Consciousness is not a product of the brain - the evidence.

squirrelyguy

Active member
Let me begin by quoting an illustration that I found on the internet while researching this theory. I found this on a blog arguing against the theory I am advocating here, and it is apparently taken from a book by David Eagleman called "Incognito."

As an example, I’ll mention what I’ll call the “radio theory” of brains. Imagine that you are a Kalahari Bushman and that you stumble upon a transistor radio in the sand. You might pick it up, twiddle the knobs, and suddenly, to your surprise, hear voices streaming out of this strange little box. If you’re curious and scientifically minded, you might try to understand what is going on. You might pry off the back cover to discover a little nest of wires. Now let’s say you begin a careful, scientific study of what causes the voices. You notice that each time you pull out the green wire, the voices stop. When you put the wire back on its contact, the voices begin again. The same goes for the red wire. Yanking out the black wire causes the voices to get garbled, and removing the yellow wire reduces the volume to a whisper. You step carefully through all the combinations, and you come to a clear conclusion: the voices depend entirely on the integrity of the circuitry. Change the circuitry and you damage the voices.

The point that the writer is making is that our minds and brains are separate in the same way that the radio broadcaster is separate from the radio itself. By tampering with the circuitry of the radio, one could silence, garble, or clarify the broadcaster's voice; but it would be wrong to conclude that the man speaking through the radio is himself merely a product of the radio. We know (unlike this hypothetical bushman) that the man speaking through the radio is a real man who exists in another place, and via electromagnetic waves can be heard speaking through this device. The bushman doesn't have the knowledge to even conceptualize such a thing, and would be more likely to assume that the voice is a product of the radio, rather than something that exists independently of the radio.

The "radio receiver" theory of the brain is one that is put forth by Dr. Bruce Greyson in his new book "After", about the phenomenon of near death experiences. I've been reading it this week on my Kindle. He argues that the phenomenon of near death experiences provides evidence that the mind exists independently of the brain, and provides case after case in which his patients reported seeing and hearing things after they were observed to be in cardiac arrest with no brain function, and yet before they were resuscitated.

One example that features prominently in his book is of a young woman early in his career who ended up in the ER after trying to commit suicide. She was in a comatose state in the ER, and Dr. Greyson went into an adjacent room to speak with her roommate who had called the ambulance. The next day, he visited the young woman who was now awake and began asking her questions. One thing she said which jarred him was that she saw him talking to her roommate the day before. This wouldn't have been possible, but he didn't challenge her about it. Instead he tried to ask clarifying questions to determine what she meant to say, and she insisted that she did see him in the other room talking to her roommate, and in fact he had a red stain on his tie. The doctor had in fact been eating spaghetti in the cafeteria when his pager went off alerting him to the new patient in the ER, and had accidently spilled sauce on his tie; in his hurried state he had buttoned up his jacket so as not to expose the stain when he went to the ER. At no point was his tie exposed to the comatose woman in the ER. Her roommate immediately went back to her dorm after talking with the psychiatrist without speaking to her roommate first (who was comatose anyway), and hadn't been back to visit her since she had come out of her coma.

Dr. Greyson's research on this began with that incident in the ER back in the 1970s, since he couldn't figure out how it would have been possible with his then materialist understanding of the mind. Since then he has compiled (with the help of his fellow researchers at the Univ. of Virginia) thousands of cases of reported near death experiences and has formed his theory of the mind and brain in view of this phenomena. For the skeptics, he addresses other theories about why people report having out-of-body experiences (such as drugs or oxygen deprivation), and gives documented cases that show why such theories don't fit the available data.
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
I feel like this conversation has happened before. I'm not accusing you of plagiarism or anything sneaky/disingenuous; at all. It's just that I remember Dr. Greyson bring brought up WRT NDEs and the question of consciousness...

All that aside, I'm having a difficult time with the leap from NDEs to the notion that consciousness is NOT a product of the brain. NDEs can be explained (convincingly or not) in several ways, and to be fair, we don't fully understand the phenomenon - so I'm not simply being skeptical. Instead, I'm questioning that they must necessarily be explained by some kind of immaterial cognition.

What if there are multiple dimensions (which is a well-known hypothesis in physics), and we exist in more than 4 of them? This would mean we theoretically have the ability to think / perceive even if the parts of us in the "normal" four dimensions are incapacitated.

There. An explanation for NDEs which doesn't rely upon gods, spiritualism or the supernatural.

I'm not advocating it, but I don't see why it should be less persuasive than the notion that NDEs demonstrate consciousness isn't a product of the brain...
 

squirrelyguy

Active member
I feel like this conversation has happened before. I'm not accusing you of plagiarism or anything sneaky/disingenuous; at all. It's just that I remember Dr. Greyson bring brought up WRT NDEs and the question of consciousness...

All that aside, I'm having a difficult time with the leap from NDEs to the notion that consciousness is NOT a product of the brain. NDEs can be explained (convincingly or not) in several ways, and to be fair, we don't fully understand the phenomenon - so I'm not simply being skeptical. Instead, I'm questioning that they must necessarily be explained by some kind of immaterial cognition.

What if there are multiple dimensions (which is a well-known hypothesis in physics), and we exist in more than 4 of them? This would mean we theoretically have the ability to think / perceive even if the parts of us in the "normal" four dimensions are incapacitated.

There. An explanation for NDEs which doesn't rely upon gods, spiritualism or the supernatural.

I'm not advocating it, but I don't see why it should be less persuasive than the notion that NDEs demonstrate consciousness isn't a product of the brain...
I'm new to this board so I don't remember any conversation about Dr. Greyson before...but it wouldn't surprise me if he's been mentioned. I'm bringing him up now because his new book was just released last week.

Do you think your guess about existing in more than one dimension simultaneously is a more plausible explanation for NDEs than simply saying that our minds exist independently of our brains? It's one thing to offer an alternative explanation; it's another thing to offer a better explanation.
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
Do you think your guess about existing in more than one dimension simultaneously is a more plausible explanation for NDEs than simply saying that our minds exist independently of our brains? It's one thing to offer an alternative explanation; it's another thing to offer a better explanation.
It definitely IS a guess, so I'll reiterate that I'm not necessarily advocating it as the correct answer to your OP.

I would say my guess is more plausible, in the sense that it relies on nature as the substrate. I know many Christians and theists believe in the supernatural, and as a skeptic, I wont say it's impossible for something like that to exist. However, theists have been trying for thousands of years to claim the supernatural explains the natural, and to the extent that man has been able to test these claims, those claims have been found to be false. Lightning isn't created by angry gods, disease isn't caused by demons, tsunamis aren't caused by sin, etc.

So I would say my explanation is more plausible simply because it doesn't rely on some vaguely supernatural/spiritual mechanism.

The minute the supernatural/spiritual (which is my quick term I'm using to label the theory in the OP; please correct it if you think it's inaccurate) can be shown to exist, it will become a plausible option for explanations of unknown / poorly-understood phenomena.

IMHO
 

squirrelyguy

Active member
So I would say my explanation is more plausible simply because it doesn't rely on some vaguely supernatural/spiritual mechanism.

The minute the supernatural/spiritual (which is my quick term I'm using to label the theory in the OP; please correct it if you think it's inaccurate) can be shown to exist, it will become a plausible option for explanations of unknown / poorly-understood phenomena.
But if one could demonstrate that the supernatural exists, wouldn't it cease to be supernatural? In other words, rather than putting every explanation into a natural or supernatural box and judging their merits based on how one feels about the box, why not evaluate the explanation based on an assumption that it might entail knowledge we haven't discovered yet? To paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, "Magic is just science we don't understand yet."
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
But if one could demonstrate that the supernatural exists, wouldn't it cease to be supernatural? In other words, rather than putting every explanation into a natural or supernatural box and judging their merits based on how one feels about the box, why not evaluate the explanation based on an assumption that it might entail knowledge we haven't discovered yet? To paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, "Magic is just science we don't understand yet."
Excellent segue. This is something I've argued many times in the past: the moment we understand a thing (about how our universe works), it becomes natural.

For the purposes of your thread, I was assuming that God would count as "supernatural" no matter how well we understand Him, or can predict how He'll react to various stimuli (like sincere prayer, etc). If God is somehow responsible for human consciousness - such as holding it together by His will - then I'd still call that "supernatural" for the purposes of understanding the source of consciousness.

Even if we knew that an individual refusing to pray to Him would make God decide to not keep person's consciousness alive, this would (for the purpose of your thread) count as supernatural. If God suddenly operated according to human-predictable rules, and this made Him "natural" - wouldn't this cause huge theological/apologetic problems?

---

I digress a bit, though; that last question was rhetorical.
 

The Pixie

Well-known member
Let me begin by quoting an illustration that I found on the internet while researching this theory. I found this on a blog arguing against the theory I am advocating here, and it is apparently taken from a book by David Eagleman called "Incognito."

As an example, I’ll mention what I’ll call the “radio theory” of brains. Imagine that you are a Kalahari Bushman and that you stumble upon a transistor radio in the sand. You might pick it up, twiddle the knobs, and suddenly, to your surprise, hear voices streaming out of this strange little box. If you’re curious and scientifically minded, you might try to understand what is going on. You might pry off the back cover to discover a little nest of wires. Now let’s say you begin a careful, scientific study of what causes the voices. You notice that each time you pull out the green wire, the voices stop. When you put the wire back on its contact, the voices begin again. The same goes for the red wire. Yanking out the black wire causes the voices to get garbled, and removing the yellow wire reduces the volume to a whisper. You step carefully through all the combinations, and you come to a clear conclusion: the voices depend entirely on the integrity of the circuitry. Change the circuitry and you damage the voices.
The problem with this analogy is that it has the conclusion the author wants built in. We know the radio is picking up signals from elsewhere.

How much more interesting would it be if we found a box that could be a radio or it could be an artificial intelligence (AI)? Again, we are wondering if the voice originated from within, but in this analogy, the conclusion has not been decided in advance.

How might we decide? Again, snipping wires here and there cause it to stop operating - but that would be the case either way. But here is a funny thing. Sometimes when we snip a wire the voice in the box loses some functionality or changes it personality. It might lose short term memory, or it might suddenly develop a bad temper.

Now, do you think this is a radio or an AI?
 

squirrelyguy

Active member
How might we decide? Again, snipping wires here and there cause it to stop operating - but that would be the case either way. But here is a funny thing. Sometimes when we snip a wire the voice in the box loses some functionality or changes it personality. It might lose short term memory, or it might suddenly develop a bad temper.

Now, do you think this is a radio or an AI?
My OP wasn't about an explanation for different personality features, but about the origin of consciousness itself. Those are two different questions.

I would maintain the following with respect to both questions:

1. The mind exists independently of the brain.
2. The brain is the "receiver" that takes input from the mind and converts it into a language that the human body responds to.
3. The brain is a natural attenuator; that is to say its very design weakens signals from the mind. Thus, when a person dies and their brain ceases functioning, the mind feels more alive than ever but the dead body cannot respond to signals from the mind any longer.
4. If the brain is damaged, the signals from the mind get distorted or blocked, and the body can only partially function.
5. One of the functions of the brain is to block out signals from other minds that are disembodied and not native to the body. For example, what religious people call a disembodied spirit is the mind of someone who died that is trying to direct a living person's brain. If the brain functions like it should, that person will not even hear those other voices.
6. Mental illnesses that include hearing voices, such as schizophrenia, are a consequence of brain malfunction. The voices are real, not imagined; the victim cannot prevent hearing the voices since the brain has stopped filtering out the signals.
7. This would also explain the vocal and motor tics experienced by those with Tourette's syndrome. In their case, the brain is under the influence of multiple minds which have different areas of control over the same body.
8. It may be that a person with brain damage who demonstrates a change in personality as a result does not actually have a change in their own personality (i.e. the personality of their own mind), but is exhibiting another mind that has a different personality than their own. Their brain has lost some ability to screen out other minds.
 

The Pixie

Well-known member
My OP wasn't about an explanation for different personality features, but about the origin of consciousness itself. Those are two different questions.
Sure, but personality is part of consciousness. If damage to the brain causes personality changes, that would imply consciousness is inside the brain.

I would maintain the following with respect to both questions:

1. The mind exists independently of the brain.
2. The brain is the "receiver" that takes input from the mind and converts it into a language that the human body responds to.
3. The brain is a natural attenuator; that is to say its very design weakens signals from the mind. Thus, when a person dies and their brain ceases functioning, the mind feels more alive than ever but the dead body cannot respond to signals from the mind any longer.
4. If the brain is damaged, the signals from the mind get distorted or blocked, and the body can only partially function.
5. One of the functions of the brain is to block out signals from other minds that are disembodied and not native to the body. For example, what religious people call a disembodied spirit is the mind of someone who died that is trying to direct a living person's brain. If the brain functions like it should, that person will not even hear those other voices.
6. Mental illnesses that include hearing voices, such as schizophrenia, are a consequence of brain malfunction. The voices are real, not imagined; the victim cannot prevent hearing the voices since the brain has stopped filtering out the signals.
7. This would also explain the vocal and motor tics experienced by those with Tourette's syndrome. In their case, the brain is under the influence of multiple minds which have different areas of control over the same body.
8. It may be that a person with brain damage who demonstrates a change in personality as a result does not actually have a change in their own personality (i.e. the personality of their own mind), but is exhibiting another mind that has a different personality than their own. Their brain has lost some ability to screen out other minds.
If the brain is a receiver, why can we not detect the signals any other way? It is just a physical object, made of atoms. There is no reason why we could not build a device that would also pick up those signals. I accept it is possible that we just have not stumbled upon it, but I find that unlikely, especially given the fact that we have some of these receivers to hand to study.

An example of a change in personality would be getting drunk. Why does having a high concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream change your consciousness, to make you less inhibited, less mature, more morose, more belligerent or whatever? I think that can only be explained if consciousness supervenes on the brain.
 

squirrelyguy

Active member
For the purposes of your thread, I was assuming that God would count as "supernatural" no matter how well we understand Him, or can predict how He'll react to various stimuli (like sincere prayer, etc). If God is somehow responsible for human consciousness - such as holding it together by His will - then I'd still call that "supernatural" for the purposes of understanding the source of consciousness.

Even if we knew that an individual refusing to pray to Him would make God decide to not keep person's consciousness alive, this would (for the purpose of your thread) count as supernatural. If God suddenly operated according to human-predictable rules, and this made Him "natural" - wouldn't this cause huge theological/apologetic problems?
I agree that God counts as "supernatural" no matter how well we understand Him. I'm operating under the assumption that everything that is created by Him operates according to an established, predictable order; we just don't fully understand the rules yet.

In thinking about it, I want to qualify that I also think the human mind is not bound by a strict, predictable order of operation (i.e. we are created with free will).
 

squirrelyguy

Active member
If the brain is a receiver, why can we not detect the signals any other way? It is just a physical object, made of atoms. There is no reason why we could not build a device that would also pick up those signals. I accept it is possible that we just have not stumbled upon it, but I find that unlikely, especially given the fact that we have some of these receivers to hand to study.
Maybe we can build a device one day that imitates the brain.

An example of a change in personality would be getting drunk. Why does having a high concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream change your consciousness, to make you less inhibited, less mature, more morose, more belligerent or whatever? I think that can only be explained if consciousness supervenes on the brain.
It can be explained by using the model I proposed; the blood-alcohol content paralyzes certain brain functions that facilitate fine motor skills, speech, perception, etc. Until the person dies, their body depends on their brain to filter signals from their mind; if the brain becomes impaired, the signals from the mind don't go through as they should. Also, as I said it may not be their own personality that has changed but another mind with a different personality which has taken control. But even if it is their own personality, there's nothing about this model that assumes the human personality must be static in order for it to exist independently of the brain.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
Should we say the same for computers? That they are not just processing input and responding with output based on their internal configuration, but are instead filtering remote communications from their immaterial 'software' that exists independently of their hardware and physical internal states?
 

squirrelyguy

Active member
Should we say the same for computers? That they are not just processing input and responding with output based on their internal configuration, but are instead filtering remote communications from their immaterial 'software' that exists independently of their hardware and physical internal states?
Actually, we should. Computers only put out what humans put in. So in the case of the computer, its mind is that of the human user, and the hardware acts as the filter for the mind. The software can be considered part of the computer itself in this illustration; but like the hardware, they both are merely filters for what the user (the "mind") wants to do.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
Actually, we should. Computers only put out what humans put in. So in the case of the computer, its mind is that of the human user, and the hardware acts as the filter for the mind. The software can be considered part of the computer itself in this illustration; but like the hardware, they both are merely filters for what the user (the "mind") wants to do.
That's not the comparison I was making, so you've kind of side-stepped my point.
 

The Pixie

Well-known member
Maybe we can build a device one day that imitates the brain.
But we cannot even detect these signals! We would expect to see some sign of them, even if emulating or understanding them is well beyond us.

It can be explained by using the model I proposed; the blood-alcohol content paralyzes certain brain functions that facilitate fine motor skills, speech, perception, etc. Until the person dies, their body depends on their brain to filter signals from their mind; if the brain becomes impaired, the signals from the mind don't go through as they should.
Fine, but the issue here is changes to a personality.

Also, as I said it may not be their own personality that has changed but another mind with a different personality which has taken control. But even if it is their own personality, there's nothing about this model that assumes the human personality must be static in order for it to exist independently of the brain.
Have you have drink booze? I have; getting drunk is a gradual experience. It is not a case of one instance I am in control, and a moment late I hand control over to another personality with its own set of memories.
 

Ontos

Active member
"Consciousness is not a product of the brain - the evidence"

If consciousness is a part of the brain then it would be spatio\temporal - it should therefore be able to be observed and measured, indeed; what you're conscious of at any given moment should be able to be observed and measured. And, not simply observing neurons firing in a CT scan but the formal thing you're actually conscious of...
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
If consciousness is a part of the brain then it would be spatio\temporal - it should therefore be able to be observed and measured, indeed; what you're conscious of at any given moment should be able to be observed and measured. And, not simply observing neurons firing in a CT scan but the formal thing you're actually conscious of...
I'm not sure I agree with all of this.

Yes, if it's spatio-temporal, then it should in-theory be measurable/observable. Still, there are a lot of objectively-real things which we cannot observe directly: the specific cause of the creation of a hurricane, the formation of stars, the infection of a person with some disease, the orbiting of an electron around a nucleus. In some cases we can have actual imagery FROM WHICH these things above can be inferred, but we're still not actually directly-observing them.

The same can be true for thoughts.

Maybe someday we'll be able to infer specific thoughts from technological imagery from things like CT scans; maybe I'll be able to get pushed through a machine which will tell everyone whether I like vanilla or chocolate better. That day obviously isn't today, but we still don't know exactly what actual thoughts look like. Time-lapse neuroimaging may come close, or it may be so crude as to be practically worthless (for this purpose). We simply don't know...

For now, the evidence we have points in the direction of brains being the source of consciousness. I'll happily jump on a supernatural bandwagon if someone suddenly produces persuasive evidence that it comes from something else, but again, today is not that day.
 

Ontos

Active member
I'm not sure I agree with all of this.

Yes, if it's spatio-temporal, then it should in-theory be measurable/observable.

If it's spatio-temporal and part of the brain, then it is composed of matter and it would necessitate that it's measurable\observable.

Our current non-ability to so is irrelevant.
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
If it's spatio-temporal and part of the brain, then it is composed of matter and it would necessitate that it's measurable\observable.

Our current non-ability to so is irrelevant.
I think you misunderstand me.

I agree that if it's spatio-temporal, it should in theory be quantifiable. What I've disagreed with is the notion that this means it must be directly observable. There are many things we infer the existence of. I'll quote and highlight the bit I disagree with:

what you're conscious of at any given moment should be able to be observed and measured. And, not simply observing neurons firing in a CT scan but the formal thing you're actually conscious of
 

Ontos

Active member
What I've disagreed with is the notion that this means it must be directly observable. There are many things we infer the existence of. I'll quote and highlight the bit I disagree with:

But thats just what being composed of matter necessitates - it is visible, it is directly observable.

Our inability to directly observe the "creation of a hurricane, the formation of stars, the infection of a person with some disease, the orbiting of an electron around a nucleus" is out of our ignorance, not because its not visibly there.
 
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