Friday, January 27, 2017

Explaining Conscious Thought

What really happens in our brain when we think, desire, create, feel, recall, or decide? One neuroscientist, Paul King, says, “The brain is a multilayered ecosystem of hierarchically organized neurons, circuits, networks, and brain areas.” Alva Noe is a philosopher working in the area of perception and consciousness. He has stated, “A human being is a locus of densely interwoven coupling with the world around us.” We do not quote these two sources because they are more insightful than many thousands of other scientists and philosophers working in their field. Rather, experts working to relate what happens when we think, desire, create, feel, recall, or decide have discovered there are thousands of relevant observations to offer concerning the subject of conscious human thought. The most eloquent observations attract the most attention. The above quotes serve as examples.

The truth about human brain activity—in particular, human thought—is that when we set out to explain it, we spend most of our time describing “What?” and very little time explaining “How?” This is not meant to be a criticism directed toward researchers who explain what happens. For example, it is impossible to describe human memory, creativity, and decision making except with reference to the continual storm of electrical activity in the billions of neurons which provide building blocks for the millions of neural networks in the brain. Physical stimulation from motion or energy is completely converted to trillions of electrical spikes in the human brain. From quadrillions of rapidly occurring electrical spikes traveling the length of multiple neurons, all human thought somehow connects with human consciousness. The foregoing information is the “what?” In contrast, the “how?” remains obscured. Have neuroscientists really explained how billions of electrical spikes in the brain produce the phenomenon of conscious apprehension about what we think, desire, create, feel, recall, or decide?

Human consciousness is termed “The Hard Problem of Consciousness.” Many neuroscientists acquire fame as they lecture about the “hard problem.” The “hard problem” refers to the uncertainty of bioscientists’ explanations for the mystique of human consciousness, defined as awareness by the mind of itself and the world. One cognitive scientist—David Chalmers—is celebrated for originating the term and proposing meaningful speculation concerning the “hard problem.” Some contemporary scientists currently object that there is no such thing as a “hard problem of consciousness.” We align with Chalmers on this question. 

Chalmers describes consciousness as “the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe.” He claims much writing about consciousness answers questions of correlations and are not really explanations. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) in an article “The Hard Problem of Consciousness” claims we can still meaningfully ask the question, “Why is it conscious?” after answering questions concerning the functional, dynamical, and structural properties of the conscious mind. IEP suggests that, “…an explanation of consciousness will have to go beyond the usual methods of science. Consciousness therefore presents a hard problem for science, or perhaps it marks the limits of what science can explain.”

Scientists devoted to the paradigm of naturalism are distressed with the proposal that there are limits on what science can explain. Such scientists are wholly gripped by the idea that there is nothing that cannot be explained according to the tenets of naturalism. For instance, in many discussions with naturalistic evolutionists we encounter insistence that the existence and development of Earth’s life forms must be explained according to the model of naturalism. Such a proposal would rule out any supernatural explanation at any time in the present or past. To the degree that human consciousness cannot be scientifically explained, we inquire where neuroscientists and cognitive scientists go from here? In the dualism of naturalism vs supernaturalism, there is only one other investigative and exploratory alternative.

We have investigated the subject of consciousness previously in our blog. I suggest my readers review a previous post from 2015 in which we discussed the “hard problem of consciousness.” The search for modern scientists’ explanation for consciousness according to the principles of naturalism has not become easier since this post appeared: