Akram Vignan for Scientists
Is there a difference between Self realization and self realization? Mahatmas, enlightened ones of Dadashri. who have probed deeper into the words of the Gnani Purush have come upon very subtle satsang with the Gnani Puursh who wanted to proceed with scientists. Dadashri has said that space is the most critical factor, in the satsang in Gujarati indicated below. In Akram Vignan, the six eternal elements are: space, matter, time, motion energy, inertia energy and Self. Of these six, the matter and the Self are the ones that have the intrinsic quality of vibhaav, ability to enter into infinite phases due to direct interaction with each other. On the basis of the space, time arises, and due to that the intent changes in the matter and this is an eternal ongoing cycle which is 'seen' by the Self, from the grossest to the subtlest aspects.
It becomes immediately apparent that the worldly scientific community has been probing deep into the relationship of Energy and Consciousness and the Neurologic Basis of Consciousness and Life Energy. One scientist of note is Prof John Searle.
Having attained the Self, from a qualitative, subjective and unified experience, much of what Prof John Searle says is easy for us to appreciate.
The following is presented to the selective group because, Dadashri had deep inner intents and has laid down the seeds for the world to understand Akram Vignan at a Scientific Level. He wanted scientists to understand his precise unfolding of the Self and the Scientific Circumstantial Evidences at the root level.
There is much research that has happened in Neurosciences which has brought man to the ultimate frontier of Who am I? from the scientific perspective, and some of us have already crossed and attained it through pragnya awakened by Dadashri the Akram Vignani. The question now remains as to how we who are on the other side of the line, meet and really begin a meaningful dialogue and thus begin to present to this world, the finer details of what Dadashri has opened up in his very subtle answers in satsang regarding this ultimate knowledge called Tattvagnan elemental knowledge.
This is where your help is needed. Please think along and about the the lines of scientists like Dr. John Searle in your area and approach them with our Vignan. Let us begin an initial interaction with them so that while Pujya Deepakbhai is in traveling abroad we may arrange a meeting with a select few such scientists and begin the journey in this worthwhile direction. Please remember and know that the Light that is within us can be made as laser thin as we need it to tease out the subtlest elements that remain mutually unexplored so far. Only a hair strand worth of the knowledge of the Gnani has been understood so far. With the live presence of the living Gnani Purush as the connection in this field, let us make this one of our goals.
Please note that since 1999, Dr. Searle and other intense and deep investigators across the globe have gone much farther. There is enough early scientific evidence that supports a face to face meeting with the knowledge of Vyavasthit of Dadashri. For instance, it is now proven that even prior to the movement of say the right hand, much activity arises in significant other areas--non motor cortex-- in the brain. Only when the hand moves, he says, 'I moved my hand- or- my hand moved.' In fact the motion of the hand had already begun before his conscious awareness of it! This cutting edge fund of knowledge has profound worldly implications.
It leads directly to the cause and effect relationship life after life, unfolded in The Science of Karma by Dadashri. It ties in to the scientific circumstantial evidences at the subatomic level. And much more. It has implications in the field of justice as we know it. Is anyone really guilty? It takes us to the ultimate solution of the eternal question of free will versus destiny.
Once these scientists become aware of the existence of the marvel of Akram Vignan that exists through Pujya Deepakbhai now, our work will be done.
Here then is the beginning of the multi direction, multi science approach....
Jai Sat Chit Anand
1. Quantum Vacuum Field Energy
The concept of “Free Energy” has several different connotations. The scientific community describes it for example as the energy released during phase transitions within crystalline materials. Free Energy is also known as the energy within the quantum-vacuum. The quantum-vacuum is everywhere and fills the entire space-time. Within material bodies, between the nucleus and the electron and within the physical vacuum of empty space the energy of the quantum-vacuum is available in enormous quantities.
The quantum electrodynamic theory suggests that virtual photons emerge from the quantum-vacuum at an extremely fast rate and immediately thereafter return to that field. In this process virtual photons carry and cause the electromagnetic interaction. The creation and annihilation of virtual photons is a dynamic and permanently ongoing process. On this account a so called static electromagnetic force has in its background (quantum-vacuum) a virtual energy flow system. The force field, for example in the area of interaction of a permanent magnet, is steadily renewed due to the energy exchange with the quantum-vacuum.
“The quantum electrodynamic theory attributes the
electromagnetic interaction to the exchange with a particle, which is
the photon. This process works in such a way, that an electron
produces a photon, then it travels to another electron and thereafter
disappears again into the vacuum. During this process the photon
produces the electromagnetic force. The exchanged photon, which has
caused the classic electromagnetic force, is in reality a virtual
A careful study of the above film is important to understand the tattva vignan of Dadashri at the parmanoo- subatomic particle level and the Science of of Six Eternal Elements. Dadashri gives great emphasis to Space--kshetra in the following satsang with Pujya Deepakbhai.
Here are the research references for vacuum energy and space time matter interaction modules
2. Consciousness Research Data compiled by Martin Peniak
3. The other side of the missing link is what Professor Searle has been deeply involved in.
4. The rest of the world is involved in discussing these issues under the scientific microscope and analysis. For example:
Consciousness and Mind
Professor John Searle:
Free will versus Destiny
CORRECTED: October 8, 1999
John R. Searle
Until very recently, most neurobiologists did not regard consciousness as a suitable topic for scientific investigation. This reluctance was based on certain philosophical mistakes, primarily the mistake of supposing that the subjectivity of consciousness made it beyond the reach of an objective science. Once we see that consciousness is a biological phenomenon like any other, then it can be investigated neurobiologically. Consciousness is entirely caused by neurobiological processes and is realized in brain structures. The essential trait of consciousness that we need to explain is unified qualitative subjectivity. Consciousness thus differs from other biological phenomena in that it has a subjective or first-person ontology, but this subjective ontology does not prevent us from having an epistemically objective science of consciousness. We need to overcome the philosophical tradition that treats the mental and the physical as two distinct metaphysical realms. Two common approaches to consciousness are those that adopt the building block model, according to which any conscious field is made of its various parts, and the unified field model, according to which we should try to explain the unified character of subjective states of consciousness. These two approaches are discussed and reasons are given for preferring the unified field theory to the building block model. Some relevant research on consciousness involves the subjects of blindsight, the split-brain experiments, binocular rivalry, and gestalt switching.
Resistance to the Problem
As recently as two
decades ago there was little interest among neuroscientists,
and cognitive scientists generally
in the problem of
for the resistance to the problem varied from discipline to
had turned to the analysis of language, psychologists had become
convinced that a scientific psychology must be a science
of behavior, and
cognitive scientists took their research program to be the
discovery of the computer programs in the brain that,
they thought, would explain
seemed especially puzzling that neuroscientists should
be reluctant to deal with the problem of consciousness,
because one of the chief functions of the brain is to
cause and sustain conscious states.
Studying the brain
without studying consciousness would be like
studying the stomach without studying digestion, or
studying genetics without studying the inheritance of traits. When I first got
interested in this problem seriously and tried to discuss it with brain scientists, I found that most
of them were not interested in the question.
The reasons for this resistance were various but they mostly
boiled down to two. First,
many neuroscientists felt -- and some still do -- that
consciousness is not a suitable subject for
A legitimate brain science can study the microanatomy
of the Purkinje cell,
or attempt to discover
new neurotransmitters, but consciousness seems too
airy-fairy and touchy-feely to be a real scientific subject.
Others did not exclude consciousness from
investigation, but they
had a second reason: "We are not ready" to tackle the
consciousness. They may
be right about that, but my guess is
that a lot of people in the early 1950s thought we were not
ready to tackle the
problem of the molecular basis of life and heredity.
They were wrong; and I suggest for the current question,
the best way to get ready to deal with a research
problem may be to try to solve it.
There were, of
course, famous earlier twentieth
century exceptions to the general
reluctance to deal with consciousness,
and their work has been valuable.
I am thinking in
particular of the work of Sir Arthur Sherrington,
Roger Sperry, and Sir John Eccles.
Whatever was the case 20 years ago,
today many serious researchers
are attempting to tackle the problem.
Among neuroscientists who have written recent books about
consciousness are Cotterill (1998), Crick (1994), Damasio (1999),
Edelman (1989, 1992), Freeman (1995), Gazzaniga (1988), Greenfield
(1995), Hobson (1999), Libet (1993), and Weiskrantz (1997).
As far as I can tell, the race to solve the
problem of consciousness is already on.
My aim here is not
to try to survey this literature but to characterize some of the
neurobiological problems of consciousness
from a philosophical point of view.
Consciousness as a Biological Problem
What exactly is the neurobiological problem of consciousness?
The problem, in its crudest terms, is this:
How exactly do brain processes cause conscious states
and how exactly are those states realized in brain structures?
So stated, this problem naturally breaks down into a number
of smaller but still large problems:
What exactly are the neurobiological correlates of
conscious states (NCC),
and which of those correlates
are actually causally responsible for the production of
consciousness? What are the principles according to which
biological phenomena such as neuron firings can bring about
subjective states of sentience or awareness?
How do those principles relate to the already well understood principles of biology?
Can we explain consciousness with the existing theoretical
apparatus or do we need
some revolutionary new theoretical concepts to explain it?
Is consciousness localized
in certain regions of the brain or is it
a global phenomenon? If it is confined to certain regions,
which ones? Is it
correlated with specific anatomical features, such as specific
types of neurons, or is it to be explained functionally with
a variety of anatomical correlates?
What is the right level for explaining
consciousness? Is it the level of neurons and synapses, as most
researchers seem to think, or do we have to go to higher
functional levels such as neuronal maps (Edelman 1989, 1992),
or whole clouds of neurons
(Freeman 1995), or
are all of these levels much too high and we have to go below
the level of neurons and synapses to the level of the
microtubules (Penrose 1994 and Hameroff 1998a, 1998b)?
Or do we have to think much more
globally in terms of Fourier transforms and holography (Pribram
1976, 1991, 1999)?
As stated, this cluster of problems sounds similar to any other such set of problems in biology or in the sciences
in general. It sounds like the problem concerning microorganisms:
How, exactly, do they cause disease symptoms and how are those
symptoms manifested in patients?
Or the problem in genetics:
By what mechanisms exactly does the genetic structure of the
zygote produce the phenotypical
traits of the mature organism? In
the end I think that is the right way to think of the problem of consciousness -- it is a biological problem
like any other, because
consciousness is a biological phenomenon
in exactly the same sense as digestion, growth, or
photosynthesis. But unlike other problems in biology, there is a persistent
series of philosophical
problems that surround the problem of consciousness
and before addressing some current research I would like to
address some of these problems.
III. Identifying the Target: The Definition of
One often hears it said that "consciousness" is
frightfully hard to define. But
if we are talking about a definition in common sense terms, sufficient
to identify the target of the investigation, as opposed to a precise
scientific definition of the sort that typically comes at the end of a
scientific investigation, then the word does not seem to me hard to
define. Here is the
definition : Consciousness consists of inner, qualitative, subjective
states and processes of sentience or awareness.
Consciousness, so defined, begins when we wake in the
morning from a dreamless sleep - and continues until we fall asleep again, die, go into a coma
or otherwise become
includes all of the
enormous variety of the awareness
that we think of as
characteristic of our waking life.
It includes everything from feeling a pain, to perceiving
objects visually, to states of anxiety and depression, to working out
cross word puzzles, playing chess, trying to remember your aunt's
phone number, arguing about politics, or to just wishing you were
Dreams on this definition are a form of consciousness, though
of course they are in
many respects quite different from
This definition is not universally accepted and
the word consciousness is used in a variety of other ways. Some
authors use the word only to refer to states of self
consciousness, i.e. the consciousness that humans and some
primates have of themselves as
agents. Some use it to refer to
about other mental states; so according to this definition, a
pain would not be a conscious
state, but worrying
about a pain would be a conscious
state. Some use "consciousness"
behavioristically to refer to any form of complex intelligent behavior.
It is, of course, open to anyone to use any word anyway he
likes, and we can always
redefine consciousness as a technical term.
is a genuine phenomenon of consciousness in the
ordinary sense, however we choose
to name it; and it is that phenomenon that I am trying
to identify now, because I believe it is the proper target of the
distinctive features that we
need to explain. Because
I believe that some, not all, of the problems of consciousness
are going to have a neurobiological solution, what follows is a shopping list of what a neurobiological account of
The Essential Feature of Consciousness: The Combination of
Qualitativeness, Subjectivity and
Consciousness has three aspects that make it different
from other biological phenomena, and indeed different
from other phenomena in the natural world.
These three aspects are
qualitativeness, subjectivity, and unity.
I used to think that for
investigative purposes we could treat
them as three
distinct features, but because they are
I now think it best to treat them together, as different
aspects of the same
feature. They are not
separate because the first
implies the second, and
the second implies the third.
I discuss them in order.
Every conscious state has a certain qualitative feel to it,
and you can see this clearly if you consider examples.
The experience of
tasting beer is very different from
Ninth Symphony, and both of those have
a different qualitative character from smelling a rose or
seeing a sunset. These
examples illustrate the different qualitative
features of conscious experiences.
One way to put this point
is to say that for every conscious experience there
is something that it feels like, or something that it
is like to have that conscious experience.
Nagel (1974) made this point over two decades ago when he
pointed out that if bats
are conscious, then there is something
that "it is like" to be a bat.
This distinguishes consciousness
from other features of the world, because in this sense, for a
nonconscious entity such as a car or a brick there is nothing that
"it is like" to be that entity.
Some philosophers describe
this feature of consciousness with the word qualia, and
they say there is a
special problem of qualia. I
am reluctant to adopt this usage, because it seems to imply
that there are two separate problems, the problem of
consciousness and the problem of qualia.
But as I
understand these terms, "qualia" is just a plural
name for conscious states.
and "qualia" are coextensive, there seems no point
in introducing a special term.
Some people think that qualia are characteristic only of
perceptual experiences, such
as seeing colors and
having sensations such as
pains, but that there is no
qualitative character to thinking.
As I understand these terms, that is wrong. Even conscious thinking has a
qualitative feel to it.
There is something it is
like to think that two plus two equals four.
There is no way to
describe it except by saying that it is the
character of thinking consciously “two plus two equals
four". But if
you believe there is no qualitative character to thinking
that, then try to think the same thought in
a language you do not
know well. If I think in
French "deux et deux fait quatre," I find that it
feels quite different. Or
try thinking, more painfully, “two plus two equals one hundred
again I think you will agree that
these conscious thoughts have different characters.
However, the point must be trivial; that is,
whether or not
conscious thoughts are qualia must
follow from our definition of qualia.
As I am using the term, thoughts
definitely are qualia.
Conscious states only
exist when they are experienced by some human or
animal subject. In
that sense, they are essentially
I used to treat subjectivity and
qualitativeness as distinct features, but it now seems
to me that properly understood, qualitativeness implies
subjectivity, because in order for there to be a
qualitative feel to some event, there must be some
subject that experiences the event.
No subjectivity, no experience.
Even if more than
one subject experiences a similar phenomenon, say
two people listening to the same concert, all the
same, the qualitative experience can only exist
as experienced by some subject or subjects. And even if the different token experiences are qualitatively
identical, that is they all exemplify the same type,
nonetheless each token
experience can only exist if the subject of that experience
has it. Because
conscious states are subjective in this sense, they
have what I will call a first-person ontology, as opposed
to the third-person ontology of mountains and
molecules, which can exist even if no living creatures exist.
Subjective conscious states have a first-person
ontology (“ontology” here means mode of existence) because
they only exist when they are experienced
by some human or animal agent.
They are experienced by
some "I" that has the experience, and it is
in that sense that they
have a first-person ontology.
All conscious experiences at any given point in an agent's
life come as part of one unified conscious field.
If I am sitting at my desk looking out the window, I do not
just see the sky above and the brook below shrouded by
the trees, and at the same time feel the pressure of
my body against the chair, the shirt against my back,
and the aftertaste of coffee in my mouth, rather I experience
all of these as part of a single unified conscious field.
This unity of any state of qualitative subjectivity has
important consequences for a scientific study of consciousness.
I say more about them later on.
At present I just want to call attention to the fact that the unity is
already implicit in subjectivity and qualitativeness for the
following reason: If
you try to imagine that my conscious
state is broken into 17 parts, what you imagine is not a single
conscious subject with 17 different conscious states but rather
17 different centers of consciousness.
A conscious state, in short,
is by definition unified, and the unity will follow from the subjectivity and the qualitativeness, because there is
no way you could have subjectivity and qualitativeness
except with that particular form of unity.
There are two areas of current
research where the aspect of unity is especially
are first, the study of the split-brain
patients by Gazzaniga, (1998)
and others (Gazzaniga, Bogen, and Sperry 1962, 1963), and
second, the study of the binding problem by a number of
contemporary researchers. The interest of the split-brain
patients is that both the anatomical
and the behavioral evidence suggest that
in these patients there are two centers of consciousness that
after commissurotomy are communicating
with each other only imperfectly.
They seem to have, so to speak, two conscious minds inside one skull.
interest of the binding problem
is that it looks like this problem might
give us in microcosm a way of studying the nature of
consciousness, because just as the visual system binds
all of the different stimulus inputs into a single
unified visual percept, so the entire brain somehow
unites all of the variety of our different stimulus
inputs into a single unified conscious experience. Several
researchers have explored the role of synchronized neuron firings in
the range of 40hz to account for the capacity of different perceptual
systems to bind the diverse stimuli of anatomically distinct neurons
into a single perceptual experience. (Llinas 1990, Llinas and Pare
1991, Llinas and Ribary 1993, Llinas and Ribary,1992, Singer 1993,
1995, Singer and Gray,
1995,) For example in the
case of vision, anatomically separate neurons specialized for such
things as line, angle and color all contribute to a single, unified,
conscious visual experience
(1994) extended the proposal for the binding problem to a
general hypothesis about the NCC.
He put forward a tentative hypothesis that the
NCC consists of synchronized neuron firings in the general
range of 40 Hz in various
networks in the thalamocortical system,
specifically in connections between the thalamus and layers
four and six of the cortex.
This kind of instantaneous unity has to be distinguished from the
organized unification of
conscious sequences that we get from short term or iconic memory. For nonpathological forms of consciousness at least
some memory is essential in order that the conscious sequence
across time can come in
an organized fashion. For example, when I speak a sentence I have
to be able to remember the beginning of the sentence at the
time I get to the end if
I am to produce coherent speech.
Whereas instantaneous unity is essential to, and is part of,
the definition of consciousness,
organized unity across time is essential to the
healthy functioning of the conscious organism, but it is not
necessary for the very existence of conscious subjectivity.
This combined feature of qualitative, unified subjectivity is
the essence of
consciousness and it,
more than anything else, is what makes consciousness different
from other phenomena studied by the natural sciences.
The problem is to explain how brain processes, which are
objective third person
biological, chemical and
electrical processes, produce subjective
states of feeling and thinking.
How does the brain get us over the hump, so to speak, from
events in the synaptic
cleft and the ion channels to conscious thoughts and feelings?
If you take seriously this combined feature as the target of
explanation, I believe
you get a different sort of research project from what is
currently the most influential. Most neurobiologists take what
I will call the building
block approach: Find the NCC for specific elements in
the conscious field such as the experience of color, and then
construct the whole field out of such building blocks. Another
approach, which I will
call the unified field approach, would take the research
problem to be one of explaining how the
brain produces a unified field
of subjectivity to start with. On the unified field approach,
there are no building blocks, rather there are just
modifications of the already
existing field of qualitative subjectivity.
I say more about this later.
Some philosophers and neuroscientists think we can never have
an explanation of subjectivity:
We can never explain why warm things feel
warm and red things look red. To these
there is a simple answer:
We know it happens. We know that brain processes cause
all of our inner qualitative, subjective thoughts and feelings.
Because we know that it happens we ought to try to figure
out how it happens.
Perhaps in the end we will fail
but we cannot assume the
impossibility of success before we
Many philosophers and scientists also think that the
subjectivity of conscious states
makes it impossible to have a strict science of consciousness. For, they argue, if science is by definition objective, and
consciousness is by definition
subjective, it follows that there cannot be a science
of consciousness. This argument is fallacious. It commits the fallacy of
ambiguity over the terms
objective and subjective. Here
is the ambiguity: We need
to distinguish two different senses
of the objective-subjective distinction.
In one sense, the
epistemic sense (“epistemic”
here means having to do with knowledge), science is indeed
seek truths that are equally accessible to
any competent observer and that are independent of the
feelings and attitudes of the
experimenters in question.
An example of an epistemically objective claim would be
"Bill Clinton weighs 210 pounds".
An example of an epistemically
subjective claim would be "Bill Clinton is
a good president". The
first is objective because its truth
or falsity is settleable in a way that is independent
of the feelings and attitudes of the investigators.
The second is
subjective because it is not so settleable.
But there is another sense
of the objective-subjective distinction, and that is
the ontological sense (“ontological” here means having to
do with existence). Some
entities, such as
pains, tickles, and itches, have a subjective
mode of existence, in
the sense that they exist only as experienced by a conscious subject.
Others, such as
mountains, molecules and tectonic plates
have an objective mode of existence,
in the sense that their existence does not depend on any consciousness.
The point of making this distinction
is to call attention to the fact that the scientific
requirement of epistemic
objectivity does not
preclude ontological subjectivity as a domain of
is no reason whatever why we cannot
have an objective science of pain, even though pains
only exist when they are felt by conscious agents.
The ontological subjectivity of the feeling of pain does not preclude an
epistemically objective science of pain.
Though many philosophers and neuroscientists are
reluctant to think of subjectivity as a proper domain
of scientific investigation, in actual practice, we work on it all the time.
Any neurology textbook will
contain extensive discussions of the etiology and treatment of such ontologically
subjective states as pains and anxieties.
Some Other Features
keep this list short, I mention some other
features of consciousness
Most important, conscious states typically have “intentionality,”
that property of mental
states by which they are directed at or
about objects and states of affairs in the world.
Philosophers use the word intentionality not just for
“intending” in the ordinary
sense but for any mental phenomena at all that have
referential content. According to this usage, beliefs, hopes,
intentions, fears, desires and perceptions
all are intentional.
So if I have a belief, I must have a belief about something.
If I have a normal visual experience,
it must seem to me that I am actually seeing something, etc.
Not all conscious states are intentional and not all
conscious; for example, undirected anxiety lacks intentionality, and
the beliefs a man has even when he is asleep lack consciousness then
and there. But I
think it is obvious
that many of the important evolutionary
functions of consciousness are intentional:
For example, an animal has conscious feelings of hunger and
thirst, engages in conscious
perceptual discriminations, embarks on conscious intentional
actions, and consciously recognizes both friend and foe. All of
these are conscious
intentional phenomena and all are essential for
A general neurobiological account of consciousness will
explain the intentionality of conscious states. For example, an
account of color vision will naturally explain the capacity of
agents to make color
The Distinction Between Center and Periphery of Attention.
It is a remarkable
fact that within my conscious field at any given
time I can shift my attention at will from one aspect to
another. So for example,
right now I am not paying any attention to the pressure
of the shoes on my feet or the feeling of the shirt on my neck. But I can shift my attention to them any time I want.
There is already a fair amount of useful work done on
4. All Human Conscious Experiences Are in Some
Mood or Other.
There is always a
certain flavor to one's conscious
states, always an answer to the question "How are you
feeling?". The moods
do not necessarily have names. Right now I am not especially
elated or annoyed, not ecstatic or depressed, not even just
blah. But all the same I
will become acutely aware of my mood if there is
a dramatic change, if I receive some extremely good or bad
news, for example.
Moods are not the same as emotions, though the mood we
are in will predispose us to having certain emotions.
We are, by the way, closer to having pharmacological control of
moods with such drugs as
Prozac than we are to having control of other internal features
5. All Conscious States Come to Us in the
For any total conscious experience there is always an answer to
the question of whether it
was pleasant, painful, unpleasant, neutral, etc.
The pleasure/unpleasure feature is not the same as mood, though
of course some moods are more pleasant than others.
The brain has a
remarkable capacity to organize
very degenerate perceptual stimuli into coherent
conscious perceptual forms.
I can, for example, recognize a face, or a
car, on the basis of very limited stimuli.
The best known examples of Gestalt structures come from the
researches of the Gestalt psychologists.
There is in varying degrees a sense of familiarity that
pervades our conscious
experiences. Even if I
see a house I have never seen before,
I still recognize it as a house;
it is of a form and
structure that is familiar to me.
Surrealist painters try
to break this sense of the familiarity and
our experiences, but even in surrealist paintings the
drooping watch still looks like a watch, and the three-headed
dog still looks like a dog.
One could continue this list, and I have done
so in other writings (Searle 1992).
The point now is to get a minimal shopping
list of the features that we
want a neurobiology of consciousness to explain. In order to
look for a causal explanation we need to know what the effects
are that need explanation.
Before examining some current research projects, we need to
clear more of the ground.
The Traditional Mind-Body Problem and How to Avoid It.
about objectivity and subjectivity I mentioned
earlier is just the
tip of the iceberg of the traditional mind-body problem.
Though ideally I think scientists would be better off if they
just ignored this problem, the fact is that they are as much
victims of the philosophical traditions as anyone else, and
many scientists, like many philosophers, are still in the grip
of the traditional categories of mind and body, mental and
physical, dualism and materialism, etc.
This is not the place for
a detailed discussion of the mind-body problem, but I
need to say a few words
about it so
that, in the
discussion that follows, we
can avoid the confusions it has engendered.
The simplest form of the mind body problem is this: What exactly is
the relation of consciousness to the brain?
There are two parts to
this problem, a philosophical part and a scientific part.
I have already been assuming a simple solution to the
philosophical part. The
solution, I believe, is consistent with everything we know about
biology and about how the
world works. It is this:
Consciousness and other sorts of mental phenomena are caused by neurobiological
processes in the brain, and they are realized in the structure
of the brain. In a
word, the conscious mind is caused by brain processes and is itself a
higher level feature of the brain.
The philosophical part is relatively easy but
the scientific part is much
harder. How, exactly, do brain processes cause consciousness
and how, exactly, is consciousness realized in the brain? I want to be very clear about the philosophical part,
because it is not possible to approach the
scientific question intelligently if the philosophical issues are unclear. Notice two features of the philosophical solution.
First, the relationship
of brain mechanisms to consciousness is one
of causation. Processes in the brain cause our conscious
experiences. Second, this does not force us to any kind of
dualism because the form of causation is bottom-up, and the
resulting effect is simply a higher level feature of the
brain itself, not a separate substance.
not like some fluid squirted out by the brain.
A conscious state
is rather a state that the brain is in.
Just as water can
be in a liquid or solid state without liquidity and
solidity being separate substances, so consciousness
is a state that the brain is in without consciousness being a separate substance.
Notice that I stated the philosophical solution without using
any of the traditional categories of "dualism,”
and all the rest of it.
Frankly, I think those categories are obsolete.
But if we accept those categories at face value, then we get
picture: You have a choice between dualism and
materialism. According to dualism,
consciousness and other mental phenomena exist in a different
ontological realm altogether from the ordinary physical world
of physics, chemistry, and biology. According to materialism
consciousness as I have described it does not exist.
Neither dualism nor materialism as traditionally construed,
allows us to get an answer
to our question. Dualism
says that there are two
kinds of phenomena in the world, the mental and the
physical; materialism says that there is
only one, the
material. Dualism ends up
with an impossible bifurcation of reality
into two separate categories and thus makes it impossible to explain the relation between the mental and the
physical. But materialism
ends up denying the existence of any
irreducible subjective qualitative states of sentience
In short, dualism makes the problem insoluble; materialism
denies the existence of
any phenomenon to study, and hence of any
On the view that I
am proposing, we should
reject those categories altogether.
We know enough about how the world works to know that
consciousness is a biological phenomenon caused by brain
processes and realized in the structure of the brain.
It is irreducible not because it is ineffable or mysterious,
but because it has a first
person ontology, and therefore cannot
be reduced to phenomena with a third person ontology.
The traditional mistake
that people have made in both science
and philosophy has been to suppose that if
we reject dualism, as I
believe we must, then we have to embrace materialism.
But on the view that I am putting forward, materialism
is just as confused as dualism because it denies the
existence of ontologically subjective consciousness in the
first place. Just to give it a name, the resulting view
that denies both dualism
and materialism, I call biological naturalism.
How Did We Get Into This Mess? A Historical Digression
For a long time I thought
scientists would be better off if they ignored the history
of the mind-body problem, but I now think that unless you understand something
about the history, you will always be in the grip of historical
categories. I discovered this when I was debating people in
artificial intelligence and found that many of them were in the grip of Descartes, a philosopher many of them
had not even read.
What we now think
of as the natural sciences did not really begin
with Ancient Greece. The
Greeks had almost everything, and in
particular they had the wonderful idea of a "theory".
The invention of the idea
of a theory -- a systematic set of logically
related propositions that attempt to explain the phenomena of
some domain -- was
perhaps the greatest single
achievement of Greek civilization.
However, they did
not have the institutionalized practice of systematic observation and
came only after the Renaissance, especially in the 17th century.
When you combine systematic
experiment and testability with the idea of a theory, you
get the possibility of science as we think of it today.
But there was a feature of the seventeenth century, which was a
local accident and
which is still blocking our path.
It is that in the seventeenth century there was a very serious
science and religion, and it seemed that science was a threat to religion. Part of the way
that the apparent threat posed by science to orthodox
Christianity was deflected was due to Descartes and
in particular, argued that reality
divides into two kinds, the mental and
the physical, res
cogitans and res extensa.
Descartes made a
useful division of the territory: Religion had the territory of the soul, and science
could have material reality.
But this gave people the
mistaken conception that science could only
deal with objective third person phenomena, it could
not deal with the inner qualitative subjective experiences
that make up our conscious life.
This was a perfectly
harmless move in the 17th century because it kept the
church authorities off the backs of the scientists.
(It was only partly successful. Descartes, after all, had to
leave Paris and go live in Holland where
there was more tolerance, and Galileo had to make his
famous recantation to the church authorities
heliocentric theory of the
planetary system.) However,
this history has left us with a
tradition and a tendency not to think of consciousness
as an appropriate subject for the natural sciences, in the way
that we think of
disease, digestion, or tectonic plates
as subjects of the natural sciences.
I urge us to overcome this reluctance,
and in order to overcome it we need to overcome the
historical tradition that made it seem perfectly
natural to avoid the topic of
consciousness altogether in scientific investigation.
Summary Of The Argument To This Point
I am assuming that
we have established the following:
Consciousness is a biological phenomenon like any other.
It consists of inner qualitative subjective states
of perceiving, feeling and thinking.
Its essential feature is unified, qualitative
states are caused by neurobiological
processes in the brain, and they are realized in the structure
of the brain.
To say this is
analogous to saying that digestive processes are caused
by chemical processes in the stomach and the rest of the
digestive tract, and that these processes are realized in the
stomach and the digestive tract.
Consciousness differs from other biological phenomena in that
it has a subjective or
first person ontology. But
ontological subjectivity does not prevent us from having
epistemic objectivity. We can still have an objective science
of consciousness. We
abandon the traditional categories of dualism and materialism, for the same reason we abandon the categories of phlogiston
and vital spirits:
They have no application to the real world.
The Scientific Study of Consciousness
then, should we proceed in
a scientific investigation of the phenomena involved?
Seen from the outside it looks deceptively
simple. There are
three steps. First, one
finds the neurobiological events that are correlated with consciousness (the NCC).
Second, one tests to see that the correlation is a genuine causal relation.
And third, one tries
to develop a theory, ideally in the form of a set of laws, that would formalize the causal relationships.
These three steps are typical of the history of science. Think, for example, of the development of the
germ theory of disease.
First we find correlations between brute empirical phenomena.
Then we test the correlations for causality by
manipulating one variable
and seeing how it affects the others.
Then we develop a theory of the mechanisms involved and test
the theory by further experiment.
For example, Semmelweis in Vienna in the 1840s
found that women obstetric patients in hospitals died more
puerperal fever than did those who stayed at home. So he looked more closely and found that women examined by
medical students who had just come from the autopsy room
without washing their
hands had an
exceptionally high rate of puerperal fever.
Here was an empirical correlation. When he made these young
doctors wash their hands
in chlorinated lime, the mortality rate went way down.
He did not yet have the germ theory of disease, but he was
moving in that direction.
In the study of consciousness we appear to be in the early
At the time of this writing we are still looking for the NCC.
Suppose, for example, that
we found, as Francis Crick once put forward as a tentative hypothesis,
that the neurobiological
correlate of consciousness was a set of
neuron firings between the thalamus and the cortex layers 4 and
6, in the range of 40 Hz.
That would be step one. And
step two would be to manipulate the phenomena in question to see if
you could show a causal
we need to test for whether the NCC in question is both
necessary and sufficient for the existence of consciousness.
necessity, we find out whether a subject who has the putative NCC
removed thereby loses consciousness; and to establish sufficiency, we
find out whether an otherwise unconscious subject can be brought to
consciousness by inducing the putative NCC.
Pure cases of causal sufficiency are rare in biology, and we
usually have to understand the notion of sufficient conditions against
a set of background presuppositions, that is, within a specific
biological context. Thus
our sufficient conditions for consciousness would presumably only
operate in a subject who was alive, had his brain functioning at a
certain level of activity, at a certain appropriate temperature, etc.
But what we are trying to establish ideally is a proof that the
element is not just correlated with consciousness, but that it is both
causally necessary and sufficient, other things being equal, for the
presence of consciousness.
Seen from the outsider's point of view, that looks
like the ideal way to proceed. Why
has it not yet been done?
I do not know. It
turns out, for example, that
it is very hard to find an exact NCC, and the current investigative
tools, most notably
in the form of positron emission tomagraphy scans, CAT scans, and
functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques, have not yet identified the NCC. There are interesting differences between the
scans of conscious subjects
and sleeping subjects with REM sleep, on the one hand,
and slow wave sleeping subjects
on the other. But it is
not easy to tell how much
of the differences are related to consciousness.
Lots of things are going on in both the conscious and the
brains that have nothing to do with the production
of consciousness. Given
that a subject is already conscious, you can get parts
of his or her brain to light up by getting him or her to
perform various cognitive
tasks such as perception or memory.
But that does not
give you the difference between being conscious in
general, and being totally unconscious.
So, to establish this first
step, we still appear to be in an
early a state of the technology
of brain research. In
spite of all of the hype surrounding
the development of imaging techniques, we still,
as far as I know, have
not found a way to image the NCC.
With all this in mind, let us turn to some actual efforts
at solving the problem of consciousness.
Standard Approach to Consciousness: The Building Block Model
Most theorists tacitly adopt the building block theory of
consciousness. The idea
is that any conscious field is made of its various parts: the visual experience of red, the taste of coffee, the
feeling of the wind
coming in through the window. It
if we could figure out what makes even one building block
conscious, we would have the key to the whole structure. If we could,
for example, crack visual consciousness, that would give us the key
to all the other
modalities. This view is explicit in the
work of Crick & Koch (1998).
Their idea is that if we could find the NCC for vision, then
we could explain visual consciousness, and we
would then know what to
look for to find the NCC for hearing, and for the
other modalities, and if we put all those together, we would
have the whole conscious
The strongest and
most original statement I know of the building block theory
is by Bartels & Zeki (1998, Zeki & Bartels, 1998). They
see the binding activity of
the brain not as one that generates a conscious experience
that is unified, but rather one that brings together a whole
lot of already conscious
experiences . As they put it (Bartels & Zeki 1998: 2327), "[C]onsciousness
is not a unitary faculty, but.. it consists of many
field of consciousness is thus made up of a lot of building blocks of
at each stage or node of a processing-perceptual system has a
conscious correlate. Binding
cellular activity at different nodes is therefore not a process
preceding or even facilitating conscious experience, but rather
bringing different conscious experiences together” (Bartels &
Zeki 1998: 2330).
are at least three lines of research that are consistent with, and
often used to support, the building block theory.
Blindsight is the name given by the psychologist Lawrence
Weiskrantz to the phenomenon whereby certain patients with
damage to V1 can report incidents occurring in their visual
field even though they report no visual awareness of the
example, in the case of DB, the earliest patient studied, if an X or
an O were shown on a screen in that portion of DB's visual field where
he was blind, the patient when asked what he saw, would deny that he
saw anything. But if
asked to guess, he would guess correctly
that it was an X or an O. His
guesses were right nearly all the time.
Furthermore, the subjects in these experiments are usually
surprised at their results. When
the experimenter asked DB in an interview
after one experiment, "Did you know how well you had
done?", DB answered, "No, I didn't, because I couldn't see
anything. I couldn't see
a darn thing." (Weiskrantz 1986: 24).
This research has subsequently been carried
on with a number of other patients, and blindsight
is now also experimentally induced in monkeys (Stoerig and
Some researchers suppose that we might use blindsight as the key to understanding consciousness.
The argument is the following: In
the case of blindsight, we have a
clear difference between conscious vision and unconscious information processing.
It seems that if we could discover
the physiological and anatomical difference between regular
sight and blindsight, we might have the key to analyzing
consciousness, because we would have a clear neurological
the conscious and the unconscious cases.
Rivalry and Gestalt Switching
One exciting proposal for finding the NCC for vision is to
study cases where
the external stimulus is constant but where the internal
subjective experience varies. Two examples of this are
the gestalt switch, where the same figure, such as the Neckar
cube, is perceived in two
different ways, and binocular rivalry,
where different stimuli are presented to each eye but the
visual experience at any instant is of one or the other
stimulus, not both. In
such cases the experimenter has a chance to isolate
a specific NCC for the visual experience, independently of the
neurological correlates of the retinal stimulus (Logothetis,
1998, Logothetis & Schall, 1989).
The beauty of this research is that it seems to isolate a precise NCC for a precise conscious experience.
Because the external stimulus is constant and there are (at
different conscious experiences A and B, it seems there must be some point in the neural pathways where one sequence of
neural events causes
experience A and another point where a second sequence
causes experience B. Find those two points and you have found
the precise NCCs for two different building blocks of the whole
3. The Neural Correlates of Vision
Perhaps the most
obvious way to look for the NCC is to track the
neurobiological causes of a specific perceptual modality such
as vision. In
a recent article, Crick
& Koch (1998) assume as a working hypothesis that only some
specific types of neurons will
manifest the NCC.
They do not think
that any of the NCC of vision are in V1 (1995).
The reason for thinking that V1 does not contain the NCCs is
that V1 does not connect
to the frontal lobes in such a way that would make V1 contribute directly to the essential
aspect of visual perception. Their
that the function of visual consciousness is to provide
visual information directly
to the parts of the brain that organize voluntary
motor output, including speech.
Thus, because the information in
V1 is recoded in subsequent visual areas and does not transmit
directly to the frontal cortex, they believe that V1 does not
correlate directly with visual consciousness.
Doubts about the Building Block Theory
The building block theory may be right but it has some
worrisome features. Most important, all the research done to identify
the NCCs has been carried out with subjects who are already
conscious, independently of the NCC in question. Going through
the cases in order,
the problem with the blindsight research as a method of discovering
the NCC is that the patients in question only exhibit
blindsight if they are
already conscious. That
is, it is only in the case of
fully conscious patients that we can elicit the evidence
of information processing that we get in the blindsight
examples. So we
cannot investigate consciousness in general
by studying the difference between the blindsight patient
and the normally sighted patient, because both patients are
fully conscious. It
might turn out that what we need in our theory of consciousness is an
explanation of the
conscious field that is essential to both blindsight and normal
vision or, for that
matter, to any other sensory modality.
Similar remarks apply to the binocular rivalry experiments. All this research is immensely valuable but it is not
clear how it will give us an understanding of the exact
differences between the conscious brain and the unconscious
brain, because for both experiences in binocular rivalry the brain is
(1996) and Crick & Koch (1998) only
investigated subjects who are already conscious.
What one wants to
know is, how is it possible for the subject to
be conscious at all? Given
that a subject is conscious, his
consciousness will be modified
by having a visual experience, but
it does not follow that the consciousness is made
up of various building blocks of which the visual experience
is just one.
I wish to state my doubts
precisely. There are (at least) two
1. The building block theory: The conscious field is made up of
small components that combine to form the field.
To find the causal NCC for any component is to find
an element that is causally necessary and sufficient for that
conscious experience. Hence to find even one is, in an
important sense, to crack
the problem of consciousness.
2. The unified field theory ( explained in more detail below):
Conscious experiences come in unified fields. In order
to have a visual experience, a subject has to be conscious
already and the
experience is a modification of the field.
Neither blindsight, binocular rivalry nor normal vision can
give us a genuine causal
NCC because only already conscious subjects can have these
It is important to emphasize that both hypotheses are rival
empirical hypotheses to
be settled by scientific research and not by
philosophical argument. Why then do I prefer hypothesis 2 to
hypothesis 1? The
building block theory predicts
that in a totally unconscious patient, if the patient
meets certain minimal physiological conditions (he is alive,
the brain is functioning normally, he has the right temperature,
etc.), and if you could trigger the NCC
for say the experience of red, then the unconscious subject
would suddenly have a conscious
experience of red and nothing else. One building block is as good as another.
Research may prove me wrong, but on the basis of what little I
know about the brain, I
do not believe that is possible.
Only a brain that is already over the threshold of consciousness, that
already has a conscious field,
can have a visual experience of red.
on the multistage theory of Bartels & Zeki (1998, Zeki &
Bartels 1998), the microconsciousnesses are all capable of a separate
and independent existence.
It is not clear to me what this means. I know what it is
like for me to experience my current conscious field, but who
experiences all the tiny
what would it be like for each
of them to exist separately?
consciousness and a unified field theory
There is another way to look at matters
that implies another research approach.
Imagine that you wake from a dreamless sleep in a completely
dark room. So far you
have no coherent stream of thought and almost no
perceptual stimulus. Save for the pressure of your body on the
bed and the sense of the covers on top of your body,
you are receiving no outside sensory stimuli. All the same
there must be a
difference in your brain between the state of minimal wakefulness you are now in and the state of unconsciousness
you were in before.
That difference is the NCC I believe we
should be looking for.
This state of wakefulness is basal or background consciousness.
Now you turn on the light, get up, move about, etc. What happens? Do you create new conscious states?
Well, in one sense you obviously do, because previously you
were not consciously aware of visual stimuli and now you are.
But do the visual experiences stand to the whole field
of consciousness in the part whole relation?
Well, that is what nearly everybody thinks and what I used to
think, but here is
another way of looking at it. Think
of the visual experience of the table not as an object
in the conscious field the way the table is an object in the
room, but think of the
experience as a modification of the conscious
field, as a new form that the unified field takes.
As Llinas and his colleagues put it, consciousness is
“modulated rather than generated by the senses” (1998:1841).
I want to avoid
the part whole metaphor but I also want to avoid
the proscenium metaphor. We should not think of my new
experiences as new actors on the stage of consciousness but as new bumps
or forms or
features in the unified field of consciousness. What is the
difference? The proscenium metaphor gives us a constant background stage
with various actors on it. I think that is wrong.
There is just the unified conscious field, nothing else, and it
takes different forms.
If this is the right way to look at things (and again this is a
hypothesis on my part, nothing more) then we get a different
sort of research
project. There is no such thing as a separate visual consciousness, so
looking for the NCC for vision is barking up the wrong
tree. Only the already conscious
subject can have visual experiences,
so the introduction of visual experiences is not an
introduction of consciousness but
a modification of
a preexisting consciousness.
The research program that is implicit in the hypothesis of
unified field consciousness is that at some point we need to
investigate the general
condition of the
conscious brain as opposed to the condition of the
unconscious brain. We will not explain the general phenomenon
of unified qualitative subjectivity by looking
for specific local
NCCs. The important
question is not what the NCC for visual consciousness is,
but how does the visual system introduce visual experiences
into an already unified
conscious field, and how does the brain create that unified
conscious field in the first place.
The problem becomes more specific.
What we are trying
to find is which features of a system that is
made up of a hundred billion discreet elements, neurons,
connected by synapses can
produce a conscious field of the sort that
I have described. There
is a perfectly ordinary sense in which
consciousness is unified and holistic, but the brain is not
in that way unified and holistic.
So what we have to look for
is some massive activity of the brain capable of producing
a unified holistic conscious experience. For reasons that we
now know from lesion studies, we are unlikely to find this
as a global property of the brain, and we have very good
reason to believe that activity in
the thalamocortical system is probably the place to look for
unified field consciousness.
The working hypothesis would be that consciousness
is in large part localized in the thalamocortical system, and
that the various other
systems feed information to the thalamocortical
system that produces modifications corresponding to the
various sensory modalities.
To put it simply, I do not believe we will find visual
consciousness in the
visual system and auditory consciousness in the
auditory system. We
will find a single, unified, conscious
field containing visual, auditory, and other aspects.
Notice that if this hypothesis is
right, it will solve the binding
problem for consciousness automatically.
The production of any state of consciousness
at all by the brain is the production of a unified consciousness.
We are tempted to think
of our conscious field as made up of the various components -
visual, tactile, auditory, the stream of thought, etc. The approach
whereby we think of big
things as being made up of little things has proved so
spectacularly successful in the rest of science that it is
almost irresistible to
us. Atomic theory, the cellular theory in biology,
and the germ theory of disease are all examples.
The urge to think of consciousness as likewise made of smaller
building blocks is
overwhelming. But I
think it may be wrong for consciousness.
Maybe we should think of consciousness holistically, and
perhaps for consciousness
we can make sense of the claim that "the
whole is greater than the sum of the parts."
Indeed, maybe it is wrong to think of consciousness as made up
parts at all. I want to suggest that if we think of consciousness
holistically, then the aspects I
have mentioned so far, especially our
original combination of
subjectivity, qualitativeness, and
unity all into one feature, will seem less mysterious.
Instead of thinking of my current state of consciousness as
made up of the various
bits, the perception of the computer screen, the sound
of the brook outside, the shadows cast by the evening sun
falling on the wall -- we
should think of all of these as modifications, forms that the
underlying basal conscious field takes after my peripheral
nerve endings have been assaulted by the various external
stimuli. The research implication of this is that we should look for
consciousness as a feature of the brain emerging from the activities
of large masses of neurons, and which cannot be explained by the
activities of individual neurons.
I am, in sum, urging that we take the unified field approach
seriously as an alternative to the more common building block
ON THE UNIFIED FIELD THEORY
idea that one should investigate consciousness as a unified field is
not new and it goes back at at least as far as Kant's
doctrine of the transcendental
unity of apperception (Kant, 1787). In neurobiology I have not found any contemporary authors who state a clear
distinction between what I have been calling the building block theory
and the unified field theory but at least two lines of contemporary
research are consistent with the
approach urged here, the work of
Llinas and his colleagues (Llinas, 1990, Llinas et al, 1998)
and that of Tononi, Edelman and Sporns (Tononi & Edelman, 1998,
Tononi, Edelman & Sporns
1998, Tononi, Sporns & Edelman, 1992).
On the view of Llinas and his colleagues (1998) we should not
think of consciousness as produced by sensory inputs but rather as
a functional state of large portions of the brain, primarily
the thalamocortical system, and we should think of sensory inputs
serving to modulate a
preexisting consciousness rather than creating consciousness anew. On
their view consciousness is an "intrinsic" state of the
brain, not a response to sensory stimulus
inputs. Dreams are
of special interest to them, because in a
dream the brain is conscious but unable to perceive the
external world through sensory inputs. They believe the NCC is synchronized oscillatory activity in the thalamocartical system (1998:
and Edelman have advanced what they call the
dynamic core hypothesis (1998).
They are struck by
the fact that consciousness has two remarkable properties,
the unity mentioned earlier and the
extreme differentiation or complexity within any conscious
field. This suggests to
them that we should not look for consciousness in
a specific sort of neuronal type, but rather in the activities of large neuronal populations.
They seek the NCC for the unity
of consciousness in the rapid integration that is achieved
through the reentry
mechanisms of the thalamocortical system.
The idea they have is that in order to account for the
combination of integration and differentiation in any conscious field,
they have to identify
large clusters of neurons that function together,
that fire in a synchronized fashion.
Furthermore this cluster, which
they call a functional cluster, should also show a great deal
of differentiation within its component elements in order to
account for the different
elements of consciousness. They
think that synchronous
firing among cortical regions between the
cortex and the thalamus is an indirect indicator of this
functional clustering. Then
once such a functional cluster has
been identified, they wish to investigate whether or not
it contains different activity patterns of neuronal states
within it. The
combination of functional clustering together with
differentiation they submit as the dynamic core hypothesis of consciousness. They believe a unified neural
process of high complexity constitutes a dynamic core.
They also believe the dynamic core is not spread over the brain
but is primarily in the
thalamocortical regions, especially those involved in
perceptual categorization and containing reentry mechanisms of
the sort that Edelman
discussed in his earlier books (1989, 1992). In a new study, they and
their colleagues (Srinivasan et al 1999) claim
to find direct evidence of the role of reentry mapping in the
NCC. Like the adherents of the building block theory, they seek such NCCs
of consciousness as one can find in the studies of binocular
I understand this view, it seems to combine features of both the
building block and the unified
In my view the most important problem in the biological
sciences today is the problem of consciousness. I believe we are now
at a point where we can address this problem as
a biological problem like any other. For decades research has
been impeded by two
mistaken views: first, that consciousness is just a special sort of
computer program, a
special software in the hardware of the brain;
and second that consciousness was just a matter of information
processing. The right sort of information processing -- or on
some views any sort of information processing --- would be
guarantee consciousness. I
have criticized these views at length elsewhere (Searle 1980, 1992,
1997) and do not repeat these criticisms here. But it is important to
remind ourselves how profoundly anti-biological these views are. On
these views brains do not really matter. We just happen to be
implemented in brains, but any hardware that could carry the program
or process the information would do just as well.
I believe, on the contrary, that understanding the nature of
consciousness crucially requires understanding how brain
processes cause and realize consciousness.. Perhaps when we
understand how brains do
that, we can build conscious artifacts using some nonbiological
materials that duplicate, and not merely simulate, the causal powers
that brains have. But first we need to understand how brains do it.1
date corrected: 8 April 2001
RH filename: royalLon.doc
LH last date corrected: 8 April 01
Will as a Problem in Neurobiology\fR\**
article is an extension of some of the ideas
in my lecture to the Royal Institute
Philosophy, in February
2001. That lecture was
an earlier article in \fIThe Journal of Consciousness
"Consciousness, Free Action and the Brain",
10, number 10, October 2000. Some
of the arguments
the early part of this article are developed in more
in my forthcoming book \fIRationality in Action\fR,
John R. Searle
The Problem of Free Will
persistence of the traditional free will problem in
seems to me something of a scandal.
centuries of writing about free will, it does not seem
me that we have made very much progress.
Is there some
problem that we are unable to overcome?
fact that we have simply ignored?
Why is it that we have
so little advance over our philosophical ancestors?
when we encounter one of these problems that seems insoluble
has a certain logical form. On
we have a belief or a set of beliefs that we feel we really
give up, but on the other hand we have another belief
set of beliefs that is inconsistent with the first set, and
just as compelling as the first set.
So, for example, in
old mind-body problem we have the belief that the world
entirely of material particles in fields of force,
at the same time the world seems to contain consciousness,
we cannot see how to put the immaterial together
the material into a coherent picture of the universe.
the old problem of skeptical epistemology, it seems, on the one hand,
to common sense, that we do have certain knowledge of
things in the world, and yet, on the other hand, if we really
such knowledge, we ought to be able to give a decisive
to the skeptical
such as "How do we know we are not dreaming, are not a
in a vat, are not being deceived by evil demons, etc.?"
But we do
know how to give a conclusive answer to
skeptical challenges. In
free will the problem is that we think
of natural phenomena should be completely
The explanation of the Loma Prieta earthquake,
example, does not explain why it just happened to occur,
explains why it \fIhad\fR to occur. Given the forces operating
the tectonic plates, there was no other possibility. But
the same time, when it comes to explaining a certain class
human behavior, it seems that we typically have the experience
"freely" or "voluntarily"
in a sense of these words
it impossible to have deterministic explanations.
example, it seems that when
I voted for a particular candidate,
did so for a certain reason;
all the same, I could have voted for the other candidate,
other conditions remaining the same.
the causes operating on me, I did not \fIhave\fR to vote
when I cite the reason as an explanation of my action I am not
causally sufficient conditions.
we seem to have
contradiction. On the one
hand we have the experience of
and on the other hand we find it very hard to give
the view that because every event has a cause, and human
are events, they must have sufficient causal
as much as earthquakes or rain storms.
we at last overcome one of these intractable
it often happens that we do so by showing that we
made a false presupposition. In
the case of the mind-body
we had, I believe, a false presupposition in the very
in which we stated the problem. The
mental and physical, of materialism and dualism, of spirit
flesh, contains a false presupposition that these must
mutually exclusive categories of reality - that our
states qua subjective, private, qualitative, etc,
be ordinary physical, biological features of our brain.
we overcome that presupposition, the presupposition
the mental and the physical naively
are mutually exclusive,
it seems to me we have a solution to the traditional
problem. And here it is: All of our mental states
caused by neurobiological processes in the brain,
they are themselves realized in the brain as its higher
or system features. So,
for example, if you have a pain,
pain is caused by sequences of neuron firings, and the
realization of the pain experience is in the brain.\**
am assuming for the sake of this article that the right functional
for explaining mental phenomena is the level of neurons. It
turn out to be some other level -- micro-tubules, synapses,
maps, whole clouds of neurons, etc. -- but for the purposes
this article it does not matter what the right neurobiological
that there is a neurobiological explanatory level.
solution to the philosophical mind-body problem seems
me not very difficult. However,
the philosophical solution
the problem upstairs to neurobiology, where it leaves
with a very difficult neurobiological problem.
the brain do it, and how exactly are conscious states
in the brain? What
exactly are the neuronal processes
cause our conscious experiences, and how exactly are these
experiences realized in brain structures?
we can make a similar
the problem of free will.
if we analyze the problem sufficiently, and
various philosophical confusions, we can
that the remaining problem is essentially
problem about how the brain works.
work toward that objective I need first
clarify a number of philosophical issues.
us begin by asking why we find the conviction of our
free will so difficult to abandon.
I believe that this
arises from some pervasive
of conscious experience.
you consider ordinary
activities such as ordering a beer in a pub, or
a movie, or trying to do your income tax, you
that there is a striking difference between
passive character of perceptual consciousness,
the active character of what we might call
example, if I am standing
a park looking at a tree, there is a sense in which
is not up to me what I experience. It is up to how
world is and how my perceptual apparatus is.
decide to walk away or raise my arm or scratch my head,
feature of my experiences
free, voluntary actions that was not
in my perceptions.
feature is that I do not sense
antecedent causes of my action in the form of reasons,
as beliefs and desires,
setting causally sufficient
for the action; and, which is another way of saying
same thing, I sense alternative courses of action
see this strikingly if you consider cases
rational decision making. I
recently had to decide which
to vote for in a presidential election.
the sake of argument, that I voted for George W. Bush.
had certain reasons for voting for Bush, and certain
reasons for not voting for Bush.
I chose to vote for Bush on the basis of some of those
and not others, and later when I actually cast a vote
Bush in a voting booth, I did not sense
antecedent causes of my action as
causally sufficient conditions.
did not sense the reasons for
the decision as causally sufficient to force the
and I did not sense the decision itself
causally sufficient to force the action.
typical cases of deliberating and acting, there
in short, a gap, or a series of gaps between the causes of
stage in the processes of deliberating, deciding and acting, and
we probe more deeply we can
that the gap can be divided into different sorts of segments.
is a gap
the reasons for the decision and the making of the
There is a gap between the decision and the onset
the action, and for any extended action, such as when I am
to learn German or to swim the English Channel,
is a gap
onset of the action and its continuation to completion.
this respect, voluntary actions are quite different
is indeed a voluntaristic element
can, for example, choose
to see the ambiguous
a duck or a rabbit; but for the most part my perceptual experiences
causally fixed. That
is why we have a problem of the freedom
the will, but we do not have a problem of the freedom
gap, as I have described it, is a feature of our conscious,
activities. At each stage, the conscious states are not
as sufficient to compel the next conscious state.
is thus only one continuous experience of the gap but
can divide it into three different sorts of manifestations, as I did
The gap is between one conscious state and the next, not
conscious states and bodily movements or between physical
and conscious states.
experience of free will is very compelling,
even those of us who think it is an illusion find that we
in practice act on the presupposition that it is an illusion.
the contrary, we have to act on the presupposition of freedom.
that you are in a restaurant and you are given a choice
veal and pork, and you have to make up your mind. You cannot
to exercise free will in such a case, because the refusal
is only intelligible to you as a refusal, if you take it
an exercise of free will.
if you say to the waiter, "Look, I am a determinist - ch\*'e sar\*'a
I'll just wait and see what I order", that refusal to exercise
will is only intelligible to you as one of your actions if you
it to be an exercise of your free will.
Kant pointed this
a long time ago. We
cannot think away our free will.
conscious experiences of the gap give us the
of human freedom.
we now turn to the opposing view and ask
we are so convinced of determinism,
arguments for determinism seem just as compelling
the arguments for free will.
basic feature of our relation
the world is that we find
the world causally ordered.
phenomena in the world have causal explanations, and
causal explanations state causally sufficient conditions.
in philosophy, we put this point by saying that
every event has a cause. That
of course, much too crude to capture the complexity
the idea of causation that we are working with. But the
idea is clear enough. In
our dealings with nature
assume that everything that happens, occurs as a result
antecedently sufficient causal conditions.
when we give an explanation by citing a cause, we assume that
cause we cite, \fItogether with the rest of the context,\fR
sufficient to bring about the event we are explaining. In my
example of the earthquake, we assume that the event
not just happen to occur, in that situation it had to occur.
that context the causes were sufficient to determine the event.
interesting change occurred in the early
of the 20th century.
the most fundamental level of physics, nature turns out not
that way deterministic. We have come to accept at a
mechanical level explanations that are not deterministic.
so far quantum indeterminism gives us no
with the free will problem because that indeterminism
randomness into the basic structure of the universe,
the hypothesis that some of our acts occur freely is
at all the same as the hypothesis that some of our
occur at random. I will
have more to say about
are a number of accounts that seem to explain
and even free will
terms of quantum mechanics. I
have never seen
that was remotely convincing, but it is important
this discussion that we remember that as far as our
theories of the universe are concerned, at the most
level we have come to think that it is possible
have explanations of natural phenomena that are not
And that possibility will be important
we later discuss the problem of free will as a
emphasize that the problem of free will, as I have
it, is a problem about a certain kind of human
Without the conscious experience of the gap,
is, without the conscious experience of the distinctive
of free, voluntary, rational actions,
would be no problem of free will.
have the conviction of our own free will because
certain features of our consciousness.
Granted that we have the experience
freedom, is that experience valid or is it illusory?
that experience correspond to something in reality
the experience itself?
have to assume that there are causal antecedents to our actions.
question is: Are those causal antecedents in
every case sufficient
determine the action, or are there some cases where they are not
and if so how do we account for those cases?
us take stock of where we are. On
the one hand
have the experience of freedom, which, as I have
it, is the experience of the gap.
between the antecedent causes of our free,
decisions and actions, and the actual making of those
and the performance of those
On the other hand we have the presupposition, or
assumption, that nature is a matter of events occurring
to causally sufficient conditions, and we find
difficult to suppose that we could explain any phenomena
appealing to causally sufficient conditions.
the purposes of the discussion that follows, I am going
assume that the experiences of the gap are psychologically
That is, I am going to assume that for many voluntary,
rational human actions, the purely \fIpsychological\fR
of the action are not causally sufficient to
the action. This
occurred, for example, when I
a candidate to vote for in the last American presidential
I realize that a lot of people think that
determinism is true, and I have certainly not
a decisive refutation
it. Nonetheless, it seems
to me we find the psychological
of freedom so compelling that it would be
astounding if it turned out that at the psychological
it was a massive illusion, that all of our behavior was
are arguments against psychological determinism,
I am not going to present them in this article.
am going to assume that psychological determinism is false,
that the real problem of determinism is not at
psychological level, but
a more fundamental neurobiological level.
there are several famous issues about free will that I
not discuss, and I mention
to set them on one side.
will have nothing to say about compatibilism, the
that free will and determinism are really consistent with each other.
of these terms that I am using, determinism and free
are not compatible. The thesis
determinism asserts that all actions are
by sufficient causal conditions that determine them. The thesis
free will asserts that some actions are not preceded by sufficient
will so defined is the negation of
No doubt there
a sense of these words where free will is compatible with determinism
for example people march in the streets carrying signs that
they are presumably not interested in physical
that is not the sense of these terms that concerns me.
will also have nothing to say about moral responsibility.
some interesting connection between the problem of free will and the
of moral responsibility, but if so I will have nothing to say
it in this article.
How Consciousness Can Move Bodies.
the problem of free will is a problem about the causal
sorts of consciousness, we need to explain how
in general can function causally to move our bodies.
can a state of human consciousness cause a bodily
of the most common experiences in
our lives is that
moving our bodies by our conscious efforts.
example, I now intentionally raise my arm, a conscious
on my part, and lo and behold, the arm
up. What could be more
common? The fact that we
find such a
occurrence philosophically puzzling suggests that we are
our inherited commitment to the
old Cartesian categories of the mental and the physical.
seems too weightless, ethereal and immaterial ever to
even one of our limbs.
as I tried to explain earlier,
is a higher-level
feature of the brain. To
see how the higher level feature
consciousness has physical effects, consider
higher level features work in
the case of metaphysically
illustrate the relationships between higher-level
system features, on the one hand, and micro-level
on the other, I want to borrow an example
Roger Sperry. Consider a
wheel rolling down hill.
wheel is entirely made of molecules.
the molecules causes the higher level, or
feature, of solidity. Notice
that the solidity
the behavior of the individual molecules. The
of each molecule is affected by the
of the entire solid wheel. But
is nothing there but molecules. The
entirely of molecules. So
when we say
solidity functions causally in the behavior
the wheel and in the behavior of the individual
that compose the wheel, we are not saying
the solidity is something \fIin addition\fR to the
rather it is just the \fIcondition\fR that the
are in. But the feature of solidity
nonetheless a real feature, and it has real causal
course there are many disanalogies between
relation of solidity to molecular behavior, on
hand, and the relation of consciousness to
behavior, on the other. I will explain some of them
but now I want to
on the feature that we have just explored,
suggest that it applies to
relation of consciousness and the brain.
consciousness of the brain can have
at the neuronal level even though
is nothing in the brain except neurons
glial cells, neuro-transmitters, blood flow,
all the rest). And just
as the behavior
the molecules is causally constitutive of solidity,
the behavior of the neurons is causally constitutive
consciousness. When we
say that consciousness
move my body, what we are saying is that
neuronal structures move my body, but they
my body in the way they do because of the conscious state they
is a feature of the brain
a way that solidity is a feature
of the wheel.
are reluctant to think of consciousness as just a biological
of the brain, in part because of our dualistic tradition, but
tend to suppose that if consciousness is
to neuronal behavior then it must
something extra, something "over and above" neuronal
of course consciousness, unlike solidity,
not ontologically reducible to physical micro-structures.
not because it is some extra thing; rather it is
consciousness has a first-person, or subjective,
and is thus not reducible to anything
has a third-person, or objective, ontology.\**
further discussion, see John R. Searle, \fIThe Rediscovery of
Mind\fR, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992, especially Chapter 5.
this brief discussion
have tried to explain how
can have "physical" causal consequences,
is nothing mysterious about that fact.
conscious intention-in-action causes my
to go up. But of course,
is a feature of my brain
and as such at the level of the neurons it
constituted entirely by neuronal behavior.
is no ontological reductionism
this account, because at no point are we
that consciousness has an irreducible
ontology. But there is a
has no causal
beyond the powers of the neuronal (and other neurobiological)
The Structure of Rational Explanation
said that the problem of free will is a problem
certain sorts of consciousness.
we look at the sorts of explanations
we give for actions which are
of the gap, that is, actions
are expressions of our experience
free, rational decision-making,
find that the experience of free will
reflected in the logical structure
action explanations. In a
word, because of the gap,
our rational decision-making processes
not deterministic in form in a way
typical explanations of natural
are deterministic in form.
see how this is so, contrast the
I punched a hole in the
I wanted to vote for Bush.
I got a bad headache because
wanted to vote for Bush.
The glass fell to the floor and
because I accidentally knocked
off the table.
these examples, 1 and 2 look very similar
their syntactical structure, and they
to be different from 3. I
that 2 and 3 are the same in their
logical structure, and they both
in this respect from 1. 3
is a standard
explanation which states thtat
one event or state
event or state. The
logical form of 3 is simply:
caused B. But the form of
1 is quite different.
do not take statements of form 1 as implying that the
described by the clause before "because"
to occur, given the
occurrence of the event described after
"because" and the rest of the context.
do not take 1 as implying that my desire
vote for Bush was such as to force me to
a hole in the ballot
paper, that given
psychological state at the time, I could
have done otherwise. Explanations of this form may on
but the form of the
explanation does not require
conditions. If we compare
1 and 3, with 2 it
to me that 2, like 3, is a matter
causally sufficient conditions. The
2, like 3, is simply: A caused B.
In that context, the state
my desiring to vote for Bush was causally sufficient for the event
my getting a headache.
us with a puzzle, almost a contradiction.
seems that if the explanation does not give causally sufficient
it cannot really explain anything, because it does not
the question why one event occurred as opposed to another
which was also causally possible given exactly the same antecedent
think answering that question is an important
of the discussion of free will, so I want to spend a little
of time on it.
a matter of their logical structure,
of voluntary human actions in terms of reasons
different from ordinary causal explanations.
logical form of ordinary causal explanations is simply that
A caused event B.
to specific contexts, we typically take
explanations as adequate because we assume
in that context,
A was causally
for event B. Given the
rest of the context, if A occurred
B had to occur. But the
form of the explanation of human
where we say that a certain person performed act A by acting
reason R, has a different logical structure. It is not
the form "A caused B".
I think you only understand that structure
you realize that it requires the postulation of a self or an ego.
of the statement "Agent S performed Act A because of reason
not of the form "A caused B", it is of the form "A self
action A, and in the performance
A, S acted on reason R.
logical form, in short, of rational explanation is quite
from standard causal explanations.
form of the explanation
not to give causally sufficient conditions, but to cite the reason
the agent acted on.
if that is right,
we have a peculiar result.
seems that rational action explanations require
to postulate the existence of an irreducible
a rational agent, in addition to the sequence of events.
if we make explicit two
further assumptions to those we have
been making, I think we can
the existence of the self.
1: Explanations in terms of reasons do not typically cite
explanations can be adequate explanations of actions.
do I know that
2 is true? How do I know
such explanations can be and often
my own case I often know exactly what reasons I had for performing
action and I know that an explanation that cites those reasons
adequate, because I know that in acting I \fIacted on\fR those reasons
on those reasons alone.
course we have to allow that
are all kinds of problems about the unconscious,
and all the rest of the unknown and unacknowledged
for action. But in the
I consciously act on a
reason and am consciously aware of
on a reason, the specification of the reason as
explanation of my action
have already been making a third assumption,
3: Adequate causal explanations cite conditions
relative to the context, are causally
this assumption just makes explicit the principle
causal statement is to explain an event,
the statement of the cause must cite a condition
in that particular context was sufficient
bring about the event to be explained.
1 and 3 we can derive:
1: Construed as ordinary causal explanations, reason
we were to assume that reason explanations are ordinary causal
we would have a straight contradiction.
avoid the contradiction we have to conclude:
2: Reason explanations are not ordinary causal explanations.
they have a causal component, their form is not, A caused B.
leaves us with a problem.
are we to explain the adequacy of these
if they have a causal component,
nonetheless, are not standard causal
I think the answer is not hard to find.
not give a sufficient cause of an event, rather it gives
a conscious rational self acted
a reason, how an agent made a reason effective by freely
when spelled out, the logical form of such explanations requires
we postulate an irreducible, non-Humean self. Thus:
3. Reason explanations are adequate because they explain
a self acted in a certain way.
explain why a rational
self acting in the gap, acted one way
than another, by specifying the reason that the self acted on.
are thus two avenues to the gap, an experiential and a linguistic.
experience ourselves acting freely in the gap, and this
the logical structure of explanations that we give for our
experience ourselves acting as rational agents,
our linguistic practice of giving explanations reflects the gap
the explanations do not cite causally sufficient conditions);
their intelligibility these explanations require that we
must be an entity -- a rational agent, a self, or an ego --
acts in the gap (because
Humean bundle of
would not be enough to account for the adequacy of the
necessity of assuming the operation
an irreducible, non-Humean, self
is a feature
of our actual experience of voluntary action
the practice that we have of explaining our
actions in by giving reasons.
course such explanations, like all explanations,
for further questions about why those reasons
effective and not other reasons.
That is, if I
that I voted for Bush because I wanted an improvement
the educational system, there is a further question,
did I want that improvement? And
why was that reason
compelling to me than other reasons? I agree that such
demand for explanations can always be continued,
that is true of any explanation.
Wittgenstein reminded us, have to stop somewhere,
there is nothing inadequate about saying that I voted
Bush because I wanted an improvement in the educational
It does not show that my answer is
inadequate to show
admits of further questions.
am here summarizing briefly a complex
that I have spelled out in more detail in Chapter 3
\fIRationality in Action\fR (MIT Press, forthcoming).
the bare bones of the argument can be conveyed even
this brief summary: We
have the first-person
of acting on reasons. We
these reasons for action in the form of explanations.
explanations are obviously quite adequate because we
in our own case that, in their ideal form, nothing
is required. But they
cannot be adequate if they
treated as ordinary causal explanations because they
not pass the causal sufficiency test.
They are not
in their logical form as stated,
they are not deterministic in their interpretation.
can we account for these facts?
account for these explanations we must see that they are not
the form A caused B.
are of the form, a rational self S performed act A, and in
A, S acted on reason R.
that formulation requires the postulation of a self.
3 does not follow deductively from the assumptions.
is a "transcendental" argument, in one of Kant's senses
that term. Assume
and such facts and ask
what are the conditions of possibility
these facts. I am
claiming that the condition of
of the adequacy of rational explanations
the existence of an irreducible self, a rational
capable of acting on reasons.
us take stock again of where we are.
saw, first, that the problem of free will arises because
a special feature of a certain type of human consciousness,
we saw, second, that in order to explain our apparently
behavior, we have to postulate an irreducible notion
the self. This, by the
way, is typical of philosophy -
order to solve one problem you have to solve a bunch
others, but so far, I seem to have given you three
for one. We started with
the problem of free
and we now have the problems of free will, of consciousness,
of the self, and they all seem to hang together.
Free Will and the Brain
now turn to the main question of this article:
treat the problem of free will as a neurobiological
And the assumption that I am making is that
free will is a genuine feature of the world and not
an illusion, then it must have
neurobiological reality; there must be some feature
the brain that realizes free will.
I said earlier
consciousness is a higher level, or system, feature
the brain caused by the behavior of lower-level
such as neurons and synapses. But
if that is
what would the behavior of the neurons and the synapses
to be like if the conscious experience of free will were to be
have said that the philosophical solution to the
mind-body problem is to point out that all of our
states are higher-level or systemic features of the
while being at the same time caused by lower-level micro-processes
the brain. At the system
level we have consciousness,
decisions, and intentions. At
we have neurons, synapses, and neurotransmitters.
features of the system level are caused by the behavior of the
and are realized in the system composed of
the past I have described the set of causal relations
decision making and acting in terms of a parallelogram
at the top level we have decisions leading to intentions
action, and at the bottom level we have neuron firings
more neuron firings. Such
a picture gives us a
looks like this:
question is, if we suppose there is
gap at the top level in the case of rational decision-making,
might that gap be reflected at the neurobiological level?
are, after all, no gaps in the brain.
order to explore
alternative hypotheses we need to consider an
famous, if mythological,
judgment of Paris. Confronted with three beautiful Godesses,
Aphrodite and Pallas Athena,
was required to deliberate and reach a decision as to which should
golden apple, inscribed "For the fairest".
was not to decide this by appraising their beauty but by choosing
bribes each offered.
promised that he would possess the most beautiful woman
that he would lead the Trojans to victory over the Greeks,
offered to make him ruler of Europe and
is important that he has to
a decision as a result of
deliberation. He does not just spontaneously
also assume that he was
operating in the gap: He consciously
a range of choices
to him; and his decision was not forced by
or obsession. He made a free decision after deliberation.
can suppose there was an instant when the period of reflection began,
it t1, and that it lasted until he finally handed the apple to
this example we will stipulate that there was
further stimulus input between t1 and t2. In that period he
reflected on the merits and the demerits of the various
the information on the basis of which he makes his decision is
in his brain at t1,
the processes between t1 and t2 are simply a matter
deliberation leading to the choice of Aphrodite.
this example we can now state the problem of the
of the will
somewhat more precision than we have been able to do so far.
the total state of Paris's brain at t1 is causally sufficient to
total state of his brain at t2, in this and in other relevantly
cases, then he has no free will. And what goes for Paris
for all of us. If
the state of his
at t1 is not causally sufficient to determine the subsequent
of his brain up to t2,
assumptions about consciousness that I need to make
does have free will. And again, what goes for Paris goes for all
does it all come down to this? The
answer is that the state
his brain immediately prior
sufficient to determine the beginning of the
that caused and realized his action of handing the
was a mortal man with neurons like the rest of us and
soon as the acetylcholene reached the axon
plates of his motor neurons, then, assuming
rest of his physiology was in order, his arm, with apple in hand,
move toward Aphrodite by causal
The problem of free will is whether the conscious thought
in the brain, the processes
constitute the \fIexperiences\fR
free will, are realized in a neurobiological
that is totally deterministic.
we have two hypotheses, first
the state of the brain
causally sufficient, and second that it is not.
us explore each in turn. On
Hypothesis 1 let us
that the antecedently \fIinsufficient\fR psychological
leading up to the choice of Aphrodite at t2,
conditions that led us to the postulation
the gap, are matched at the lower neurobiological level
a sequence of neurobiological events each stage of which
causally \fIsufficient\fR for the next. On this hypothesis
would have a kind of neurobiological determinism corresponding
a psychological libertarianism. Paris
has the experience
free will, but there is no genuine free will at the
level. I think most
feel that this is probably how the brain actually works,
we have the experience of free will but it is illusory;
the neuronal processes are causally sufficient
determine subsequent states of the brain, assuming there are no
stimulus inputs or effects from the rest of the body.
this result is intellectually
unsatisfying because it gives us a form of epiphenomenalism.
says that our experience of freedom
no causal or explanatory role in our behavior. It is
complete illusion, because
our behavior is entirely fixed by the
that determines the muscle contractions.
this view evolution played a massive trick on us.
gave us the illusion of freedom, but it is nothing
that that - an illusion.
will say more about Hypothesis 1 later, but first
us turn to Hypothesis 2.
Hypothesis 2 we suppose that the absence of causally
conditions at the psychological level is matched
an absence of causally sufficient conditions at the
level. Our problem is,
what could that
mean? There are no gaps
the brain. In order to
take seriously the hypothesis
the free will that is manifested in consciousness has a
we have to explore the relation of consciousness
neurobiology a little more closely. Earlier I described
as a higher level feature
the brain system. The
metaphor of higher and lower,
it is common in the literature
own writings included), I think is misleading.
that consciousness is, so to speak, like the varnish
the surface of the table; and that is wrong.
The idea we
trying to express is that consciousness is a feature
the whole system. Consciousness
is literally present
of the brain where consciousness is created by and
is important to emphasize this point, because it runs contrary to
Cartesian heritage that says consciousness cannot have a
location: consciousness is
located in certain portions of the
and functions causally, relative to those locations.
explained earlier how consciousness could function causally,
giving an analogy between the consciousness of the brain
the solidity of the wheel, but if we carry that
a step further, we see that on Hypothesis
we have to suppose that the logical features
volitional consciousness of the entire system
effects on the elements on the system, even
the system is composed entirely of the elements,
the same way that the solidity of the wheel has
on the molecules even though the wheel is composed
point of the analogy was to remove the sense of mystery about
consciousness could affect neuronal behavior (and thus move
bodies) by showing how, in unmysterious
a system feature can affect micro-level elements in a system
entirely of the micro-level
elements, in which all causal powers are reducible to the
powers of the micro-level elements.
of course any analogy goes only so far.
analogy: solidity is to molecular behavior as
is to neuronal behavior,
inadequate at, at least, two points.
First, we take the wheel
be entirely deterministic,
are examining now is that the conscious voluntary decision-making
of the brain are not deterministic.
the solidity of the wheel is
reducible to the behavior of the molecules,
not just causally reducible. In
the case of consciousness,
we suppose that consciousness is causally reducible
the behavior of the micro-elements, we cannot make a similar
reduction for consciousness.
is because the first person ontology of consciousness is not
to a third person ontology.
far then, in our preliminary formulation of Hypothesis 2 we have three
the brain at t1 is not causally sufficient to determine the
of the brain at t2. Second, the movement from the state
t1 to the state at t2 can only be explained by features of the
system, specifically by the operation of the conscious
third, all of the features of the conscious self at any given
are entirely determined by the state of the microelements, the
etc. at that instant.
systemic features are
fixed at any given instant by the microelements, because,
speaking, there is nothing there but the microelements.
state of the neurons determines the state of consciousness.
any given state of neurons/consciousness is not causally sufficient
the next state. The passage from one state to the next is
by the rational thought processes of the initial state
any instant the total state of consciousness is fixed by the
of the neurons, but from one instant to the next the
state of the system is not causally sufficient to determine
will, if it exists at all, is a phenomenon in time.
the best I can do is this:
have stated both Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2
swiftly, and it is now time to go over them
bit more slowly to see what is involved.
Hypothesis 1 and Epiphenomenalism
best way to think of Hypothesis 1 is to think of it as an
you are building a conscious robot. You build it in such
way that when confronted with choices it has the conscious
of the gap. But you construct its hardware in such a way
each stage is determined
by the preceding stages and
the impact of outside stimuli. Each
of the robot's body is entirely fixed by its internal states.
have a model for this part of
the technology in
simply put in computer programs
will give the robot an algorithmic solution to the problems posed
the input stimuli and the states of the system.
Hypothesis 1, Paris's judgment was preprogrammed in advance.
have said that an objection to Hypothesis 1 is that it
to epiphenomenalism. The
conscious rational decision-making would have no
influence in the universe. Paris's
judgment, my behavior
the robot's behavior
all entirely causally
determined by the activity going
at the micro-level. But,
someone might challenge
why is the supposition involved in Hypothesis 1
more epiphenomenal than any other account
the relationship of consciousness to the physiological
of the human body?
have claimed that once
abandon the traditional dualistic categories
is no mystery at all about how consciousness
function causally. It is
simply a matter
a higher-level, or system, feature functioning
And, furthermore, the account that I gave
not postulate any causal over-determination.
are not two sets of causes, the consciousness
the neurons; there is just one set, described
different levels. Consciousness,
just the state that the system of neurons is in,
the same way that solidity is just a state
the system of molecules is in. But
own account, why should Hypothesis 1 imply
any more than Hypothesis 2? The
is this. Whether a
epiphenomenal depends on whether the
itself functions causally.
there are many features of any
that are causally irrelevant.
example, it is a feature of the event
I accidentally knocked the glass off
table that I was wearing a blue shirt at the time.
the blue shirt was not a causally relevant
of the event. It is true
man in the blue shirt knocked the glass
the table", but the blue shirt is
- it does not matter.
when we say of some feature of an event
it is epiphenomenal, what we are saying
that that feature played no causal role.
suggestion that I am making is that
Hypothesis 1 the essential feature
rational decision making, namely
experience of the gap -- the
alternative possibilities open to us,
experience that the psychological
of the action are not causally
to compel the action,
the experience of the
where we make up our
and then act --
those features of the experience do not
They are irrelevant.
determinate forms of those
whereby we anguish over a decision
consider various reasons are as irrelevant as the blueness
my shirt when I knocked the glass over.
judgment of Paris was already
by the antecedent state
the Paris's neurons, regardless of all of his
mere fact that a system feature
fixed by the micro elements does not show that the system
is epiphenomenal. On the contrary, we saw how consciousness
be fixed by neuronal behavior and still not be epiphenomenal.
show that something is epiphenomenal, we have to show that
feature in question is not a causally relevant aspect in
what happens. The epiphenomenalism
this case arises because the causal insufficiency of the
of the gap and the effort to resolve the insufficiency
making up our minds is simply not a causally relevant aspect
determining what actually happens. Our decision was already fixed
the state of our neurons even though we thought
were going through
conscious process of making up our minds among genuine alternatives,
that were genuinely open to us, even given all of the causes.
is sometimes said to be explained by counterfactuals.
causes apart, the truth of "Even if A had not occurred then B
would still have occurred" is supposed
be the test for whether A is epiphenomenal.
this test is at best misleading. Assuming that both the experiences
the gap and the final decisions are fixed at the neuronal level,
if the experiences had not occurred the decision would not have
or at least its occurrence would not have been guaranteed,
they are both caused by the same neuronal processes.
if one is absent the cause of the
other must have been removed as well.
this does not show that the experiences were not
The test for epiphenomenalism is not the truth of the counterfactual,
the reasons for its truth. The test for epiphenomenalism
whether the feature in question is a causally relevant aspect.
Hypothesis 1 the distinctive features of the gap and of rational
what's wrong with epiphenomenalism? As we come to understand
how the brain works, it may turn out to be true.
the present state of our knowledge, the main objection to accepting
is that it goes against everything we know about evolution.
processes of conscious
rationality are such an important part of
lives, and above all such a biologically expensive part of our lives,
it would be unlike anything we know in evolution if a phenotype
this magnitude played no functional role at all in the life and
humans and higher animals an enormous biological price is paid for
decision making, including everything from how the young are
to the amount of blood flowing to the brain.
suppose that this plays no role in inclusive fitness is not like
the human appendix plays no role.
would be more like supposing that vision or digestion played no
Hypothesis 2. The Self, Consciousness and Indeterminism.
1 is unattractive, but at least it is coherent and fits
with a lot of what we know about biology. The brain is an organ like
other and is as deterministic in its functioning as the heart or
liver. If we can imagine building a conscious machine then
can imagine building a conscious robot according to Hypothesis 1.
how would one treat Hypothesis 2 as an engineering problem?
would we build a conscious robot, where every feature of
by the state of the microelements, and at the same
the consciousness of the system
causally in determining the next
of the system by processes that are not deterministic but are
matter of free decision making by a rational self, acting on reasons.
described, it does not sound like a promising project for Federal
only reason for taking it seriously is that as far as we can
from our own experiences of the gap, together with what we know
how the brain works,
that is precisely the condition we are in.
are conscious robots whose states of consciousness
fixed by neuronal processes, and at the same time we sometimes
by nondeterministic conscious processes (hence neuronal processes)
are matters of our rational selves making decisions on reasons.
could the brain work so
as to satisfy all those conditions?
that I do not ask, "How \fIdoes\fR the brain work so as to
those conditions?" because we don't know for a fact that it does
the conditions, and
it does, we have no idea how it does so.
this point all we can do is describe various conditions that
brain would have to meet if Hypothesis 2 is true.
seems to me there are three conditions, in ascending order of
and an account of brain functioning in accord with Hypothesis
would have to explain how the brain meets these conditions.
Consciousness, as caused by neuronal processes and realized in
causally in moving the
have already explained in some detail how this is possible.
The brain causes and sustains the existence of a
self that is able to make
rational decisions and carry them
is not enough that consciousness should have physical effects on the
There are many such cases that have nothing to do with rational
actions, as when a man gets a stomach ache from worry, or throws up
a disgusting sight,
gets an erection from erotic thoughts.
addition to a neurobiological
account of mental causation one needs
neurobiological account of the rational, volitional self. How does
brain create a self, how is the self realized in the brain,
does it function in deliberation, how does it arrive at decisions,
how does it initiate and sustain actions?
the sense in which I introduced the notion of the self by the
argument of section III, the self is not some extra
rather, in a very crude and oversimplified fashion, one
say that conscious agency plus conscious rationality = selfhood.
if you had an account of brain processes that explained how
brain produced the unified field of consciousness,\**
the importance of the unified field, see John R. Searle,
\fIAnnual Review of Neuroscience\fR, 2000
with the experience of
and in addition how the brain produced conscious thought processes,
which the constraints of rationality
already built in as constitutive elements,
would, so to speak, get the self for free.
spell this out in a little more detail, the elements necessary for
a self in my sense are first, it must have
a unified field of consciousness;
must have the capacity
deliberating on reasons, and this involves not only cognitive
of perception and memory but the capacity for coordinating
states so as to arrive at rational decisions;
third, the organism must be capable of initiating and carrying out
the old time jargon, it must have "volition" or
my view rationality is not a separate faculty, rather the constraints
rationality are already built into intentional phenomena such as
and desires and into thought processes.
a neurobiological account of mental phenomena would already be
account of the rational constraints on such phenomena.
of this view and the reasons for it, see
\fIRationality in Action\fR, MIT press, forthcoming, 2001.
is no additional metaphysical problem of the self. If you can show
the brain does all that
-- how it creates a unified field of
capable of rational agency in the sense just explained,
you have solved the neurobiological
problem of the self. Notice that, as
as the experiences are concerned, both
1 and Hypothesis 2 need to meet this condition.
any theory of brain function has to meet this condition, because
know that the brain gives us all these sorts of experiences.
1 and Hypothesis 2 is that on 1 rational agency is an illusion.
have the experience of rational agency but it makes no difference
The brain is such that the conscious self is able to make and carry
out decisions in
neither decision nor action is
in advance, by causally sufficient conditions, yet both are
explained by the
reasons the agent is
is the trickiest condition: How could the gap be neurobiologically
all that I have just said?
we had an account of how the brain produces mental causation,
an account of how it produces the experiences of rational agency,
do you get rational indeterminism into your account of brain function?
only way I know to approach such a problem is to begin by
ourselves of what we already know.
know, or at least we think we know, two things that bear on the case.
we know that our experiences of free action contain both
and rationality and that consciousness is essential to the
that these take. Second we know that quantum indeterminism is
only form of indeterminism that is indisputably established as
fact of nature.\**
theory, as I understand it, implies unpredictability but not
is tempting, indeed irresistible, to think that the
of the conscious experience of free will must be a
of quantum indeterminism at the level of conscious
decision making. Previously I never could see the point
introducing quantum mechanics into discussions of consciousness.
here at least is a strict argument requiring the introduction of
1. All indeterminism in nature is quantum indeterminism.
2. Consciousness is a feature of nature that
Consciousness manifests quantum indeterminism.
aim now is to keep following relentlessly the implications of
assumptions. If Hypothesis 2 is true and if quantum indeterminism
the only real form of indeterminism in nature, then it follows
quantum mechanics must enter into the explanation of consciousness.
conclusion does not follow on Hypothesis 1. As long as
is epiphenomenal, then no indeterminism in the causal apparatus is
to explain how consciousness is caused by and realized in
processes. This is important for contemporary research. The standard
of research, both on the building block model and the unified
model, make no appeal to quantum mechanics in explaining
Hypothesis 2 is true these cannot succeed, at least not for volitional
an explanation of the distinction between the building block model and
unified field model, see John R. Searle, "Consciousness"
Review of Neuroscience. 2000\fR
23, pp. 557-578.
even assuming we had a quantum mechanical explanation
consciousness, how do we get from indeterminism to rationality?
quantum indeterminacy amounts to randomness then quantum indeterminacy
itself seems useless in explaining the problem of free
because free actions are not random.
think we should take the question, "What is the relation between
indeterminacy and rationality?" in the same spirit in which we
the question "What is the relation between brain micro processes
consciousness?" or the question, "What is the relation
brain processes and visual intentionality?"
the latter two cases we know in advance
the system features are caused by and realized in the microprocesses,
we know that the causal features of the system
phenomena are entirely explainable by the behavior of
micro phenomena. As I have repeated to the point of tedium,
causal relations have the
same \fIformal\fR structure as the causal relations
molecular movements and solidity.
also know that it is a fallacy of composition to suppose that the
of the individual elements must be properties of the whole.
for example, the electrical properties of the individual atoms
not properties of the whole table, and the fact that a particular
potential is at 50 Hz does not imply that the whole brain is
at 50Hz. Now exactly analogously, the fact that individual
are random does not imply randomness at the system level.
indeterminacy at the micro level, may (if Hypothesis 2 is true)
the indeterminacy of the system, but \fIthe randomness at the micro
does not thereby imply randomness at the system level.\fR
said at the beginning that obdurate philosophical problems arise
we have a conflict between deeply held inconsistent theses.
the case of the mind body problem we resolved the inconsistency
a kind of compatibilism. Once we abandon the assumptions behind the
Cartesian categories then naive
with naive mentalism. We
could not make such
compatibilism work for the free will problem, because the
that every human act is preceded by causally sufficient conditions
incompatible with the thesis that some are not.
we sorted out the issues we found two possibilities,
1 and Hypothesis 2. Neither is very appealing.
we had to bet, the odds would surely favor Hypothesis 1, because
is simpler and fits in with our overall view of biology.
it gives a result that is literally incredible.
I gave this lecture in London someone in the audience asked,
Hypothesis 1 were shown to be true would you accept it?"
form of the question is: "If free rational decision making were
not to exist, would you freely and rationally make the decision
accept that is does not exist?"
that he did not ask, "If hypothesis 1 were true would the
processes in your brain produce the result that your
made affirmative noises about it?"
question at least is in the spirit of Hypothesis 1, though even
goes too far, because it
asks me freely and rationally to make a
something that is impossible on the Hypothesis.
2 is a mess, because it gives us three mysteries for one.
thought free will was a mystery, but consciousness and quantum
were two separate and distinct mysteries.
we have the result that in order to solve the first we have
solve the second and invoke one of the most mysterious aspects
the third to solve the first two.
aim in this article is to continue the line of attack begin in
earlier writings and to follow out the competing lines of reasoning
far as they will go. There is, I am sure, much more to be said.
I am indebted to many people for discussion of these issues. None of them is responsible for any of my mistakes. I especially wish to thank Samuel Barondes, Dale Berger, Francis Crick, Gerald Edelman, Susan Greenfield, Jennifer Hudin, John Kihlstrom, Jessica Samuels, Dagmar Searle, Wolf Singer, Barry Smith, and Gunther Stent.
Above remarks are of Prof Searle. To him and his colleagues across the world, we offer our deep gratitude. Our deep gratitude to vakuumenergie.de company for the beautiful animated film and to Martin Peniak.
December 31, 2007