MATTER CAN’T MAKE MIND: PART SEVEN

Consciousness is Non-Material

One must conclude that consciousness is non-material. For (1) it cannot be found in the brain. (2) It cannot be observed, understood or explained how neurochemical stimuli might turn into conscious experience. (3) It cannot be explained how conscious experience might evolve out of unconscious matter. (4) No model can be either made or imagined of an actual perceiving consciousness. (5) Conscious experience is not the sort of thing science can deal with, for the everyday, every-instant elements of conscious experience, i.e. the overwhelmingly real qualia, are beyond scientific explanation or analysis. (6) Conscious events don’t happen within physical space. But they would have to do so if materialism were correct. So what and where is the ‘space’ of consciousness? (7) There is a profound interdependence between consciousness and time.

Consciousness is, in terms of materialist science, an impossible object: it has an inside but no outside; it perceives but cannot be perceived, two features which are inexplicable to science. In other words, though the brain is made of material elements and can be investigated by material instruments, consciousness on the other hand is plainly not made of material elements, and therefore cannot be investigated by material instruments. Science is not equipped even to apprehend the existence of a ‘thing’ of this kind let alone either to investigate or to explain it.

Dennett writes: ‘Only a theory that explained conscious events in terms of unconscious events could explain consciousness at all.’ This is fallacious thinking, for as Uwe Meixner points out, this statement is no more true than ‘Only a theory that explained physical events in terms of nonphysical events could explain consciousness at all.’ Nothing could make it clearer what the basic dogma of physicalism is, and why it is a dogma, not a rational finding. As Meixner remarks,

The scientific arguments against dualism all have the same […] form:
Let X be a kind of entity that is claimed by dualists [to exist].
In the brain no entity of the kind X can be discovered by using purely the methods of science.
Therefore there is no actually existing entity of the kind X.
I shall call [these kind of] arguments ‘Gagarin arguments’.

For, as the reader will recall, when Yuri Gagarin hurtled above the Earth in his little space-ship, he triumphantly radioed down to the Soviet state that there was no God to be seen up in space.

In certain circles, if one points out that materialism cannot explain everything, one is accused of being a ‘mysterian’. This is hardly an ‘accusation’, however. Contrary to many of our most celebrated contemporaries, science is not an ideology which states that everything is made of matter. Science is a method of inquiry into the mystery of Being. The true scientist has an open mind. And of course I am entirely pro-science. Science is exciting because it may take us (and often has) to completely unexpected new realms. We should not regret having mysteries to solve, for, if you forbid mysteries, then no-one will ever again discover anything.

Conclusion

On the other hand, science (like any other human activity) has its limitations. The Sufis tell a tale of Nasruddin, seen in his front garden one morning, scrabbling about in the sand. His neighbour, walking up the street, pauses at his front fence and asks: ‘Nasruddin! Have you lost something?’ ‘Yes,’ he replies, ‘my very precious ring – you know, the one my father left me.’ The neighbour joins in his search, and now there are two of them scrabbling about in the sand of the front garden. Time passes and eventually the neighbour straightens his back with an ‘Ouch!’ ‘Nasruddin,’ he says, ‘are you sure it was here that you lost it?’ ‘Oh no,’ says Nasruddin, ‘ I lost it in the front hall.’ ‘Well, why are you looking for it out here?’ ‘There’s more light here.’

Science can search only where its tools can operate. But what if that’s not the right place at all?

Patricia Churchland claims that science ‘has empirically demonstrated that only physical things and events exist.’ This is absurd. It is like someone who, after dredging the oceans with a net that has a quarter-inch mesh, declares that ‘Science has empirically demonstrated that only fish larger than a quarter of an inch exist.’

In fact however I’m suggesting that there aren’t just fish in the sea, there are things that no net could catch. As Stephen Priest writes:

[…] Descriptions of my existence and the theories of science are antithetical: I have a capacity to make choices, science is essentially deterministic. I have a past, present and future, science is tenseless. I have a psychological interiority, science only ever explains physical exteriority. Science cannot explain me [this conscious being] because I am the opposite of what science says there is.
© Graham Dunstan Martin 2010
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