog, but we would never know what it feels like to be a dog. This theory was expounded by a chap called Frank Johnson who created a thought experiment called Mary’s Room. Imagine that there is an amazing neuroscientist, specialising in the neurophysiology of vision, who is made to learn all about the world from a black and white room, using a black and white television. She acquires all the physical information there is to know about situations when we see things of colour, such as ripe tomatoes. She understands the wavelengths of colours as they hit the retina and interact with the central nervous system, and understands the processes of the vocal chords contracting to produce the words “The sky is blue”, and so on. When she is released from the room and sees, for example, a ripe tomato, in colour for the first time, does she learn anything new?  It is posited that if she experiences something new and different, that this is the experience of qualia, that they cannot be physically learnt without experiencing.

One problem with this thought experiment is the premise that all can be learnt without experiencing. This is simply a dubious premise. As Daniel Dennett[2] would say, Mary would simply not have the full knowledge of visually seeing red. A complete understanding would simply allow Mary to know how and why she would experience qualia. In this way, we can state that someone in Mary’s position would not be able to ski in that room, that the act of skiing gives over new information and ability[3]. This is like fishing with a three-inch holed net and then claiming that 2 inch fish don’t exist because you have never caught any. We have in no way established that knowledge can be entirely learnt discursively – through reason and theory alone. We must remember that memory is a physical function within the brain, and it is memory that is involved so much in this process. If she has no memory of red, then she does not know all there is to know about red. Having the memory of going to the restaurant, for Mr. Scelta, is a different physical situation from being told what it is like. Moreover, the thought experiment itself is often critiqued as being a thought experiment with severe limitations and with several doubtful logical issues[4]. Qualia are a veritable battleground of philosophical forays, flanking manoeuvres, frontal assaults, and defensive trench lines that philosophers have commanded. There are a whole host of philosophers who believe that these subjective experiences can either be described in physical terms, or that they do not actually exist as we perceive them. Either way, dualism is not necessitated by the idea of qualia.

Additionally, there are some physical phenomena that contribute to a physicalist understanding of qualia. Firstly, pain asymbolia is a condition that occurs when there is damage to specific parts of the brain. This causes the victim to lose all subjective responses to pain, so that they might know the difference between hot and cold, or when a needle pricks the skin, but have no subjective experience of the pain. In other words, they have no qualia of pain and this is resultant from a physical condition in the brain. Nerves in the brain can be severed to cause this exact phenomena, and patients can still feel the pain, but not have the experience of that pain – painless pain!

Another physical condition, known as synaesthesia, also defends qualia as physically rooted phenomena. This is a neurological condition whereby stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to involuntary stimulation of one or more other sensory or cognitive pathways. In other words, synesthetes can, for example, smell or hear colour, experience colour with letters or numbers, experience time in three dimensions (such that 1986 seems further away spatially than 1994), experience sound with visual stimulation and so on. There are scores and scores (over 60) of different manifestations of this condition, and it can be a naturally existing condition, or be brought on by drugs, stroke or temporal lobe epilepsy, among other things. Therefore, the extra qualia experienced by synesthetes are entirely grounded in a physical condition, and strongly points towards qualia being physical phenomena, not necessitating dualism.

Perhaps telling in the debate is that dualism itself doesn’t actually offer an explanation in the knowledge debate of qualia, as dualists spend most of their time trying to undermine physicalist arguments, rather than providing decent ones of their own. As The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy says:


There has not been much discussion of the knowledge argument from a dualist perspective. This is unsurprising given the small number of contemporary philosophers who defend a dualist position.[5]


Another argument, first used by C.S. Lewis concerns itself with naturalism, and is known as the argument from reason. He states that in order for a human to claim whether something is true or false, they must use a rational source. He then claims that no merely physical material constitutes a rational source. He follows that no assertion of what is true or false can originate from a source that is purely physical. Since human minds are capable of such assertions, he concludes that human minds are not merely a physical source, that dualism thus exists.

Let us now postulate on some of these arguments for dualism a little further and see if we can come to some kind of general conclusion, although it is vital to note that I have not mentioned all the arguments, since some are difficult to express succinctly, and others are very philosophical indeed, but not without their issues and detractors. With regards to interactionism, where the mental and physical interact with each other in a causal chain (remember the clumsy chef), there are some issues concerning laws of science. Conservation of energy is a fundamental law that asserts that, in a system, energy cannot be lost or used, it just changes format. Thus, pushing a trolley up a hill converts kinetic energy to heat and potential energy and so on, but the total amount of energy in that system remains the same. In an interactionist system, there is causal power going in and out of the system. In other words, when the Mr. Fato decides to put the bottle of wine down, there must be some use of power or energy to flick the switch that actually makes him start to put it down, to flick the first domino, if you will. There would have to be some kind of energy being taken out of the system, or being put into the system from the mental sphere for this to be possible, and this is a controversial notion. If an intention such as “I am going to stand up and walk across the room now” has no force, as it is mental, how can it make a neuron physically fire, to make the muscles act towards standing up and moving across the room?  Along with issues such as how exactly physical memories are created with regards to consciousness, it leads scientists to strongly question exactly how, if the physical and mental are so different, they interact. There seems to be no plausible explanation so far, but that of course does not mean it is necessarily impossible. There are some tentative replies to this problem, but none of them can explain how interactionism actually works, and thus this remains a big thorn in the side of dualism. As ever, quantum mechanics is called in as one of the possible defences.

With regards to ideas about feeling, intuitively we just ‘feel’ pain without any necessary spatial location, and this is sometimes levelled at physicalists as an argument for dualism – pain might not have a spatial location. Yet, we know that nerve endings transmit this pain to the brain, to a certain part of the brain and then we feel this sensation, perhaps meaning that the ‘feeling’ of pain is physical after all.

One particularly common refutation of dualism is the argument from brain damage and neuro-scientific tinkerings. Throughout the years of scientific advancement, especially in the realms of neuroscience (a still relatively unknown field – people just don’t let you delve into their brains like they used to), it has become absolutely clear that there is a definite causal connection between damage to the brain and deterioration of mental facets. As I alluded to earlier, we can accurately predict the psychological impairment that will be caused by certain types of brain damage. We know this through monitoring the victims of various accidents, but also (sadly) through messing around with the brains of monkeys for cheap thrills and scientific discovery. Nowadays, with a new system of affecting the brain known as transcranial magnetic simulation (TMS), we can momentarily stun or slow areas of the brain (without long term effect) and see the ramifications of this to our consciousness. This is truly an exciting time for brain research. One very powerful lecture I once watched online[6] was given by Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, who went through the horrible process of having a stroke. The amazing factor of this talk is that, as a neuroscientist, she was able to analyse exactly what she went through as the haemorrhage impaired her brain activity and her consciousness. There resided, in this episode, a clear correlation between physical brain and consciousness, and she was perfectly placed to understand it. She felt as if she was connected, through one side of her brain and at the exclusion of the other hemisphere, to the physical world of energy. I strongly advise anyone to watch this extraordinary twenty minute emotional and enlightening explanation.

Of course, one can refute the connection of brain to consciousness (as in brain is consciousness) by claiming that the brain isn’t simply the direct source of consciousness, but is more like the hardware that interprets the consciousness. In the same way that if you damage the circuitry in a computer, then you will have an impaired reading of any software that you might want to load onto it. The software might represent our consciousness, while the hardware of the computer might be our brain – the interpretation of the software (consciousness) gets corrupted when the hardware (brain) is damaged. This is quite a nice analogy, and seemingly fits, but it isn’t necessarily backed up by any proof. There is no analysis of that which is mental, and no knowledge of physical mechanisms that react with the mental that allow this analogy to hold any kind of explanatory power whatsoever.

To me, the most influential argument against dualism comes from biology. To the very best of our knowledge, humans (and, indeed, every other animal) begin their existence from entirely physical and material sources, from a single material cell. Throughout the course of human development, nothing is added to our being from outside the realms of the physical world, and our development can be viewed in explicable terms of natural selection and biological evolution. When we look at conception, fertilisation, and gestation and so on, there is no mental input from anywhere that can explain the development of a mental aspect to humanity and our consciousness. This period of development is created through the input of nutrition which is accounted for, and so any explanation of dualism needs to overcome this hurdle.

One might counter this approach by saying that since we have no way of knowing or measuring the mental sphere, then we naturally do not know if there really is any input from the mental sphere. Interestingly, though, if one considers the nature of frozen sperm, eggs and, more importantly, embryos, then we have a hugely problematic situation for dualists. Where does the mind reside when life forms are being cryopreserved?  Do the minds hang around in a mind pub while the freezing process (which is technically infinite with modern freezing techniques) takes place, checking their mind watches every five minutes in boredom?  “Come on body, I haven’t got all the time in the world to hang around doing nothing. I need to learn things, and decide stuff!” says the dislocated mind. We can transfer pretty much every organ in the human body, usually involving freezing, and one assumes we could technically, if we wanted, transplant a brain. If we did that, where would the mind go?  Would it stay with the old body or continue residing in, or connecting to, the brain that is transferred?  Already we know we can transplant human brain tissues, and more radically, entire bird brains have been transplanted successfully. In a dualist world, we would seriously be messing with our (or the birds’) sense of ‘I’. This is not the case in a physicalist world. To add to that, scientists have been able to, with the help of a physical laser, create ‘learned memories’ in fruit flies[7] that affect their behaviours. In the experiments, once the laser has altered their neurons, the flies avoid a stream of air as if they had bad memories associated with that stream. Scientists were able to isolate the correct neurons by observing other flies brains for changed neurons when they flew into the stream and were electrocuted (not fatally). Eventually, the flies learnt to avoid the stream so as not to get stunned. The memory was then ‘lasered’ in, in common parlance, to other flies’ neurons, and they behaved as if they had been electrocuted, evading the stream. These flies had not actually been electrocuted, but behaved as if they had been. This implies, then, that memory itself is a physical thing, and it would follow that other things that ‘feel’ mental are simply manifestations of physical networks.

This has similar implications for those who believe that each human (and perhaps animal?) has a soul. Since some 41,000 frozen embryos[8] were transferred into patients in Europe in 2001 alone, where are all the souls residing whilst their human body counterparts are sitting on earth, frozen?  If you believe, like many Christian theologians do, that souls are learning sentient aspects of human existence, what do they do in this limbo?  What do they learn?  It certainly never manifests itself in the later lives of these humans who once spent time frozen as embryos. Again, proponents of the human mind and soul as separate to body must, in order to defend their theories, be able to tackle these fundamental questions. It is no good simply positing theories because they sound nice, and because we, as humans, like the idea of a soul or separate mind.

Finally, a much used philosophical technique, Occam’s Razor[9], can be utilised in support of physicalism. Occam’s Razor stipulates that when there are two theories that compete for the same outcome, the simplest one of the two is more preferable. The principle suggests that the preferable theory should contain as few assumptions as possible, and still maintain a good explanatory scope whilst not contradicting any observed facts. When looking at dualism versus physicalism, Occam’s Razor would posit that dualism and monism are competing for the same outcome, but dualism contains more entities and assumptions, such as a mentalistic entity. Using this approach, monism is the more clearly explanatory option to maintain. To add to that, it might be worth noting that the biggest ever survey of mainly professional philosophers was done in November 2009 showing that only 25.8% of philosophers leaned towards or accepted non-naturalism and only 27% of philosophers leaned towards or accepted non-physicalism[10]. I would hate to rely on evidence from popularity, but it shows that physicalism is fairly consistent with modern, mainstream philosophy.

There are other questions that require answering within a dualistic framework, such as whether we cease to exist when we are unconscious, what the properties of being unconscious truly are, and what form consciousness takes (ectoplasmic, consciousness as a mental state or something that simply cannot be described in any physical terms, and therefore cannot really be described at all)?  In addition, there is the interesting idea, as Baggini (2006) summarises when he poses the thought experiment involving somebody who is dying in body, who decides to have a brain transplant, and transplants her brain into a healthy body. This poses the question that if a person can exist, and feel like they are still them, in another body, then the feeling of self is in the brain. The brain is the organ that is the self. Thus, you could theoretically simply hook up your brain to some simulated sensory organs and it would still feel like you. But is this really the case?  It certainly suggests that if the consciousness is separate to the body, then it is joined inexorably to the brain, that the brain is the vital organ for both dualist and monist theories. Killing the brain kills the consciousness, the mind, one way or another. It is as though, in a dualist sense, our mind is connected to the brain by a vital, invisible chord. Personally, this just seems a little bit too far fetched in comparison to the idea that consciousness is physically created in or by the brain. And not necessarily in one particular place, but as a sum, maybe, of parts and networks that can be analogised in this way:


Think of a chat show on radio. The programme is put together by a team of people. It is broadcast across hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles. The words of the host spark off thoughts in the minds of thousands of listeners. Some respond and phone into the programme. Where is this whole phenomenon of the chat show located?  If it does not have a single physical location, what does that say about physical identity and personal communication?  Can it be that our identity is not contained within a physical location, but is formed by networks of significance?

(Thompson 1995;2006, p.114)


Having paddled around in the pool of the mind, where does this leave us?  Well, personally, I tend towards the ideology of monism, mainly due to the biological argument being so logically strong, and also with the problems that dualism has with overcoming the hurdles involved with a separate mental system interfering causally with a physical system (and the issues with the conservation of energy). However, it still remains for both sides of the argument to fully explain exactly how consciousness really works, whether in a two-tiered reality or on a simpler, physical plane. More importantly still, and often cited as the crux of the debate, is that no one has yet produced a concise and accurate definition of what consciousness actually is. Together with the potentially unskilled methods we use to observe our own consciousness and feelings of selfhood, we have a practically spurious starting position from which to try and answer the conundrum of the mind-body problem.

The way I see it, our consciousnesses adhere to the rules of science, and are answerable to physical laws. I don’t think that consciousness is the brain, but that it is a physical by-product of the brain that is not, as yet, fully explicable. Perhaps it is best explained as a conglomeration of a series of very complex variables and networks combining all our sensory organs and processing abilities. However, I don’t think that inventing the mental sphere, outside of physical realms, helps the matter in any way, but simply confuses it. Nevertheless, the belief in a soul and in dualism doesn’t necessarily exclude determinism, since one can posit that both immaterial souls and minds can be thought to exist, but not to have any causal influence, or themselves are determined. Sort of like tagging along for the ride.

Essentially, when investigating the consciousness, it seems that the most likely candidate for explaining consciousness is a physical, or physically dependent one. As a result, consciousness fits into a seemingly deterministic framework. Although many free willers will try to use consciousness as a magic oasis of free will, there has not once been a satisfactory explanation of how it provides free will, and how it can cause physical actions if it is an entirely different state.

So, to recap, we have seen that quantum uncertainty may not exist and if it does, does not affect determinism with regards to making decisions – the variables are out of one’s control whether they involve aspects of random or not. Random (aside from our quantum discussion) does not exist, only the lack of knowledge of variables. The soul most likely does not exist, since there is no evidence for it or explanation of its mechanism and how it interacts with the physical body. If it does exist, it must adhere to its own set of laws and rules that enable it to be in the form and have characteristics of a soul. It seems an unlikely vessel for allowing free will. Then we have consciousness, which is most likely derived from or equated to the physical brain, which is biologically and physically determined, it seems.

Does this mean that free will is hard to come by?  We shall investigate further.

[1] I’m not entirely sure that this is a realistic scenario…

[2] Dennett (2006)

[3] This is known as the Ability Hypothesis.

[4] There are also a good few other theories, such as the Acquaintance Hypothesis and the New Knowledge / Old Fact View that support physicalist approaches to qualia. See the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (11/2009)

[5] See the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (11/2009)

[6] (09/2009)  Well worth watching, as are so many of the videos on

[7] As ever, with these things, the New Scientist magazine is invaluable. See for some great research.

[8] (10/2009)

[9] Also known as Ockham’s Razor.

[10] (03/2010)