Philosophers and scientists have explored the topic of consciousness for decades. However, they take differing stands on the issue of the existence of consciousness. While there are varied arguments, physicalists and dualists comprise the basic beliefs on this continuing study. Neuroscientists have included brain activity studies into the topic to explain previously understood properties of consciousness (Voss et al., 2017). Nevertheless, the discussion of whether consciousness exists independently from the brain or as a state of it continues. Bennett (2021) explores fundamental differences between the physicalism views and dualism. Combs and Kripner (2008) present a study of social brain perspective and collective consciousness. Danckert and Goodale (2000) discuss blindsight as a behavior of the brain that allows visual activity in people whose primary visual cortex is damaged, further contributing to the consciousness conversation. In the debate between dualism and physicalism, scientists and philosophers must agree that consciousness is a state of the brain and develops through learning derived from experiences and emotions.
Dualism is the belief that phenomenal consciousness exists in isolation from physical objects or terms. In this line of thought, the world is not built on physical facts alone but also includes non-physical phenomena that explain why, for example, how it feels to ‘feel’ pain (Bennett, 2021). Therefore, dualists do not only believe that consciousness exists but also claim that it is independent of physical properties. They accept neuroscience studies that connect the brain to consciousness to argue that the phenomenal properties have continent links with the physical facts. The three arguments used in support of dualism include the explanatory gap, conceivability argument, and knowledge argument. Dualism supports the separation of consciousness from the physical brain, leading to a dual aspect of the world fabric. However, dualists appeal to simplicity and fail to explain how consciousness exists (Bennett, 2021). Understanding that consciousness is a result of physical properties requires scientists to explain how the brain is aware of its existence. According to Bennett (2021), there is a need to define the correlations between consciousness and physical properties. The generalizations of dualism on fundamental phenomenal properties fail to establish such distinct correlations.
Physicalism is the view that the world is made of or necessitated by physical phenomena. Some metaphysical relations include identity and supervenience relations between the physical and consciousness. According to this view, everything exists in matter and energy or supervenes from them. Neuroscience has found proof of supervenience by studying brain changes and consciousness. According to Danckert and Goodale (2000), neuropsychological approaches to studying the brain have revealed its functional organization. For example, the experiment described by Danckert and Goodale (2000) indicates that the brain can behave consciously even when in an unconscious state. It is worth noting, however, that it only elicited responses when tested using previously known facts through the remaining conscious part. The authors note, “there is an opportunity to use what the patient can see consciously to explore what they process unconsciously” (Danckert and Goodale (2000, p. R65). Such behavior points to the idea of brain learning to develop consciousness ultimately. This learning and retaining knowledge by the brain is an indication that consciousness results from the brain’s experiences over time.
The three reading materials do not discuss the property of the brain that enables it to learn, namely, neuroplasticity. It enables the brain to reorganize its function and structure biologically, physically, and chemically (Voss et al., 2017). Memory formation and experiences create new neural pathways in the brain while infrequently used pathways become weak over time. Combs and Kripner (2008, p. 272) refer to brain plasticity, saying, “collective consciousness mirrors individual consciousness; both demonstrate principles of learning within a social and cultural milieu.” Additionally, patient SF was able to identify the forms of the letter ‘R’ and ‘V’ only when placed in congruence with their respective colors (Danckert & Goodale, 2000). Although the patient lacked visual activity and was unconscious in that part of the brain, he recognized the letters from his past knowledge. Therefore, neuroplasticity is at the center of consciousness depicted by human mental states. Consciousness arises from the brain’s constant attempt to predict the effects of its activities on the world and the impact of one of its parts on another. Such learning becomes phenomenal properties through the enrichment of emotions.
Consciousness is created from one’s experiences and emotions as adapted by the brain. Bootstrapping conducted on patient SF reveals that the brain relies on experiences to create conscious activities (Danckert & Goodale, 2000). The authors noted, “The conscious visual processing of color invoked the unconscious processing of form,” indicating the brain’s reliance on its experiences to determine the letters (Danckert & Goodale, 2000, p. R66). In addition, Combs and Kripner (2008) defined collective consciousness as a group having a unified or single experience. Mirror neurons described by the authors respond to intentions, actions, and emotions, increasing imitation abilities. Through these imitations, the brain gains new knowledge that creates intersubjectivity and awareness. When group members receive similar emotions, such as empathy, their brains respond almost the same. The authors suggest that learning and passing on ideas, beliefs, and knowledge could have followed a similar method (Combs & Kripner, 2008). They point to a dynamic brain that constantly updates itself as it receives new experiences. Therefore, emotions and experiences are the foundation of consciousness as the brain learns from them to become aware of itself.
The brain’s learning process is continuous and changes as it receives new knowledge, experiences, and emotions. Consciousness is the brain doing what it is supposed to do by constantly operating neuroplasticity mechanisms. The Blindsight experiment shows the possibility of processing information without consciousness as the unconscious or impaired part shows some activity (Danckert & Goodale, 2000). Thus, information processing, as done by powerful computers, lacks consciousness due to the absence of experiences and emotions. Consciousness requires both awareness and sensitivity, which are crucial for learning as well. This learning involves the brain’s view of itself, the world around it, and other agents or people. After processing information, the brain has no option but to learn from the experience. Since the process is unsupervised, the brain develops cognitive systems that are informative and useful for its world. The brain begins with low quality and weak cognitive representations of its world but builds them into strong and high-quality ones through learning. Therefore, consciousness develops from continuous but unconscious learning by the brain.
Consciousness must be distinct from information processing accomplished by sophisticated machines. Computers are now recognizing faces, processing different languages, speech analyses, and winning chess games against seasoned players. In the near future, consciousness will be the only difference between humans and computers. The dynamism of the human brain enables it to understand knowledge, incorporate emotions, and turn that into self-consciousness. This is in line with physicalism because consciousness supervenes brain activities. Neuroplasticity and learning of the brain are physical explanations of consciousness. When Mary emerged from her back and white room and saw a red tomato, her brain had a new encounter and needed to update itself. This illustration does not imply that consciousness is a phenomenal property that is separate from the physical brain. It is an indication that the brain constantly updates its consciousness as new experiences and emotions are perceived. In this case, Mary had a new experience of seeing a tomato, which must have elicited some emotion that her brain used to learn.
In conclusion, consciousness is the result of the brain’s learning activities derived from the emotions and experiences of its interaction with the world and itself. Although the debate of whether consciousness exists independently from the brain continues, there are indications that it is the result of brain activity. While dualism argues that the world is built on physical facts and non-physical phenomenal properties, physicalism views the world as made of and necessitated by physical phenomena. However, neuroplasticity ascertains that consciousness is a product of the physical brain since it enables the brain to reorganize its function and structure biologically, physically, and chemically. As such, consciousness arises from the brain’s continued attempt to envisage the consequences of its activities on the world and itself. For example, mirror neurons respond to intentions, actions, and emotions, increasing imitation abilities through which the brain gains new knowledge to create intersubjectivity and awareness. Since consciousness is the product of brain activity, philosophers and scientists should agree that it is a supervenience of the physical properties of the world.
Bennett, K. (2021). Why I am not a dualist. In U. Kriegel, Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Mind Volume 1 (pp. 208-231). Oxford University Press.
Combs, A., & Kripner, S. (2008). Collective consciousness and the social brain. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 15(10-11), 264-276. Web.
Danckert, J., & Goodale, M. A. (2000). Blindsight: A conscious route to unconscious vision. Current Biology, 10(2), R64-R67. Web.
Voss, P., Thomas, M. E., Cisneros-Franco, J. M., & de Villers-Sidani, É. (2017). Dynamic brains and the changing rules of neuroplasticity: implications for learning and recovery. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1657. Web.