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.


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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The Cartesian Gulf

It is a frequently heard complaint that Descartes divided matter from mind, leaving it impossible to comprehend how the two, being so different, could interact. One aspect of his claim was that matter is allegedly spatial, while mind is non-spatial. He was however (as Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia told him at the time) quite wrong about the non-spatiality of the mind. The mind is certainly non-spatial in some respects, but spatial in others. It must be so, otherwise we could not understand spatiality, ‘see’ or ‘grasp’ it with our consciously observing eyes and minds, be able to measure it in the world around us. Probably also we could not have invented (or should it be ‘discovered’?) mathematics. After all, we see space all around us: as Kant pointed out, it’s one of the fundamental categories of our understanding. This could not be so unless our consciousnesses were in part spatial.

But where is the mental space which our thoughts, feelings and sensations inhabit? It’s certainly not to be found in the scientist’s physical world-space. So where is it? A part of the answer may be that this question is the wrong way round. We can ask where the separate parts of our experience are vis-à-vis our phenomenal field, but we cannot ask where the latter is. The mind is not located; it locates. For it is quite plain that our conscious experience locates the elements of the phenomenal field (including our own bodies) in relation to itself. In this respect the mind is like the Universe. This too has no location: space, time and whereness are all within it. Subject also to the same presumption, the Universe too, like consciousness, has an inside but no outside.

That mind is partially spatial, however, just might help the problem about how mind and matter interact.

The Question of Time

The question of location leads to that of temporal location. As has often been noted, there is an intimate – perhaps an exclusive – relationship between consciousness and time. No ‘time-force’ has yet been discovered in the natural world by science, and hence the forward flow of time is (so far) inexplicable in terms of physics and sensible only in terms of our conscious experience. Thus we may read:

The laws of Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetic theory are indifferent to the direction of time. If at a certain instant we were to reverse all the velocities of all the constituents of a Newtonian system, the system would proceed to ‘unwind’ and run backwards, and would be in exactly the same position at date t after the reversal as it had been at the date -t before reversal. If we were shown a film of a Newtonian system we could not tell whether the film was being run forwards or backwards. This contrasts [...] with films of human activities, biological processes or the phenomena of thermodynamics. If we see men walking backwards, or plants growing smaller and smaller and contracting into seeds, or a cup of warm tea separating itself into hot raw tea and cold milk, we know that we are seeing the film the wrong way round. But if we saw the planets all going backwards in elliptical orbits, there would be nothing to indicate that anything was amiss. [...] There is no direction of time implicit in Newtonian mechanics, as there is in human activity, in biological process or in thermodynamics.

Yet time in Einstein’s system is one of the basic dimensions of the Universe. And without that forward flow, an apparent nonsense is made of the Universe’s past and future history, namely its existence in the form of events.

Given the apparent absence of a ‘time-force’ from the world as seen by science, it has (rather naturally) been suggested that we inhabit a ‘block Universe’, in which everything is determined in advance from beginning to end. In this case, time would be one of the dimensions, but its whole extent would be entirely determined in advance – like the motionless All of Parmenides and Zeno. There would then be no longer any sense to ‘before’ and ‘after’, and movement in time would be non-existent – except that living creatures, pinned by their consciousness to a moving but always present moment, would traverse time, experiencing the ‘illusion’ of living through time from past to future.

So much for the deterministic picture favoured by some scientists and philosophers. However, if we compare the dimension of time (as experienced by living beings) to the three spatial dimensions, we find that unlike them it is monodirectional. In all spatial dimensions one can travel freely in both directions; in time alone is one confined to a single direction, from past to future. Moreover, although the other dimensions allow motion in two directions, time compels motion in only one direction. There is a directional lock. On account of this feature, I shall refer to time as being a half dimension. The past already exists and appears unchangeable; the future is as yet fluid, uncertain, unknown, the realm of possibility not of immutability.

It is evident that, without this uncertainty of the future (dependent on the ‘half-dimensional’ nature of time), one of the most important elements of our experience could not exist even as a possibility. For, if events are to occur in the true sense of events, i.e. as choices between alternatives, then it is clear that we cannot live in a block universe. A universe which provides either free will or its semblance must necessarily permit the future to be as yet uncertain. In that case, necessarily, our consciousnesses are important for a double reason: as (1) the criteria of ‘before’ and ‘after’ and as (2) the vehicles of choice between alternative outcomes, these two features being mutually dependent.

The special link of time with consciousness thus appears to be important at a profound level. Consciousness is intimately locked together with time, which is one of the fundamental dimensions of the Universe itself. Now of course, as is universally recognized, questions of meaning or purpose are outside the remit of science. No matter: this is a metaphysical question, not a scientific one. Here we have the suggestion that, as far as time is concerned, the Universe itself is set up in such a way as to permit consciousness to act meaningfully and purposefully. This feature of the Universe must surely be incomprehensible to the materialist / determinist, and in this respect it resembles Priest’s question (quoted above) as to why the created Universe contains subjectivity at all. In an entirely material Universe, (1) subjectivity and (2) the half-dimensionality of time are both superfluous to the point of incomprehensibility. All this suggests, once again, that consciousness is a fundamental element of the Universe we actually inhabit.



How Many Senses?

Conventionally there are five senses. But actually there are about ten, i.e. sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch (the traditional five); but also heat-&-cold, pain, proprioception, muscle-sense … (The authorities on this subject seem to be uncertain just how many we should list.)

Every one of these ten senses is completely different in its Suchness from any of the others. Taste isn’t the same kind of thing at all as hearing; the sense of colour just doesn’t resemble the sense of touch in any way. The sound of a trombone just isn’t anything like that utterly other sort of thing the smell of violets. In short, sensory experience is amazingly various, while on the other hand the physical processes in the brain are all of a kind. Richard Dawkins himself says so most distinctly. . Thus (1) firstly we cannot tell how any sensation arises into consciousness (as I have been saying), secondly we have this further problem: (2) how do you get ten disparate kinds of sensation, each more different than chalk from cheese, out of one same-type physical brain process? No, more different than that – than the taste of cheese from the squeak of chalk on a blackboard.

Now, contrary to majority opinion, all this is most encouraging. Materialists will admit the flimsiness of their case; or rather on the contrary they’ll call up a team of philosophers and get them to change the goalposts. When certain scientists tell us that matter is all, and that therefore consciousness must be material too, they do this on the basis that their material instruments cannot detect consciousness. But of course this merely shows the limitations of material instruments. Consciousness is invisible to the material instruments of science. So maybe consciousness is not a material thing, not in the last resort subject to physical processes, but some other sort of reality.

And let us be frank about this conclusion: it is a hopeful conclusion, because it suggests that the Universe is a much more interesting place than materialists assert. Maybe the brain is not the mind but the mind’s computer, just that very useful machine that my mind uses in the daily activities of life. It is quite astonishing that so many of our contemporaries continue to assert that materialism is actually a preferable stance.

Qualia before Quanta

What is the nature of the contents of the phenomenal field? Though experience is quantistic to some degree, it is qualistic to a much higher degree. Thus quantitative activities such as enumerating, listing and defining are experienced within the phenomenal field. As we saw under the heading ‘What is Matter?”, it is activities such as these which science employs in its exploration of the world. But qualistic experiences such as I have been pointing to above are perhaps even more frequent, indeed omnipresent in the phenomenal field. Experiences of this kind cannot be quantified, taken apart, dismantled like bits of machinery, reduced to abstractions, words or properties, without losing their very nature. As is succinctly argued by Stephen Priest:

Consciousness, subjectivity, freedom, qualitative facts, concrete experience and individuality are metaphysical features of reality that cannot just be cleared up by science. They are so utterly antithetical to the scientific concepts of matter, objectivity, determinism, quantification, abstraction and generality that it is hopeless to suppose that, say, the theory of evolution, neurobiology or physics will have anything explanatory to say about them. The idea has to be given up that reality is mostly objective or essentially objective and conscious subjectivity a minor epiphenomenon (or nothing at all). There is no objective explanation for subjectivity, and subjectivity, far from being nothing, is the lived reality that we are.

One might justly compare the qualistic experience to a landscape, the quantitative approach to a map; the former is the full-scale, living, dense, actually experienced reality, the latter is a selective outline or plan, a mere skeletal diagram entirely derived from the former, and necessarily excluding the greater part of it. As Priest also writes,

The problem for science is why there should be subjectivity at all. Why is the universe not just an objective universe? No amount of scientific experimentation or mathematical modelling is going to solve this problem. Empirical experiments treat their subject matter as observable, but subjectivity pertains to the observing, not the observed. Mathematical modelling depicts the quantitative, but subjectivity is qualitative.

People are over-credulous about objectivity. It is a construct. There can be, in the nature of things, no reports of anything at all except those which are subjective. This is because there is no such thing as strict objective truth. Take science, for instance. Science is based upon observations. Observations require an observer. An observer does not observe unless he or she is conscious. A basic condition of consciousness is that one is locked within one’s own private awareness. To achieve ‘objectivity’, conscious scientists are required, and (like everyone else) they cannot see through other people’s eyes or hear through other people’s ears. In practice therefore they have to come to a majority agreement as to what they have observed. ‘True objectivity’ therefore is not available; we shall have to make do with its real meaning — namely the product of agreement between subjectivities. So-called objectivity derives from subjectivity, and is entirely dependent on it.

Moreover, ‘We never encounter physical objects without the encounterer […]’ In other words, the presence of consciousness is always verified; it is matter which needs verification, not consciousness.

The Misleading Nature of Language

While emphasizing the qualistic nature of experience, I must point out that we are often misled by the fact that language normally conceals that nature. The concrete experience of the world around me at this moment is felt by my various senses in a qualistic way. The words I may use to describe such experiences are on the contrary an abstraction from these rich and concrete experiences. For that is the nature of words, which are in their fundamental nature abstract, general and selective.

Words are abstract in the very precise sense that they pick out ‘qualities’ from experiences. (This being the original sense of the Latin verb abstrahere = to withdraw, pick out.) So as to ‘describe’ a swimming pool, I may abstract from it a number of qualities. I may say it is blue, cold, wet, has a stone path round it, that the water has a wavy motion, etc. Loosely we call this ‘a description’. But we should note that each of these qualities is general, since there is an infinity of things to which each word (‘blue’, ‘cold’, ‘wet’, ‘stone’, ‘motion’, etc) may be applied. All sorts of objects of different kinds may be termed ‘blue’ for instance, yet none of these objects necessarily resembles any other except in this one respect of being called ‘blue’. Moreover there are an infinity of shades of blue, none of which is specified here. Each word is also selective, in that the pool possesses an infinity of features, yet we have selected (‘picked out’ or ‘withdrawn’ from it) only this tiny number. Strictly speaking, we could in principle go on describing the pool for ever; and the same is true of any natural object whatever. There will always be something more to say. Each quality is also imprecise, in that the single word ‘blue’, ‘cold’ or ‘wet’ is used to cover a large number of different shades of blue, degrees of wetness, a vast range of temperatures, and so forth. Words are (1) general, (2) selective and (3) imprecise, and this is fundamental to the way they are. To say they ‘describe’ real-life objects is misleading, for there is plainly nothing picture-like about these ‘descriptions’. Words merely point at the object in question, rather in the manner of a signpost, label or aide-mémoire. They in no way ‘reproduce’ or ‘evoke’ experiences; when ‘turning an experience into words’, the content of the experience itself is always lost, and replaced by abstract elements extracted from its wholeness. The philosopher must, therefore, be exceedingly careful not to confuse what he often calls ‘properties’ (blueness, swimming-pool-ness, waviness) with qualia, and so to mistake abstractions for the real dense experiences of ordinary life, the latter being, in the proper sense of the word, ineffable. It is all too easy to let language lead us astray. A ‘property’ is an abstraction: it is simply an element of reality verbally abstracted from experience and thereby divested of its dense qualistic suchness.


Is consciousness “in the brain”?

Let us turn now a slightly brighter light on consciousness itself . As Darwin’s bulldog T.H.Huxley wrote: ‘How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djinn when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.’

This is the famous ‘explanatory gap’. For as is well known, neuroscientists have never discovered the location of consciousness. This is simply a confirmation of the fact that consciousness should be defined as percipere = ‘what perceives and cannot be perceived’. Nor have neuroscientists discovered the locations of long-term memory and tacit memory – which is also a very interesting fact, though I shall have no space for it here. Moreover, no-one has discovered how the sense information travelling along the neural pathways in the brain is transformed into conscious experience. This is a part of the famous problem of qualia.

The arguments about qualia are of course well known, but perhaps I shall be forgiven if I repeat the essence of them here. For we need to establish (1) the inadequacy of the materialist causal model and (2) some important features of the phenomenal field.

Qualia is of course the term for the lived density of experience: the ‘feel’ and ‘look’ of colours, the ‘feel’ and ‘flavour’ of sounds in all their infinite variety, the felt texture of objects, the rich (but literally indescribable) tastes and odours of things. Qualia are the raw sensory material of conscious experience, they are what we feel and how we feel it. They are the essential substance of all our experiences, but they are incommunicable to others, because we have no means of transmitting these ‘feels’, these ‘experiences’, directly from one brain to another. Talking about them is quite inadequate. For instance, how do you describe the slightly flushed golden-green of a James Grieve apple , or its completely individual ‘James-Grievish’ flavour? How do you describe the sound of Johnny Hodges’ alto sax or Cootie Williams’ trumpet? How do you describe the taste or the smell of coffee – or the difference between the smell and the taste — to someone who has never experienced them? You can appeal only to other people’s similar experiences — provided they have had them. If we haven’t had the experience of a particular quale, then we cannot imagine it.

Now how does the machinery in the brain produce this living experience? The answer is We don’t know. One can track the electrochemical message conveying “Feel this as CRIMSON!” a certain distance through the brain. But then there comes a blank wall. How does this physical message actually make whatever unknown something that does that kind of feeling feel it? WHAT does it do to WHAT so as to make WHAT perceive the experience BRIGHT CRIMSON? The answer is that none of these WHATS can be found in the physical brain, and the whole business of experiencing a quale is completely mysterious. As indeed is the whole business of experiencing anything at all. Experience itself is the great mystery.

There is an absolute gulf between the electrochemical message and the subjective experience of CRIMSON (or of COLD or WET or ANGRY or anything you like). The experiential side of the process is completely invisible to the scientist. He can’t see my seeing — or hear my hearing — or feel my pain. His material instruments just stop providing any information at this point. Once something passes from the world of physical process over the threshold of consciousness, physical instruments fall silent, cease to operate. The transformation of the physical neurochemical message into the experience is completely invisible to the scientist, and there is no way of seeing how, under any conceivable circumstance, it could become visible.

This frightens some materialists so much that they issue specious denials of this otherwise universally admitted fact. D. M. Armstrong, for instance, in A Materialist Theory of Mind claims that

There is nothing that it feels like to see something, or touch something or taste something.’

Daniel Dennett likewise claims in Consciousness Explained, that qualia don’t exist, they merely seem to. Evidently Dennett doesn’t understand about ‘seeming’. Seeming is what appears to consciousness; and what appears to consciousness cannot be doubted to so appear. It is the source or origin of its so appearing which may, depending on circumstance, be supposed to be illusory or not. But (supposedly illusory or not) what is experienced is indeed experienced.

What is the logic behind these two astonishing denials? Both these philosophers are determined to adopt the materialist doctrine. They are exceptionally clear-sighted about this, however, in that they think that subjective experience, qualia, etc, have to be denied because otherwise their existence would actually disprove materialism. Their position therefore vindicates mine, since it shows what you have to deny, to be that kind of materialist: namely, the evidence of your senses. Since your senses are the source of all your information, you are thereby denying the facts themselves and the source of those facts. As Democritus wrote,

Intellect to Senses: ‘Ostensibly there is colour, sweetness, bitterness; actually only atoms and void.’
Senses to Intellect: ‘Poor intellect! You get your evidence from us, and you hope to overthrow us? Your victory is your defeat.’

The same error is being repeated 2400 years later.


From Materialism to Emergentism

Now, very oddly (considering how they detest Berkeley), materialists entirely agree with this definition of matter, i.e. they entirely agree that Matter is what is perceived and cannot by its nature perceive. On the other hand of course they deny the reality of consciousness, and claim that unconscious matter is all there is. That is to say, they accept one half of the polar twinship and not the other. They are therefore obliged to claim that consciousness was not there ‘to begin with’ – i.e. at the birth of the Universe or at the start of the Earth. They are obliged to claim that it evolved out of absolute unconsciousness. But such a claim simply does not make sense. Logically it is more absurd than a hole in the ground magically turning into Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, or a still, silent rock turning into a roaring lion, or a hole in the air suddenly becoming Cleopatra. For how can NOT-X transmute into X? It’s a logical impossibility. How do you derive a thing which by definition does not exist from that which by definition is its complete opposite? As both European and Indian philosophers have declared, ‘ex nihilo nihil fit.’

Materialists therefore set themselves the most enormous challenge: How are unconscious molecules even to begin to have conscious experience? There are, however, a large number of accounts claiming to explain in small detail exactly how it’s done. To take just one example – typical except for being more detailed and more skilfully presented than usual — Nicholas Humphrey supposes that animals were, at the outset of evolution, completely unconscious. They evolved consciousness. How? Evolution makes them become increasingly complex, so their senses respond with increasing sensitivity to stimuli. This is due to natural selection, since sensitivity is good for survival. This sensitivity (as yet completely mechanical & unconscious) increases until (hey presto!) the animal becomes conscious of this sensitivity.

Has Humphrey triumphantly proved his case? Certainly not, for it is based on a barefaced fallacy. First of all Humphrey uses the word ‘sensation’ to mean ‘a delicate, but mechanical and unconscious reaction.’ He doesn’t claim these initial processes are conscious. He cannot claim they’re conscious, because he is obliged to start with the non-conscious so as to show how the conscious emerged from it. Then Humphrey suddenly pretends that Sensation 1 (meaning ‘it reacts but doesn’t feel’) spontaneously transforms itself into Sensation 2 (meaning ‘it reacts and does feel’).

Humphrey, I fear, is Marvo-the-Magician. He is introducing consciousness into his account surreptitiously, in the manner of a conjuror concealing a white rabbit up his sleeve. And, like the conjuror, he pretends the rabbit gets created out of thin air, and that thin air is precisely what creates rabbits.

One can consult many of these accounts of consciousness emerging from nothingness. Every account proposes the same conjuring trick, for indeed it is hard to see what – except a conjuring trick — could be imagined. I’m afraid that anyone who takes this seriously is deeply confused.

Can Evolution Create Consciousness?

When I gave a previous incarnation of this paper as a talk, a member of the audience rightly remarked that consciousness is useful for survival. She went on to ask why, therefore, can evolution not produce consciousness. Now it is clear that, consciousness being of survival value, once it appears the laws of evolution are likely to retain it and improve on it. However, there is a fallacy lurking here, namely the assumption that, if anything is useful to survival, then evolution will produce it ex nihilo. Plainly, however, if everything in nature is physical, if there is no such thing as the non-physical, and if consciousness is the opposite of the physical, then consciousness cannot appear in nature, no matter how useful it might have turned out to be. No force in nature can produce something which is counter to its own laws, even if that something might produce an evolutionary advantage.


Models & Machines

In science, you can always model the object of your interest. You can make a physical model, for instance, which can move, out of an energy supply and bits and pieces which (separately) don’t move. Or you can make a mathematical model (often of extraordinary complexity). But can you make a model which has conscious experience out of things that don’t? No, you can’t. One can safely utter the challenge: ‘Construct out of unconscious elements a machine which will have conscious experience.’ It is impossible to imagine how such a task might be performed. When I was in discussion some few years ago with an artificial intelligence expert, he seemed to admit this fact; but claimed he lived in the hope that, suddenly, for no discernible reason, one of these days, one of his complicated electronic machines might become conscious. The magician would have produced a white rabbit without himself knowing how; or perhaps we should write that some unknown source had produced the white rabbit for some unknown reason. However, if in fact (and most improbably) such a thing were to happen, and if on further investigation no material cause could be found, then, since we would have no materialist explanation of the manifestation, we should still be left with the possibility that some non-material event had occurred.

Wishful materialist though he is, the same insoluble problem is met by Hofstadter at the end of I am a Strange Loop, a book whose ambition is to make feedback seem a plausible model for consciousness:

What would make a loopy abstract pattern, however fancy it might be, constitute a locus of interiority, an inner light, a site of first-person experience?

He has, I fear, no solution to offer except wishful thinking and the persuasions of style. As is well known, Colin McGinn, in despair at the impossibility of modelling and hence grasping consciousness in a ‘scientific’ fashion, suggests that we are constitutionally incapable of understanding it.

The impossibility of modelling consciousness is a real problem for materialists. Humphrey’s difficulties, described above, are another instance of this point. An exceedingly interesting article by Fred Dretske contains ‘a recipe for making a thought’. His premisses seem to be not only ‘If you can’t make one, you don’t know how it works’ (which seems, I think, reasonable enough), but also ‘Anything that can’t be made can’t possibly exist.’ But this amounts to saying (1) ‘anything that can’t be imitated can’t possibly exist,’ and also (2) ‘Anything that I don’t understand can’t possibly exist.’ Whether the first of these propositions is true or not I am not concerned to argue here. The second, however, cannot possibly be true; and indeed the impossibility of modelling consciousness proves it.

What Dretske’s proposals really demonstrate is as follows: they show the limitations on materialism: we are well able to model material objects – for we are modelling them out of concrete matter or abstract mathematics. But we shall find it impossible to do the same with immaterial phenomena such as thoughts, hopes, fears, emotions or qualia. Still less with consciousness, in whose phenomenal field these experiences have their being. In short, you cannot either model percipere out of percipi or derive the former from the latter. For the two are the ontological opposites of each other.

Matter Can’t Make Mind: Part One

There are many excellent reasons why materialism is likely to be false. Let us start with the nature of matter itself.

What is ‘Matter’?

(1) The man-in-the-street usually claims to ‘know by experience what matter is‘. Dr Johnson is famous for impersonating the man-in-the-street by kicking a stone. He thought this showed that solid matter was indeed solid. But what did he actually prove? Nothing. The pain he got in his foot merely shows what we all know, namely that ‘Matter’ is simply the way mind perceives its surroundings as they appear to us through our senses, namely as hard / soft, cold / hot, noisy, painful, colourful / dark, etc. In this case it appeared as hard and painful. In other words, matter is appearance.

The quantum physicist Nick Herbert very nicely says that we human beings resemble King Midas. Everything he touched turned into gold – including his daughter and his food, so that he would have starved to death both emotionally and physically had the god Dionysos not taken pity on him. Herbert says we ‘can’t directly experience the true texture of reality because everything we touch turns to matter.

(2) So now let’s put this question to the physicist, for it is popularly held that he knows what matter is. When facing this same question, Sir Arthur Eddington gives the example of an elephant sliding down a grassy slope. So as to handle this situation in science, he explains, you turn it into pointer readings or their equivalents. You turn the elephant into a weight (mass), the grassy slope into an angle of 60o, the grass into a coefficient of friction – and so on. As Eddington carefully explains, concrete reality disappears, and abstract measurements take its place.

Thus we are, I fear, again disappointed, for the physicist does not claim to ‘know what matter is‘. Science is humanity’s most majestic creation. On the one hand it has taught us rigour, on the other it has magnified our sense of wonder. But it neither replaces nor replicates reality. It merely gives us an abstract account of reality, which enables us to manipulate it better. That is to say that the physicist deals, not with ‘matter itself’ (whatever that might be) but rather with those aspects of appearance which can be quantified, reduced to measurements, and thereby modelled and manipulated. And of course modern science has enabled us to do this to a remarkable degree.

(3) What do we conclude? Well, for the man-in-the-street ‘matter’ is the impression given of it by our various senses. Moreover there is a natural tendency to assimilate the notion of ‘matter’ to the harder and more impenetrable side of our experiences with the outer world. For the scientist it is rather different: ‘matter’ is those aspects of the world that he can measure or model. For him, there is a natural tendency to see matter, measure it, test it, judge its nature via the exceedingly successful tool of mathematics. For the scientist, the living reality of the experienced world thus literally disappears into abstractions.

The ‘true nature‘ of matter is absent from both these views, nor is it possible to ascertain what that ‘true nature‘ might be. There is nothing very surprising about this outcome, since everything we know about the outer world is actually indirect: it is transmitted and transmuted to us through our senses, and interpreted through the conscious and unconscious areas of our minds.

Help from Berkeley

Now it is essential to observe the subject of discussion properly, and to define it as accurately as we can. One must admit that clarity is not always attainable, and that mystery is frequently unavoidable. In this case however I believe that the definition I shall propose will not only provide some clarity but also a degree of enlightenment.

Let us therefore take the philosopher Berkeley’s view of matter. I do not accept the final conclusions of Berkeleyan philosophy, but his starting point embodies a remarkable insight. For him, there are basically two elements in nature: (1) percipere (what perceives and cannot by its nature be perceived), i.e. consciousness, and – its reverse or polar twin: (2) percipi (what is perceived and cannot by its nature perceive), i.e. matter. This is quite close to the view which Indian philosophy has always taken, namely that the division is not between soul and body, or mind and matter, but between consciousness and appearance. We shall see that this makes all the difference to our way of thinking about reality.

(Let me at once point out, before proceeding with the argument, that materialists entirely agree with Berkeley’s definition of matter: that is, they entirely agree that matter can be perceived but does not perceive. We shall return to this issue in a moment.)

I shall immediately say that I take this view of the question to be, observably, correct. It is quite literally a matter of observation, and any dispassionate person can see at once that this is the way things are. The material objects we observe in the world around us are quite evidently perceptible by consciousness, yet themselves devoid of consciousness; whereas the living persons we also experience around us are (pace arguments about solipsism ) evidently observing beings. Yet it is impossible for any consciousness to enter another consciousness and perceive the latter’s own perceptions. This is one of the most important lessons we absorb in early childhood when learning how to understand the actions of people around us. Importantly, nobody can perceive my perceiving. The scientist can open up my brain but he still cannot perceive my perceiving. Yes, he can fix a device to my skull and see where in my brain certain impulses are happening. But that is still not observing what and how my experiences are. We must be thankful for this, because otherwise we would soon have totalitarians, fascists, communists, and in due course no doubt Iranian ayatollahs, all seeking direct mind-control of their subjects. As Genoud writes in the JCS,

Can consciousness be sought out by seeing? Can it be known by hearing, touching, or thinking? If that were so, consciousness would be a shape and colour, a sound, a tactile sensation, a thought. None of which is true.

As I say, impartial experience shows that the Berkeleyan claim as to percipere and percipi is the way to define the fundamental split between matter and mind. The two poles – which I shall continue to call by their Latin names percipere and percipi — what perceives and what is perceived — are mutually exclusive. To put it another way, one might say that (1) consciousness is an inside without an outside, and that (2) matter is an outside without an inside. To state it this way is to enunciate an apparent paradox. But clearly this is because consciousness and matter are paradoxical when taken separately. Taken together, they are complementary.

Percipere and percipi are two mutually exclusive categories. Each is everything the other is not; and each is nothing that the other is. Consciousness and matter are thus reverse or polar twins. I am reminded of one of Jorge Luis Borges’s short stories, where he speaks of the Disc of Odin. This impossible object is a disc with only a single side. It follows therefore that, if you drop it and it lands face down, you’ll never find it again. Consciousness and matter are, I would suggest, a pair: two Discs of Odin.

There is one exception to this absolute law. It is a single exception, yet we all experience it every minute. The perceiver is never the perceived and the perceived is never the perceiver, except in one case. For everyone’s personal consciousness can of course perceive itself. So the impassable gulf is resolved in one case and in one case only, with subject and object knowing each other reflexively. Consciousness is the only thing that knows itself, i.e. only consciousness resolves the ultimate ontological chasm between perceiver and perceived.

Here an important metaphysical claim may be made. Nor is this step (except in the fashionable view of our contemporaries) daring at all: it is merely the sort of thing that many great philosophies of the past believed in. Consciousness may be an element of the Ultimate. The World, we may guess, is the result of splitting apart from each other the two fundamental principles or elements, percipere the perceiver & percipi the perceived.

Free Will?


1) Materialism rejects Free Will [FW], because it can’t understand how FW could possibly work. But neither can anyone!

Most materialists simply deny that FW is possible. E.g. Francis Crick, Susan Blackmore, R’d Dawkins, Colin Blakemore all say it’s impossible. (Not Dennett.)
Daniel Wegner writes that if I “really could” move my hand to switch on a light – or to make the tea – this would be magic — like opening a cave by saying ‘Open Sesame’ or the djinn appearing when Aladdin rubs his lamp. How can a wispy thing like Mind affect a solid thing like matter? Everything can be explained as machinery – except FW – so FW must be an illusion!

The fallacy is obvious. Just because you don’t understand how something works, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. In the past nobody understood how birds could fly. So couldn’t they fly before scientists could understand it?

Pierre de Laplace’s “Demon” is often quoted (turn of C19):
SINCE, in the scientific universe, every effect follows every cause without fail,
THEREFORE, if there was an omniscient demon who could know the complete present state of every particle in the U,
THEN he would know the complete past and future state of the U in every minutest detail.

We must suppose that the present state of the universe is entirely the effect of its previous state and entirely the cause of that state which comes next. Imagine an intelligent being who (at some given moment) could understand all the forces which are acting within the universe, and the situation of every particle within the universe – a being sufficiently intelligent to be able to analyse these data completely. This being would be able to include in the same formula all the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and all those of the lightest atoms. It would see everything with absolute certainty, and have complete knowledge of every moment of the future, every moment of the past.

A common materialist view. Let me quote a reputable work of reference:

[…] It is now widely believed that every physical event can be accounted for solely in terms of antecedent physical events […] An empirically well-attested claim of modern science is the causal completeness of physics. […] Neurophysical properties are sufficient for causally accounting for behaviour.

A recent New Scientist goes along with this, thought it suggests that people just won’t be likely to give up the illusion of Free Will.
And indeed there is a problem. A.J.Ayer writes:

[The libertarian thinks] that my actions are the result of my own free choice; and it is because of my own free choice that I am held to be morally responsible for them. But [it is either] an accident that I choose to act as I do or it is not. If it is an accident, then it is […] irrational to hold me morally responsible for choosing as I did. But if it is not an accident that I chose to do one thing rather than another, then presumably there is some causal explanation of my choice; and in that case we [must accept determinism].

It’s very hard to get round this argument. I cannot at 7.30, affect or alter my state of mind at 7.29. Nor can I at 7.29 affect or alter my state of mind at 7.28. My state of mind when I make a decision is surely caused by my state of mind the previous moment plus any outside factors that have affected me in the meantime; and my state of mind at that previous moment plus any outside factors were caused in their turn – and so on for ever stretching back into infinite time — and I have no power in the present over any of these causes.
Unless my mind were somehow to step outside the causal nexus of the world into some other world as it were — and even then … because presumably the causal nexus continues outside our world too! And it has to continue, because my thinking has to cause my actions.
It’s understandable that philosophers are still arguing with each other about these questions, just as they were back in Athens around 400 BC.

2) Block Universe. But now this is an important issue: If everything I do is predetermined – and everything is predetermined right back to the very ultimate beginning of time, then we live in what philosophers have called a ‘block universe’, i.e. a universe which is completely fixed, in which everything has been determined from the very start of time – and in which everything is already fixed in the future to the very end of time.

Now if that’s the situation, what is the point of css? What on earth is it for? Since, IF the decisions we think we make are merely delusory, and IF they are subject simply to blind accident & iron causality, THEN it makes no difference whether we are conscious animals or unconscious machines and it makes no difference whether or not we foolishly delude ourselves into thinking we make decisions.

Come to that, what’s the point of Time itself? Why does it pretend to move if it isn’t really moving?
Of course we shall be told by materialists of the Atkins / Dawkins kind that there’s no point to anything at all. And they’ll rub their hands with glee.

3) Quantum Uncertainty Now during the 20th C we learnt that the laws of nature at the subatomic or quantum level depend not on strict iron causality, but on the laws of chance. But from the point of view of freedom, this is no better. For you can’t get personal autonomy from the wild hazards of chance any more than you can from the dreary refrains of causality.

Mind you, some of the workings of the brain are so delicate – they operate at the level of two or three quanta – that it makes it easier for one to imagine the “ghost” (mind) working the “machine” (brain). Sir John Eccles suggested this many years ago.

4) Memes.
Susan Blackmore discussed this with Richard Holloway on his Discs-without-a-Desert-Island program one Sunday morning.
The “meme” was invented by R’d Dawkins (in his Selfish Gene) Whereas a gene is a unit of genetic transmission, a meme is a unit of cultural transmission, i.e. it is a thought or an idea. According to this picture, the human mind is a kind of breeding ground, ready to be infected by notions. A bonnet waiting for its bees. Just as various sorts of mammal, insect, bird, etc, breed and compete for survival in the countryside, so ideas breed and compete for survival in the landscape of the brain. Memes are thoughts or ideas seen as independent, active creatures: We don’t think, the memes think for us. We don’t do the deciding, the memes decide for us.

Dawkins gives examples. The threat of hell-fire is a meme. So is God. A religion is “a co-adapted stable set of mutually-assisting memes.” Other examples of memes include ‘the arch, wheel, wearing clothes, alphabet, calendar, the Odyssey, calculus, chess, the song Greensleeves, deconstructionism’. He compares memes to computer viruses (for Dawkins the brain is simply a very complex computer). Uneasily he admits that scientific ideas too can be memes, and actually dares to give Darwinism as an instance – though he adds that the thing about scientific ideas is that they can be true.

But then are there ideas which aren’t memes? Is our notion of truth a meme? Are our methods of reasoning a meme? If so, how do we know what is true and what is not? Are there any ideas which aren’t memes? Can’t people choose their own ideas – or invent them?

As for the lapsed parapsychologist Susan Blackmore, she cites among examples of memes: ‘urban myths, farming, religion, the motto theme of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, stories of flying saucers and alien abduction.’ The Self Itself is merely a meme, a parasitic idea that breeds in our brains. As for Free Will, she writes

The self is not the initiator of actions, it does not ‘have’ consciousness and it does not ‘do’ the deliberating. There is no truth in the idea of an inner self inside my body that controls my body and is conscious. Since this is false, so is the idea of my conscious self having free will. Consciousness has no power […] Free will, like the self who ‘has’ it, is an illusion.

The memes (she says cheerfully) relieve us of foresight, purpose, hope and choice. In one of her books we even find her writing that she hasn’t written her own books.

But surely, if all ideas are memes, then the idea of a meme is itself a meme. Which blows the whole theory sky-high.

5) Problems with Determinism. The Moral problem. The Truth problem.

Now it’s obvious that determinism produces several problems. Here are two:
(1) If I don’t have FW then I am not responsible for my actions. In that case nobody deserves either praise or blame; in fact nobody deserves anything at all. The actions of the mass-murderer Gaddafi are simply caused by fate. Florence Nightingale is deserving of no praise whatever. The meaning of all human actions is completely removed from us. They no longer have any sense. Blackmore actually welcomes this! She welcomes the disappearance of ‘destructive emotions’. (I hope she doesn’t mean the disappearance of conscience!) (Blackmore 1999) How are we supposed to operate in a world devoid of morality?

6) Moreover, if I don’t have FW then I can’t arrive at truth — or anything even approaching it, such as likely theories, or trustworthy scientific findings. This is because: Scientific ‘facts’ are the result of provisional agreement after discussion, exchange of views, between the conscious minds of individual scientists. Now, if what my fellow-scientists – and also myself – think, is the result of a completely mechanical set of causes over which factors such as respect for others’ views, good judgment, respect for the facts have no effect – but merely the working out of pure determinism and pure accident – then what does this do to the notion of truth in science – or in any other activity for that matter?!!

So how can we abandon free will?

8 ) Kant & Causality

Immanuel Kant saw causality as being something we need so as to think with. Without it we can’t make sense of our experiences. (Anyway we simply can’t stop thinking in causal terms).
But we also need FW, because without it also we can’t make sense of our experiences. So equally there’s no way we could stop thinking in FW terms.

So according to Kant, we have to hold two mutually contradictory beliefs at the same time! It is impossible not to believe both opposites at the same time. Otherwise we can’t operate in the world. (This shows the inadequacy of reason as the so-called solution to all our problems.)

But does this actually mean we ARE free?

9) Theoretical solutions: a) Bergson; b) Kant; c) Thomas Reid: causation is a human intuition; we cannot use it to refute an equally strong human intuition.

a) Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941) Les Données immédiates de la conscience (1889): suggests that the problem is this: When we think of Time, we think of it in spatial terms. So we chop it up as if it were a line. A motionless line. And then we think that detachable bits of experience succeed each other, each one being the cause of the one which follows it. But Time isn’t spatial, so this imaginary ‘line’ isn’t the actual reality of Time, which is ‘a continuous boiling inextricable flow’. Once the Present has slipped away into the Past, Time solidifies: then, viewed in our memories, it looks as if you can indeed analyse it in spatial terms. But that’s merely a map, not the reality of Time as it happens, not the reality of our decisions as we make them.

So Free Will shouldn’t be conceived of spatially either. It’s not a line, but more like a surfer riding a breaking wave.
Does this solve the problem?
Well, we might believe it if we like. But of course, quite simply, our contemporary determinists reject B’s whole way of looking at the question. I can’t see how we could persuade them.

b) So now we go even further back & consult Kant again. He admits we can’t see how FW operates by looking at the phenomenal world. He agrees we feel FW, however – apparently unmistakeably – and that we feel the need to act morally — apparently unmistakeably. So he argues that since we recognize a moral law, therefore it follows logically that we must have free will. Because without FW, any thought of morality is quite pointless. Ought implies Can. You feel you ought; therefore you must know you can.

But where could this FW be “situated” (as it were), and how could it “operate”, since it doesn’t fit in with our common-or-garden everyday reason, with the ordinary laws of causality, etc. Yes, where or how could it exist? He suggests it might be (as it were) “out of sight”, “out of all human ken” along with all the truly hidden secrets of the Universe, those which are beyond human comprehension, in what Kant calls the NOUMENON. This is the hidden essence or reality of All Things, which is beyond our power as human beings in this world to perceive or grasp. Suggestion that the hidden power of FW is in the noumenon. But this is beyond our ability to examine because of the limitations on our senses and our understanding. (Guyer on Kant p 19 § -1, p 329 )

An encouraging idea however for people like myself who suspect that we human beings are, as it were, ‘secretly involved’ in a hidden spiritual world.

c) An argument derived from Thomas Reid (1710-96): that the problematic concept is not FW, which we experience happening every hour of our lives. The problematic concept is determinism.
For where does determinism derive from? It derives from our idea of causality. But ironically our notions of causality derive from Free Will. Do we not, from earliest infancy, test out our hunches about the nature of the world by interacting with it? What is commoner than a child throwing its rattle over the side of its pram? The child repeats the act again & again, roaring with laughter as the rattle falls to the ground, as the adult picks the rattle up and hands it back again & again. The child is testing out the following theory: “I do X, and Y follows, and then Z follows Y. I am the cause of X, which produces Y, which produces Z. And thus result follows cause.” And this is hugely enjoyable! But note, the whole idea of cause derives from the free willed action of the child!

How can an idea derived directly from our experience of FW be used to refute FW? It can’t, can it? We cannot use causality to defeat Free Will, because our very understanding of causality derives from the experience of our own free actions!

10) Colin Blakemore

In The Mind Machine, Colin Blakemore (a very eminent scientist) claims:

The human brain is a machine […] It creates the state of css and the state of self. [… It makes] no sense […] to try to distinguish between acts that result from (1) conscious intention and those that are (2) pure reflexes or that are caused by (3) disease or (4) damage to the brain. [Quoted in DiM, LoP]

In his book he gives a number of convincing examples of people who have done uncharacteristic, crazy or horrible things under the influence of drugs. He obviously thinks this proves his case. But, you know, it doesn’t. He himself (being a fair man) often quotes his subjects as saying things like “I didn’t know who was doing it. I didn’t feel in charge,” or “This strange feeling came over me. I had no control over how my body acted.”
Very oddly, Blakemore himself makes no comment on these remarks. He is so blinded by his own beliefs that he has failed to notice that his own selected examples of deterministic behaviour don’t support the case for determinism.

11) the fact is — as Stephen Priest puts it — we experience FW.
Stephen Priest writes:

The possibility of choosing one course of action rather than another is a lived human reality. Determinism is only a theory. […] Freedom is experienced to be the case but determinism is largely only thought to be the case. (229)

I.e. we’ve got the reality of experience against theory.

A description of the experience of determinism shows [that you can’t get rid] of freedom. There is a clear phenomenological difference between situations in which we feel ourselves compelled or constrained and [those] in which we do not. For example, in walking into a strong wind we feel the wind resistance against our body. In being held at gunpoint we feel powerless. On the other hand, in facing some awkward dilemma we feel all too free. (229)

Whereas determinism is just a theory. Plausible, persuasive, eloquently argued for, but just a theory.
Moreover, FW is one of the foundation stones of experience.

12) & Conclusion) Notice the materialist argument: materialism is true; therefore determinism is true; therefore FW is false. I believe we should turn this argument on its head: as follows:

“IF we can be sure we have FW– WHICH we can –
AND IF FW is indeed inexplicable in materialist terms,
THEREFORE materialism is false.”

Since FW does happen, therefore the choosing css must be outside the materialist / phenomenal universe. This is the only way it can escape the laws of deterministic causality. We should welcome this, because in that case css must be non-material.

THIS implies that we do indeed have a spiritual, non-material part – which moreover is vitally important.
And this is doubtless a part of Kant’s mysterious hidden ultimate reality – his Noumenon.

Immanuel Kant and the Noumenon

The Limits of Reason

Rational argument leads one to the conclusion both (1) that Time must have had a beginning and (2) that Time cannot have had a beginning.
Also (1) that Space must have a boundary, and (2) that it cannot have a boundary.
For when we try to imagine each wing of these contradictions, we find ourselves (at the same time) obliged to imagine its contradictory.
Rather similarly we find it equally possible to imagine (1) that we have Free Will, and (2) that we are causally determined.

Kant argues therefore that reason can lead us into contradictions. It is not therefore wholly to be trusted. Reality cannot wholly correspond to what reason tells us; and thus we cannot understand reality by the use of reason alone. We must therefore turn to experience.

The Limits of Experience

However, experience cannot provide certain knowledge of independent reality since (1) it cannot ever be confirmed that our sense-perceptions actually correspond in every detail to external objects. For we cannot step outside our own consciousness to check whether that consciousness is telling us ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ about external objects.
It is in any case clear that what our senses tell us about the objects around us is (at least to a large extent) relative to our senses. For example, the colours that we see in external objects are phenomena which are relative to our brain- and/or mind-processes.
Secondly (2) we cannot form any conception of objects independently of the categories of experience and thought, and all of these are subject-dependent. For instance, when I see any object, I see it as existing in time and space, as being of a certain colour, uttering certain sounds, smelling in a certain way, etc. In short I cannot see it independently of my mental conceptions and of my nervous system.

Our perception of the world is thus limited. Behind appearances therefore there must lie things which, by definition, could never figure in experience.

Among the things we cannot ever directly perceive, but which we assume exist, are the laws of causality. According to Kant (who received this insight from Hume) the causal connexion between events is a thing that we suppose on the basis of observation and experience, certainly, but which we can never observe. It too lies outside experience.
It must however be supposed; for without assuming causal laws we could not make sense of the world. Similarly, without assuming the reality of space and time, the world would make no sense to us.

There are thus features of the empirical world which we must necessarily assume, though these are neither observable nor logically deducible. But we have to presuppose them because we would not ‘understand ’ the world without them. Certain preconditions have to be met before there can be any experience at all; these preconditions are constitutive of experience. Brian Magee puts this particularly clearly:

If we think in terms of the metaphor of catching things in the network of experience, these are the meshes of our nets. Only what can be caught in them is available to us. Anything that passes through them untouched will not be picked up by us, and nor will whatever falls outside our nets altogether. Only what our nets catch will be ours, and only what they can catch can be ours.

Scientific law itself is in exactly the same position as ordinary experience. It is subject to the limitations of human understanding; it is obliged to work with such basic categories of the understanding as causality, time, space, the existence of objects, etc. Scientific law simply cannot step outside certain preconditions. It therefore cannot possibly assert its own immunity to the arguments of Kant. It is as much a human creation as any other aspect of the human world.

We find therefore that there are limits to our understanding: what our physical & mental equipment cannot mediate cannot be experienced by us. This does not imply that what our physical & mental equipment cannot mediate cannot exist. Far from it. That would be a logical fallacy obvious to the most down-to-earth common sense; though it is one which unfortunately most materialist philosophers fell into long ago.

On the contrary there are no grounds whatever for pretending that reality must conform to the narrow limits of what we human beings can understand, grasp or know. Indeed, the whole of the preceding argument shows that we must admit that, since there are visibly limits to our understanding, the universe must therefore contain a reality or realities outside the possibility of these being known by human beings.

This independent reality outside the possibility of experience is termed by Kant the noumenon. He names it this in opposition to the ordinary world of appearances or of phenomena. ‘Since all forms of experience are inevitably subject-dependent, therefore whatever the nature of independent reality may be, it must lie permanently outside all possibility of experience.’ For experience is an ‘interpreter’s translation’ of reality: whatever the ‘real reality’ may be, when we experience it, it has been transformed by our experiential apparatus into something which expresses it differently, approximately and/or partially.

The Five Ms

We attempt to overcome these problems by pooling our isolated experiences (our subjective perceptions) in negotiated collective agreements as to ‘What appears to be the case to most of us.’ We call these agreements ‘objectivity’ – though they are actually purely derivative and provisional. So-called ‘objective fact’, whether in science or in everyday life, derives entirely from a pooling of individual subjective experience. We elicit from these claims to ‘objectivity’ our notions of the Four Ms, namely matter, materialism, models and mechanism. These notions are often thought to constitute a total explanation of the world.

It will be seen that the alleged totality of this explanation is a Fifth M. I.e. a Mistake.

The Evolutionary Argument

It has sometimes been argued that we must know the nature of the world with some accuracy, since our evolutionary survival depends on it. However evolution will ensure only the minimum amount of knowledge (whether real or approximate) which suffices for survival. It cannot entail total knowledge.

Ultimate Reality and Free Will

Must we accept that there is indeed such an unknown as Kant’s noumenon? One of Kant’s most famous arguments is as follows. We do (most of us) have moral concepts which we do (most of the time) regard as meaningful. But for the application of these concepts to be practicable, such terms as ‘right, wrong, fairness, duty, ought, should not, choice, integrity, honesty’ need to be meaningful. But for them to be meaningful, we human beings need to possess Free Will.

Unfortunately, if determinist philosophers are right, there is no such thing as Free Will. Everything (they say) is controlled by the blind forces of causality which, if you trace them far enough, will reach right back to the Big Bang. And those things which are not controlled by blind causality are the result of equally blind chance. Such materialist philosophers (and also certain materialist scientists) believe that we human beings are simply mechanical objects of an extraordinarily complex kind, and hence we must be subject to the universal scientific laws of causality. Our belief that we have Free Will is simply a prescientific delusion. I call this stance “vimfortism” (from the Latin vim = by force, and forte = by chance

But, says Kant, “Ought implies can.’ In short, unless we can act autonomously, our feeling that we ought to has no explanation. If it is impossible for me to act as I know I should, all morality is false.

Some determinists go so far as to say that, yes indeed, morality is meaningless. But do they act like that? Do they in fact disregard all fairness and justice; do they transgress all notions of morality, value or compassion? Has any of them ever faced up to what such behaviour would entail? Of how others would begin to treat them if they did behave in this way? Of how they themselves would begin to bitterly complain of ‘injustice’ and of ‘being unfairly treated’, and would appeal in short to precisely those values whose existence (in their comfortable lecture halls) they deny!

We must conclude that the determinists refute themselves. We must assert that ‘Ought’ does imply ‘Can’. Moral values must be real; and our ability to act morally must be real too.

This carries with it a devastating conclusion. Neither moral values nor Free Will can be explicable materially. They must lie quite outside the mechanically functioning laws of nature,’ i.e. outside vimfortism. It follows that some part of the normal human being lies, not inside the empirical world, but outside it. ‘In this way … the fact of the existence of a transcendental realm, a part of reality that is not the empirical world, is rationally demonstrable, and is therefore known by us with certainty.’

We thus find a part of the noumenon present in ourselves.

What lies in the Noumenon?

Free Will is intimately connected with consciousness. And since materialist explanations of consciousness fail, consciousness itself must also be part of the noumenon. What else, however, lies in the noumenon cannot be known, since it is outside our ability to experience it. We cannot know whether there is a God, or whether there is life after death. But equally we cannot know that there is not a God, or that we don’t have life after death. Both the position of the believer and of the atheist are equally a matter of faith or trust.

It is however evident, from the fact that (if you start from materialist and rationalist principles) Free Will is inexplicable, that the transcendental realm of the noumenon must be held to contain / constitute / possess certain attributes of a non-material and spiritual reality. The remarkable insights of Kant thus provide powerful support for an anti-materialist philosophy.


Guyer, Paul (1992) ed. Cambridge Companion to Kant, CUP. Cambridge & New
Magee, Brian (1997) Confessions of a Philosopher, Weidenfeld, London



[“Css” = consciousness]

Is it possible we might survive death? To hazard an answer to this question we shall start with the most fundamental (and traditionally impossible) question of all.


Why is there anything rather than nothing?

As Robert Nozick reports, his daughter Emily, then aged 12, suggested the following: something cannot be created from nothing. Therefore something is the natural state.

I would add to this luminous insight the fact that consciousness cannot be created from unconsciousness, i.e. css cannot be created from matter. Consciousness is therefore the kind of something which is the natural state.

It logically follows from this that the Universe was created by a Consciousness.

It will be asked what created that Css, and then in turn what created that? But this question in fact will not do. We cannot have an infinite regression backwards in time, since in the real world (as opposed to the theoretical world of mathematics) completed infinities are impossible. (This is because the very definition of “infinity” means that an infinity cannot be complete or completed.) Time will therefore have been created at the same moment as the Universe itself. (In fact this is the orthodox contemporary view among scientists.)

This means therefore that at the beginning of things, “before” or rather “outside” the creation of Time itself, there was a “self-caused Mind”, “ens causa sui”, or the fact that explains itself. I would suggest that this “fact that explains itself” is the pure fact of css. The beginning of everything, or rather the stable eternal fact, is Mind.


If this is accepted, then it follows that the Universe exists because of css. It is either there so that css can be there, or it is there because css has created it.

And indeed we do need to suppose a Creator. For, as a famous calculation of Roger Penrose points out, the odds against the Universe being created by chance are so huge as to make such chance creation inconceivable.

We have found a purpose to the U. That purpose is the existence of a conscious Being or beings. There is good reason therefore to hope for our survival.


“Where” is css? And “when” is css? It is always here and now. We have customarily got this question upside down, for css is the locator, not the located. The events of life occur inside the space of phenomenal css.

The Upanishads’ “second bird” (the css that watches, not the phenomenal css that feeds, enjoys, sings, has sex) is, “at the back of” phenomenal surface css, the deep css which quietly and changelessly observes the passage of time. If you sit quietly enough you can (almost) feel it.

There is thus phenomenal css which lives through the everyday affairs of life; and deep css hidden (some say invisibly) within it.

Time is unlike other dimensions in that it is incomplete. For one can move only forwards in time, not to and fro as in the other three dimensions. Phenomenal css, we may speculate, is the result of the dimension of time having had one of its halves removed, thus causing the forward movement of time. Since deep css sits and watches changelessly, we presume that the latter is complete, i.e. still possesses both halves of its dimensionality. This is why it continues changelessly, and is recognizably the same when I am 78 as when I was 7.

Note the importance of css from a cosmological point of view. It is entangled with, and very likely causes, the forward movement of time.

We might speculate that deep css is “set back” in the Quantum Vacuum, from which phenomenal css drives time in the World. Certainly it feels as if our css is set back from the World, gazing as it were from one room into another through a false mirror. In short the world resembles a virtual reality. If it is a virtual reality, then clearly when death comes we survive the world.

However, if the phenomenal world is “inside” our csses, then the phenomenal Universe is presumably “inside” a total css which we might term that of “God”.


Materialism is the belief that there is nothing apart from what we apprehend with our senses. (Should one seriously believe something both so arrogant and so narrow?)

We may compare the brain to a television set, whose workings we can carefully examine and work out just how it works. But none of this will tell us anything about the programmes which are broadcast to the set. Similarly even an exhaustive knowledge of the machinery of the brain is not going to tell you anything about the phenomenal life of css.

We must reject materialism. It would be strange if css were created by matter, since matter is a set of appearances, and the phenomenal field is what creates the appearances of matter, namely the way we “see”, “touch” or hear” it via our physical senses. Whatever matter may “really” be, our css is shut out from, as in the series of paintings by Magritte entitled The Human Condition – in which the reality of a scene is concealed by one’s own picture of it.

Matter and css are connected through their mutual opposition. Css is percipere, matter is percipi. Css entirely and solely perceives and cannot be perceived, matter is entirely and solely perceived and cannot perceive. Neither shares any of the features that the other has. This is their definition. Css is therefore entirely active, matter is entirely passive. It follows that matter is locked into its own unconscious nature as matter. It must be a creation not a creator, and bears the same relation to css as the dream does to the dreamer. It is css which is the creator.

Apart from their obvious contradictoriness, or rather complementarity, the nature of the connexion between css and matter, as between mind and brain, is unknown. It obviously cannot be known – or at least cannot be known in a scientific way. This is because of the inaccessibility of css to investigation of the scientific sort. One should compare the impossibility of observing Free Will at work, or of understanding its workings rationally.

Css’s whole nature is that it perceives but cannot be perceived, whereas matter’s whole nature is that it can be perceived but is incapable of perceiving. Css is an impregnable castle. Not only is it impossible to look into anyone else’s css, but even if one could do so, then one would still be seeing what is going on in that css “through one’s own eyes”: in other words one would not be seeing through their eyes after all. Thus, not only can css not be stepped into from outside; equally css cannot step into either css or matter from outside.

These appear to be metaphysical restrictions embedded in the nature of things; and it is no good scientists, however ingenious, imagining that we can get round them. Particularly since css, being of the nature of the observer not of the observed, cannot be observed (except to a very limited extent indirectly).

As I mentioned above, the nature of the connexion between mind and body is unknown and, I assume, unknowable scientifically – though this does not exclude philosophical theories. However, there can be no doubt that there is such a connexion: every minute of every hour we experience our bodies responding to the commands of our minds, and our minds responding to the messages of our senses. This is known practically; to deny it is absurd.

Materialist science nowadays asserts (as its presuppositions demand of it) that css “must” be the product of physical processes. However, this is impossible. For how can css arise from what is, by definition, incapable of css? Since matter possesses none of the qualities of css, it is logically impossible that css can be derived from it. In fact – as one can quite easily find out by trying — it is impossible to imagine how anything conscious could be “manufactured” out of unconscious ingredients. Feedback is sometimes suggested as a model. However, this plainly won’t do, because the issue is not feedback, but consciousness of feedback.


Css is thus (1) interlocked with one of the four basic dimensions of the U, namely time. It
(2) is the opposite / inverse of matter;
(3) cannot be created by matter;
(4) must therefore either have been created independently of matter
or be an eternal denizen of the Universe.
But if it were created independently, as it were, out of some material the opposite of matter –then what would that substance be? It would be css. Thus css must indeed be an eternal denizen of the U.


Moreover matter is an affair of temporary appearances;
Whereas phenomenal css is involved with passing time, and “drives” it; deep css seems to be in harmony with permanent, still, eternal time.

Note that css is sometimes described as “ghost-like”, resembling gossamer, or a faint breeze – as if it had nothing “solid”, “substantial” about it. But no, this is delusory. Where do the experiences of “solidity”, “substantiality” originate? In the senses, i.e. in the qualia, the fundamental data of consciousness itself. It is the senses which give us the experiences of solidity and substance– the reason we think the world to be full of solid, sharp, uncomfortable things, so “unlike” our csses!

Actually therefore the whole opinion that we need a special explanation how “solid matter” could interact with “ghostly awareness” rests upon a failure to see that awareness is the solid thing, and matter the ghost. Of course phenomenal css can be conscious of matter, for it’s what phenomenal css does and is for. (As for seeing how it’s done, we’re not going to be able to do that, because css cannot be entered into from outside, as I observed above.)


Since css cannot be created by matter, it cannot have been created at our births but, as Wordsworth famously says in “Intimations of Immortality”, bequeathed to us from another world. But this is a misleading way to put it. We are our css, we therefore came from this other world. But if css cannot be created by matter, then it cannot be destroyed by matter, and it is impossible that in themselves the decay, collapse and death of the physical body could affect the survival of the soul.

“Death” is after all the collapse of physical processes, i.e. it is an affair of matter not mind. It’s true that towards the ends of their lives people often “lose their minds”. But this is surely a physical thing: css is cut off by physical deterioration from brain activities such as vision, hearing, short term memory, etc. It’s like the machine breaking down while the activator of the machine sits helpless and frustrated.


Why are we ignorant about these matters?

Kant very convincingly argued as follows. We have not been given certainty about an afterlife, God, etc, because that would lead to our bribing and flattering God in the hope of reward, rather than working out a sincere moral path for ourselves. For the same reason we must not be provided by religion with a ready-made set of “commandments”; for then we might act only so as to benefit ourselves. It is morally necessary for us to be uncertain about life after death.

VIII: Conclusion

Nonetheless the arguments are powerful; and there is therefore a strong likelihood that our css continues after death, though in quite what manner it is impossible (from this side of that dark curtain) to see.



Hofstadter, Douglas (2007) I am a Strange Loop, Basic Books, New York
Martin, Graham Dunstan (2005) Does It Matter? Floris, Edinburgh
Nozick, Robert (1984) Philosophical Explanations, OUP. Oxford
Penrose, Roger (1989) The Emperor’s New Mind, OUP. Oxford & NY