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Science as we know it can't explain consciousness – but a revolution is coming

The wrong framework for understanding consciousness

We should not be surprised that our standard scientific method struggles to deal with consciousness. Modern science was designed to exclude consciousness.

Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science, wanted a purely quantitative science of the physical world, and he proposed that qualities such as colors and smells were outside the domain of science.

As long as we work within this framework, we can only establish a correlation without the ability to provide an explanation.


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Science as we know it can't explain consciousness – but a revolution is coming

Science as we know it can't explain consciousness – but a revolution is coming


Key Ideas

The mystery of consciousness

We have made advances in understanding how the brain works and how it affects human behavior. But no one is able to explain how all this results in feelings, emotions, and experiences.

There is a view that conventional scientific methods will never be able to answer these questions. But an alternative view may provide some insight that may be able to give an understanding.

Consciousness: A unique scientific problem

For much of the 20th century, consciousness was not a serious topic for "serious science." That has changed. The problem of consciousness is a scientific dilemma.

For one, consciousness is unobservable. We know consciousness exists through our immediate awareness of our own feelings and experiences. But you can't look in the head of someone else to see their feelings and experiences.

Using observation for an unobservable issue

When we are dealing with data, we can do experiments to test whether what we observe matches the hypothesis. But we are dealing with the unobservable data of consciousness.

The best scientists can do is to correlate unobservable experiences with observable processes. For example, the feeling of hunger is associated with visible activity in the brain's hypothalamus.

But collecting correlations does not explain why conscious experiences correspond with brain activity.

The wrong framework for understanding consciousness

We should not be surprised that our standard scientific method struggles to deal with consciousness. Modern science was designed to exclude consciousness.

Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science, wanted a purely quantitative science of the physical world, and he proposed that qualities such as colors and smells were outside the domain of science.

As long as we work within this framework, we can only establish a correlation without the ability to provide an explanation.

Mind is matter

The starting point of philosopher Bertrand Rusell and scientist Arthur Eddington was that physical science doesn't really explain what matter it.

Physics is confined to tell us about the behavior of matter. It can't tell us about the intrinsic nature of matter - what matter is in and of itself. For example, saying that matter has mass and charge, is explaining the behavior of matter.


Panpsychism is the view that consciousness is a fundamental quality of the physical world. The "new" panpsychism is void of the mystical connotations of previous forms of the view. It describes matter from two perspectives.

  • Physical science describes matter "from the outside" in terms of its behavior.
  • Matter "from the inside" comprises of forms of consciousness.

Panpsychism: the most straightforward consciousness theory

Panpsychism is the most straightforward theory of how consciousness fits into our scientific story. The view that mind is matter means that even elementary particles show necessary forms of consciousness.

Consciousness can vary in complexity. The conscious experience of a horse is less than a person. The conscious experience of a rabbit is less than a horse. As organisms become simpler, at a point, consciousness suddenly switches off, or maybe it just fades but never disappears completely.


Artificial Intelligence: Singularity and Virtual Immortality
Artificial Intelligence: Singularity and Virtual Immortality

The growth of technology and Artificial Intelligence(AI) is on track to provide us with:

  • Singularity: A merging of human intelligence and AI, resulting in Superstro...
Inner Awareness and AI

... or self-awareness is something many scientists and philosophers are discussing. The fact that there is consciousness inside us, is a big problem for those developing AI, as no matter what they do, and how technologically superior the product is, nobody can explain or even fathom the juggernaut of consciousness.

Qualia: Experiencing Sensations

Qualia relates to the raw sensations of experience, like colours, smells, sounds.

It is through our actual experience that we know what something tastes, looks or smells like, and it is not some information already drilled inside our brains on birth. We have to experience sensations to understand them.

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The Mind And The Body
The Mind And The Body

Neuroscience says our brain has 86 billion neurons, linked in various ways, making trillions of connections. These neuron connections are getting converted into electrical signals, making a network...

Dualism: Ghost In The Machine

The mind-body paradox, also called the mind-body problem by philosophers, can be understood if we take our human mind as a non-physical entity, outside the physical world of the body and the brain itself.

The mind, with all its feelings and experiences, exists as a spiritual phenomenon and controls the body like a drone pilot controls the drone. This view is known as Dualism.

The Materialist Way

Science has done a great job observing, dissecting and manipulating physical materials (matter) and seems to think the materialist method is the best way to go for the mysteries of the brain. It does not take a good view of the dualism theory, where the soul (residing in our brain) controls the body.

The problem is that by only studying the matter, science has always excluded and neglected consciousness.

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Science providing anwers
Science providing anwers

Despite the advances in science over the past century, our understanding of nature is still limited. Scientists still don't know what the vast majority of the universe is made up of or how cons...

Mysterian arguments

"Mysterian" thinkers give an important role to biological arguments and analogies.

Late philosopher Jerry Fodor argued that there are bound to be thoughts we are unable to think. Similarly, philosopher Colin McGinn claimed that all minds suffer from "cognitive closure" about particular problems. Just as animals will never understand prime numbers, so human brains are unable to consider some of the world's wonders.

Mysterians and pessimism

Mysterians present the question of cognitive limits in fixed terms: either we can solve a problem, or we will never be able to.

A possibility that eludes mysterians is one of slowly diminishing returns. We keep slowing down, even as we exert more effort, and there is no point where progress becomes impossible.

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Consciousness And Quantum Physics
Consciousness And Quantum Physics

Understanding consciousness and how it fits in the universe is a perennial puzzle for decades. Some call it the holy grail of science.

Quantum physics is able to describe the atomic and...

The Observer Effect

Modern science is hesitant to talk about consciousness due to it opening a pandora’s box, putting their previously ‘bulletproof’ theories under suspicion.

Quantum Theory had a similar ‘uh oh’ moment when it was found that the behaviour of atomic level particles changes when we (a conscious observer) are looking at it, or not. This is known as the Observer Effect.

Objectivity Vs Consciousness

Physicists argue that objectivity might as well be an illusion, and consciousness has to be put in the picture of its worldview.

The two puzzles of Science, Consciousness and Quantum Mechanics, might as well be closely related, with one arising because of the other.

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Consciousness: A Subjective Awareness
Consciousness: A Subjective Awareness

Consciousness is your own awareness of your thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, and environments. This awareness is subjective.

Your conscious experiences can change from one moment t...

Types of Consciousness

Changes in consciousness can result in changes in perception, thinking, and interpretations of the world.

  • Some different states of consciousness include dreams, hallucinations, hypnosis, meditation, sleep, and states induce by psychoactive drugs.
  • Altered levels of consciousness can occur and may be caused by medical or mental conditions that change awareness, e.g., coma, confusion, delirium, disorientation, lethargy, and stupor.
Changes in Consciousness

Changes of consciousness may be a sign of medical conditions, for example, aneurysm, brain infection, brain tumor or injury, dementia, drug use, epilepsy, heart disease, heatstroke, low blood sugar, poisoning, or shock.

If you think you are experiencing changes in consciousness, talk to your doctor.

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About Consciousness
About Consciousness

Consciousness is everything you experience - taste, pain, love, feeling. Where these experiences come from is a mystery.

Many modern analytic philosophers of mind either d...

Searching For Physical Footprints

What is it about brain matter that gives rise to consciousness? In particular, the neuronal correlates of consciousness (NCC) - the minimal neuronal mechanisms jointly sufficient for any conscious experience.

Consider this question: What must happen in your brain for you to experience a toothache?

Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness (NCC)

The whole brain can be considered an NCC because it generates experience continually.

  • When parts of the cerebellum, the "little brain" underneath the back of the brain, are lost to a stroke or otherwise, patients may lose the ability to play the piano, for example.  But they never lose any aspect of their consciousness. This is because the cerebellum is almost wholly a feed-forward circuit. There are no complex feedback loops.
  • The spinal cord and the cerebellum are not enough to create consciousness. Available evidence suggests neocortical tissue in generating feelings.
  • The next stages of processing are the broad set of cortical regions, collectively known as the posterior hot zone, that gives rise to conscious perception. In clinical sources of causal evidence, stimulating the posterior hot zone can trigger a diversity of distinct sensations and feelings.
  • It appears that almost all conscious experiences have their origin in the posterior cortex. But it does not explain the crucial difference between the posterior regions and much of the prefrontal cortex, which does not directly contribute to subjective content.

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The scientific revolution

Human history is often framed as a series of episodes, representing sudden bursts of knowledge. The Agricultural Revolution, the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution are a few examples where ...


Much of the knowledge about the natural world during the middle ages dates back to the teachings of the Greeks and Romans. Many did not question these ideas, despite the many flaws.

  • Aristotle taught everything beneath the moon was comprised of four elements: earth, air, water, and fire.
  • Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy thought that heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon, planets and various stars all revolved around the earth in perfect circles.
  • The ancient Greeks and Romans held to the idea that illnesses were the result of an imbalance of four basic substances and was related to the theory of the four elements.
Rebirth and Reformation
  • During the Renaissance, there was a renewed interest in the arts and literature. It led to a shift toward more independent thinking.
  • In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther promoted his thoughts by printing and distributing them, encouraging churchgoers to read the Bible for themselves. This led to the Protestant Reformation.
  • In the process, the criticism and reform led to placing the burden of proof ahead in understanding the natural world, paving the way for the scientific revolution.

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Storytelling is essential to living

Stories are the primary way through which we make sense of our world. We explain ideas by telling stories.

Even science uses storytelling when they use data of the physical world to ex...

The brain’s reward system

When the brain pieces separate bits of an image together to form a coherent picture, it is known as pattern recognition. Once we recognize a pattern, it can spark a degree of pleasure, often described as that "a-ha" moment.

Where science and story meet

Despite the verities of science, we feel compelled to tell stories that venture beyond the facts.

When we first see separate ideas, we feel obliged to find a relationship between the ideas to form a coherent picture. Once a possible relationship has been established, we feel the need to come up with an explanation.

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Western vs. Mediterranean diet
Western vs. Mediterranean diet

Western diet, typically high in animal fat and protein and low in fibre, increases the risk of cancer. The Mediterranean diet is high in fibre and low in red meat and has be...


There has been a lot of hype around the health benefits of prebiotics and probiotics in recent years, but while they're increasingly used in treatments including inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, several reviews suggest there needs to be further research on which strains and dosages are effective. Recent studies have found some people are even immune to probiotics.

Gut microbiota

Gut microbiota has a major role to play in the health and function of the GI tract, with evidence that conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often coincide with altered microbiota. But it also plays a much wider role in our health, and this is largely determined in the first few years of life.

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The Hard Problem of Consciousness
The Hard Problem of Consciousness

Consciousness could be described as the feeling of being inside your head, looking out, or of having a soul.

How we learn, store memories, or perceive things, are easy prob...

Between Science And Philosophy

The problems of consciousness straddle the border between science and philosophy.

  • Some argue that conscious sensations, such as pain, don't really exist, others, that plants and trees must also be conscious.
  • A handful of neuroscientists have come to believe that the problem is about to be solved if we are willing to accept the conclusion that computers or the internet might soon become conscious too.
Ignoring The Problem

Science has been trying to ignore the problem of consciousness for a long time.

  • In the 1600s, René Descartes declared that nothing is more obvious and undeniable than the fact that we are conscious. Your consciousness can't be a fantasy. At the same time, your consciousness does not obey any of the usual rules of science. It doesn't seem to be physical. It can't be observed or really described. Descartes concluded that it had been bequeathed to us by God.
  • This Cartesian dualism remained the assumption into the 18th century. But it was unacceptable to the secular scientist that took the position that only physical things exist.
  • As late as 1989, the British psychologist Stuart Sutherland declared that it is impossible to specify what consciousness is, what it does, or why it evolved.
  • In 1990 Francis Crick and Christof Kock mentioned in a paper that most of the work in both cognitive and neurosciences makes no reference to consciousness because most don't know of a useful way of approaching the problem.

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