The Instigator
Con (against)
3 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
0 Points

There is a Non-Physical Basis of Human Consciousness

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Post Voting Period
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after 1 vote the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/30/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,288 times Debate No: 58354
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (9)
Votes (1)




The title says it all pretty much. I am of the position that consciousness is entirely physical, a product of physical states and processes of the brain. In other words, I am taking a physicalist or what one might call a materialist approach to consciousness, that consciousness is entirely brain-based. Whoever argues pro must be arguing that there is some non-physical aspect to the human mind. Granted, what exactly I mean by "physical", "material", and "brain-based" is admittedly somewhat vague, but I will try to be more precise. What I mean is that consciousness is entirely explicable in terms of the neurophysiology of the brain, and that consciousness can be reduced to the physical states, processes, and structures of the brain. Con must be arguing that there is some aspect of consciousness that is non-physical.


I agree to the terms of debate. I will argue there is a non-physical aspect to consciousness. I will argue that consciousness does not only exist in the mind. i will also argue that consciousness can not be reduced only to states within the mind. I will reject physicalism as a concrete truth but not reject physicalism in it's entirety. Nor shall i reject that some aspects of consciousness are based in physicality. Instead i will only show that there are aspects of consciousness which are non physical and non local. I will also argue that consciousness does not ends upon death. My opponent has agreed to open with his position in round 2.
Debate Round No. 1


My arguments will provide a case for physicalism about human consciousness. That is, that the human mind entirely physical, and has no non-physical aspects.

Argument 1: The Argument from Neural Dependence

Essentially, we never observe human mental processes without also observing processes taking place in the brain. In fact, it seems that mental processes are dependent upon neural processes. In other words, what happens in the mind depends upon what happens in the brain. We pretty much always observe this to be the case. If you were forming new memories, we would observe your hippocampus being activated. If you were enjoying the smell of a nice flower, your olfactory bulb would be activated. In fact, this is precisely what experiments suggest. When subjects are asked to perform mental tasks, whether it be performing a motor task or doing simple arithmetic, those corresponding parts of the brain are activated. Why is it, if there is some non-physical aspect to consciousness, that seemingly every facet of our conscious experience can be explained by a corresponding brain state, or some process occurring within some specific part of the brain?

The dependence of the mind on the brain is much stronger than that, however. When you damage the brain, you observe a corresponding effect to the person's mind. If there really were some non-physical aspect to the human mind, one would expect that there should be no such observation. If you get hit over the head with a hard enough blow, you will become unconscious. The simplest explanation is that the damage to the brain leads to the unconsciousness; a clear example of the mind being dependent upon the brain. There is, of course, an alternative explanation to this: the dualist explanation. The dualist can say that the non-physical mind simply interacts with the brain. In other words, that the non-physical mind is a kind of passenger in the vehicle of the brain. This explanation, however, fails as an economical explanation of the data. For it proposes that there is something to the mind over and above neural processes, and it fails to explain what laws would govern such a non-physical mind. The physicalist on the other hand, only has to explain the physical laws that govern the brain to explain the mind, and proposes nothing over and above the brain. Thus, physicalism with respect to the mind is a much simpler hypothesis than the dualist explanation.

Argument 2: Plausible Models of the Biological Basis of Consciousness

The neural dependence argument is based upon one central idea, the dependence of the mind on the brain. The dependence becomes even clearer, however, when we actually study the brain. We have detailed models from cognitive science of how the brain works, and we are now close to having plausible models of the origin of consciousness: that consciousness is rooted in the anatomical properties of the mammalian neocortex. I would suggest a paper by Eccles entitled "Evolution of Consciousness" for a more detailed examination of the biological basis of consciousness. Nevertheless, the fact that we have never observed anything that we would call conscious without these anatomical properties is a testament to the fact that there is no non-physical basis for consciousness.

Argument 3: Other Minds

We have no direct way of knowing that anyone besides ourselves are conscious. However, we infer it all of the time upon the basis of behavior. For example, someone responds "ouch" to a pain, or shakes your hand and and introduces himself. This can clearly be explained upon the basis of physicalism, and in particular, if the mind simply is the brain. In other words, if we define mental states physiologically, we have a basis for why we infer people have other minds upon the basis of their observable behaviors. Other people have brains, and I myself have a brain. We both display similar behaviors, from which I infer the consciousness of others. A materialist explanation of the mind is thus the most economical solution to the "problem of other minds". If one takes Descartes' dualist approach, one is irrevocably tied to solipsism.

I have thus presented three arguments for physicalism about the mind. The argument from neural dependence, the fact that we have detailed models of the biological basis of consciousness and have never observed anything that is conscious without that biological basis, and that ultimately, a physicalist explanation provides the best solution to the problem of other minds (i.e. why you should believe anyone besides yourself is conscious). It should be noted that I think the best inference to draw from physicalism is that there is no consciousness after bodily death. In other words, there is no afterlife, and consciousness ceases at death. I believe this makes sense because of the neural dependency argument. If consciousness is ultimately dependent upon the brain, which seems to be the case from (e.g. observed cases of brain damage), it makes sense that once the brain stops functioning completely, consciousness ceases. I ultimately believe this is the best explanation of the data.


My opponent has given some examples and anecdotes of a physical basis' of consciousness. To be sure there are many such examples more which he did not cite and we could fill many books with them all. That is not why I am here today however. I am here to show the illogicality of attributing consciousness too only a physical basis and no other basis or plausible origination.

Disregarding the pseudoscienctific, semantic and mystic we require the study of physics to understand what physical is. As such the physical has been, to the best of our still developing understanding, reduced to some fundamental laws and theories about the logical operation of our universe. I would like to summarize briefly some of these laws.

Entropy is associated with the amount of disorder or order in an isolated system such as our universe. Higher entropy is associated with greater disorder. Disorder is also associated with equilibrium, that is to say in a maximally disordered system it can be said properties are distributed evenly in relation to the maxima. (6)

-Shannon Entropy

When viewed in terms of information theory, the entropy state function is simply the amount of information (in the Shannon sense) that would be needed to specify the full microstate of the system. In the modern microscopic interpretation of entropy in statistical mechanics, entropy is the amount of additional information needed to specify the exact physical state of a system, given its thermodynamic specification. (1) (2) (6)

-Second law of thermodynamics
The entropy of an isolated system, such as our universe, does not decrease. Rather it increases to thermodynamic equilibrium. That is to say it becomes in totality more disordered and in greater equilibrium forward in time. And never the other way around in totality. (5)

In Thermodynamics, information is any kind of event that affects the state of a dynamic system that can interpret the information. (7)

-Dynamical system
The dynamical system concept is a mathematical formalization for any fixed "rule" which describes the time dependence of a point's position in its ambient space. Time can be measured by integers, by real or complex numbers or can be a more general algebraic object, losing the memory of its physical origin, and the ambient space may be simply a set, without the need of a smooth space-time structure defined on it. (3)

1. Information is physical and non-physical, consciousness must use non-physical information.

What we can see from this is that information, widely confused by the layman, has multiple qualities in physics. Information is both a property of matter such as thermodynamic entropy and it is also a specification of a system that is in addition to it's physical properties as in shannon entropy.

In physics matter, mass and energy are defined specific unchanging quantities this is a form of information, but not enough to make a brain by any measure. These are what can be absolutely quantified, the physical. In addition these physical arrangements are bounded by entropy. However in information theory, information is not restrained in the same way. In information theory and Shannon entropy information is an additive quality to thermodynamic entropy, it is not a fixed sum unaltering through time and space marching to a certain fate. It is dynamic. Dynamic systems can and do exist non-physically and theoretically. That is to say information exists independent of the physical and is not wholly a property of the physical. Instead the physical and the arrangement of the physical in time and space is a property of information and physics. And only by interacting in a dynamic system can physical properties have any meaningful organization whatsoever. Without non physical information physical properties are superfluous and would never form a structure such as a brain.

2. Consciousness can not be constructed without information but it can be constructed without the physical

If we can say consciousness manifests itself in a brain. We can also say that consciousness is a product of the dynamic interactions within the same physical system. These same interactions can also be described mathematically and mathematic operations can be simulated by a sufficient computer. No known computer today contains anywhere near enough complexity to simulate a human brain or any brain for that matter in true to form replication. This is sufficient to excuse a failure to date to replicate a sentient being digitally. Today although we can and do simulate finite spaces of the real world true to form all the way down to the quantum soup. Physicist are confident in their ability to simulate individual atoms and constituent particles in physics and their interactions when sufficient computational power is available. (1)

One might make the argument that a simulation of reality is done on a computer and a computer is itself containing physical properties. So therefore the simulation is of physical origin. However this argument has two flaws. First is that a computer is both physical and a dynamic system. Second is that our physical world could itself be a simulation begging a chicken and egg paradox, did the physical manifest first or the simulation. If we can simulate a dynamic world than who is to say we ourselves are not simulated without evidence. That which is paradoxical is not absolute so one cannot say consciousness is absolutely physical.

3. Consciousness as a dynamic system

What we experience in our conscious thoughts and minds are not a true to form replication of reality or the physical world. Instead they are constructions. One might say they are subjective, but if subjective than this subjectivity could be easily described as inherent to the uniqueness of the dynamic system. We can communicate information and ideas to one another, and such person may reconstruct this information in their own unique dynamic system and experience their own interpretation of our consciousness. In fact there is research into brain prosthesis using dynamic systems theory and delocalization to model and transmit consciousness and memory.(9) Dynamic systems theory is even used in cognitive science and neuroscience. This would suggest consciousness is capable of replication non physically.

But what mathematical model does consciousness use to think? A growing respected field is Bayesian cognitive science, relying on Bayesian statistics and Bayesian mathematics(10). These dynamic process' can be modeled in information theory, wholly non physical models which filter observables and makes use of shannon entropy and shannon information which has a non physical basis.(11)

This would suggest a non physical basis to consciousness does exist. More accurately consciousness has properties described in mathematics that are applied logic in highly structured shannon entropy localizations.










Debate Round No. 2


fa07 forfeited this round.


letrashman forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
9 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 9 records.
Posted by letrashman 7 years ago
I deleted my associated photo as it was interfering with with the text. If you would be interested in viewing the deleted photo it can be found here.
Posted by letrashman 7 years ago
well i seem to have had an error, the picture pasted over my words. It did not show that in the preview.
Posted by fa07 7 years ago
You could deny that consciousness exists, and part of the problem with debating the subject is that the term consciousness itself is extremely vague. I'll admit that. What I mean by consciousness in this debate is human consciousness - that kind of thing that allows us to be aware of ourselves, and aware of the external world. It seems rather absurd in my opinion to say that consciousness doesn't exist in the sense that you are not aware of your own internal sensations as well as aware of your environment. Essentially, the debate is concerning is whether there is anything to consciousness beyond the brain in this sense of the term. For example, if there were a non-physical soul, I would classify that as conscious in the sense that the soul is self-aware. Likewise, if there were a God, he/she/it would be conscious in the sense of being self-aware, and presumably aware of other things as well (e.g. aware of existing in some non-physical world in an afterlife). In fact, a very common objection to the existence of God is that God would be a disembodied mind, and that we have never observed anything with a mind that didn't have a body and a brain. Thus, you could argue that the very concept of a disembodied mind is incoherent, and thus that God simply cannot exist.

Once again, I'll admit that the term "consciousness" is very difficult to discuss because it has different implications for different people, but I'm assuming Pro and I agree on terminology to the general extent that consciousness includes self-awareness, as well as awareness of ones surroundings. The point, however, is if there is simply anything to self-awareness and awareness of the world that is over and above brain function.
Posted by MjrKusanagi 7 years ago
Has there been any consideration that consciousness does not exist anywhere per se, meaning neither physically nor "soul"-ly or what have you.

I believe a palatable pro argument may be that consciousness doesn't exist anywhere or at any specific time. The human brain contains many loosely coupled sets of stimuli and feedback-response cycles which utilize temporary and persistent storage of data for perpetual computation. However, I don't know of any particular or identifiable system that could be described as "consciousness" existing in any physical sense of the word.

Per my understanding, consciousness is a word that describes an idea, like heat - heat does not exist, it does not move, it cannot be counted, it cannot be touched - heat only describes a phenomenon where when two initially separate bodies at different average temperatures come into thermal contact, both will tend to approach the same average temperature over time. Consciousness, likewise, describes a phenomenon where hundreds of billions of networked neurons, as part of a functional human being, undergo rapid, massively parrallel stimulus-response feedback cycles, utilizing temporary and persistent storage techniques, that functional human being will tend to perceive associations within certain subsets of it's observations as a conscious experience.
Posted by fa07 7 years ago
Slight correction: con must be arguing that consciousness is entirely physical, although that's likely quite apparent by this point, anyway. That is, con (myself) is arguing for physicalism - that there is nothing about consciousness that is non-physical. As stated, I am of the view that all of consciousness can be reduced to physical states, processes, and parts of the brain. For example, the conscious experience of memory would be explained by certain neuronal events taking place in the hippocampus. Obviously, because I am of a physicalist and materialist persuasion, I do not hold a belief in any form of a soul - no form of consciousness that would survive bodily death and the death of the brain. You can, of course, believe in a non-physical aspect of consciousness and not necessarily believe in a soul, but views such as substance dualism obviously lend themselves quite readily to such views.
Posted by fa07 7 years ago
Yes, that's fine. Then we can each present our arguments, and our rebuttals in turn.
Posted by letrashman 7 years ago
ok I got it. So my first reply will just be accepting the terms of debate?
Posted by fa07 7 years ago
Ok. I am not specially referring to psychic phenomena. You could for argue for a substance dualism in which the mind is a non-physical substance (as Descartes did), or you could argue for some kind of non-physical soul. The only real criteria is demonstrating that there is some nonphysical aspect to human consciousness. Good luck.
Posted by letrashman 7 years ago
hey hey hey. It wasn't specified what I am to do with the first round. If you would like to clarify and read the comments please do so. Otherwise I will just try to clarify my understanding of the terms of debate and defer to your first round in round two. Also of note is that I psychically detected this debate would be here while lying in be, I have been waiting of this debate for years. ;-)
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Sagey 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Consciousness is Awareness, Biological Basis, Con's arguments were more in line with the topic, Pro's use of Mathematical reasoning for Consciousness/awareness failed to present any actual evidence for Consciousness from non-Physical sources. Information theory has no bearing on human awareness, only on making decisions using mathematical models.

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