Someone told me the other day that it was “reasonable” to assume the brain produces consciousness.
It’s an easy assumption to make, but how reasonable is it? This so-called “hard problem of consciousness” is still very much considered a problem by scientists. Most of those in neuroscience are, not surprisingly, tied to the idea that eventually the brain will be shown as the source of consciousness—though as yet they have no substantial evidence. Physicists and cosmologists, however, are turning to more interesting ideas. Such as:
“[I]nvestigate a possibility that consciousness may exist by itself, even in the absence of matter.”
— Andrei Linde, Professor of Physics, Stanford University
This one statement turns the conventional study of consciousness on its head. What if the oh-so-reasonable sounding assumption that the brain produces consciousness is a major case of starting in the wrong place?
After all, can a brain show what red looks like to you, what chocolate tastes like to you, or what the touch of a hand on yours feels like to you? These qualities of experience are clearly known by you. Yet not measurable.
Now, even the nature of consciousness is still a topic of some debate. Here, I’m offering the simplest of definitions: Consciousness is a basic sense of being-ness, this-ness or is-ness. The knowing that “I am”. And the foundation for the knowing ‘of’ anything.
If I ask, “Are you conscious?”, you can answer, “Yes”, without reference to anything other than yourself.
Conversely, if I ask, “Do you have a brain?”, you’d have to refer that question to the testimony of a doctor, to a picture on a scan, to an assumption. In other words, a desire to answer “yes” is really, “I have a strong belief I have a brain.”
When I suggest that we look first to experience, I mean to direct experience. What is known now, without reference to book learning, memory or assumption.
Here, we come to the crux of the matter: Do we go with direct experience, or do we follow belief? Does consciousness appear within the brain, or does the brain appear within consciousness?
To return to my correspondent’s original statement, is it “reasonable” to assume that the brain produces consciousness? Well, I’ll leave that one to you.