Does consciousness exist only in the brain?

Does consciousness exist only in the brain?

Guest Commentary: This year’s Holberg debate addresses one of the biggest mysteries we know.

  • Jörg Arne Jørgensen
    Jörg Arne Jørgensen

    Writer and religious historian

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This is a comment. Reviews are written by Aftenbladet’s commentators, editors and guest commentators, expressing their own opinions and analysis.

Holberg discussion In Bergen it is a major academic event. International scholars will seek to “find answers to central societal questions” in “celebrating the Enlightenment thought of Ludwig Holberg.” This year’s debate begins today in a fully booked university auditorium, with a panel made up of neuroscience professors Anil Sethbiologist and author Rupert Sheldrake Anthropologist and psychologist Tanya Luhrmann.

The issue is no less than that “Does consciousness exist outside the brain?”. Many will think that these are neither “Enlightenment ideas” nor “central social issues,” but rather vague New Age concepts bordering on religion and superstition. Immortality of the soul, reincarnation, near-death and out-of-body experiences, telepathy, magic, apparitions, Synchronization experimentsSynchronization experimentsSimultaneous experiences without a causal relationship, such as: experiencing that a relative is dying now, but without being able to know about it.And things like that.

Because everyone knows that consciousness originates in the brain and exists only there? or?

The difficult problem

No, it’s not that simple. It is no coincidence that the question of what consciousness is and how it arises is called the “hard problem” in science. Consciousness is quite everyday and ubiquitous, but it is extremely mysterious and inexplicable.

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In our modern worldview, the universe appears in two parts: on the one hand objective matter, and on the other hand subjective consciousness and experience. But how the two are connected is completely unexpected. They appear as completely different things. That a slimy gray mass with electrical pulses constitutes a subject, I With experience and the inner world, it seems completely counterintuitive. for me spirit Something completely different from the sticky gray mass! It seems absurd that something so great, as far as we know, could only have arisen by chance in an isolated corner of the universe devoid of consciousness.

It can be said that the modern scientific project is to describe and understand the universe without referring to consciousness and everything related to it: purpose, plan, intelligence, meaning, subjective experience. But they bracketed a very central part of reality. Yes, real UnderstandingThe perception that something is there TRUE – which is the essence of science – it occurs in consciousness!

Materialism as a premise

Whether consciousness or matter is the fundamental thing in the universe, or whether they are equivalent, or whether they are two aspects of the same reality, are serious unresolved philosophical questions. However, the standard scientific answer is that matter is the primary thing. Natural science, at least in its most popular form, is associated with what is called philosophical materialism: the universe is fundamentally physical.

Consciousness then becomes a marginal, random phenomenon, a deviation from the natural order because one is completely unable to say how Consciousness can arise from matter. So you can’t also explain why consciousness exists in some type of matter (our brain), and not in a flower? Or on a planet?

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The issue of free will also becomes fraught. If the world is material, it is in principle governed by strict laws of nature. How then could free-willed subjects suddenly appear? Could it be that consciousness and will were built into the whole thing from the beginning – either as a potential, or as a goal, or is the universe simply conscious? This is what mystics all over the world have experienced, from Plato to the present day. As philosophy professor Philip Goff wrote in his latest book, which recently appeared in Morgenbladet: The universe itself is one Conscious mind With special purposes.

Some believe that the subject of Holberg’s discussion is itself unscientific. In addition, a heretic in science, a British biologist, was invited Rupert Sheldrake. In 1981 he published the book “A new science of life” Where he sparked an idea “Morphological Resonance” In nature, a kind of “field” that shapes everything from crystals to embryo development and plant growth, which the magazine obtained nature To write in the place of the leader that the book should be burned. with “Scientific Delusion” In 2012, Sheldrake challenged what he saw as the established notions of science, dogmas that have not been rigorously “proven” but are nonetheless taken for granted. For example, the idea that consciousness is just something that exists in brains.

Growing interest

There seems to be a growing interest in the phenomenon of consciousness. Meditation has become commonplace, and the psychedelic renaissance of our time has given some people extraordinary experiences of consciousness. This artificial intelligence has reached such a massive level that it is still going strong Turing test It cannot be separated from the human being, as it is also part of the image.

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Isn’t it as if we’re gradually starting to talk in a new way? We no longer say “I am angry” or “I am frustrated”, but rather “I feel angry”, “I notice that I feel frustrated” or something like that. It is a meta-situation that demonstrates this You are aware that you are aware of something.

The classic text in the philosophy of consciousness is Thomas Nagel’s essay “What’s it like to be a bat?” (“What is a bat like?”) from 1974. Karl Ove Knausgaard says about this in the latest issue of Vagant: “Here lies the mystery, which no one can explain: What is it like to be something? Artificial intelligence can do a lot of Strange things, but he doesn’t feel like anything. It has the bat, the turtle, the wood mouse. Do you have the tree? And we can no longer rule that out. These ideas are suddenly spreading everywhere, so something is changing in the culture.

So, yes, I think the Holberg debate addresses a current issue that challenges our worldview, and should be applauded for attracting interesting and dissenting voices.


Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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