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 photon.”
(Prof. Phys. Lisa Randall, Harvard University, -Warped Passages. Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe´s Hidden Dimensions- Nov. 2006, German version)



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








FILE: neuro2.doc

DIRECTORY: kermit98 

LAST 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.


I.  Resistance to the Problem

                 As recently as two decades ago there was little interest among neuroscientists, philosophers, psychologists   and cognitive scientists generally  in  the problem of consciousness.    Reasons for the resistance to the problem varied from discipline to discipline.  Philosophers 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   cognition.  It 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   neuroscientific investigation.  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

scientific investigation,  but they had a second reason: "We are not ready" to tackle the problem    of 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.   

 II. 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 Consciousness. 


                 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 "unconscious."  It 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 somewhere   else.  Dreams on this definition are a form of consciousness, though of  course they are in many respects quite different from   waking consciousness.     

                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   the  second-order mental   states 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.  Nonetheless,  there 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 investigation.

                 Consciousness has 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 consciousness  should explain. 

 IV. The Essential Feature of Consciousness: The Combination of Qualitativeness, Subjectivity and  Unity 

  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  logically interrelated,    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 hearing   Beethoven's 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.  Because "consciousness"  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 eighty-seven."  Once 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  subjective.   

  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  important.  These 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.

 The 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 of an object.  Crick (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

skeptics 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   try.    

  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 objective.  Scientists 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  investigation.  There 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.    

 V. Some Other Features  

To keep this list short, I mention some other  features of consciousness  only briefly.    

  Feature 2:Intentionality  

                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  intentionality  is 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   biological survival.   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 discriminations.    

 Feature 3, 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 attention.   

 Feature 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  of consciousness.   

 Feature 5. All Conscious States Come to Us in the   Pleasure/Unpleasure Dimension  

  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.  

 Feature 6. Gestalt Structure.   

                 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.

 Feature 7. Familiarity

  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  ordinariness  of 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.   

 VI. The Traditional Mind-Body Problem and How to Avoid It.  

                 The confusion 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.  Consciousness  is 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,” "monism,” "materialism,"  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 the   following 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  or awareness.    In short, dualism makes the problem insoluble; materialism denies  the existence of any phenomenon to study, and hence of any  problem.   

                 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.   

 VII. 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 experiment.    That 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 conflict   between 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  Galileo.  Descartes, 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  of   his 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.   

 VIII. 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  subjectivity.   Conscious 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.

 IX. The Scientific Study of Consciousness  


How, 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 often  from  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   Semmelweis phase.   

                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 relation.    Ideally, we need to test for whether the NCC in question is both  necessary and sufficient for the existence of consciousness.

To establish 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 unconscious  subjects' 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.     

 X.The 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  seems  that  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 field.   

                 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 micro-consciousnesses."  Our field of consciousness is thus made up of a lot of building blocks of  microconsciousnesses.  “Activity 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).

 There are at least  three lines of research that are consistent with, and  often used to  support, the building block theory.   

  1. Blindsight  

  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   stimulus.  For 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 Cowey, 1997).   

                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 distinction   between the conscious and the unconscious cases.   


  2. Binocular 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 least)   two 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   conscious field.    

  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 information  processing aspect of visual perception.  Their idea  is  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.


 XI. 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 fully  conscious.    

                 Similarly, Crick (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  possible  hypotheses.   

  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  experiences.    

                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. 

 Furthermore 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 microconsciousnesses?   And what would it be like for   each of them to exist separately?   

XII. Basal 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   approach.    



The 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:  1845).

 Tononi 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 rivalry.   

As I understand this view, it seems to combine features of both the building block and the  unified field approach.

X Conclusion

                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 sufficient   to 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





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\fIFree Will as a Problem in Neurobiology\fR\**


This article is an extension of some of the ideas

presented in my lecture to the Royal Institute

of Philosophy,  in February 2001.  That lecture was based

on an earlier article in \fIThe Journal of Consciousness

Studies\fR, "Consciousness, Free Action and the Brain",

volume 10, number 10, October 2000.  Some of the arguments

in the early part of this article are developed in more

detail in my forthcoming book \fIRationality in Action\fR,

MIT Press.



by John R. Searle


I. The Problem of Free Will


The persistence of the traditional free will problem in

philosophy seems to me something of a scandal.  After all

these centuries of writing about free will, it does not seem

to me that we have made very much progress.  Is there some

conceptual problem that we are unable to overcome?  Is there

some fact that we have simply ignored?  Why is it that we have

made so little advance over our philosophical ancestors?


Typically, when we encounter one of these problems that seems insoluble

it has a certain logical form.  On the one

hand we have a belief or a set of beliefs that we feel we really

cannot give up, but on the other hand we have another belief

or set of beliefs that is inconsistent with the first set, and

seems just as compelling as the first set.  So, for example, in

the old mind-body problem we have the belief that the world

consists entirely of material particles in fields of force,

but at the same time the world seems to contain consciousness,

an immaterial phenomenon;

and we cannot see how to put the immaterial together

with the material into a coherent picture of the universe. 

In the old problem of skeptical epistemology, it seems, on the one hand,

according to common sense, that we do have certain knowledge of

many things in the world, and yet, on the other hand, if we really

have such knowledge, we ought to be able to give a decisive

answer to the skeptical

arguments, such as "How do we know we are not dreaming, are not a

brain in a vat, are not being deceived by evil demons, etc.?"  But we do

not know how to give a conclusive answer to

these skeptical challenges.  In the case

of free will the problem is that we think

explanations of natural phenomena should be completely

deterministic.  The explanation of the Loma Prieta earthquake,

for example, does not explain why it just happened to occur,

it explains why it \fIhad\fR to occur. Given the forces operating

on the tectonic plates, there was no other possibility.  But

at the same time, when it comes to explaining a certain class

of human behavior, it seems that we typically have the experience "freely" or  "voluntarily" in  a sense of these words that

makes it impossible to have deterministic explanations.

For example, it seems that  when I voted for a particular candidate,

and did so for a certain reason;

well, all the same, I could have voted for the other candidate,

all other conditions remaining the same. 

Given the causes operating on me, I did not \fIhave\fR to vote

for that candidate.

So when I cite the reason as an explanation of my action I am not

citing causally sufficient conditions.

So we seem to have

a contradiction.  On the one hand we have the experience of

freedom, and on the other hand we find it very hard to give

up the view that because every event has a cause, and human

actions are events, they must have sufficient causal

explanations as much as earthquakes or rain storms. 


When we at last overcome one of these intractable

problems it often happens that we do so by showing that we

had made a false presupposition.  In the case of the mind-body

problem, we had, I believe, a false presupposition in the very

terminology in which we stated the problem.  The terminology

of mental and physical, of materialism and dualism, of spirit

and flesh, contains a false presupposition that these must

name mutually exclusive categories of reality - that our

conscious states qua subjective, private, qualitative, etc,

cannnot be ordinary physical, biological features of our brain. 

Once we overcome that presupposition, the presupposition

that the mental and the physical naively

construed are mutually exclusive,

then it seems to me we have a solution to the traditional

mind-body problem. And here it is: All of our mental states

are caused by neurobiological processes in the brain,

and they are themselves realized in the brain as its higher

level or system features.  So, for example, if you have a pain,

your pain is caused by sequences of neuron firings, and the

actual realization of the pain experience is in the brain.\**


I am assuming for the sake of this article that the right functional

level for explaining mental phenomena is the level of neurons. It

might turn out to be some other level -- micro-tubules, synapses,

neuronal maps, whole clouds of neurons, etc. -- but for the purposes

of this article it does not matter what the right neurobiological

explanatory level is,

only that there is a neurobiological explanatory level.  



The solution to the philosophical mind-body problem seems

to me not very difficult.  However, the philosophical solution

kicks the problem upstairs to neurobiology, where it leaves

us with a very difficult neurobiological problem.  How exactly

does the brain do it, and how exactly are conscious states

realized in the brain?  What exactly are the neuronal processes

that cause our conscious experiences, and how exactly are these

conscious experiences realized in brain structures?   


Perhaps we can make a similar


of the problem of free will.

Perhaps if we analyze the problem sufficiently, and

remove various philosophical confusions, we can

see that the remaining problem is essentially

a problem about how the brain works.  In order

to work toward that objective I need first

to clarify a number of philosophical issues.


Let us begin by asking why we find the conviction of our

own free will so difficult to abandon.  I believe that this

conviction arises from some pervasive

features of conscious experience. 

If you consider ordinary

conscious activities such as ordering a beer in a pub, or

watching a movie, or trying to do your income tax, you

discover that there is a striking difference between

the passive character of perceptual consciousness,

and the active character of what we might call

"volitional consciousness".  For example, if I am standing

in a park looking at a tree, there is a sense in which

it is not up to me what I experience. It is up to how

the world is and how my perceptual apparatus is.  But if

I decide to walk away or raise my arm or scratch my head,

then I find

a feature of my experiences

of free, voluntary actions that was not

present in my perceptions. 

The feature is that I do not sense

the antecedent causes of my action in the form of reasons,

such as beliefs and desires,

as setting causally sufficient

conditions for the action; and, which is another way of saying

the same thing, I sense alternative courses of action

open to me. 


You see this strikingly if you consider cases

of rational decision making.  I recently had to decide which

candidate to vote for in a presidential election.  Suppose

for the sake of argument, that I voted for George W. Bush.

I had certain reasons for voting for Bush, and certain

other reasons for not voting for Bush.  But, interestingly,

when I chose to vote for Bush on the basis of some of those

reasons and not others, and later when I actually cast a vote

for Bush in a voting booth, I did not sense

the antecedent causes of my action as

setting causally sufficient conditions. 

I did not sense the reasons for

making the decision as causally sufficient to force the

decision, and I did not sense the decision itself

as causally sufficient to force the action.

In typical cases of deliberating and acting, there

is, in short, a gap, or a series of gaps between the causes of

each stage in the processes of deliberating, deciding and acting, and

the subsequent stages.

If we probe more deeply we can

see that the gap can be divided into different sorts of segments.

There is a gap

between the reasons for the decision and the making of the

decision.  There is a gap between the decision and the onset

of the action, and for any extended action, such as when I am

trying to learn German or to swim the English Channel,

there is a gap


the onset of the action and its continuation to completion.

In this respect, voluntary actions are quite different

from perceptions. 

There is indeed a voluntaristic element

in perception.

I can, for example,  choose to see  the ambiguous figure either

as a duck or a rabbit; but for the most part my perceptual experiences

are causally fixed.   That is why we have a problem of the freedom

of the will, but we do not have a problem of the freedom

of perception. 

The gap, as I have described it, is a feature of our conscious,

voluntary activities. At each stage, the conscious states are not

experienced as sufficient to compel the next conscious state.

There is thus only one continuous experience of the gap but

we can divide it into three different sorts of manifestations, as I did

above. The gap is between one conscious state and the next, not

between conscious states and bodily movements or between physical

stimuli and conscious states. 


This experience of free will is very compelling,

and even those of us who think it is an illusion find that we

cannot in practice act on the presupposition that it is an illusion.

On the contrary, we have to act on the presupposition of freedom.

Imagine that you are in a restaurant and you are given a choice

between veal and pork, and you have to make up your mind.  You cannot

refuse to exercise free will in such a case, because the refusal

itself is only intelligible to you as a refusal, if you take it

as an exercise of free will.

So if you say to the waiter, "Look, I am a determinist - ch\*'e sar\*'a

sar\*'a, I'll just wait and see what I order", that refusal to exercise

free will is only intelligible to you as one of your actions if you

take it to be an exercise of your free will.  Kant pointed this

out a long time ago.  We cannot think away our free will.

The conscious experiences of the gap give us the

conviction of human freedom. 


If we now turn to the opposing view and ask

why we are so convinced of determinism,

the arguments for determinism seem just as compelling

as the arguments for free will. 

A basic feature of our relation

to the world is  that we find the world causally ordered.

Natural phenomena in the world have causal explanations, and

those causal explanations state causally sufficient conditions.

Customarily, in philosophy, we put this point by saying that

that every event has a cause.  That formulation

is, of course, much too crude to capture the complexity

of the idea of causation that we are working with. But the

basic idea is clear enough.  In our dealings with nature

we assume that everything that happens, occurs as a result

of antecedently sufficient causal conditions.

And when we give an explanation by citing a cause, we assume that

the cause we cite, \fItogether with the rest of the context,\fR

was sufficient to bring about the event we are explaining. In my

earlier example of the earthquake, we assume that the event

did not just happen to occur, in that situation it had to occur.

In that context the causes were sufficient to determine the event.


An interesting change occurred in the early

decades of the 20th century.

At the most fundamental level of physics, nature turns out not

to be

in that way deterministic. We have come to accept at a

quantum mechanical level explanations that are not deterministic.

However, so far quantum indeterminism gives us no

help with the free will problem because that indeterminism

introduces randomness into the basic structure of the universe,

and the hypothesis that some of our acts occur freely is

not at all the same as the hypothesis that some of our

acts occur at random.  I will have more to say about

this issue later.


There are a number of accounts that seem to explain

consciousness and even free will

in terms of quantum mechanics.  I have never seen

anything that was remotely convincing, but it is important

for this discussion that we remember that as far as our

actual theories of the universe are concerned, at the most

fundamental level we have come to think that it is possible

to have explanations of natural phenomena that are not

deterministic.  And that possibility will be important

when we later discuss the problem of free will as a

neurobiological problem. 


It is important

to emphasize that the problem of free will, as I have

stated it, is a problem about a certain kind of human

consciousness.  Without the conscious experience of the gap,

that is, without the conscious experience of the distinctive

features of free, voluntary, rational actions,

there would be no problem of free will. 

We have the conviction of our own free will because

of certain features of our consciousness.  The question

is: Granted that we have the experience

of freedom, is that experience valid or is it illusory?

Does that experience correspond to something in reality

beyond the experience itself?

We have to assume that there are causal antecedents to our actions.

The question is: Are those causal antecedents in  every case sufficient

to determine the action, or are there some cases where they are not

sufficient, and if so how do we account for those cases?


Let us take stock of where we are.  On the one hand

we have the experience of freedom, which, as I have

described it, is the experience of the gap.  The

gap between the antecedent causes of our free,

voluntary decisions and actions, and the actual making of those

decisions and the performance of those

actions.  On the other hand we have the presupposition, or

the assumption, that nature is a matter of events occurring

according to causally sufficient conditions, and we find

it difficult to suppose that we could explain any phenomena

without appealing to causally sufficient conditions.


For the purposes of the discussion that follows, I am going

to assume that the experiences of the gap are psychologically

valid.  That is, I am going to assume that for many voluntary,

free, rational human actions, the purely \fIpsychological\fR

antecedents of the action are not causally sufficient to

determine the action.  This occurred, for example, when I

selected a candidate to vote for in the last American presidential

election.  I realize that a lot of people think that

psychological determinism is true, and I have certainly not

given a decisive refutation

of it.  Nonetheless, it seems to me we find the psychological

experience of freedom so compelling that it would be

absolutely astounding if it turned out that at the psychological

level it was a massive illusion, that all of our behavior was

psychologically compulsive. 

There are arguments against psychological determinism,

but I am not going to present them in this article.

I am going to assume that psychological determinism is false,

and that the real problem of determinism is not at

the psychological level, but

at a more fundamental neurobiological level.


Furthermore, there are several famous issues about free will that I

will not discuss, and I mention

them here

only to set them on one side.

I will have nothing to say about compatibilism, the

view that free will and determinism are really consistent with each other.

On the

definitions of these terms that I am using, determinism and free

will are not compatible. The thesis

of determinism asserts that all actions are

preceded by sufficient causal conditions that determine them. The thesis

of free will asserts that some actions are not preceded by sufficient

causal conditions.

Free will so defined is the negation of

determinism. No doubt there

is a sense of these words where free will is compatible with determinism

(When for example people march in the streets carrying signs that

say, "Freedom

Now" they are presumably not interested in physical

or neurobiological laws),

but that is not the sense of these terms that concerns me.

I will also have nothing to say about moral responsibility.

Perhaps there

is some interesting connection between the problem of free will and the

problem of moral responsibility, but if so I will have nothing to say

about it in this article.


II. How Consciousness Can Move Bodies.


Because the problem of free will is a problem about the causal

facts concerning

certain sorts of consciousness, we need to explain how

consciousness in general can function causally to move our bodies.

How can a state of human consciousness cause a bodily


One of the most common experiences  in our lives is that

of moving our bodies by our conscious efforts.

For example, I now intentionally raise my arm, a conscious

effort on my part, and lo and behold, the arm

goes up.  What could be more common?  The fact that we find such a

banal occurrence philosophically puzzling suggests that we are

making a mistake.

The mistake derives

from our inherited commitment to the

the old Cartesian categories of the mental and the physical.

Consciousness seems too weightless, ethereal and immaterial ever to

move even one of our limbs.

But as I tried to explain earlier,

consciousness is a higher-level

biological feature of the brain.  To see how the higher level feature

of consciousness has physical effects, consider

how higher level features work  in the case of metaphysically

less puzzling phenomena. 


To illustrate the relationships between higher-level

or system features, on the one hand, and micro-level

phenomena, on the other, I want to borrow an example

from Roger Sperry.  Consider a wheel rolling down hill.

The wheel is entirely made of molecules.  The behavior

of the molecules causes the higher level, or

system feature, of solidity.  Notice that the solidity

affects the behavior of the individual molecules. The

trajectory of each molecule is affected by the

behavior of the entire solid wheel.  But of course

there is nothing there but molecules.  The wheel

consists entirely of molecules.  So when we say

the solidity functions causally in the behavior

of the wheel and in the behavior of the individual

molecules that compose the wheel, we are not saying

that the solidity is something \fIin addition\fR to the

molecules; rather it is just the \fIcondition\fR that the

molecules are in. But the feature of solidity

is nonetheless a real feature, and it has real causal



Of course there are many disanalogies between

the relation of solidity to molecular behavior, on

one hand, and the relation of consciousness to

neuronal behavior, on the other. I will explain some of them

later,   but now I want to

focus on the feature that we have just explored,

and suggest that it applies to

the relation of consciousness and the brain.

The consciousness of the brain can have

effects at the neuronal level even though

there is nothing in the brain except neurons

(with glial cells, neuro-transmitters, blood flow,

and all the rest).  And just as the behavior

of the molecules is causally constitutive of solidity,

so the behavior of the neurons is causally constitutive

of consciousness.  When we say that consciousness

can move my body, what we are saying is that

the neuronal structures move my body, but they

move my body in the way they do because of the conscious state they

are in.

Consciousness is a feature of the brain

in a way that solidity is a feature  of the wheel.


We are reluctant to think of consciousness as just a biological

feature of the brain, in part because of our dualistic tradition, but

also  because

we tend to suppose that if consciousness is

\fIirreducible\fR to neuronal behavior then it must

be something extra, something "over and above" neuronal behavior.

And of course consciousness, unlike solidity,

is not ontologically reducible to physical micro-structures.  This

is not because it is some extra thing; rather it is

because consciousness has a first-person, or subjective,

ontology, and is thus not reducible to anything

that has a third-person, or objective, ontology.\**


For further discussion, see John R. Searle, \fIThe Rediscovery of

the Mind\fR, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992, especially  Chapter 5.



In this brief discussion

I have tried to explain how

consciousness can have "physical" causal consequences,

and why

there is nothing mysterious about that fact.

My conscious intention-in-action causes my

arm to go up.  But of course, my conscious

intention-in-action is a feature of my brain

system, and as such at the level of the neurons it

is constituted entirely by neuronal behavior.

There is no ontological reductionism

in this account, because at no point are we

denying that consciousness has an irreducible

first-person ontology.  But there is a

causal reduction.  Consciousness has no causal

powers beyond the powers of the neuronal (and other neurobiological)



III. The Structure of Rational Explanation


I said that the problem of free will is a problem

about certain sorts of consciousness. 

If we look at the sorts of explanations

that we give for actions which are

manifestations of the gap, that is, actions

which are expressions of our experience

of free, rational decision-making,

we find that the experience of free will

is reflected in the logical structure

of action explanations.  In a word, because of the gap,

explanations that appeal

to our rational decision-making processes

are not deterministic in form in a way

that typical explanations of natural

phenomena are deterministic in form.

To see how this is so, contrast the

following three explanations:


1. I punched a hole in  the ballot paper

because I wanted to vote for Bush.


2. I got a bad headache because

I wanted to vote for Bush.


3. The glass fell to the floor and

broke because I accidentally knocked

it off the table.


Of these examples, 1 and 2 look very similar

in their syntactical structure, and they

appear to be different from 3.  I will argue,

however, that 2 and 3 are the same in their

underlying logical structure, and they both

differ in this respect from 1.  3 is a standard

causal explanation which states thtat   one event  or state caused

another event or state.  The logical form of 3 is simply:

A caused B.  But the form of 1 is quite different.

We do not take statements of form 1 as implying that the

event described by the clause before "because"

had to occur, given  the occurrence of the event described after

the "because" and the rest of the context. 

We do not take 1 as implying that my desire

to vote for Bush was such as to force me to

punch a hole in  the ballot paper, that given

my psychological state at the time, I could

not have done otherwise. Explanations of this form may on

occasion cite

causally sufficient

conditions, but the form  of the explanation does not require

such conditions.  If we compare 1 and 3, with 2 it

seems to me that 2, like 3, is a matter

of causally sufficient conditions.  The form

of 2, like 3, is simply: A caused B.  In that context, the state

of my desiring to vote for Bush was causally sufficient for the event

of my getting a headache.


But this  feature

of rational explanation

leaves us with a puzzle, almost a contradiction.

It seems that if the explanation does not give causally sufficient

conditions, it cannot really explain anything, because it does not

answer the question why one event occurred as opposed to another

event, which was also causally possible given exactly the same antecedent


I think answering that question is an important

part of the discussion of free will, so I want to spend a little

bit of time on it. 


As a matter of their logical structure,

explanations of voluntary human actions in terms of reasons

are different from ordinary causal explanations.

The logical form of ordinary causal explanations is simply that

event A caused event B.

Relative to specific contexts, we typically take

such explanations as adequate because we assume

that in that context,

event A was causally

sufficient for event B.  Given the rest of the context, if A occurred

then B had to occur.  But the form of the explanation of human

behavior, where we say that a certain person performed act A by acting

on reason R, has a different logical structure. It is not

of the form "A caused B".  I think you only understand that structure

if you realize that it requires the postulation of a self or an ego. 

The logical

form of the statement "Agent S performed Act A because of reason R"

is not of the form "A caused B", it is of the form "A self S

performed action A, and in the performance

of A, S acted on reason R. 

The logical form, in short, of rational explanation is quite

different from standard causal explanations.

The form of the explanation

is not to give causally sufficient conditions, but to cite the reason

that the agent acted on. 


But if that is right,

then we have a peculiar result.

It seems that rational action explanations require

us to postulate the existence of an irreducible

self, a rational agent, in addition to the sequence of events.

Indeed, if we make explicit  two further assumptions to those we have

already been making, I think we can

derive the existence of the self.


Assumption 1: Explanations in terms of reasons do not typically cite

causally sufficient conditions




Assumption 2:

Such explanations can be adequate explanations of actions.


How do I know that

Assumption 2 is true?  How do I know such explanations can be and often

are adequate?  Because

in my own case I often know exactly what reasons I had for performing

an action and I know that an explanation that cites those reasons

is adequate, because I know that in acting I \fIacted on\fR those reasons

and on those reasons alone.

Of course we have to allow that

there are all kinds of problems about the unconscious,

self-deception, and all the rest of the unknown and unacknowledged

reasons for action.  But in the ideal case

where I consciously act on  a reason and am consciously aware of

acting on a reason, the specification of the reason as

the explanation of my action

is perfectly adequate.


We have already been making a third assumption,


Assumption 3: Adequate causal explanations cite conditions

that, relative to the context, are causally



And this assumption just makes explicit the principle

that if

a causal statement is to explain an event,

then the statement of the cause must cite a condition

that in that particular context was sufficient

to bring about the event to be explained.  But from

Assumptions 1 and 3 we can derive:


Conclusion 1: Construed as ordinary causal explanations, reason

explanations are inadequate.


If we were to assume that reason explanations are ordinary causal

explanations we would have a straight contradiction.

To avoid the contradiction we have to conclude:


Conclusion 2: Reason explanations are not ordinary causal explanations.

Though they have a causal component, their form is not, A caused B.


That leaves us with a problem. 

How are we to explain the adequacy of these

explanations if they have a causal component,

and, nonetheless, are not standard causal

explanations?  I think the answer is not hard to find.  The explanation

does not give a sufficient cause of an event, rather it gives

a specification of

how a conscious rational self acted

on a reason, how an agent made a reason effective by freely

acting on it. 

But when spelled out, the logical form of such explanations requires

that we postulate an irreducible, non-Humean self. Thus:


Conclusion 3. Reason explanations are adequate because they explain

why a self acted in a certain way.

They explain why  a rational self acting in the gap, acted one way

rather than another, by specifying the reason that the self acted on.



There are thus two avenues to the gap, an experiential and a linguistic.

We experience ourselves acting freely in the gap, and this

experience is reflected

in the logical structure of explanations that we give for our


We experience ourselves acting as rational agents,

and our linguistic practice of giving explanations reflects the gap

(because the explanations do not cite causally sufficient conditions);


for their intelligibility these explanations require that we

recognize that

there must be an entity -- a rational agent, a self, or an ego --

that acts in the gap (because 

a Humean bundle of

perceptions would not be enough to account for the adequacy of the


The necessity of assuming the operation

of an irreducible, non-Humean, self  is a feature

both of our actual experience of voluntary action

and the practice that we have of explaining our

voluntary actions in by giving reasons.


Of course such explanations, like all explanations,

allow for further questions about why those reasons

were effective and not other reasons.  That is, if I

say that I voted for Bush because I wanted an improvement

in the educational system, there is a further question,

why did I want that improvement?  And why was that reason

more compelling to me than other reasons? I agree that such

a demand for explanations can always be continued,

but that is true of any explanation.  Explanations,

as Wittgenstein reminded us, have to stop somewhere,

and there is nothing inadequate about saying that I voted

for Bush because I wanted an improvement in the educational

system.  It does not show that my answer is  inadequate to show


it admits of further questions.


I am here summarizing briefly a complex

argument that I have spelled out in more detail in Chapter 3

of \fIRationality in Action\fR (MIT Press, forthcoming).

But the bare bones of the argument can be conveyed even

in this brief summary:  We have the first-person


experience of acting on reasons.  We

state these reasons for action in the form of explanations.

The explanations are obviously quite adequate because we

know in our own case that, in their ideal form, nothing

further is required.  But they cannot be adequate if they

are treated as ordinary causal explanations because they

do not pass the causal sufficiency test.  They are not

deterministic in their logical form as stated,

and they are not deterministic in their interpretation.

How can we account for these facts? 

To account for these explanations we must see that they are not

of the form A caused B.

They are of the form, a rational self S performed act A, and in

performing A, S acted on reason R.

But that formulation requires the postulation of a self.


Conclusion 3 does not follow deductively from the assumptions.

The argument as

presented is a "transcendental" argument, in one of Kant's senses

of that term.  Assume

such and such  facts and ask what are the conditions of possibility

of these facts.  I am claiming that the condition of

possibility of the adequacy of rational explanations

is the existence of an irreducible self, a rational

agent, capable of acting on reasons. 


Let us take stock again of where we are.

We saw, first, that the problem of free will arises because

of a special feature of a certain type of human consciousness,

and we saw, second, that in order to explain our apparently

free behavior, we have to postulate an irreducible notion

of the self.  This, by the way, is typical of philosophy -

in order to solve one problem you have to solve a bunch

of others, but so far, I seem to have given you three

problems for one.  We started with the problem of free

will, and we now have the problems of free will, of consciousness,

and of the self, and they all seem to hang together.



IV. Free Will and the Brain


I now turn to the main question of this article:  How could

we treat the problem of free will as a neurobiological

problem?  And the assumption that I am making is that

if free will is a genuine feature of the world and not

merely an illusion, then it must have

a neurobiological reality; there must be some feature

of the brain that realizes free will.  I said earlier

that consciousness is a higher level, or system, feature

of the brain caused by the behavior of lower-level

elements, such as neurons and synapses.  But if that is

so, what would the behavior of the neurons and the synapses

have to be like if the conscious experience of free will were to be

neurobiologically real? 


I have said that the philosophical solution to the

traditional mind-body problem is to point out that all of our

conscious states are higher-level or systemic features of the

brain, while being at the same time caused by lower-level micro-processes

in the brain.  At the system level we have consciousness,

intentionality, decisions, and intentions.  At the micro

level we have neurons, synapses, and neurotransmitters.

The features of the system level are caused by the behavior of the micro-level

elements, and are realized in the system composed of

the micro-level elements.

In the past I have described the set of causal relations

between decision making and acting in terms of a parallelogram

where at the top level we have decisions leading to intentions

in action, and at the bottom level we have neuron firings

causing more neuron firings.  Such a picture gives us a

parallelogram looks like this:











The question is, if we suppose there is

a gap at the top level in the case of rational decision-making,

how might that gap be reflected at the neurobiological level?

There are, after all, no gaps in the brain. 

In order  to explore alternative hypotheses we need to consider an



A famous, if  mythological, example is

the judgment of Paris. Confronted with three beautiful Godesses,

Hera, Aphrodite and Pallas Athena,

Paris was required to deliberate and reach a decision as to which should receive

the golden apple, inscribed "For the fairest".

He was not to decide this by appraising their beauty but by choosing among

the bribes each offered.

Aphrodite promised that he would possess the most beautiful woman

in the world,

Athena that he would lead the Trojans to victory over the Greeks,


Hera offered to make him ruler of Europe and


It is important that he has to

make a decision  as a result of deliberation. He does not just spontaneously


We also assume that  he was operating in the gap: He consciously

felt a range of choices

open to him; and his decision was not forced by  lust,

rage or obsession. He made a free decision after deliberation.


We can suppose there was an instant when the period of reflection began,

call it t1, and that it lasted until he finally handed the apple to

Aphrodite at t2.

In this example we will stipulate that there was

no further stimulus input between t1 and t2. In that period he

simply reflected on the merits and the demerits of the various


All the information on the basis of which he makes his decision is

present in his brain at t1,

and the processes between t1 and t2 are simply a matter

of deliberation leading to the choice of Aphrodite.


Using this example we can now state the problem of the

freedom of the will

with somewhat more precision than we have been able to do so far.

If the total state of Paris's brain at t1 is causally sufficient to determine

the total state of his brain at t2, in this and in other relevantly

similar cases, then he has no free will. And what goes for Paris

goes for all of us.   If the state of his

brain at t1 is not causally sufficient to determine the subsequent

states of his brain up to t2,

then, given

certain assumptions about consciousness that I need to make


he does have free will. And again, what goes for Paris goes for all

of us.


Why does it all come down to this?  The answer is that the state

of his brain immediately  prior to t2

is sufficient to determine the beginning of the


contractions that caused and realized his action of handing the

apple to Aphrodite.

Paris was a mortal man with neurons like the rest of us and

as soon as the acetylcholene reached the axon

end plates of his motor neurons, then, assuming

the rest of his physiology was in order, his arm, with apple in hand,


to move toward Aphrodite by causal

necessity. The problem of free will is whether the conscious thought

processes in the brain, the processes

that constitute the \fIexperiences\fR

of free will, are realized in a neurobiological

system that is totally deterministic. 


So we have two hypotheses, first 

that the state of the brain

is causally sufficient, and second that it is not.

Let us explore each in turn.  On Hypothesis 1 let us

suppose that the antecedently \fIinsufficient\fR psychological

conditions leading up to the choice of Aphrodite at t2,

the conditions that led us to the postulation

of the gap, are matched at the lower neurobiological level

by  a sequence of neurobiological events each stage of which

is causally \fIsufficient\fR for the next. On this hypothesis

we would have a kind of neurobiological determinism corresponding

to a psychological libertarianism.  Paris has the experience

of free will, but there is no genuine free will at the

neurobiological level.  I think most neurobiologists

would feel that this is probably how the brain actually works,

that we have the experience of free will but it is illusory;

because the neuronal processes are causally sufficient

to determine subsequent states of the brain, assuming there are no

outside stimulus inputs or effects from the rest of the body. 

But this result is intellectually

very unsatisfying because it gives us a form of epiphenomenalism.

It says that our experience of freedom

plays no causal or explanatory role in our behavior. It is

a complete illusion,  because  our behavior is entirely fixed by the

neurobiology that determines the muscle contractions.

On this view evolution played a massive trick on us.

Evolution gave us the illusion of freedom, but it is nothing

more that that - an illusion. 


I will say more about Hypothesis 1 later, but first

let us turn to Hypothesis 2.

On Hypothesis 2 we suppose that the absence of causally

sufficient conditions at the psychological level is matched

by an absence of causally sufficient conditions at the

neurobiological level.  Our problem is, what could that

possibly mean?  There are no gaps

in the brain.  In order to take seriously the hypothesis

that the free will that is manifested in consciousness has a neurobiological

reality, we have to explore the relation of consciousness

to neurobiology a little more closely. Earlier I described

consciousness as a higher level feature

of the brain system.  The metaphor of higher and lower,

though it is common in the literature

(my own writings included), I think is misleading.  It

suggests that consciousness is, so to speak, like the varnish

on the surface of the table; and that is wrong.  The idea we

are trying to express is that consciousness is a feature

of the whole system.  Consciousness is literally present

throughout those

portions of the brain where consciousness is created by and

realized in neuronal


It is important to emphasize this point, because it runs contrary to

our Cartesian heritage that says consciousness cannot have a

spatial location: consciousness  is located in certain portions of the

brain and functions causally, relative to those locations.


I explained earlier how consciousness could function causally,

by giving an analogy between the consciousness of the brain

and the solidity of the wheel, but if we carry that

analysis a step further, we see that on Hypothesis

2 we have to suppose that the logical features

of volitional consciousness of the entire system

have effects on the elements on the system, even

though the system is composed entirely of the elements,

in the same way that the solidity of the wheel has

effects on the molecules even though the wheel is composed

of molecules. 


The point of the analogy was to remove the sense of mystery about

how consciousness could affect neuronal behavior (and thus move

human bodies) by showing how, in  unmysterious

cases, a system feature can affect micro-level elements in a system

composed entirely of the micro-level

level elements, in which all causal powers are reducible to the

causal powers of the micro-level elements.

But of course any analogy goes only so far.

The analogy: solidity is to molecular behavior as

consciousness is to neuronal behavior, 

is inadequate at, at least, two points.  First, we take the wheel

to be entirely deterministic, 

and the hypothesis

we are examining now is that the conscious voluntary decision-making

aspects of the brain are not deterministic.

Second, the solidity of the wheel is

ontologically reducible to the behavior of the molecules,

and not just causally reducible.  In the case of consciousness,

though we suppose that consciousness is causally reducible

to the behavior of the micro-elements, we cannot make a similar

ontological reduction for consciousness.

This is because the first person ontology of consciousness is not

reducible to a third person ontology.


So far then, in our preliminary formulation of Hypothesis 2 we have three


First, the state

of the brain at t1 is not causally sufficient to determine the

state of the brain at t2. Second, the movement from the state

at t1 to the state at t2 can only be explained by features of the

whole system, specifically by the operation of the conscious


And third, all of the features of the conscious self at any given

instant are entirely determined by the state of the microelements, the

neurons, etc. at that instant.

The systemic features are

entirely fixed at any given instant by the microelements, because,

causally speaking, there is nothing there but the microelements.

The state of the neurons determines the state of consciousness.

But any given state of neurons/consciousness is not causally sufficient

for the next state. The passage from one state to the next is

explained by the rational thought processes of the initial state

of neurons/consciousness.

At any instant the total state of consciousness is fixed by the

behavior of the neurons, but from one instant to the next the

total state of the system is not causally sufficient to determine

the next state.

Free will, if it exists at all, is a phenomenon in time.

Diagrammatically the best I can do is this:

.sp 8



I have stated both Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2

very swiftly, and it is now time to go over them

a bit more slowly to see what is involved.


V. Hypothesis 1 and Epiphenomenalism


The best way to think of Hypothesis 1 is to think of it as an

engineering problem.

Imagine you are building a conscious robot. You build it in such

a way that when confronted with choices it has the conscious

experience of the gap. But you construct its hardware in such a way

that each stage is   determined by the preceding stages and

by the impact of outside stimuli. Each

movement of the robot's body is entirely fixed by its internal states.

Indeed,  we

already have a model for this part  of the  technology in traditional

artificial intelligence.

We simply put in computer programs

that will give the robot an algorithmic solution to the problems posed

by the input stimuli and the states of the system.

On Hypothesis 1, Paris's judgment was preprogrammed in advance.


I have said that an objection to Hypothesis 1 is that it

leads to epiphenomenalism.  The distinctive features

of conscious rational decision-making would have no

real influence in the universe.  Paris's judgment, my behavior

and the robot's  behavior

are all  entirely causally determined by the activity going

on at the micro-level.  But, someone might challenge

me, why is the supposition involved in Hypothesis 1

any more epiphenomenal than any other account

of the relationship of consciousness to the physiological

functioning of the human body? 


I have claimed that once

we abandon the traditional dualistic categories

there is no mystery at all about how consciousness

can function causally.  It is simply a matter

of a higher-level, or system, feature functioning

causally. And, furthermore, the account that I gave

does not postulate any causal over-determination.

There are not two sets of causes, the consciousness

and the neurons; there is just one set, described

at different levels.  Consciousness, to repeat,

is just the state that the system of neurons is in,

in the same way that solidity is just a state

that the system of molecules is in.  But now, on

my own account, why should Hypothesis 1 imply

epiphenomenalism any more than Hypothesis 2?  The

answer is this.  Whether a feature

is epiphenomenal depends on whether the

\fIfeature\fR itself functions causally.

Thus there are many features of any

event that are causally irrelevant. 

For example, it is a feature of the event

where I accidentally knocked the glass off

the table that I was wearing a blue shirt at the time.

But the blue shirt was not a causally relevant

aspect of the event.  It is true to say,

"The man in the blue shirt knocked the glass

off the table", but the blue shirt is

epiphenomenal - it does not matter.

So when we say of some feature of an event

that it is epiphenomenal, what we are saying

is that that feature played no causal role.

The suggestion that I am making is that

on Hypothesis 1 the essential feature

of rational decision making, namely

the experience of the gap -- the   experience

of alternative possibilities open to us,

the experience that the psychological

antecedents of the action are not causally

sufficient to compel the action,

and the  experience of the conscious thought 

processes where we make up our

minds and then act --


of those features of the experience do not

matter.  They are irrelevant.    The

specific determinate forms of those

features whereby we anguish over a decision

and consider various reasons are as irrelevant as the blueness

of my shirt when I knocked the glass over.

The judgment of Paris was already

determined by the antecedent state

of the Paris's neurons, regardless of all of his



The mere fact that a system feature

is fixed by the micro elements does not show that the system

feature is epiphenomenal. On the contrary, we saw how consciousness

could be fixed by neuronal behavior and still not be epiphenomenal.

To show that something is epiphenomenal, we have to show that

the feature in question is not a causally relevant aspect in

determining what happens. The epiphenomenalism

in this case arises because the causal insufficiency of the

experiences of the gap and the effort to resolve the insufficiency

by making up our minds is simply not a causally relevant aspect

in determining what actually happens. Our decision was already fixed

by the state of our neurons even though we thought

we were going through

a conscious process of making up our minds among genuine alternatives,

alternatives that were genuinely open to us, even given all of the causes.


Epiphenomenalism is sometimes said to be explained by counterfactuals.

Multiple causes apart, the truth of "Even if A had not occurred then B would still have occurred" is supposed

to be the test for whether A is epiphenomenal.

But this test is at best misleading. Assuming that both the experiences

of the gap and the final decisions are fixed at the neuronal level,

then if the experiences had not occurred the decision would not have

occurred, or at least its occurrence would not have been guaranteed,

because they are both caused by the same neuronal processes.

So if one is absent the cause of the  other must have been removed as well.

But this does not show that the experiences were not

epiphenomenal. The test for epiphenomenalism is not the truth of the counterfactual,

but the reasons for its truth. The test for epiphenomenalism

is whether the feature in question is a causally relevant aspect.

On Hypothesis 1 the distinctive features of the gap and of rational decision making

are causally irrelevant.


Well, what's wrong with epiphenomenalism? As we come to understand

better how the brain works, it may turn out to be true.

In the present state of our knowledge, the main objection to accepting

epiphenomenalism is that it goes against everything we know about evolution.

The processes of  conscious rationality are such an important part of

our lives, and above all such a biologically expensive part of our lives,

that it would be unlike anything we know in evolution if a phenotype

of this magnitude played no functional role at all in the life and

survival of

the organism.

In humans and higher animals an enormous biological price is paid for

conscious decision making, including everything from how the young are

raised to the amount of blood flowing to the brain.

To suppose that this plays no role in inclusive fitness is not like

supposing the human appendix plays no role.

It would be more like supposing that vision or digestion played no

evolutionary role.



VI. Hypothesis 2. The Self, Consciousness and Indeterminism.


Hypothesis 1 is unattractive, but at least it is coherent and fits

in with a lot of what we know about biology. The brain is an organ like

any other and is as deterministic in its functioning as the heart or

the liver. If we can imagine building a conscious machine then

we can imagine building a conscious robot according to Hypothesis 1.

But how would one treat Hypothesis 2 as an engineering problem?

How would we build a conscious robot, where every feature of

consciousness is entirely

determined by the state of the microelements, and at the same

time the consciousness of the system

functions causally in determining the next

state of the system by processes that are not deterministic but are

a matter of free decision making by a rational self, acting on reasons.

So described, it does not sound like a promising project for Federal


The only reason for taking it seriously is that as far as we can

tell from our own experiences of the gap, together with what we know

about how the brain  works,  that is precisely the condition we are in.

We are conscious robots whose states of consciousness

are fixed by neuronal processes, and at the same time we sometimes

proceed by nondeterministic conscious processes (hence neuronal processes)

that are matters of our rational selves making decisions on reasons.


How could  the brain work so as to satisfy all those conditions? 

Notice that I do not ask, "How \fIdoes\fR the brain work so as to satisfy

all those conditions?" because we don't know for a fact that it does

satisfy the conditions, and

if it does, we have no idea how it does so.

At this point all we can do is describe various conditions that

the brain would have to meet if Hypothesis 2 is true.


It seems to me there are three conditions, in ascending order of

difficulty and an account of brain functioning in accord with Hypothesis

2 would have to explain how the brain meets these conditions.


1. Consciousness, as caused by neuronal processes and realized in

neuronal systems,   functions causally in moving the



I have already explained in some detail how this is possible.


2. The brain causes and sustains the existence of a

conscious self that is  able to make rational decisions and carry them

out in actions.


It is not enough that consciousness should have physical effects on the

body. There are many such cases that have nothing to do with rational

free actions, as when a man gets a stomach ache from worry, or throws up

at a disgusting sight,

or gets an erection from erotic thoughts.

In addition to a  neurobiological account of mental causation one needs

a neurobiological account of the rational, volitional self. How does

the brain create a self, how is the self realized in the brain,

how does it function in deliberation, how does it arrive at decisions,

and how does it initiate and sustain actions?


In the sense in which I introduced the notion of the self by the

transcendental argument of section III, the self is not some extra

entity, rather, in a very crude and oversimplified fashion, one

can say that conscious agency plus conscious rationality = selfhood.

So if you had an account of brain processes that explained how

the brain produced the unified field of consciousness,\**


For the importance of the unified field, see John R. Searle,

"Consciousness," \fIAnnual Review of Neuroscience\fR, 2000

Vol. 23, pp.557-578.


together with the experience of

acting, and in addition how the brain produced conscious thought processes,

in which the constraints of rationality

are already built in as constitutive elements,

you would, so to speak, get the self for free.

To spell this out in a little more detail, the elements necessary for

an organism to

have a self in my sense are first, it must have  a unified field of consciousness;


it must have the capacity

for deliberating on reasons, and this involves not only cognitive

capacities of perception and memory but the capacity for coordinating

intentional states so as to arrive at rational decisions;

and third, the organism must be capable of initiating and carrying out actions

(in the old time jargon, it must have "volition" or "agency").\**


On my view rationality is not a separate faculty, rather the constraints

of rationality are already built into intentional phenomena such as

beliefs and desires and into thought processes.

So a neurobiological account of mental phenomena would already be

an account of the rational constraints on such phenomena.

For more detailed

presentation of this view and the reasons for it, see

my \fIRationality in Action\fR, MIT press, forthcoming, 2001.



There is no additional metaphysical problem of the self. If you can show

how the brain  does all that -- how it creates a unified field of

consciousness capable of rational agency in the sense just explained,

then you have solved the neurobiological  problem of the self. Notice that, as

far as the experiences are concerned, both

Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2 need to meet this condition.

Indeed, any theory of brain function has to meet this condition, because

we know that the brain gives us all these sorts of experiences. 

The difference between

Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2 is that on 1 rational agency is an illusion.

We have the experience of rational agency but it makes no difference

to the world.


3. The brain is such that the conscious self is able to make and carry out decisions in

the gap,

where neither decision nor action is

determined in advance, by causally sufficient conditions, yet both are

rationally  explained  by the reasons  the agent is acting on.


This is the trickiest condition: How could the gap be neurobiologically real,

given all that I have just said?

Assume we had an account of how the brain produces mental causation,

and an account of how it produces the experiences of rational agency,

how do you get rational indeterminism into your account of brain function?


The only way I know to approach such a problem is to begin by

reminding ourselves of what we already know.

We know, or at least we think we know, two things that bear on the case.

First we know that our experiences of free action contain both

indeterminism and rationality and that consciousness is essential to the

forms that these take. Second we know that quantum indeterminism is

the only form of indeterminism that is indisputably established as

a fact of nature.\**


Chaos theory, as I understand it, implies unpredictability but not



It is tempting, indeed irresistible, to think that the

explanation of the conscious experience of free will must be a

manifestation of quantum indeterminism at the level of conscious

rational decision making. Previously I never could see the point

of introducing quantum mechanics into discussions of consciousness.

But here at least is a strict argument requiring the introduction of

quantum indeterminism.


Premise 1. All indeterminism in nature is quantum indeterminism.


Premise 2. Consciousness is a feature of nature that

manifests indeterminism.


Conclusion: Consciousness manifests quantum indeterminism.


Our aim now is to keep following relentlessly the implications of

our assumptions. If Hypothesis 2 is true and if quantum indeterminism

is the only real form of indeterminism in nature, then it follows

that quantum mechanics must enter into the explanation of consciousness.

This conclusion does not follow on Hypothesis 1. As long as  the

gap is epiphenomenal, then no indeterminism in the causal apparatus is

essential to explain how consciousness is caused by and realized in

brain processes. This is important for contemporary research. The standard

lines of research, both on the building block model and the unified

field model, make no appeal to quantum mechanics in explaining consciousness.

If Hypothesis 2 is true these cannot succeed, at least not for volitional



For an explanation of the distinction between the building block model and

the unified field model, see John R. Searle, "Consciousness"

\fIAnnual Review of Neuroscience. 2000\fR

Vol. 23, pp. 557-578.



But even assuming we had a quantum mechanical explanation

of consciousness, how do we get from indeterminism to rationality?

If quantum indeterminacy amounts to randomness then quantum indeterminacy

by itself seems useless in explaining the problem of free

will because free actions are not random.

I think we should take the question, "What is the relation between

quantum indeterminacy and rationality?" in the same spirit in which we

take the question "What is the relation between brain micro processes

and consciousness?" or the question, "What is the relation between visual

stimuli, brain processes and visual intentionality?"

In the latter two cases we know in advance

that the system features are caused by and realized in the microprocesses,

so we know that the causal features of the system

level phenomena are entirely explainable by the behavior of

the micro phenomena. As I have repeated to the point of tedium,

the causal relations have  the same \fIformal\fR structure as the causal relations

between molecular movements and solidity.

We also know that it is a fallacy of composition to suppose that the

properties of the individual elements must be properties of the whole.

Thus for example, the electrical properties of the individual atoms

are not properties of the whole table, and the fact that a particular

action potential is at 50 Hz does not imply that the whole brain is

oscillating at 50Hz. Now exactly analogously, the fact that individual

microphenomena are random does not imply randomness at the system level.

The indeterminacy at the micro level, may (if Hypothesis 2 is true)

explain the indeterminacy of the system, but \fIthe randomness at the micro

level does not thereby imply randomness at the system level.\fR





I said at the beginning that obdurate philosophical problems arise

when we have a conflict between deeply held inconsistent theses.

In the case of the mind body problem we resolved the inconsistency

by a kind of compatibilism. Once we abandon the assumptions behind the

traditional Cartesian categories then  naive materialism is

consistent with  naive mentalism. We could not make such

a compatibilism work for the free will problem, because the

thesis that every human act is preceded by causally sufficient conditions

remains incompatible with the thesis that some are not.

Once we sorted out the issues we found two possibilities,

Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2. Neither is very appealing.  

If we had to bet, the odds would surely favor Hypothesis 1, because

it is simpler and fits in with our overall view of biology.

But it gives a result that is literally incredible.

When I gave this lecture in London someone in the audience asked,

"If Hypothesis 1 were shown to be true would you accept it?"

The form of the question is: "If free rational decision making were

shown not to exist, would you freely and rationally make the decision

to accept that is does not exist?"

Notice that he did not ask, "If hypothesis 1 were true would the

neuronal processes in your brain produce the result that your

mouth made affirmative noises about it?"

That question at least is in the spirit of Hypothesis 1, though even

that goes too  far, because it asks me freely and rationally to make a

prediction, something that is impossible on the Hypothesis.


Hypothesis 2 is a mess, because it gives us three mysteries for one.

We thought free will was a mystery, but consciousness and quantum

mechanics were two separate and distinct mysteries.

Now we have the result that in order to solve the first we have

to solve the second and invoke one of the most mysterious aspects

of the third to solve the first two.

My aim in this article is to continue the line of attack begin in

my earlier writings and to follow out the competing lines of reasoning

as 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.

Shuddha Anami

December 31, 2007