God argument: the irreducible nature of consciousness

Arguments for the Existence of God
by Metacrock - edited by JMT
Used with Permission

XXI. Consciousness


(1) Consciousness is irreducible to a physical property:

a) Hard Problem

b) Downward Causation

c) Veto Power

(2) Therefore, consciousness/mind is a basic property of nature.

(3) Grand Unified theory posits the need for a central organizing principle which would be the key to all organization.

(4) Mind is the best example of such an organizing principle.

(5) Since consciousness is part of the basic structure of nature, and since that structure requires a single unifying principle of which mind is the best example, it stands to reason that a conscious mind was the original structure that put consciousness into the universe.

Atheists seem to almost universally assume that science has solved every aspect of the brain/mind problem. It's all reduced to chemicals in the head, and there's no point in questioning further, and that all sciences agree completely. The truth is little is know about consciousness at this point, and it is far from settled that brain chemistry alone "causes" consciousness, or that consciousness reduced to chemistry.

The New York Times, April 16, 1996Arizona Conference Grapples With Mysteries of Human Consciousness, By SANDRA BLAKESLEE[T] UCSON, Ariz.


"The next major group of consciousness seekers might be called modern dualists. Agreeing with the hard problem, they feel that something else is needed to explain people's subjective experiences. And they have lots of ideas about what this might be. According to Chalmers, scientists need to come up with new fundamental laws of nature. Physicists postulate that certain properties -- gravity, space-time, electromagnetism -- are basic to any understanding of thee universe, he said. "My approach is to think of conscious experience itself as a fundamental property of the universe," he said. Thus the world has two kinds of information, one physical, one experiential. The challenge is to make theoretical connections between physical processes and conscious experience, Chalmers said. Another form of dualism involves the mysteries of quantum mechanics. Dr. Roger Penrose from the University of Oxford in England argued that consciousness is the link between the quantum world, in which a single object can exist in two places at the same time, and the so-called classical world of familiar objects where this cannot happen. Moreover, with Hameroff, he has proposed a theory that the switch from quantum to classical states occurs inside certain proteins call microtubules. The brain's microtubules, they argue, are ideally situated to perform this transformation, producing "occasions of experience" that with the flow of time give rise to stream of consciousness thought.

Let's examine each of these premises in detail:

(1) Consciousness is irreducible.

(a) Hard problem

The first objection to this argument, which is almost universally accepted by atheists, and fervently believed, is that science proves consciousness is just a property or side effect of brain chemistry. This is far from the truth. David Chalmers (Philosopher U. Arizona) argues that it is not even consciousness that the functionalists study, but cognitive function. That is to say, the functionalists study the way the brain processes information and the way it is produced. Yet, the do not study and cannot explain the aspect of consciousness itself. This means they are merely "losing the phenomena." That is, they are "reducing" consciousness out of existence, ignoring it, switching something else in its place. Until the hard problem is solved, consciousness cannot be understood. Chalmers explains:

David J. Chalmers
Department of Philosophy
University of Arizona

[Scientific American, December 1995 pp. 62-68. N.B. As always at Scientific American, this was heavily edited. For a more careful treatment of this material, see my "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness".]

The Puzzle of Conscious Experience

The easy problems of consciousness include the following: How can a human subject discriminate sensory stimuli and react to them appropriately? How does the brain integrate information from many different sources and use this information to control behavior? How is it that subjects can verbalize their internal states? Although all these questions are associated with consciousness, they all concern the objective mechanisms of the cognitive system. Consequently, we have every reason to expect that continued work in cognitive psychology and neuroscience will answer them.

The hard problem, in contrast, is the question of how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience. This puzzle involves the inner aspect of thought and perception: the way things feel for the subject. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations, such as that of vivid blue. Or think of the ineffable sound of a distant oboe, the agony of an intense pain, the sparkle of happiness or the meditative quality of a moment lost in thought. All are part of what I am calling consciousness. It is these phenomena that pose the real mystery of the mind.

To illustrate the distinction, consider a thought experiment devised by the Australian philosopher Frank Jackson. Suppose that Mary, a neuroscientist in the 23rd century, is the world's leading expert on the brain processes responsible for color vision. But Mary has lived her whole life in a black-and-white room and has never seen any other colors. She knows everything there is to know about physical processes in the brain - its biology, structure and function. This understanding enables her to grasp everything there is to know about the easy problems: how the brain discriminates stimuli, integrates information and produces verbal reports. From her knowledge of color vision, she knows the way color names correspond with wavelengths on the light spectrum. But there is still something crucial about color vision that Man does not know: what it is like to experience a color such as red. It follows that there are facts about conscious experience that cannot be deduced from physical facts about the functioning of the brain.

Indeed, nobody knows why these physical processes are accompanied by conscious experience at all. Why is it that when our brains process light of a certain wavelength, we have an experience of deep purple? Why do we have any experience at all? Could not an unconscious automaton have performed the same tasks just as well? These are questions that we would like a theory of consciousness to answer.

b) Downward Causation

Glenn Miller, Christian Think Tank:

6. "We know from non-linear systems that emergence can exercise downward control in OTHER systems. If consciousness IS such a system, then there is no theoretical objection to downward causality--indeed, given the definition of such systems, it would be EXPECTED. [Journal Consciousness Studies:1.1.92] And, indeed, this is exactly what we find at the nervous system and other metabolic levels.(For an detailed treatment of various non-linear effects in the nervous system, see Kelso [CS:DPSOBB, chapter 8], where he describes nonlinear effects at the microscale, mesoscale, and macroscale levels. Also see Mainzer on subcellular and metabolic oscillation phenomena," CS:TIC:91.)

"We have studies of neuronal changes induced by mental processes (with the interface mechanism unspecified) [JCS:1.1.124]: "for example, neural activity (as indicated by measurements of regional blood flow or metabolic rate) has been shown to increase selectively in the supplementary motor area (SMA) when the subject is asked to imagine moving his fingers without actually moving them."

Rosenberg (Ibid.)

"Take the matter of 'downward causation' to which Harman gives some attention. Why should this be an issue in brain dynamics? As Erich Harth points out in Chapter 44, connections between higher and lower centers of the brain are reciprocal. They go both ways, up and down. The evidence (the scientific evidence) for downward causation was established decades ago by the celebrated Spanish histologist Ramon y Cajal, yet the discussion goes on. Why? The answer seems clear: If brains work like machines, they are easier to understand. The facts be damned!"[Miller quoting Rosenberg, Journal of Consciousness Studies, op. cit.]

c) Veto Power

Glenn Miller, Christian Think Tank:

"The studies of neuronal timing by Libet has demonstrated that conscious will exerts a veto effect on action sequences initiated at an unconscious level [Journal Consciousness Studies:1.1.130; CS:TSC:342f]. In other words, an unconscious process may get a muscle ready to move, but when that readiness becomes 'visible' to the conscious mind, that conscious mind can let the action continue, or shut it down! Elsewhere [CS:TSOC:113], Libet explains the implications of this veto-power, over against those who would ASSUME that even the veto was "upwardly caused":

"It has been argued that the appearance of the conscious veto would itself require a prior period of unconscious neural development, just as for conscious intention; in such a case even this conscious control event would have an unconscious initiating process. However, conscious control of an event appears here after awareness of the impending voluntary action has developed. Conscious control is not a new awareness; it serves to impose a change on the volitional process and it may not be subject to the requirement of a preceding unconscious cerebral process found for awareness. In such a view, a potential role for free will would remain viable in the conscious control, though not in the initiation, of a voluntary act. These findings taken together have a fundamental bearing on the issues of voluntary action, free will and individual responsibility for conscious urges and actions."

In case you didn't get that--the veto cannot have antecedent unconscious processes (before it becomes aware) , since it only appears in as the initiated action has ALREADY become aware--it controls with a go/no-go decision THEN.

Click here for a boat load of data and other arguments on irreducibility of mind to brain...

And click here for additional pages on the issue of Consciousness overall, including mind, spirit, and what the Bible means by "soul" and "spirit."

(2) Mind is a basic property of nature

Chalmers (Ibid)
propose that conscious experience be considered a fundamental feature, irreducible to anything more basic. The idea may seem strange at first, but consistency seems to demand it. In the 19th century it turned out that electromagnetic phenomena could not be explained in terms of previously known principles. As a consequence, scientists introduced electromagnetic charge as a new fundamental entity and studied the associated fundamental laws. Similar reasoning should apply to consciousness. If existing fundamental theories cannot encompass it, then something new is required. Where there is a fundamental property, there are fundamental laws. In this case, the laws must relate experience to elements of physical theory. These laws will almost certainly not interfere with those of the physical world; it seems that the latter form a closed system in their own right. Rather the laws will serve as a bridge, specifying how experience depends on underlying physical processes. It is this bridge that will cross the explanatory gap.

Thus, a complete theory will have two components: physical laws, telling us about the behavior of physical systems from the infinitesimal to the cosmological, and what we might call psychophysical laws, telling us how some of those systems are associated with conscious experience. These two components will constitute a true theory of everything.

(3) Grand unified theory posits single organizing principle like a mind

Major Physicists propose Unitive principle they call "God."

Stephen Hawking's God

In his best-selling book "A Brief History of Time", physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that when physicists find the theory he and his colleagues are looking for - a so-called "theory of everything" - then they will have seen into "the mind of God". Hawking is by no means the only scientist who has associated God with the laws of physics. Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, for example, has made a link between God and a subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson. Lederman has suggested that when physicists find this particle in their accelerators it will be like looking into the face of God. But what kind of God are these physicists talking about? Theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg suggests that in fact this is not much of a God at all. Weinberg notes that traditionally the word "God" has meant "an interested personality". But that is not what Hawking and Lederman mean. Their "god", he says, is really just "an abstract principle of order and harmony", a set of mathematical equations. Weinberg questions then why they use the word "god" at all. He makes the rather profound point that "if language is to be of any use to us, then we ought to try and preserve the meaning of words, and 'god' historically has not meant the laws of nature." The question of just what is "God" has taxed theologians for thousands of years; what Weinberg reminds us is to be wary of glib definitions.

(4) Mind is the best example of organizing principle.

Well, ok, within our limited human experience. Sure, there could be some impersonal principle that organizes the universe for us, and holds physical laws in place and unifies everything and makes it work; of course we could evoke the fine tuning argument to show that such an impersonal force, to the extent that it would display no purposiveness, would not bother to actually fine tune the fine tuning. There are impersonal, or seemingly impersonal forces that are organizing principles, such as survival of the fittest, chaos theory, and so forth. It would be begging the question to assert either way that this or is not indicative of true organizing, or that is truly personal or the product of sheer blind forces. But in so far as we understand, given our limited sample of the universe, planned, purposive, consciously directed organizing works a lot better most of the time, than blind forces. When we see unbelievable complexity organized elegantly and effectively, we can't help but assume that it is the product of mind; of course now we are in design argument country.

(5) Since consciousness is part of the basic structure of nature, and since that structure requires a single unifying principle of which mind is the best example, it stands to reason that a conscious mind was the original structure that put consciousness into the universe

Here I'm combining the suggestion of mind or purpose in the organizing with the probability of consciousness as a set structure or property in nature. It seems too coincidental that we could have both and one is not the prior structure that is responsible for the other.


Objection #1. Brain damage changes mind.

This argument is made every time the issue comes up. They always say "if you hit someone in the heard hard enough they wont be conscious anymore." For many skeptics the relation between mind and brain is very simple requires no exploration.

Answer: This brings us to an important epistemological question. The alternative to the skeptics conclusion is that brain function gives us access to consciousness, if the brain is damaged we are denied access, but a consciousness is still in there; just as damaging the monitor denies access to software, but it doesn't prove that software is nothing more than a side effect of monitor. No amount of scientific data can ever resolve this issue, because any data could always just be data from access not the thing itself. The real issue can't be resolved until we can resolve the hard problem.

By Metacrock. Used with Permission.
For more articles by the same author, see Doxa.