The body organs that one tends to take for granted are no less wondrous than the technological wonders that one cherishes. The biological functions performed by the tiny kidney that we inherited for free, for example, can only be partially replicated by a giant and expensive dialysis machine that requires patients to remain tied down for hours. At least one understands what the kidney does and how it does it, which makes the invention of such life-saving machines possible.
When it comes to the human brain, the overwhelming feelings are awe, admiration and amazement, together with a sense of cluelessness. Despite decades of neurological research by the best minds in the field and major initiatives on brain research such as the “Decade of the Brain” in 1990s and the “BRAIN Initiative” in 2013, brain remains largely a puzzle. We are nowhere close to understanding the perplexing mysteries associated with the brain such as the mind, intelligence, thought, consciousness, imagination, creativity, senses, emotions, pain and pleasure and motor skills as well as the regulations of unconscious bodily functions such as breathing, heartbeat and digestion.
Without this walnut-shaped jellylike wonder organ shielded by the skull, we as human beings would not be what we are today. The human brain is much more than a powerful computer or a central signal processing unit: it is home to subjective mental faculties like imagination, intelligence and consciousness. Interconnections between the physical brain and the non-physical faculties or traits are very complicated, and are the source of the mystery of the brain.
2 NEUROPHYSIOLOGY: THE BIOLOGY OF THE BRAIN
From physiological perspective, the structure of the brain that resembles two clenched fists and its fundamental building blocks are well-known and well-understood. Although it varies from person to person, the adult human brain weighs about 1.5 kilograms. It comprises about 2% of the total body weight, yet consumes about 20 to 25% of the total oxygen and energy used by the body. The metabolism in brain primarily uses glucose as the energy source. The lack of glucose may cause hypoglycemia which can result in loss of consciousness. The brain uses the same amount of energy regardless of whether the person is asleep or intellectually engaged.
Some animal species have much larger brains than humans do. The brains of elephants and whales are 3 times and 6 times as large, respectively, as the human brain. Obviously, there is no direct correlation between the brain size and intelligence.
The human brain is primarily made up of about 86 billion (±8 billion) nerve cells, called neurons, which store and transmit information and thus are the basic information processing units of the brain, and an equal number of non-neuronal cells that support neurons. Of the 86 billion neurons, 16 billion (19%) are in the cerebral cortex and 69 billion (80%) in the cerebellum. As a whole, brain functions like a powerful microprocessor or computer. It processes information-carrying signals that it receives from the body via senses and nerve fibers, and sends command-transmitting signals back to the body.
It is interesting that the cerebellum, which is the “little brain” underneath the much bigger cerebral cortex, does not contribute to consciousness although it has 4 times as many neurons as the cerebral cortex does, as evidenced by impairment in mobility but no loss of consciousness when the cerebellum is damaged. It is also interesting that the neurons in cerebral cortex continue firing even during deep sleep when consciousness fades away, and there is no slowing down of neuron activity while sleeping. It looks like there is no direct link between the level of neuron activity and the level of consciousness.
A neuron cell resembles an octopus, with several short branch-like arms (called dendrites) and long fiber-like legs (called axons, whose length can range from a fraction of a centimeter to several centimeters and have dendrites at their tips) attached to the main body. The cell body houses the DNA in the nucleus and is filled by cytoplasm with all the needed chemicals and structures. The cell membrane preserves the integrity of a neuron cell while tightly controlling what enters and leaves the cell body through its gates.
Both axon fibers reaching out to distant neurons and the dendrites that branch off from the cell body towards neighboring neurons act like points of contact or connectors between neurons for sending and receiving electrical or chemical signals to and from each other, enabling neurons to communicate. The narrow gaps at the numerous junctions or meeting points between the neurons at the tips of axons and dendrites are called synapses. The width of the gap is about 4 thousandth of a millimeter for electrical synapses and 20 to 40 thousandths of a millimeter for chemical ones. Each neuron is connected to up to 10 thousand other neurons through a complex network of synapses, forming heavily interconnected neural networks in the brain, with about mind-boggling 500 trillion synapses. Several neural networks working together form specialized brain systems across the specific regions of the brain to perform certain tasks such as talking, seeing and controlling various body functions. Some existing synapses are retired while new ones are formed, depending on how heavily they are used., 
When a neuron is activated, communication between that neuron and others is achieved at synapses either through electrical signals caused by an electric potential difference due to the concentration of electrically charged particles called ions (like sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and chlorine ions) across the cell membrane, or through chemical signals caused by a chemical potential difference due to the concentration of a chemical across the cell membrane. Chemical signals, which are bursts of chemicals, can be converted to electric signals which can be converted back to chemical signals. Transmitting signals at synapses is called neuron firing.
At a synapse, chemical signals can be modified, amplified, inhibited or split. The flow of ions into or out of a neuron changes the electric potential or voltage of the neuron. Once the neuron’s voltage reaches a certain level, it fires an electric signal to other neurons, and the process is repeated. A typical neuron fires 5 to 50 times a second. When a neuron fires, it sends signals to other neurons, telling them to fire or not. Chemical signal transmission at synapses is complicated and slow compared to electrical signal transmission because of the need for released ions to move across the gap to receptors of other neurons. Brain activity, which can be sensed and visualized by imaging devices, consists of electrical and chemical signals transmitted through about 500 trillion synapses between neurons. When multiple neurons fire at the same time, these synchronized signals form waves, called brain waves, that can be sensed externally and interpreted.
The chemicals transmitted between neurons during communication are called neurotransmitters. The most common neurotransmitters are glutamate which regulates the electrical activity between neurons, dopamine which controls movement and manages the release of various hormones, serotonin which regulates mood, appetite and sleep, and acetylcholine which is released by motor neurons to activate muscles. Malfunctioning of the chemical messaging processes between neurons due to a halt of the release of a neurotransmitter can cause mental illnesses such as depression. Abnormalities in electric signal transmission processes can cause illnesses like Parkinson’s disease.
The brain and the spinal cord, which is a bundle of nerves that transmit signals between the brain and the rest of the body, constitute the central nervous system. All other nerves in the body make up the peripheral nervous system. The brain serves as the control center of the body, like the cockpit in an airplane. It consists of various sections, each of which performing a specified set of tasks, including unconscious activities. These sections are primarily (1) the cerebrum which is the largest part of the brain and controls muscle functions as well as emotions, thought, hearing, speech, reading, learning, memory and intelligence, (2) the diencephalon that includes thalamus, hypothalamus and the pituitary gland whose hormone secretions govern growth and instinctual behavior such as eating, drinking, reproduction and anger, (3) the cerebellum (the little brain) that sits beneath the back of cerebrum and is responsible for controlling our balance while standing and walking as well as movement and complex motor functions, and (4) the brain stem that connects the brain and the cerebellum to the spinal cord, and controls reflexes such as eye movements and facial expressions, and moods like feeling sleepy. It also regulates vital functions like heartbeat, breathing and blood pressure. The thalamus provides information to the cerebrum via the five senses while hypothalamus regulates hunger, thirst and sleep.
The cerebrum, which constitutes about 85% of the brain, is divided into two halves, known as the right and left hemispheres. These two hemispheres are interconnected via a large bundle of nerve fibers. The right hemisphere is usually associated with the control of the left side of the body in addition to spatial information. The left hemisphere is associated with the control of the right side of the body. Therefore, damage to the left side of the brain (due to a stroke, for example) can result in the paralysis of the right side of the body. The right side of the brain processes spatial information like where one’s hands are while the left side of the brain is responsible for speech, language and abstract thinking.
The deeply wrinkled outer regions of the brain hemispheres consists of grey matter and is called the cerebral cortex, which is the most developed region of the brain. Beneath the grey matter lies the white matter. The region of the brain that contains both the grey matter and the white matter is called the neocortex, or just cortex, which means “cover”. It is made up of 6 layers, and constitutes about 76% of the brain in humans. The activity in cerebral cortex is associated with memory, attention, perception, reasoning, logic, thought, language, cognition, awareness and consciousness.
Each hemisphere of the cerebral cortex is further divided into four regions, called lobes, named according to the skull bones that overlie them. The frontal lobes are located just behind the forehead and are involved with speech, thought, decision making, learning, emotion control, memory and movement. Next are the parietal lobes which process sensory information such as touch, temperature and pain. Further back are the occipital lobes that are involved with vision. Finally, the temporal lobes near the temples are involved with hearing and memory. There is some functional overlap between the lobes.
As the thousands of activated pixels on a television screen form a recognizable image, the firing patterns of activated neurons also form a pattern in the brain that corresponds to a particular mental state or task. Therefore, the brain is also mapped based on activated regions associated with specific functions performed. Gross movements, such as the movement of the arms and the legs, for example, are generated by the motor cortex. The area of the brain related to sensation from different parts of the body is the sensory cortex. This part of the brain receives and processes sensory information from specific senses such as vision, touching (including pain and temperature) and taste as well as mixed motor and sensory signals.
Vision is generated when light that hits the retina of the eye is transduced into an electrical nerve signal that is relayed to the visual cortex. Hearing and body balance originate in the inner ear where the vibrational motions of the liquid are converted to nerve signals that are received and processed by auditory cortex. The sense of smell is generated by the receptor cells in the nasal cavity that transmit the information to the olfactory cortex. Likewise, the sensation of taste is generated by the receptors on the tongue that pass the information through the thalamus into the gustatory cortex.
Pinpointing the certain brain regions associated with basic emotions has been difficult and controversial. Some evidence of activation of specific regions of the brain is identified, such as the cingulate cortex in sadness and basal ganglia in happiness. Perhaps the best-known region the brain is prefrontal cortex, which is associated with the executive functions related to cognitive multitasking and task switching, determining the relevance of information, judging appropriateness of an action, planning, reasoning and problem solving.
Brain Activity and Imaging
The summary given above on the physiology of the brain is based on objective observations and careful measurements, and thus it is universally accepted accurate information to the extent of the accuracy of the observations and measurements. Like any such scientific information, it is open to improvement, confirmation and refutation. Based on what is discovered so far, we are certain that the increase in the activity level in certain regions of the brain associated with a task is closely related to the electrochemical signal transmission, oxygen consumption or metabolism activity level in those areas of the brain during that task. Matching the brain activity map with the associated tasks such as walking, eating, touching, feeling happy, thinking, sleeping, empathizing, etc. gives us the one-to-one correspondence between brain activity and the tasks performed. Based on this information, we can predict the regions of the brain that will become active when a certain task—such as experiencing fear—is underway. By observing the brain activity, we can name the acts being carried out or the emotions being felt by the person.
This is like the control panel of a car with LCD displays, as can be seen on the driver side of the dashboard. Again, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the tasks performed by the car and the “lighting activity” on the display screens. When the air-conditioning is on, for example, the pixels on display screen associated with the operation of the air-conditioner get activated and light up to form the symbol “A/C”. When the air-conditioner turns off and becomes inactive, the pixels turn off and the symbol “A/C” disappears from the display. Another set of pixels on the screen are turned on when the entertainment system is activated. Of course, it is the driver that decides to operate the air-conditioner or the entertainment system, not the LCD screen. The symbol map on the screen is simply the reflection of driver’s actions on a screen that can also be seen by others.
The electrochemical messaging system in the entire brain can be displayed by an imaging system to show the variation of brain activity throughout. The fact that metabolically active regions of the brain consume more energy than the inactive regions forms the basis for the functional brain imaging technique fMRI which produces 3-D images of metabolic activity in the brain. By measuring the weak magnetic fields generated by the electric currents during neuron activity, the functional magneto-encephalography (fMEG) technique is developed to capture split-second changes in the brain and come up with a specific pattern of brain activity. The functional, near-infrared spectroscopy technique is used in mapping brain functions against the active regions of brain by observing the changes in brain activity due to the changes in blood flow in those regions. Graphical representations of the neural connections of the brain are provided by connectograms.
Although we all have an innate perception and a broadly shared intuitive understanding of consciousness, it is difficult to give a concise definition for this fascinating but elusive phenomenon. It is a mental state or quality that is closely related to awareness of self and others, alertness, experience, sensation, introspection, knowledge, attention, wakefulness, responsiveness, thoughts, cognition, volition, intention, perception and recognition. Simply stated, consciousness is one’s awareness of oneself and of the external world, and the ability to experience, feel, perceive and know. A conscious being has a sense of selfhood and an awareness of its own existence, his inner self and of the outer world. The things of which we become aware at any moment (1) externally through our physical five senses (sensual and perceptional experiences of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, pain, pleasure, tickle, itch, etc.) and (2) internally through our non-physical mind (streams of thoughts, ideas, knowledge, imagination, memory), heart (emotions, inspirations, beliefs, instincts) and desires (to be successful, to be rich, to live forever) form our conscious world at that moment. Wanting to drink water, for example, is the result of being conscious of the desire to drink water.
In contrast, an unconscious person like the hypothetical zombie or a sleep walker, for example, has no awareness of his selfhood, emotions and acts although physiologically he is fully functional and exhibits the same behavior as a conscious person. In other words, “there is no one in there” to know and experience. So, it is common to ask the question “Hello, are you there?” during a conversion when we notice that the listener is drifting off and we seem to have disappeared from his span of attention. The lights are on but there is no one at home. Also, a person who has fainted is said to be unconscious since he is no longer aware of himself and the happenings around him. The same can be said about a person in deep sleep or under anesthesia, other than the dreams that he might be having and remembering after waking up. Mental retardation (and mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s) is the partial absence of intelligence and consciousness, depending on the degree of retardation.
Newborn babies have a very limited consciousness, and they present an opportunity to observe the development of full consciousness over the years. One can intentionally limit his span of consciousness by directing his attention and concentrating on a specific item or items, including subjective ones. The degrees of consciousness vary considerably, depending on the level of mental alertness. A tired and sleepy person, for example, would have a low level of awareness of the happenings around him and thus a low level of consciousness.
The apparent simplicity and ready familiarity of consciousness does not take anything away from its mystery and ambiguity. During the last few decades, there have been a considerable number of interdisciplinary investigations on consciousness by philosophers, neuroscientists and psychologists. But these investigations on the source and nature of consciousness have raised more perplexing questions rather than finding satisfying answers. Some of the often-asked questions include the following:
Does consciousness exist? Is it an extension of the physical body or part of a distinct non-physical mind or soul? What is the source of consciousness? Is consciousness a natural outcome of neural activity of the brain? What qualifies as consciousness and what are its essential characters? What is the essence of awareness? What is that “something” that is aware of our entire body and the world around us? Where does it reside? What is the relation between brain, life, intelligence and consciousness?
Can intelligence emerge by bringing together unintelligent matter? Can consciousness arise from unconscious matter? Can the electrical activity in the brain generate an aura of intelligence or consciousness, including self-awareness, like an electric current in a wire generating a magnetic field around the wire? If so, how can the electric field be sensed and measured precisely but intelligence and consciousness cannot? Or, is intelligence and consciousness something independent or external that infuses into the brain’s structure? Why do we experience ourselves as selves? Where do we get the sense of self? How do we experience non-physical things like imagination and dreams? Although the perception regions in the brain are distributed and there is no “center” of the brain, how come consciousness feels unified, whole, indivisible and integrated? Is there a non-physical “self” attached to the brain that provides the unity?
Physical existence can be considered in two broad categories, the distinguishing feature being life: animate beings and inanimate beings. Animate beings constitute a higher level of existence, and inanimate beings support the animate beings and serve their needs. And of the animate world, human beings are the highest form of existence since they possess a high-level of consciousness, and the plants the lowest since they exhibit no signs of consciousness. Compared to humans, animals appear to have a very weak consciousness—like exhibiting awareness of their food, habitat, offspring and dangers—complemented with instinct. But they do not seem to form episodic memories of events of life with details, and time and place information. Also, if domestic animals like dogs cause a harm, their owners are prosecuted instead of animals themselves since the levels of intelligence, consciousness and will power of animals are too low compared to humans to bear any direct legal liability.
Considering that no consciousness is observed in the inanimate world, it can be postulated that the precondition for the exhibition of consciousness is life. A little bird, for example, can claim to be bigger than a big mountain since the bird can act like the entire mountain is its backyard and serves it needs. The size of the physical body of a person is like a little dot in the world, but at the same time, the entire world is like a little dot in the mind of a person because of his boundless imagination.
An animate, unconscious being lives only the moment, and thus has a very narrow and a limited attention span and a restricted life experience. A conscious being like a healthy and awake human being, however, lives a very broad life that extends to the past by continually accessing the past experiences that reside in memory and to the future by continually accessing the plans, hopes and desires that reside in the imagination. This is like a person standing in a small room covered with mirrors, and feeling like being in an infinitely large room because of the multiple reflections in the mirrors extending to infinity in all directions.
At night, a person with a candle in his hand can only illuminate his immediate surroundings whereas a person with access to the light switch of a city can turn the night time into day time and bring livelihood to the entire city by the flip of a switch. Likewise, consciousness is like a magical electric switch, which, when turned on, revives the past and illuminates the future, giving both the past and the future virtual existence and visibility. Therefore, a conscious being lives the past and the future subjectively with all their pleasures and pains, while living the present physically. Because of this all-encompassing living experience, it can be said that one hour of conscious life is worth years of unconscious life – like the life of zombies or people in coma. Also, because of the depth, wealth and intensity of experiences, it can be said that one hour of human life is worth a lifetime of animal life. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
The brain involves electrically charged particles, called ions, and every electrically charged particle produces an electric field in its surrounding space whose strength changes with distance from the charge. A moving charged particle and thus a moving electric field produces a magnetic field in its immediate surroundings. Electric and magnetic fields are not material things, and thus they are invisible, just like intelligence and consciousness. This similarity suggests that intelligence and consciousness might possibly be fields that are produced by electrical activity in the brain. However, there is a fundamental difference: The presence of electric and magnetic fields and the electromagnetic waves produced can be sensed, and their strength can easily be measured by instruments, since they are physical quantities. But intelligence and consciousness are completely subjective, non-physical, and thus beyond the domain of scientific studies, and as such they cannot be sensed by devices or measured. Therefore, the analogy with the electric or magnetic fields does not hold for subjective things like life and consciousness since the former are physical whereas the latter are non-physical.
4 THEORIES OF MIND: PHYSICALISM (MATERIALISM) AND DUALISM
The two broad competing theories of mind are physicalism (or materialism) and dualism, each of which with several versions. They primarily differ in whether they treat mental qualities like intelligence and consciousness as physical or non-physical things – things that are outside the realm of physics. Crudely stated, physicalism asserts that the mind and the brain are one and the same and thus mental activity is identical to neural activity. Dualism, on the other hand, posits that at least some aspects of mind are non-physical. Therefore, the primary line of division between the two opposing theories is the existence of subjective attributes like intelligence, thoughts, consciousness, imagination, emotions, sensations, free will, beliefs, pain, pleasures and desires, and where these attributes or properties originate.
Most physicalist theories acknowledge the reality and subjective nature of consciousness, but they aim to establish a connection to physical realm with a reductionist approach. The idea that brain is the source of consciousness dates to the 5th century B.C and Hippocrates. He noticed that people with brain damage tended to lose their mental abilities. Based on this medical observation, he concluded that all pleasures, joys, laughter, sorrow and pain arise from the brain.
Materialism or the materialistic philosophy, also called the materialistic ideology or materialistic worldview, dates to ancient Greek times. It is a philosophical thought or theory which holds that all that exists is matter, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena like consciousness and life, are mere outcomes of material interactions.
Recent developments in physics such as the fundamental forces, space-time, different forms of energy, dark matter, dark energy, quantum mechanics and fields theory have shown that the physical realm is much more comprehensive than mere matter, and the more encompassing phrase physicalism has gained prominence over materialism. As a result, many materialists now call themselves physicalists. However, because of the deep historical roots and the widespread use, materialism is still commonly used interchangeably with physicalism. As an ideology, the materialistic world view is also called scientism since the domain of scientific studies is also the material or physical universe.
There are many physicalist theories of consciousness that range from very strict to relatively mild. Eliminativist theories, for example deny the existence of consciousness outright or at least some prominent features of it. Identity theories, on the hand, attempt to match conscious mental properties, states and processes to corresponding physical ones.
A contemporary version of materialistic theory of mind is computationalism, which views the brain as an elegant computer with sensory input and behavioral output capabilities, and the mind as the software. It posits that all mental states, including emotions like pain, pleasure, love and hate, are computational states, and that, if all possible mental states are simulated in software, the computer will think, behave and feel exactly as the human. That is, consciousness is computable.
Computationalism is based on the main assumption that if two systems are functionally indistinguishable, they are also mentally indistinguishable. Therefore, a computer that performs the same functions as humans will experience the same subjective thoughts and feelings as humans in a particular state, rendering it conscious. However, our experience leads us to believe that if a human brain is accurately modeled with every single of its neurons and synapses and the simulation is perfectly executed, the simulation would not be conscious and be a complete zombie. Therefore, people take a cautious approach to computationalism.
There are also several neuroscientific theories of consciousness that focus on certain aspects of consciousness using different approaches, but they are far from being satisfactory. They are mechanistic in nature, and do not address the subjective nature of consciousness directly. The Information Integration Theory (ITT), for example, treats conscious experience as a side-effect of neural activity. The Neural Synchrony theory attempts to solve the intriguing unity of experience or “binding problem”, and to understand how the fragmented activities throughout the brain are integrated and perceived as a unified coherent experience. Another neuroscientific theory posits that the synchronous oscillations of the electrical signals in the brain cause consciousness. But no mechanism is postulated as to how physical oscillations are associated with the add-on subjective experiences like awareness. Again, this is like identifying the magician, but having no clue about how the magic trick is performed.
Yet some theories view consciousness as illusion because of the difficulties in establishing deterministic ties between the brain and consciousness. Many thinkers are pessimistic about ever finding a plausible explanation of consciousness because the elements of consciousness like awareness and attention are non-physical, and ontology of non-physical things cannot be studied scientifically. Finding an explanation of awareness is known as the “hard problem” in consciousness research, but some call it the ‘impossible problem.’
Dualism, or the mind, body dualism to be more precise, is the philosophical view that, at least in some respects, mental phenomena fall outside the physical realm. Therefore, mental entities are non-physical, and that mind and body are distinct and separable.
The idea of dualism dates to the time of ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, who reasoned that the mind or soul cannot be identified with the material body. It is, however, closely associated with the French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who reintroduced the concept as a viable philosophical theory and gave it the name dualism. Aristotle’s view involves three souls: nutritive soul of growth that all living beings share, perceptive soul of pain, pleasure and desire that people and animals share, and the faculty of reason that only people share. In Aristotle’s view all souls perish upon death whereas in Plato’s view the soul is not dependent on the physical body for survival, and it passes to a new body.
In Descartes concept of dualism, which is called Cartesian dualism after “Cartesius”, which is Descartes’s name in Latin, the mind is a non-physical substance. Therefore, it is beyond time and space and it cannot be sensed, measured and manipulated by physical instruments. Its evidence of existence is the common observations of the non-matter manifestations on matter, like the glitters of immaterial (but still physical) light shining on diamond. The logical base for the proposition of the existence of an immaterial mind is indirect. Wondrous subjective phenomena like intelligence, self-awareness, consciousness, imagination, emotions, pain, pleasure and desires—the attributes that make us human—cannot be the make of dull, blind, ignorant, lifeless, powerless, unconscious matter. And those subjective qualities cannot be reduced to matter, which is an assembly of atoms and molecules. Descartes clearly distinguished the mind from the brain, which he labeled as the seat of the mind. The mind and body distinction articulated by Descartes four centuries ago is still hotly debated today in philosophy as the “mind–body problem” with no resolution in sight.
Thinking has a special place in Descartes’s philosophy. He views the mind as the essence of the human existence. His famous saying, “I think, therefore I am”, reinforces this notion. He asserts that body cannot think, and that mind can sustain existence outside the body. The immaterial mind transcends through the brain and into the body, continually interacting with the brain and the rest of body. His description of the “mind” resembles what is better known as “soul” or “spirit” – a distinct, indivisible, non-physical entity with all subjective attributes, including intelligence and consciousness. This description is compatible with the “immortal soul” realm of many theologies and religious traditions.
Different versions of dualism exist, differing in how they relate mind and matter and to what extent. Substance dualism, like the Cartesian dualism, asserts that both physical and non-physical substances exist. Mind and body are fundamentally different entities. They co-exist and interact, but they cannot be reduced to one another. Consciousness and other subjective qualities inhere in the non-physical mind. Property dualism, which is a softer version of the strict substance dualism, asserts that the mind and other mental phenomena exist as merely properties rather than distinct entities. The non-physical or mental (can also be subjective, qualitative or phenomenal) properties are distinct from physical properties and are not reducible to them.
There are several types of property dualism theories. In one, mental properties are regarded as ontologically real and fundamental, just like the regular physical properties, and their existence does not depend on other properties. In another dualist theory, mental properties are regarded as emergent, i.e., appearing on assemblies of physical matter. The property that emerges cannot be predicted as a priori, and there is nothing in the constituents of the physical matter that causally yields that property. And the physical nature of the matter falls far short in rationalizing the emergence of that property out of that matter. In some emergence theories, both physical and mental properties (such as intelligence and consciousness) originate from the physical realm – like the brain. In others, the emergent property is posited to appear out of nothing in assemblies of matter with complex organizations. The success of emergent theories depends on fully comprehending the relevant organizational principles that set the stage for the emergence of consciousness.
Behind the leading theories on consciousness lie the profound assumptions that reflect either various forms of the materialistic world view, which is dominant partly because of the misrepresentation of it as “science”, or some forms of dualistic view that maintain the duality of body and mind. Materialism posits that the universe is made up of material particles whereas Cartesian dualism also accepts the existence of immaterial souls and spiritual entities. For materialists, all mental phenomena, like intelligence, thoughts, consciousness, and emotions, are features of the brain and are caused by neurophysiological processes in the brain. Some philosophers view consciousness as a physical feature of the brain and are reluctant to admit the existence of consciousness, while others view it as a mental feature (and thus as a non-physical feature). However, it is common among philosophers to view consciousness as a higher-level or emergent mental property of the brain, without granting it a mental entity.
Strict materialists reject the existence of consciousness right away as part of their world view since they limit existence to physical things only, and they categorically deny the existence of non-physical or subjective things like intelligence and consciousness. To them, intelligence and consciousness are simply electrochemical brain activity. Most mainstream materialists, on the other hand, recognize the distinctive features of consciousness and they grant it the status of existence, as most ordinary people do. However, they view it as a natural outcome of the brain activity, the full mechanism of which remains to be an unknown. They fail to come up with a logical explanation as to how brain activity—the electrical activity of the neurons in particular—produces consciousness and the causal relations between mental and physical phenomena. They do not even know where to start and how to devise a viable research program on consciousness. But they maintain hope that with advances in neuroscience research, they will be able to solve this mystery someday. On the other hand, dualists—those who accept the existence of a non-physical soul (the mind) distinct from the body—view human beings as a combination of body and mind fused together. It must be stressed that the primary reasons for strict materialists to deny the central feature of consciousness, which is its subjective quality, are ideological. As Searle puts it,
The deepest reason for the fear of consciousness is that consciousness has the essentially terrifying feature of subjectivity. Materialists are reluctant to accept that feature [subjectivity of consciousness] because they believe that to accept the existence of subjective consciousness would be inconsistent with their conception of what the world must be like.
Materialists view mental phenomena as reducible to physical phenomena. The dualists, on the other hand, maintain that mental phenomena are irreducible to physical phenomena. If shown to be true, the irreducibility of consciousness will validate the propositions of duality, and this will be the end of the materialistic (sometimes incorrectly called scientific) world view. If consciousness is reduced to material reality, the opposite will happen. The only sure way of proving the materiality of the mind and consciousness is building a machine that exhibits consciousness. But so far, all attempts do so have badly failed, and the future outlook is bleak.
In the materialistic view, the brain is considered to be a very advanced computer. Therefore, it is natural for them to expect that computers with deep learning someday will acquire thoughts, feelings and awareness of themselves. Because of wide disagreements on mental phenomena, the theories on consciousness often suffer from incoherence and inconsistency with observed experiences. As alternative to direct studies, subjective mental phenomena are often studied by observing its manifestations as behaviors.
The argument given so far for the “brain activity-intelligence & consciousness” connection is also valid for the “chemical reactions-life” connection. All beings that possess life as we know it also have chemical reactions, but no chemical reaction or combination of them has ever produced life. Therefore, the proposition, “chemical reactions are the source of life”, or the simplification that “life is chemical reactions” has no valid basis and no justification at all. Life, like intelligence and consciousness, should also be recognized as a non-physical phenomenon, like an invisible light that shines on material structures with a proper construction that makes life habitable and sustainable.
So far, the things that we are sure about intelligence and consciousness are: (1) they exist and their presence and absence can be recognized (a healthy awake person vs. a sleeping or fainted person), (2) they are non-physical (their presence cannot be sensed by any physical device), (3) they are observed in animate beings only, (4) they are associated with the brain (more specifically, cerebral cortex), and (5) their presence is not directly tied to the amount of neurons since cerebellum (the little brain) houses 80 percent of the entire neurons in the human brain and yet it is not associated with intelligence and consciousness in any way.
Another thing we are sure about is that, despite its widespread use, no electrical activity, including the intense electric currents encountered in billions of circuits in supercomputers, has ever produced intelligence or consciousness. And we do not have the faintest idea as to how electrical activity, be it in the brain or a computer, can produce intelligence or consciousness since there is no apparent causal relation between the physical body and the non-physical intelligence and consciousness. Again, some might argue that there was a time when we were not aware of the electric and magnetic fields even though we knew about electric charges and magnets, and someday a similar discovery can happen with intelligence and consciousness. But this argument is not quite plausible since intelligence and consciousness are non-physical, and thus they cannot be sensed, measured or manipulated with instruments and devices like the electric and magnetic fields can be.
All Impossibles Are Not Equal
We tend to label the things that cannot be done currently as “impossible”, and put all such things under the same category. However, there are different levels of impossibilities, and some impossible things are more impossible than others. If an impossibility today is due to the lack of technology, this may change since new advanced technologies can be developed in the future. But if an impossibility today is due to the limitations imposed by fundamental principles like the laws of physics, then that impossibility will also hold in the future. The construction of a perpetual motion machine that crates energy out of nothing, for example, will remain impossible even in the future since such a machine violates the fundamental conservation of energy principle.
As another example, today it is impossible to convert iron to gold. This, however, can change in the future if someone develops a viable technology to free the 26 protons in the nucleus of the iron atoms and re-combine them in groups of 79 protons that form the nucleus of gold atoms. Also, it is impossible today to build a power plant from a geothermal source at 150°C with an efficiency of 30 percent in a 30°C environment. This impossibility will remain in the future regardless of technological innovations because such a power plant will be in violation of the second law of thermodynamics. To distinguish dreams from reality when it comes to future expectations, it is important to invoke the applicable fundamental principles that stood the test of time.
Of course, such determinations are easy when dealing with physical things that fall in the domain of exact sciences like physics. Everybody will readily accept that when one slices a 1-kg loaf of bread, one can never get slices that add up to more than 1-kg, no matter how technologically advanced the knife is. But when dealing with non-physical propositions, the best tools we have to sort out facts from fallacy are compliance with the rules of logic, internal consistency and conformity with observations. And this is what we will utilize in the discussions that follow.
5 OBSERVATIONS AND ANALOGIES ON BRAIN AND MIND
Deficiencies inherent in materialistic theories, such as failing to come up with satisfactory explanations to show causal links between the physical realm and non-physical attributes and leaving unfilled gaps, gave rise to anti-materialist theories such as dualism. There is a wealth of plausible arguments in support of dualist theories challenging physicalism, like the one that involves the zombie character – a hypothetical person with all human traits except consciousness. Another popular argument is based on knowledge. That is, someone who has complete physical knowledge about another conscious being might yet lack knowledge about how it feels to have the experiences of that being.
There was a time when determinism reigned as king, and the universe was thought to be a closed box of physical entities with natural laws determining the fate of everything—small or large, animate or inanimate–through cause-and-effect mechanisms in a mechanistic way. But the shortcomings in accounting non-physical things like intelligence and consciousness raised serious questions about the adequacy of the physicalist theories as realistic theories of mind. Below these shortcomings are explored on logical grounds based on observations and analogies.
- The Brain – TV Analogy
Ascribing the intelligent sequence of conscious and coherent thoughts of human beings to random firings of billions of unintelligent and unconscious neurons in the brain that are not even aware of themselves, let alone their neighbors, is not very convincing. The proposers of this idea seem to avoid the issue and to refuse thinking out of the box – the constrictive box of the physical realm that is blind, mindless and purposeless. This thesis is equivalent to saying, “This is the best explanation I can offer as long as our thinking is limited by physical matter and we have nothing else in our shop.” This is indicative of the inadequacy of the materialistic worldview that declares “brain is the mind and mind is the brain.” Such inadequacies have set the stage for the centuries-old hot debate on the mind–body problem in philosophy. Proclaiming “brain is the mind and mind is the brain” is not a plausible explanation that stimulates thought, but rather, an ideological imposition on independent thinking that stops thought.
The hypothetical “zombie” character is used extensively in the thought experiments to point out the inconsistencies of materialism and to prove it wrong about mental properties like intelligence and consciousness. A similar argument can also be given by observing the operation of a television set. The TV analogy, which involves people with televisions but no awareness of movie making and television broadcasting, is a much simpler and more effective way to appeal the same cause.
The operation of a TV involves the orderly activation of millions of pixels (on/off switchable dot-size circuits) on the screen selectively with precision, and painting sequential pictures about 30 frames per second to create the illusion of motion. Trying to explain intelligence and consciousness with neuron firings in the brain is like attempting to explain the showing of a movie on TV by the random firings of electrons by the electron guns in the picture tube of the TV set. It is like presenting the millions of electrons hitting the screen at the right spots with the right color when the TV is on as proof, with no regard to scenario writers, movie makers, broadcasters, and the invisible electromagnetic TV signals reaching the TV set. Further, patterns of electron firing can be matched with the pictures on TV to reinforce the causal power of electrons on the formation of motion pictures on the TV screen. Then would come the claim, “the electron gun of the TV did it.”
To provide further support to this claim, the proposers would demonstrate that if the electron gun is damaged or removed, there would be no picture on the TV screen. They would also present the interrelation between the electron gun activity on the TV body and the video activity on the screen as a causal relation. This explanation could be deemed plausible and adequate if we have seen only arbitrarily twinkling color dots on the screen like a color show with no order and meaning, just like the twinkling stars in the night sky. But, if those colorful dots arrange such that they form the faces of the people we know instead of appearing randomly anywhere on the screen, and those people perform reasonable and meaningful acts, we could not believe that the well-made movie we are watching on the screen is the make of a randomly firing electron gun.
If we were not aware of TV broadcasting and the invisible electromagnetic TV signals all over the house, and we were not able to come up with a more coherent explanation than the electron gun theory, we would probably sit in front of the magic box and talk about if we will ever be able to solve the mysteries of the amazing electron gun. First, we would ask the question how the electron gun of the TV set imagines such creative movie scenarios and prescribe the character of the actors together with all their actions. Then, we would wonder about how the TV set shoots electrons to the millions of dots on the screen with its electron gun at such speeds and precision that every second several intelligible patterns in the form of sequential pictures appear on the screen in perfect order, together with right sequence of intelligible sounds.
Being puzzled, we would have to give this electron gun, which is made of lifeless and dummy atoms, superhuman-like powers and attributes. Thinking that it is even more capable than the imaginary superhuman, we would go further and say, “God is in the electron gun,” like the saying “God is in neurons”, to express our amazement, admiration and astonishment. We would then console ourselves, thinking that someday we might be able to unlock the mysteries of electrons and completely understand how the miraculous electron gun is doing what it is doing.
Occasionally, some progressive thinkers will point out that the movie we are watching on TV involves imagination, knowledge, purpose, planning, intelligence, consciousness, and abilities that an electron gun cannot possibly have, since it does not even have a life, let alone awareness. Then they add that the most logical thing to do is to think beyond the TV box and to look for possible answers outside the device. Of course, the established thinkers will object to this suggestion and some may even resent it, stating that the boundaries of the TV set are very clear, and that looking for answers outside is absurd. If the questioning out of the box thinkers are silenced, those people can forget about ever discovering screenplays, broadcasting, electromagnetic waves and electromagnetic-video/audio conversion technologies. Not to mention derivative products like cell phones and the internet.
It should be clear from this analogy that the brain with neurons firing electrochemical signals is not much different than the television set with an electron gun firing electrons. Both are physical things made of atoms with no intelligence, consciousness or self-awareness, and both produce outputs that neither seems capable of making themselves and comprehending it. In the case of television set, the mystery is easily solved by thinking out of the television box and linking the visible set with invisible broadcasting and the intelligent and conscious movie makers in a studio. Likewise, the secrets of the brain can also be solved by thinking out of the skull and linking the brain with an invisible entity with intelligence and consciousness, as well as life, all of which are non-physical.
By doing so, we may end up with intriguing new combinations of existence and possibilities. We have nothing to lose by enriching our inventory of realities to include non-physical entities that manifest their effects as attributes of physical objects. This is not much different than accepting the existence of the invisible gravitational field based on the manifestation of that field on physical objects as attraction or weight – qualities that do not stem from the objects themselves. It is interesting that even the law of gravity, which makes its existence known by exerting its influence on all physical things as an attractive force, is itself non-physical. If the law of gravity were somehow annulled, all attractions between objects from subatomic particles to galaxies would suddenly disappear, setting the stage for chaos.
- Controlling Devices by Thought
During the last decade, various “mind control” technologies are developed to control devices remotely by brain waves. For example, in 2009 Toyota developed a way of steering a wheelchair by just detecting brain waves, without the person having to move a muscle or shout a command. The person in the wheelchair wears a cap that can read brain signals, which are relayed to a brain scan electroencephalograph (EEG) device. Brain signals are picked up and analyzed in a fraction of a second. The system allows the person on the wheelchair to turn left or right and go forward almost instantly.
Likewise, Honda developed a system that connects the brain waves with mechanical moves. Similarly, toys like remote-controlled helicopters are developed that fly with mind control by picking up brain signals. Even car control kits are developed that allows a person to control the moves of a car by thought, with no bodily interference.
Controlling devices by willfully focusing attention on thoughts lends major support to Cartesian dualism theory of mind, the existence of a subjective distinct mind or soul that interacts with the brain, and it has important ramifications:
- Controlling brain waves and thus neural activity by thought demonstrates convincingly that it is not the brain that controls the person, but to the contrary, it is the person that controls the brain. That is, unlike the common thinking, we are NOT our brain. There is an invisible non-physical “subjective I” that represents “self”, which is in control of the whole person, including the brain. And that “subjective I” (or “I” for short) is the person himself or herself, with the traits of self-awareness and awareness of external world. One of the attributes of that “I”, which is also called the mind, soul, or spirit, is “will”. Apparently, the “I” imposes its will on the brain. As Hanson and Mendius explain, when your mind changes, your brain changes, too. Mental activity actually creates new neural networks and structures. As a result, even fleeting thoughts and feelings can leave lasting marks on your brain, much like a spring shower can leave little trails on a hillside. What flows through your mind, sculpts your brain. Thus, you can use your mind to change your brain for the better.
A pile of unconscious matter in the skull cannot have will power, anyway. Therefore, the jelly-like mushy brain tissue cannot impose any desires on other tissues of the body or devices outside. The brain cannot give orders. Also, the “I” is the essence of the person, not the brain, while the body is the adapter for the physical world so that the “I” can have physical interactions and experience in addition to non-physical experiences.
When discussing the controversy of determinism, free will and consciousness in his 1944 book, Erwin Schrödinger, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, emphasized the same point:
So, let us see whether we cannot draw the correct, non-contradictory conclusion from the following two premises: (i) My body functions as a pure mechanism according to Laws of Nature; and (ii) Yet I know, by incontrovertible direct experience, that I am directing its motions, of which I foresee the effects, that may be fateful and all-important, in which case I feel and take full responsibility for them. The only possible inference from these two facts is, I think, that I – I in the widest meaning of the word, that is to say, every conscious mind that has ever said or felt “I” – am the person, if any, who controls the “motion of the atoms” according to the Laws of Nature. 
Schrödinger rejects the idea that the source of consciousness should perish with the body because he finds the idea “distasteful”.
- The causal power lies with the “I” and not with the brain. The “I” is the driver, and the brain is driven. The “I” is the powerhouse while the brain is powerless. The “I” is the ruling master, and the brain is the obedient servant. All mental states, qualities, processes and experiences, including pain, pleasure, desires, intelligence, thought, emotions and consciousness, reside with the “I” and experienced by the “I”.
For example, it is well-known that stress is a health risk. It increases the risk of everything from common cold to cardiovascular disease. A recent study tracked 30 thousand adults in the U.S. for 8 years, and asked how much stress they experienced in the last year. They are also asked the question ‘do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?’ People who experienced a lot stress in the previous year had a 43% increased risk of dying. But, that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health. People who experienced a lot stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress. Researchers estimated that over the 8 years they were tracking deaths, 182,000 Americans died prematurely not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you. How you think of stress matters. When you change your mind about stress and have a positive view of stress, you positively change your body’s responds to stress. This study confirms that the way the ‘I’ views the external impositions on the body has a major effect on the body’s response to those impositions.
- “Desire” is also an attribute and constituent of that mysterious “I”, which is the essence of “self”. When “I” desires something, for example, I feel intuitively that it is “me” who does the desiring, and if I so decide, I “act” on that desire by mobilizing my body through my brain, which is the command center of the body. I do not feel like my brain casually comes up with a desire and forces my body to act on that desire by activating my relevant muscles, making me feel like I were a Besides, the suggestion that sporadic neural activity of the brain with uncoordinated aimless firing of electrical and chemical signals producing any subjective meaningful desires or thoughts would necessitate people becoming zombis, which is not the case.
- Another subjective attribute or constituent of that mysterious ”I” is ”imagination”, which is a boundless, surreal universe. Again, intuitively we feel that through that ”I” we are constantly in contact with a world of subjective but well-constructed entities like ideas, concepts, thoughts, dreams, emotions and desires in the world of imagination, like a conscious, out-of-body experience. No matter where our physical body is situated, that ”I” takes us anywhere in the subjective intellectual, emotional and fantastic realms with no physical limits, which is a pleasant feast for our intellect, emotions and imagination. The claim that all these vivid, colorful, coherent and meaningful subjective experiences are the make of aimlessly firing neurons has no logical justification.
- Yet another subjective attribute or constituent of that mysterious ”I” is “initiative” which is a manifestation of free will. Our world of imagination is like a huge gallery or shopping center of subjective items with all variety of ideas, emotions and desires. We are in a non-stop shopping spree in that wonderland, with no limit on shopping, and continually interact with the ideas, emotions and desires we come across. Even the writing of this article is a selection from the subjective world of ideas, constructs and concepts during a mental journey, and building something meaningful out of them. What we put in our shopping cart to take home is our own choosing and our own doing, and thus our own free will.
For example, when I decide to realize one of those subjective items in the physical realm, the ”I” turns its attention to the brain, which is its interface through which it imposes itself on the physical body, and delivers its command. The brain then cranks up with all the neural activity and produce the relevant brain signals. These signals are then transmitted via nerve cords to the appropriate body parts, and also cordlessly as electromagnetic waves that can be picked up by electronic sensors.
Despite its simplicity, this explanation is very consistent with remote ”mind control” of devices by ”thinking and wanting”, as one often sees in the news. This scenario is in full compliance with our internal perceptions and personal experiences. The universal justice systems that hold people responsible for the choices they make with their free will are also in line with this explanation.
An objective mind will have difficulty accepting the alternative scenario of rejecting the existence of subjective free will and ascribing all the thoughts, emotions, choices, decision and desires to non-conscious neural activity of the brain by the forcing of the mindless laws of nature in a blind deterministic way. There is no credible evidence that supports this proposition. This far-fetched viewpoint is the result of the forced presupposition that existence is limited to physical realm only, including the laws of nature. And in this presumed-true physicalist worldview, which is an ideology, there cannot be any such thing as free will. This is because physicalism and free will are mutually exclusive. That is, they cannot co-exist.
Every person will innately confirm that they do have a free will, and that they should be responsible for their choices. Justice systems are perceived as “just” for holding people responsible for their willful acts. This observation and argument alone is sufficient to reject the materialistic worldview for not conforming to observations and experiences.
- Yet another subjective attribute or constituent of that mysterious “I” is “intention” and “directed attention”, e. the mental ability to turn to an area of interest and focus on it. We all make plans about the future by organizing our actions in the imagination. Everything we consciously do starts with intention. We have an innate feeling that something in us can freely scan our mental world, just like we scan the pictures and files in the smart phone in our hands. Then we focus our attention on some items that we freely select, and perform some actions on those items Again, we intuitively feel that it is the out-of-body “self” who is doing everything, the conscious “I”. We do not feel like there is any imposition by internal deterministic computations that present us with one choice, and tells us to take or leave it. It seems that all mental activity is happening in a boundless subjective world, rather than in a dark closed box, with an independent subjective agent called ‘I’ that can freely navigate through that world.
- The brain is best described as the interface between the subjective and conscious ”I” and the non-conscious physical body. That is, the body and the invisible ”I” interact though the brain. The brain is the control or command center of the human body while the “I” is the controller or the commander. This is like the unconscious cockpit equipped with microprocessors and indicator lights is the control center of an airplane and the conscious pilot is the controller. The body side of the interface is well-understood since the brain, its body connections and its interactions are physical. But the “I” side of the interface is a mystery. The current approach of disregarding the “I” and ascribing all its attributes like intelligence, consciousness, thoughts, emotions and desires to a box of organic matter that is the site of intense random electric signals, like a thunderstorm with intense lightening, brought us nowhere. Therefore, it is no surprise that after decades of research, we are essentially still where we have started on solving the secrets of the brain and consciousness and we are clueless about what direction to take.
All the miraculous attributes ascribed to the brain, like consciousness, thinking, initiating, commanding, feeling and wanting, only deepened the mystery of this body organ, which is no other than a stockpile of organic tissue. For example, physical matter experiencing pain or pleasure is not easy to grasp. Once the non-conscious brain is correctly positioned as an interface and control center, its function becomes to process and transmit all the bodily signals to the conscious “I” for experiencing, interpreting, and acting. At the same time, brain serves like a switchboard or a modem for receiving the thoughts, emotions and desires of the “I” and transforming them into physical signals for processing and transmitting.
When people observe a causal relation between two things, they tend to perceive one of those things as the source with causal power and the other thing as the effect or the outcome. But this is just a mental trick that most people easily fall for since interrogating the source is harder. Considering that all the signal transmission network ends up in the brain and the bulk stops there, it is easy to bestow the brain with all the causal powers and mysticise it like the Greek Gods. But this well-entrenched illusion is shaken when plants and brain-dead people are examined with a critical eye.
For example, the artificial sustenance of bodily life functions of brain-dead people is amazing since the control and proper functioning of all bodily organs are associated with the brain. And with the miraculous brain out of the game, we expect havoc in the bodily organs of an unconscious person connected to mechanical life support equipment. We are particularly amazed at a brain-dead (and thus legally dead) pregnant woman in a vegetative-state of life to continue developing the baby in her womb without the benefit of her brain, which is supposedly the controller and command center of all bodily activities. Furthermore, brainless plants continue nurturing their baby fruits and vegetables like corn, oranges and potatoes. Although plants have no brain and thus no central control center, they don’t seem to have any lack of control of the fully coordinated operations within the entire plant body. Perhaps, like the human ‘I’ that acts through the brain, there is a remote vast subjective ‘I’ for each plant species centered around life that infuses the plant bodies and takes control of all operations. The rejection of this view necessitates the acceptance of the view that every single atom and molecule operating in the plant is intrinsically equipped with all the subjective wondrous traits, including life, purpose and knowledge, of the proposed ‘I’ for the species.
- The “I” is a distinct, indivisible and non-physical These qualities ensure unified perception of all physical (through the brain) and non-physical (through the mind) experiences. Despite the apparent coherence and unity of all experiences, it is striking that the brain does not have a unified center of command. Despite the lack of a center for the brain and disjointed numerous simultaneous activities throughout, the unity of perception in the innate world is indicative of the unity, comprehensiveness and supremacy of the “I”.
- Life is probably the most mysterious attribute of animate beings. It is usually described as chemical reactions, since all living things involve chemical changes. But no chemical reaction has ever produced life. There is no physical “substance” of life, and thus life is a non-physical attribute. Life is like “magic”, in that, when it manifests itself in a human body, it unites all bodily organs, unifies the body with all the human attributes, and gives rise to all subjective qualities like intelligence, consciousness, emotions and desires. A person who somehow loses his intelligence, consciousness and emotions may still possess life and continue living, even in a state of coma. But if a person loses his life, he loses all his subjective qualities like intelligence, consciousness and emotions. Therefore, life must be the most basic attribute of the “I”. Without life, a person cannot have intelligence, consciousness and emotions. With life, all attributes of “I” form a distinct coherent and meaningful bundle.
The detachment of the “I” from the brain and dissociation from the body is death, just like a light bulb losing its light when it is disconnected from the electric grid. The distinct and indivisible “I” is non-physical, and thus beyond time and space. As such, it must be immortal by definition.
A large-scale “Awareness During Resuscitation” study on out-of-body or near-death experiences in the U.K., U.S.A. and Austria involving 2,060 patients who were clinically dead and detectable brain activity has ceased tested the conscious experiences using objective markers, and assessed whether such experiences correspond to real or hallucinatory events, as reported in a 2014 publication. The study concluded that in some cases of cardiac arrest, memories of visual awareness compatible with the so called out-of-body experiences may correspond with actual events. Researchers suggested that the recalled experiences surrounding death merit genuine investigation without prejudice.
- It is something to know existence or ontology, and something else to know nature or character. Not knowing the nature of something does not necessitate the rejection of the existence of that thing.
For example, in physics, we know the existence of dark matter because of its effect on gravity. Yet we hardly know anything about its nature. By NASA’s calculations, 25% of physical existence of the universe is dark matter. Once the mystery of the elusive dark matter is solved and we learn how to manipulate it, the world is expected to enter a new technological age. Similarly, once we understand the interactions between the physical brain and the “I” and develop the tools to manipulate it, the possibilities are beyond imagination.
The nature of “I” is like the nature of the laws of nature, e.g. the law of gravity and the associated gravitational attraction force. This law is everywhere in the universe without being anywhere, and infusing in and ruling over all matter. Therefore, it is said that the laws of nature are the government of the universe. It is interesting that the laws of nature exist and that they have no physical existence, like mathematics, and are thus subjective.
We have no difficulty in accepting that the laws of nature and their manifestations over matter do not stem from the building blocks of matter at the atomic or subatomic level. Physical laws and the associated forces are another dimension of existence that manifest themselves as influences on matter (on macroscopic level, on physical beings). Therefore, the matter and energy are like the body of the physical universe. while the laws of nature together with associated forces are like the spirit, fused together to form the physical universe of which we know. As Einstein put it, “A spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe.”
- The Airplane and the Cockpit
The brain is simply the control center of the human body, just like the cockpit is the command center of the body of an airplane. All parts of an airplane are connected through wires to the cockpit, like the network of nerves in the human body being connected to the brain, and they receive all the commands from there. Yet the commander in full control of the airplane is the pilot who does not have the same kind of existence as the cockpit has. Moreover, he has attributes like consciousness, eyesight, hearing, and free will that do not exist in the cockpit. When pilots go on strike, all airplanes are still fully equipped with everything including the command center. But they remain grounded because of the lack of these vital attributes.
Consider an airplane with no pilots in its cockpit. If this airplane takes off with passengers, flies through the assigned route, lands at the destination airport, facilitates refueling, takes on new passengers, and flies back to the city of departure, no one will doubt that this airplane is controlled by a remote (or “invisible”) pilot who is in constant communication with the airplane and the control towers. The proof is NOT in the sighting of the secret pilot who admits what he is doing, but rather, despite all the electrical activity and signal processing going on, in the inherent INABILITY of the cockpit to operate the airplane.
The logic behind reaching this conclusion is obvious: The airplane acts like it has intelligence, consciousness, knowledge, willpower and purpose, but the cockpit has none of those attributes. Therefore, to understand the smart actions of an airplane, we have to think out of the box of the airplane and look for an agent with necessary attributes. The alternative approach of rejecting the existence of an invisible pilot and attempting to give an explanation by stating that the electrical activity and signal processing in the cockpit, in ways that we do not understand, produces the subjective attributes like consciousness and intelligence, will not satisfy any body, and will be perceived as avoiding the issue. Neither will labeling this response “the only scientific explanation” do any good.
We know by experience that it is impossible to understand the true nature of a flying airplane by insistently denying the existence of a pilot (or remote operator, if the airplane is remote controlled) and attributing all wondrous acts of the airplane to the cockpit. Likewise, it is impossible to understand the true nature of the brain by insisting on attributing all non-physical wondrous qualities like life, consciousness, imagination, sight, and free will to the matter of the brain, which is mostly water, sealed in a dark thick shell. When the airplane is performing different functions, certain indicator lights in the cockpit light up while others remain dark, and there is a fascinating color show in the cockpit during a flight with indicator lights continually turning on and off. Nevertheless, those lights are displays of what is being done; not the acting agents. That is, they are “markers”, not “makers”. In a production facility, the location of the lamps that are on indicates the compartments of the facility that are active. It is absurd to attempt to relate the output of the certain compartments of the facility to the lighting activity in those compartments, with no reference to the people working inside.
- The Brain vs. the Computer
The average human body has about 37 trillion cells. All these cells consume oxygen and metabolize energy, just like the brain cells. Therefore, oxygen consumption and metabolic activity do not distinguish the brain from other body organs like the liver, kidney or the legs. What makes the brain stand out from the rest of the body is the electrical and chemical activity in the 86 billion neuron cells through 500 trillion synapses, and the generation of electrical and chemical signals between those cells due to the motion of the ions, just like the electrical and chemical activity between the battery cells in an ordinary battery.
The information processing in the brain via electrical and chemical signal transmission through the trillions of synaptic circuitries between billions of neurons resemble the information processing in a modern computer or microprocessor via electrical signal transmission through the billions of logic and memory gates in them. The resemblance established between the brain and the computer gave rise to the idea to label the brain as a very advanced computer. With this notion, mental processes are reduced to computational processes. The same resemblance raised high hopes among the scientific community that the computers someday will advance to the level of acquiring intelligence of their own – artificial intelligence (AI) – just like the natural intelligence that reside under the human scalp. However, it should be kept in mind that computers compute, they do not interpret. They process information, but they are not aware of the information.
At base level, computers consist of 0’s and 1’s, corresponding to circuits being on or off. Deep down, everything we see on the screen is the result of manipulations of these 0’s and 1’s and the resulting electrical activity. The drivers or programs onboard or on the cloud, which reflect the will of the programmers, control and direct the computation and information flow. Despite their impressive computational power, computers have value and meaning only in the hands of external users. Without an operator, a computer with all its powerful circuitry and sophisticated software is just a marvelous thing sitting idle on a table. That is, it is the conscious and intelligent users that give computers functionality and meaning, and makes sense out of its output. It all people were suddenly to disappear, all the computers in the world would be meaningless and functionless.
If the brain is a digital computer, as is often is stated, then the question ‘who is the user?’ is a plausible question. If a plugged-in computer on a table with billions of electronic circuits looks like a dummy, what makes the brain in the skull with billions of neurons any different? To interpret the results of computations, there is a need for an external agent with consciousness. Otherwise, all the computations are worthless. If a computer is doing something meaningful, we know that there must be a user with knowledge, consciousness and purpose behind it. Likewise, if the brain appears to be doing something meaningful, then it is only logical that there must be a user with knowledge, consciousness and purpose behind it, since meaning or semantics is not an intrinsic feature of computers or brains. That invisible user with subjective qualities, including bestowing meaning, must be an invisible entity called the “mind” or “soul” whose presence is perceived introspectively.
When left to themselves, both a computer and brain will produce and process signals and churn out patterns that have no causal powers. There is no intentional causation intrinsic to a computer. It is completely dependent on the tasks assigned by an outside agent. In the case of brain, the motor functions like the heartbeat, digestion and reflexes seem to be intrinsic; but intentional behavior like eating and drinking are externally initiated and imposed. Unlike a robot or the microprocessor of an autonomous car, everyone can intuitively feel that it is not the output of the brain that dictate the behavior of a person; it is the human willpower extrinsic to the brain that does it. This is the reason that, compared to freely moving robots in factory floor, human behavior is not predictable and monotonous. It looks like the intentions extrinsic to the brain govern the brain functions. Again, the most plausible explanation for the subjective intention and willpower is a subjective avatar of the body equipped with intelligence, knowledge, consciousness and willpower, among other things, that fits into the definition of a soul.
The brain is a biological organ like any other, and performs vitally important functions. Some of these functions cannot be explained by the coarse, blind, non-conscious neurophysiological operations of the brain. Unlike man-made computers, brain does not seem to have any internal software or algorithms. But even if it did, there is a need for an external causal effect with the ability to make conscious choices to specify the algorithms to be implemented. In the end, again there is a need for a conscious external entity to interpret the outcome of the computations. Outcomes of computations are meaningless unless interpreted by a conscious, external agent.
It should also be kept in mind that a software or a computer program, which is a collection of instructions for performing specific tasks, has no more causal power than a cookbook which is a collection of instructions for cooking. There is a need for an external master programmer in the former, and a master cook in the latter. Without a conscious programmer to ascribe rules, assign tasks and interpret the results, a computer is simply a maze of electric circuits. Likewise, without an external conscious agent to give directions, a brain is like a maze of spark plugs firing aimlessly.
- Diamond: Its Matter and Glitter
What the word “diamond” brings into one’s mind is not the material of it, but its lively colorful, enchanting glitter that flatters the eyes and warms the hearts. In fact, the basic structural element of diamond is carbon, which is known by its matte black color, absorbing almost the entire light incident on it (and thus the black color). The reason behind diamond’s charm is not the value or the amount of its dense material, but its ability to take in a translucent world (the world of light) outside and to scatter its rays. Thus, the most precious diamond is not the largest and the heaviest one, but rather the one with highest clarity, purity, and perfection and thus the one with the best light scattering ability. That is, it is the diamond that exhibits the glitter of light best while remaining virtually invisible to the point that one who looks at the diamond sees only the array of fascinating exhibition of light rays and does not notice its building blocks, which are carbon atoms.
We all know that the source of a diamond’s fascinating glitter is not its material, but the light that comes from an external source. That is, those captivating glitters do not emanate from carbon atoms, the fundamental building blocks of diamonds, but from an external source of light like the sun or a lamp. This can easily be proven by taking the diamond into a dark room. It will be observed that all the glitter will disappear, and even the diamond itself can no longer be seen. It appears that what makes the diamond a diamond and gives the diamond its beauty, charm, and fascination is the light incident on it. A diamond without the light is like a dead corpse without the soul.
Attempting to explain that the source of light seemingly coming off the diamond is external may be stating the obvious and may even look ridiculous since no one would claim otherwise. However, if there existed no darkness in the universe, and light sources such as the sun were not visible—that is, there existed abundant light everywhere all the time—how would one explain the light constantly coming off the diamond which would shine continually? Would one still easily say that the light comes from an external source that cannot be seen, or would one claim that the source of those charming glitters is the diamond itself? Considering that most people have a superficial understanding of natural phenomena, one would probably have claimed that those glittering lights come from the diamond itself without hesitation, even if one does not understand how. And in so doing, one would constantly struggle with dilemmas. For example, one would see that a single carbon atom (or a group of carbon atoms arranged as graphite) does not glitter, and would seek an answer to the fundamental question, “how can a feature that does not exist in its basic structural elements, exist in a whole?”
While some researchers examine the carbon atom in its finest detail and try to understand where in the atom the light originates, others who realize that the light-emitting diamond and non-emitting graphite differ not in the atoms but in the arrangement of atoms, would search for the secret of light in the bonds between the atoms rather than within the atoms themselves. And as evidence they would point the variation of emitted light with the changes in the shape and cut of the diamond. At the end, many contradicting and confusing theories would be proposed, and while some theories are rejected, others would be accepted at least on temporary basis for the lack of better ones. Then these fundamentally wrong investigations would be introduced as scientific studies. Any suggestions on searching the origin of light outside the diamond would be judged as fictive or unscientific by some researchers, and would not be given any consideration.
This prejudiced approach would build a wall across the path of science rather than opening a pathway, and would block its progress. When one looks at the history of science, one sees that the greatest breakthroughs in the world of science have resulted when unorthodox approaches that counteract the established ones are taken—like Einstein’s stripping himself of the hard rules of classical mechanics over a century ago and proposing the theory of relativity.
In the light of the discussions above, one may express the reality of diamond as follows: Diamond = Carbon + Light. That is, what makes the diamond a diamond is light; more correctly, its ability to take in and scatter out light. It is interesting that the diamond’s vicinity is also filled with light, but one does not even notice that all-encompassing but invisible being. It is present everywhere is space, but one can see light only via things like diamonds that receive and scatter it. Hence, it could be said that a substance made of carbon is diamond if it reflects light; otherwise, it is graphite. The most magnificent diamond is the one that reflects the light in the most fascinating way in accordance with the laws of optics. Therefore, in cutting and processing diamonds, the main factor taken into consideration is the light and the ability to reflect light. The first requirement for becoming a diamond craftsman is also to know about the light and its characteristics well.
It appears that the reality of diamond and the secret behind its captivating glitter can only be understood when the presence of an all-encompassing world of light is noticed, and the diamond is viewed as a compatible composition of the worlds of carbon and light. This simple observation would play a key role in trying to understand the true nature of beings and deeply affect our perception of the environment and our understanding of creation. Light, which is an electromagnetic wave and does not occupy space, serves as a good step towards understanding non-matter since matter is characterized by occupying space. Yet hundreds of electromagnetic waves (cell phones, television signals, radio waves) exist at the same point in space apparently without occupying space.
Some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in history came from the most absurd ideas. As Einstein puts it, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Therefore, it is important to be open to new ideas about existence. Even when there is no direct observation, observed effects on other beings and the requirement of consistency with the current state of scientific knowledge is often sufficient to establish existence. For example, the scientific community had no difficulty in accepting the existence of dark matter by just observing the gravitational force it exerts on celestial beings without actually observing it directly.
Intelligence and consciousness is not directly tied to the quantity of neurons, as expressed before. This is analogous to the fascinating glitter of diamonds being associated with the assembly of carbon atoms, but not with its amount, since a graphite structure gives off no light despite its large mass. Of course, the source of the glitter of a diamond is not its crystalline structure either, since light originates from an external source like a lamp or the sun, and not from within the diamond. But light shines on a carbon structure only when the carbon atoms are assembled to facilitate the multiple reflection and refraction of light. This reasoning is in line with the “emergence” phenomenon advocated by many prominent scientists and philosophers. It posits that qualities that are not present on parts but are present on the whole are emergent qualities acquired by the assemblies. That is, the whole being larger than the sum of its parts is a valid physical phenomenon, as confirmed by countless observations.
Philosopher J. R. Searle explaines the emergence phenomenon as it relates to intelligence as follows: “Unintelligent bits of matter can produce intelligence because of their organization. The unintelligent bits of matter are organized in certain dynamic ways, and it is the dynamic organization that is constitutive of the intelligence. Indeed, one can actually artificially reproduce the form of the dynamic organization that makes intelligence possible.”
It is plausible that organization can play a key role in acquiring intelligence, but viewing organization as the source of intelligence is as problematic as viewing unintelligent matter to be the source of intelligence. Organization can set the stage for the manifestation of intelligence from outside. But it cannot produce intelligence any more than the unintelligent matter can. Searle also expresses the analogy that the mind is to the brain, as the program is to the hardware. Therefore, he deduces that brain may not matter to the mind since the program can run in any suitable hardware, and that you do not have to study the brain to understand the mind.
In his book A Different Universe (1998), Physics Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin argues that most physical laws do not have their origins in the microscopic word; rather, they simply emerge or appear in a macroscopic world out of nowhere: “The most fundamental laws of physics – such as Newton’s laws of motion or quantum mechanics – are in fact emergent. They are properties of large assemblages of matter, and when their exactness is examined too closely, it vanishes into nothing.” After examining some primitive organizational phenomena such as weather, he asserts “We are able to prove in these simple cases that the organization can acquire meaning and life of its own and begin to transcend the parts from which it is made.” He presents arguments that the origin of some apparent properties of the parts of a whole is the principle of organization that is at work in the whole, to the point that the nature of the whole is largely independent of the natures of its parts: “Thus if a simple physical phenomenon can become effectively independent of the more fundamental laws from which it descends, so can we. I am carbon, but I need not have been. I have a meaning transcending the atoms from which I am made.”
If the proposed diamond-light analogy holds, then what matters for intelligence and consciousness is not just the number of neurons and the rate of firing at synapses. Perhaps what matter more are the relative positions of the neurons and even the pattern of firing that establishes the suitable structure for the acquisition or emergence of intelligence and consciousness. One can carry out the analogy even further by stating that diamond is matter (made of carbon atoms) whereas light that reflect on it is of a different kind (non-matter, but still physical). Likewise, the neurons and the neural activity in the brain are physical, but intelligence and consciousness are of a different kind (non-physical). Also, as organic matter, the brain is carbon-based like the diamond, and intelligence and consciousness are like invisible lights. The light of consciousness illuminates existence to invoke awareness, while the light of intelligence exposes the properties that cannot be seen by the biological eyes.
- A Book: Its Matter and Meaning
Neurons in the brain are like the words in a book. A word, which is an assembly of letters, symbols or sound, is not even aware of its own existence and meaning, let alone being aware of the existence and meanings of other words or sentences in the whole book. If there is a “one” that is aware of all the words, sentences, and chapters in the book, then that “one” must not be part of the physical book and of the same kind, like paper, ink and shapes of letters. Rather, it must be a “mind” that perceives the entire book. This way the book exists in that non-physical mind, like the author’s or reader’s mind, with the meanings of all words, sentences, and chapters.
A word (or a sentence) is a matrix of physical letters, shapes or sounds fused with subjective meaning, like body and soul. One tends to see both the physical word and the meaning attached to it as one. However, unless one separates syntax from semantics, one cannot put meaning into proper perspective. Actually, a written or spoken word is merely a matrix that holds the assigned meaning with no intrinsic meaning of its own. A word acquires meaning from an attentive and conscious mind with knowledge of the language.
If a book were somehow conscious so that the book itself is aware of all the content in it, including the meanings of all words and sentences in it, then there would have to be a subjective exact replica of the book made of meanings that permeates into every single word and sentence of the book, like a spirit. This spirit would have to be a higher-order existence than the lowly matter, being everywhere in the book—every single letter, word and sentence—without physically being anywhere. It would reign over the entire physical book made of dull ink and paper. For coherence and concord, this spirit will have to have a control center or “mind” of its own. It would also have to have a sense of “self” to identify with, and an imagination to visualize the whole book at once and to exercise control over the entire body of the book. This mind would constitute the core while the printed book constitutes the shell.
It is interesting that the meaning of a sentence is not the sum of the meanings of the words since the positions of the words also matter. For example, switching the words “coffee” and “tea” in the sentence, “I like coffee but not tea”, will completely change the meaning of the sentence, although the word content remains the same. (Likewise, the meaning of a word is not the sum of the meanings of its letters, as letters are symbols with no meanings).
Yet meaning is non-physical and invisible, and meanings cannot by sensed or measured by instruments, and cannot be tested in the labs. But this does not change the fact that meanings or semantics not only exist, but are more important than the words or the syntax. Based on this assessment, one is justified to theorize that there is a non-physical field or world of meanings, the physical assembles of letters that interact with the field of meanings acquire meaning and become meaningful words. Similarly, assembly of words that successfully interact with the field or world of meanings become a meaningful sentence (it is understood that the meaning in this case resides in the subjective minds of conscious beings as intermediary media). Obviously, the meaning acquired by a sentence depends on the organization of the words as well as the individual words used to construct it. Therefore, although semantics is the intended outcome, the importance of syntax should not be overlooked. Also, syntax has no causal powers and no mechanism to drive semantics, and one cannot derive meaning by deeply dwelling in the characters or the constituents of the characters. But developing a deep understanding of the interaction mechanism between syntax and semantics and exploring the underlying foundations, one can develop syntax tools to manipulate semantics to gain advantage. Same idea might apply to conscious beings and consciousness.
Meaning is externally acquired, not internally produced, and therefore it is an emergent phenomenon. If the words in a sentence are scrambled, it may acquire no meaning at all, becoming meaningless. The scrambled sentence would simply be a worthless pile of words, and it would not even be called a sentence. Granted, the meaning of a sentence will disappear if the words contained in it are deleted, but this does not mean that the source of the meaning are the words, which are mere assemblies of letters (or symbols, like a smiley face icon, or sounds). You can destroy a word or a sentence by burning the paper on which it is written. But you cannot harm the meaning of that word or sentence, as the meaning will reappear in another suitable matrix like the reconstructed word or sentence. The matrices where meanings reflect are fragile and temporary, but meanings are durable and timeless by their nature.
At this point it is appropriate to ask the following relevant question: What is the likelihood of a large pile of letters to self-align into meaningful words, sentences, chapters and books as a consequence of a chain of random events under the influence of the causal powers of the blind and mindless laws of nature, even if we wait a billion years? I think we all know the answer to this question. Now a simpler question: what is the likelihood of some matter to self-assemble into a form like the statue of a historical personality under the influence of random natural causes such that the form is meaningful?
For example, when someone looks at the hundreds of dissimilar chimney rocks in Cappadocia valley in Turkey, he may readily conclude that these sculptures may have formed by erosion under the influence of natural events like rain, hale, and wind that are not related to any purpose and willful act. This is because there is no order in the arrangement among chimney rocks, no apparent purpose or utility is observed, no diligence is noticed, and no rules or conventions are used in their formation. Same can be said about the caves. But when someone enters the underground cities underneath and observes the homes, stairs, columns, paintings and other art work on walls and ceilings, and even the ventilation channels, he or she will immediately know that these are made intentionally by beings that possess intelligence and knowledge like human beings, even if there is no one around. This is because crafting and constructing purposely and diligently using concise measurement by observing utility and usefulness can be done only with consciousness, willpower, and knowledge. And only conscious beings like humans have these traits.
Obviously, we haven’t seen those who built the underground homes, and we don’t know much about them. The only thing we know and we are sure about is that those functional and artful structures are not natural consequence of the laws and events of nature, like ordinary underground caves. Instead, they are made by intelligent beings with purpose and knowledge that can carve the rocks as they wish. It is interesting that a person who sees a picture of man on the ground made with mosaics immediately associates it with an intelligent and able artist that he has never seen. Yet, as a living real person, he associates himself with mindless and purposeless laws of nature and dull particles of matter that is scattered around aimlessly under the influence of the forces of nature.
- A Magic Cookbook in the Kitchen
As a thought experiment, imagine entering a kitchen with a detailed cook book and a dinner table with a variety of dishes prepared in accordance with the recipes in the book. How plausible is it to think that it is the cookbook, which is made of paper and ink, prepared all the dishes and served them on table, like a grand chef with knowledge, skill and consciousness?
Let us suppose that when a certain dish like a pizza is to be prepared, the book opens by itself and the pages are shuffled until the page that contains the pizza recipe with all the detailed instructions is found. Then imagine that all the ingredients in exact amounts specified in the recipe move to the counter, and start mixing and turning themselves into a pizza by following the exact order specified in the cookbook. And finally, the prepared pizza helping itself into the oven at the temperature specified, staying in the oven for the specified time and the cooked pizza moving from the oven to the service table before our eyes as we are watching in astonishment and disbelief.
The children among the spectators would be ecstatic about this “great magic show” they have just witnessed, and they would be content with the “pizza fairy” explanation. The adults will watch the show in wariness since they have never seen anything like it in their entire lives. At first, they will think about an “invisible chef” being in the kitchen, perhaps one with a high-tech paint that renders objects invisible. The reason for this thought is obvious: Logically, only a conscious and intelligent being who can read the cook book, understand the instructions, have the knowledge, skill and power can do what seemed to be done by an invisible hand. But the cookbook has none of those higher-level attributes.
After some contentious discussions, some of the spectators would probably subscribe to the idea that there is an invisible secret chef, like a ghost, in the kitchen even if one does not see or talk to him. Others would stick to what is visible and subscribe to the view that the cookbook did it. Then they would try to investigate the secrets of this mysterious cookbook, like how the book acquired those wondrous traits. Some among the first group would also try to find ways to understand the nature of this invisible chef. And if and when they do, they would attempt to develop a mechanism to innovate other similar products like “invisible driving book” that would be able to drive cars just like an ordinary driver. By bestowing the attributes of the invisible chef to the visible cook book, those in the second group actually admit the existence of the invisible chef, but they burry the mystery into the cook book. And by doing so, they block thought.
It is interesting that, had we grown up with such “magic cookbooks” as described above, we would be accustomed to view the whole thing as something ordinary that just happens, and we would not give it second thought. We would just enjoy the readily made meals – like the ready-to-eat fruits we pick from trees. After all, would anyone get amused that, if we kept a fertilized chicken egg at body temperature for 21 days, the white and yolk of the egg miraculously would turn into a live chick with eyes, legs and a beautiful colorful fur in a completely sealed dark shell? Probably not. We would be content with the explanation ‘Mother nature did it’ and not even question who this elusive magic mother is and how she can be everywhere without being anywhere. But if someone put all the materials used in making an iPhone in a bag, together with the design blueprints and detailed production instructions, and tells us that, after one week, all that material mix in the bag will turn themselves into an iPhone by following the instructions, we will probably laugh and tell that person to go away. Because we haven’t seen any such thing.
It would not even amuse us if we made a change in the recipe book, like crossing out the mushrooms and writing extra cheese in their place, and saw that our changes were incorporated next time pizza was made. And we would feel so smart and powerful by our ability to make a pizza with any desired ingredients by simply manipulating the instructions in the recipe and making the new ingredients available in the kitchen. We would also be so proud of being able to make some changes in the text that could be read and understood by the cookbook and interpreted as its own. Of course, we would still be curious as to how the cookbook decided what meals to fix for dinner the next time.
- The Rose and Its Beauty
As another thought experiment, let us take two roses that are completely identical, and smash one of them until it turns into sludge. Then let us ask if there is any difference between those two. Most likely it would be said that a rose cannot be compared to a pile of sludge. However, if the rose and its sludge twin are sent to a chemistry lab for analysis, the lab report will state that materially both are identical. Thus, materially, there is no difference between a rose and the sludge of its smashed twin. But those two are obviously different, and the difference between them is entirely nan-matter or meaning since it is not matter. This means, every attribute and quality that the sludge does not have is related to meaning, and the value of rose’s matter is virtually nothing compared to the value of its meaning. In other words, what makes the rose a rose is not its matter, but rather, the meaning that transcends that matter. It seems like rose is a meaning carrier, and when one intends to convey beautiful meanings, the first thing that comes to mind is rose.
It appears that beauty is a non-physical glamorous light that shines on harmony and concord arising from compatibility, fitness, balance, precision and order – just like ordinary light shining on carbon assembled in perfect crystalline structure in a flawless diamond.
What makes a rose beautiful is obviously not the beauty in its atoms since the hydrogen atom in a rose, for example, is identical to the one in a smashed rose. What is in the wholesome rose is not in its fundamental building blocks, and thus the beauty of a rose must be emanating from outside rather than the material it is made of – just like a diamonds’ fascinating glitter originating from a source of light outside. What makes roses and other beautiful things beautiful is their ability to receive and reflect this beauty. And it looks like there is a trait in human nature that can perceive these subjective rays of beauty and invoke awareness of it, as well as processing it with a yield of pleasure.
Closure to Observations and Analogies on Brain and Mind
The entire human body, including the brain, is made up of atoms, primarily hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen. These are the same atoms that one encounters in air, water, earth and food. Obviously, these fundamental building blocks of the brain do not have any intelligence or consciousness. The building blocks of all atoms are the subatomic particles electrons, protons and neutrons, which again have no intelligence and consciousness. Also, an electric current is simply the motion of charged particles like electrons and ions. The motion of electrically charged particles commonly encountered in chemical reactions and electric current in electrical and electronic devices have never produced any intelligence or consciousness, either. Therefore, it is no surprise that the constituents and processes encountered in the brain have never been observed to possess or produce any intelligence or consciousness. Therefore, the presumption that the brain activity causes conscious mental phenomena has no valid basis and no logical justification. Yet, brain is where intelligence and consciousness are observed, like diamond is where the glittering light is observed. There must be a reasonable reconciliation.
Neurons may be performing extremely complicated signal transmission through their dendritic synapses, and apparent information processing. But they cannot know what they are doing any more than the transistors in a computer do. Besides, neurons cannot have causal powers to impose themselves on other body organs any more than transistors do on other components in a computer. Therefore, it does not seem plausible to conceive a logical argument that the human intelligence and consciousness stem from the intense signaling activities of the neurons in the brain. Besides, when viewed introspectively, it seems like we externally control our thoughts, attention and preferences via our own volition rather than from billions of signal processing neurons imposing on us what to do and think or how to feel. Even choosing to adopt a different view may change our thoughts, feelings, decisions and actions. We are not like autonomous cars whose decisions and actions are determined internally by the driving software on a microprocessor that processes the input stimuli and output instructions for the various parts of the car like the steering wheel and brakes. For this reason, the actions of autonomous cars are predictable; but the behaviors of people are not.
If something that does not exist in the parts happens to exist in the whole, that something must come from outside of the parts – just like the glitter from a diamond coming from an external light source since the constituents of the diamond do not give off light. Therefore, the non-physical qualities intelligence and consciousness must originate from outside the brain and not from the content of the brain itself. With this line of logic, brain research may have better chance of success by concentrating on the assembly of the brain that make it suitable for acquiring and hosting meanings like intelligence and consciousness.
Consciousness is about perceiving and experiencing inner self and the outer world. Although there are different channels of experiencing — like the five senses, thoughts, imaginations and emotions — and different centers of processing information in different compartments of the brain, there is unity in perceiving and experiencing. Therefore, there must be a “one” which is not part of the body, yet aware of the entire body and does all the experiencing single handedly. And that “one” must be non-physical since consciousness itself is non-physical. One thing which we are conscious about is ourselves – that is, we have an intuitive realization that we exist. And that there is an “I” somewhere which, physically, is nowhere. One may compare himself or herself to a robot to appreciate this sense of self-awareness. It seems like that “I” looks in and sees our entire existence at once, and looks out and sees the outer world at once.
In physicalist (or materialist) views, that “I” is a construct produced by the brain. In dualist views, that “I” is distinct from the body and is connected to the brain in some way. It is given the name “the mind” by Rene Descartes. The word “mind” is used in a broad sense that includes everything other than the physical body, and it is better known as the “soul”. The subjective things like life, free will, intelligence and consciousness are the object of an introspective faculty. They are different facets of the mind or soul, just like the physical world is the object of the sentient faculty, which are components of the body. Evidence for this is our subjective inner world. The brain appears to be the interface between the body and the soul. And the causal power lies with the soul, not the brain.
When one hurts his toe after hitting the coffee table, for example, he feels the pain right where it hurts. But one should really feel the pain in his head since electric signals generated at the site of hurting are transmitted by the nerves through the spine to the brain where they are processed and interpreted. If this particular nerve is somehow damaged and no signal is transmitted to the brain, one would feel no pain. One’s toe would be numb. In the materialistic view, the brain somehow forms a subjective 3-D body image like a hologram with all the parts intact and intertwined with the body, and radiates the pain from the correct body site. This constitutes compelling evidence to accept the existence of a subjective body or avatar. Indeed, it is estimated that about 80% of amputees experience sensations, including warmth, itching, pressure and pain, coming from the missing limb. People who experience this phenomenon, known as “phantom limb,” feel sensations as if the missing limb were part of their bodies. In Cartesian dualistic perspective, however, such out-of-body experiences are easy to explain since there is a presumed non-physical soul equipped with all sorts of sensations that infuses all parts of the body. It is unfortunate that we must force ourselves to come to terms with non-physical existence since we are brought up with the materialistic ideology under the disguise of science.
6 ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND SMART DEVICES
The history of artificial intelligence dates to 1950s when scientists gathered to discuss computers that could improve themselves and tackle problems that can be solved by humans only. There is a widely held opinion that consciousness can be produced artificially by duplicating the supposed causal powers of the brain, even by using silicon chips instead of neurons. Implicit in this proposition is the presumption that man is made up of matter only and that there are no such things as non-physical mind, life and consciousness or that such subjective existence is the make of the brain.
Our ability to artificially duplicate photosynthesis is presented as evidence that one day we can also duplicate consciousness. However, these are very different things. Chemical reactions, including those in biological systems, use certain chemicals as inputs and produce other chemicals as outputs. That is, both the inputs and the outputs are physical quantities, and such processes can always be duplicated. But when the output or product is non-physical such as life, intelligence and consciousness, one should think twice before making bold claims.
Life, which is a perplexing mystery in itself, for example, is supposedly caused by chemical reactions. But no chemical reaction has ever produced life, and there is not much optimism that chemical reactions will ever produce artificial life. Life seems to be a precondition for the exhibition of intelligence (with self-awareness) and consciousness, since there are no intelligent and conscious beings without life. The ultrafast computers of the future with the capability of deep learning are not likely to acquire artificial consciousness either since the electrical activity in their electronic circuits of these technological marvels are not likely to produce life. Therefore, the notion of highly developed, monstrous robots surpassing humans and posing an existential threat to humanity is a delusion.
Intelligence is defined as the capacity to acquire information and process that information. It is a trait with which people are born, and it can be measured by IQ tests. The exhibition of intelligence by people or the reflection of intelligence on specific practical aspects of life is usually expressed as smartness. Yet the subtle differences are often disregarded, and the words smart and intelligent are used interchangeably. With the advances in and the widespread use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and the internet of things (IoT), the qualifier “smart” is now used as an attribute extensively for just about anything, from smart phones to smart cars, smart appliances and smart cities.
Smart driverless cars currently being tested on the roads are expected to replace human drivers in the future. Smart refrigerators will outsmart us by passing orders to the local grocery stores based on our usage habits and the current amount. To get our dishes clean, all we need to do is place the dirty dishes into the dishwasher which will wash, rinse and dry them using less water and energy than a person would. Smart applications like the virtual assistants Alexa by Amazon, Siri by Apple, Now by Google and Cortana by Microsoft have taken the definition of smart to a new level, raising hope for exciting future possibilities like personal digital assistants that reside in the cloud. However, deep down we know that these smart devices, appliances and applications are really dummies that flash glimpses of intelligence, not even being aware of their own existence let alone being smart. Even when they are “learning” based on the user habits and the information compiled, they are still dummies with no self-awareness. Our imagination going wild somehow manages to dress those devices with human attributes.
In the case of an autonomous car, the visual information obtained by cameras and lasers is converted to electric signals that are transmitted to the car computer. The image generated by the computer about the road and traffic conditions is projected on the display screen on dashboard so that the passengers can see what the car is “seeing”. Of course, the autonomous car can transport passengers from home to work and then back home, but it is not aware of what it is doing even if it has the world’s most powerful computer since the car does not have consciousness. Therefore, it cannot be conscious of itself, its environment or the traffic conditions.
Likewise, a smart phone can hear and talk with its user, but it does not understand anything. It may play the best music, but it cannot experience it. It may take pictures, and process them for best viewing, but it does not sense beauty or art. It may operate in many different modes, but it does not know its mode of operation. The smart phone is not aware of its own existence or the existence of its user. No matter how “smart” the smart phone gets, no matter how powerful its microprocessor becomes and no matter how many new capabilities it acquires, this is not likely to change.
As physical beings, neurons certainly have their place in understanding intelligence and consciousness, like the crystalline structure of carbon atoms in a glittering diamond, but the role and capacity of neurons should not be exaggerated and hyped. For one thing, individual neurons in the brain are not themselves conscious. Also, the neurons may appear to be doing smart things, but they are no more intelligent than the smart devices, virtual assistants or even an ordinary leaf that is functioning like a sophisticated chemical factory doing photosynthesis.
The intelligent behavior that smart devices exhibit is simply a reflection of the intelligence of the intelligent engineers that develop the relevant technology and load the appropriate software to the electronic brains of those devices. A technology-savvy person who uses a smart phone with speech recognition for the first time may be able to trace the roots of all smart actions and sensible talk of the phone to its microprocessor. Yet, in his attempt to solve the mysteries of the smartness of the phone, if he limits his efforts to the heavy signal traffic through the electronic circuitry, with no regard to the invisible smart software driving the device (and thus the smart software engineers who developed that software with perfect fit for the hardware), he will not have much success in his attempt. No matter how hard he works, he will not make much progress in understanding how the electrical activity in the microprocessor results in the smart actions of the phone. In the end, he will develop great admiration and amusement for the smart phone, but he will remain clueless.
7 ROBOTS TAKING OVER THE WORLD
Big data and deep learning heightened the concerns about the risks the super-intelligent computers and robots with artificial consciousness pose. But experts point out that these machines are limited by the capabilities for which they are programmed, and they are not capable of thinking out of the box like humans. A computer equipped with a good software, can beat the world’s top players in the games of chess or Go by computing the probabilities at every step of the way. But they cannot start initiatives outside their specified activity area. Also, artificial intelligence does not bestow a machine consciousness. Therefore, no matter how smart it is, an AI-driven machine is not aware of what it is doing, and it does not have any emotions or desires.
Robots or other machines with powerful microprocessors may look, talk and act like people. A dressed up advanced robot may even mimic the posture and facial expressions of a human to the point that we may have a hard time to distinguish it from a real person. But we know that they will feel nothing at all. They will not even be aware of themselves and their environments. There is general agreement on this, provided that robots are built with the present-day computer architecture. However, if computers are built with a futuristic technology that resembles the brain, disagreements begin. Depending on the philosophy of mind followed, some believe that digital computers will eventually be able to replicate and even exceed everything of which humans are capable. On the other hand, others view this idea as pure speculation from an imagination running wild. Considering that we do not know much about consciousness other than the active regions of neocortex corresponding to specific conscious experiences, such as sight, this argument is probably premature.
Those who subscribe to the materialistic philosophy of mind and view the brain with causal power to produce consciousness as a natural outcome of neural activity, believe that future computers will achieve true consciousness. After all, they view the brain as a computer far too advanced compared to the current computers. And given the rate of advancement in computation technology, it is conceivable that someday we will reach the level of advancement of human brain. Then, out of the blue, these sufficiently advanced computers are expected to acquire consciousness and even to experience emotions like pain, pleasure, survival instinct and desires. This far-fetched possibility is the source of the fears that someday computers will outsmart humans and extinguish humanity.
Those who adhere to Cartesian dualism and thus believe in the existence of a distinct, indivisible and separate mind or soul categorically reject the idea of man-made computers ever achieving consciousness. That is, consciousness exists on its own without being a byproduct of the brain activity. For people who believe in an emergent version of dualism, computers may acquire consciousness if the architecture of future computers can be organized in such a way that consciousness can emerge on the assembly.
This notion of artificial intelligence generated tremendous excitement and interest among science fiction writers as well as scientists and engineers, with scenarios like advanced robots more intelligent than the humans ruling the world and jeopardizing the existence of humanity on earth. Some even went further in postulating that computers will also acquire emotions, just like the human beings, such as love, hate, greed, desire for long life and self-preservation. There have even been calls by some concerned scientists that utmost care should be exercised in artificial intelligence research and innovation to avoid the extinction of human species. Recently some technology leaders like Tesla CEO Elon Musk have raised concerns that artificial intelligence systems could soon surpass that of humans and that artificial-intelligence powered robots pose existential threat to humanity. He called for government regulations before it is too late. Eminent physicist Stephan Hawking suggested that artificial intelligence could lead to the end of humanity. Some other technology leaders and scientists view these fears as baseless.
Are such calls that draw attention to the future risks of artificial intelligence and ignite public fear justified or are they paranoia and thus pure fiction and unfounded? The answer depends on how the human brain is modeled and how well its nature is understood. Considering that we have barely scratched the surface in brain research and that we are nowhere close to unlocking the secrets of the brain, the claims that robots someday will enslave people and rule the world are mere speculations. The primary reason for current state of confusion is our lack of precise understanding of what intelligence is and how it relates to life and consciousness. Unless we uncover the secrets of life, we will continue to see the intelligent robots taking control of the planet only in the movies.
Robots vs. Humans
A highly advanced robot that is a technological wonder can walk, perform certain chores very well, take orders and see its vicinity mechanically. It can even laugh loudly with a mechanical sound. But without consciousness, which is a subjective attribute that only live beings with intelligence have, it cannot feel anything. Even if it is loaded with a full library of knowledge, it cannot know anything, and it cannot be aware of what it is doing.
Even if a robot has a state-of-the-art processor, it cannot develop consciousness, free will and emotions. It cannot have imagination, and it cannot suddenly get hit with ideas. It cannot love or get angry at other robots, and it cannot make plans to destroy the robots it does not like. A robot cannot enjoy the beauty of a flower, and cannot desire to see new places. It can play the best music and even do the job of an orchestra, but it can never know the joy of listening to a beautiful sound. It cannot show compassion by embracing a smaller robot. It cannot get a taste of the energy or the fuel it is consuming. It cannot feel pity for another robot and attempt to help it of its own. It cannot comprehend anything happening around itself; it cannot rejoice at good news and get sad at bad news. It cannot know what depression is. It cannot worry about getting old someday and being taken to a robot cemetery to be discarded. It cannot know what longing for immortality is. It cannot think about the past and be concerned about the future. It cannot day dream or dream at night. It cannot laugh at funny things or acts.
A robot can be loaded with a huge amount of information in a few minutes and can learn a foreign language in an instant, but it cannot enjoy learning new things, it cannot get amused, and it cannot critique. It cannot generate new knowledge and it cannot take the initiative to try new things for which it is not programmed. It can communicate with another robot or person, but it cannot carry on a casual conversation that is an enjoyable exchange of warm feelings.
That is, a robot cannot have any features that make humans what they are. This is because none of these traits originates from matter. All the differences between a human being and a highly advanced robot equipped with all the wondrous features of the human body are non-matter or meaning. And the entirety of all these meanings that transcend the body just like the penetration of light into the diamond is the spirit.
The line of reasoning presented in above arguments is logical, consistent and compatible with common observations. If it finds general acceptance, then there is no need to lose sleep over monstrous robots taking over the world one day and destroying humanity. This is because without life and consciousness, they cannot even be conscious of humans and develop destructive emotions, and have the will to follow through those emotions and survival instincts.
No matter how advanced robots get, they will always be an assembly of parts. They will remain to be pure possessions of people. As such, a person can take a hammer and destroy his robot with no legal or ethical consequences. But, a married couple cannot destroy or even abuse their baby, claiming that they have made it, they possess it and thus they have full control over it. In fact, once children develop full consciousness and become adults, they become independent agents and parents can make no claims on them at all. Obviously, the material existence of a person is nothing compared to the immaterial existence like the mind, emotions, desires and consciousness. When a person dies and thus all these immaterial traits that come bundled with life are disassociated from the body, the remains of the person is simply respectfully discarded.
Despite tremendous developments in sciences and technology during the past century, there is still widespread confusion about the mind (or soul) and associated faculties like life, intelligence, consciousness, emotions and desires. We are nowhere close to reaching a consensus. Perhaps this is not surprising since we are dealing with invisible subjective qualities like free will, whose existence is also controversial. The mind is fertile soil for differing opinions, ideologies and beliefs to flourish and prejudices to form. There is not even an agreed upon methodology for the investigation of the matters of the mind.
Most researchers working in this area are firm subscribers of the materialistic worldview. At best, they accept the existence of subjective entities like intelligence and consciousness but only as products of brain activity. And at worst, they deny their existence altogether, stating that the mind is simply the brain and the neurophysiological activities of the brain. Those who subscribe to the Cartesian dualist perspective, view the physical body and the non-physical mind or soul as distinct and separate entities that work together in perfect harmony as one (and thus the name duality).
When discussing subjective things, one essentially relies on logical consistency and experiential conformity as criteria for evaluating different propositions. At the personal level, introspection is also an important consideration. That is, people’s opinions and beliefs are shaped by what they deem logical, what arguments they find reasonable and what they perceive in their inner worlds.
All beings that have intelligence and consciousness also have life, and thus it can be said that the secrets of intelligence and consciousness cannot be solved unless the mystery of life is solved. It seems like having life is a precondition for having intelligence and consciousness, as well as other subjective qualities like self-awareness, conscience, imagination, thoughts, emotions, instincts and desires.
Considering that all subjective experiences are unified instead of being disjointed, and every person intuitively feels as one wholesome being, it makes sense to view all these subjective qualities as the attributes of one wholesome subjective entity. This wholesome subjective or non-physical entity is referred to as the “soul” or “spirit” all over the world. Also, about 37 trillion cells in the human body, including about 86 billion neuron cells in the brain, acting in unity in total harmony as constituents of “one”, again points to a unifying invisible entity that sees and oversees the body in its entirety at once. Such an entity obviously cannot be matter and cannot be a physical part of the body. Therefore, it is no surprise that all the cells in the body lose their unity and start to disintegrate after death, which is characterized as the separation of the subjective soul from the body in some theologist and dualist traditions.
It is probably this soul that one calls “I”. And again, it is probably this soul that makes us who we are. Being non-physical, the soul must be beyond time and space, and thus immortal. The human body changes many times during the lifetime of a person. And the material content of the body we have now is largely different than what we had last year. But we are still the same person. It seems like there is a non-physical part of us that remains unchanged. Perhaps the primary reason we are unable to solve the mysteries of the brain is that we ascribe all the wondrous aspects of the soul to the brain, which is essentially a piece of organic tissue on par with other tissues like the liver, which is not even aware of itself, let alone the rest of the body.
The existence of life, intelligence and consciousness and their subjective or non-physical nature are widely recognized by the scientists, philosophers and the public, even the materialists. That is, the learned community at large has no problem dealing and working with non-physical “subjective” existence as well as physical “objective” things. For some reason, among some learned circles, there is strong insistence that the source of all non-physical or subjective things must be physical beings, as though the non-physical things cannot exist of their own independent of physical things.
The origin of this contention, it seems, is simply the materialistic world view that these thinkers subscribe to. This is because there is no compelling evidence and justification for their hard stance. That is, the presumption that “existence is limited to physical things only and all apparently non-physical things are merely the outcome of physical interactions” is simply an ideological view. As such, it has no scientific merit since it cannot be tested. Therefore, the notion that “the sources of all subjective things like intelligence and consciousness are physical things” is just an opinion and should not be forced upon others as an undisputed scientific fact. The opposing notion that “subjective things do not need to originate from physical things” is an equally respectable world view. These and other views should be judged by their own merit on the basis of conformity with observations and logical consistency on equal footing without prejudice.
The Higgs particle was glorified by calling it “The God particle,” indicating that it is the original particle that started the material universe. Similarly, expressions like “God is in neurons” mystify the situation and distort the true roles of neurons which are not even conscious of their own existence and the existence of their fellow neurons they are exchanging signals with. We should adopt logic, reason and fairness as guiding lights in the search and assessment of truth, and in distinguishing fact from fiction. As the saying goes, we should give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – nothing less, nothing more.
 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/educational-resources/brain-basics/brain-basics.shtml Accessed July 15, 2017.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VitFvNvRIIY#t=16.955538 Accessed July 15, 2017.
 Searle, J. R., The Rediscovery of the Mind, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 9th printing, 2002, p. 55.
 Hanson, R. and Mendius, R., Buddha’s Brain – The practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom, New Harbinger Publications, Inc., Oakland, CA, 2009, pp. 5, 6.
 Erwin Schrödinger (1944), What Is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell. Based on lectures delivered under the auspices of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies at Trinity College, Dublin, in February 1943. http://www.whatislife.ie/downloads/What-is-Life.pdf
 https://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2014/10/07-worlds-largest-near-death-experiences-study.page; Accessed July20, 2017.
 Searle, J. R., The Rediscovery of the Mind, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 9th printing, 2002, p. 32.
 Laughlin, R. B., A Different Universe – Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down, Basic Books, (New York, 2005), back cover page.
 Ibid, Preface, p. xiv.
 Ibid, Preface, p. xv.