Does Consciousness Depend on the Brain? (cont.)
By Chris Carter
The issues at stake
There are really two separate issues here: one is the logical possibility of survival, and the other is the empirical possibility. The arguments of the epiphenomenalists, the identity theorists, and the behaviorists are logically inconsistent with the idea of survival: if consciousness is merely a useless by-product of brain activity, or is identical with brain activity, or does not really exist except as observed behavior, then obviously what we call consciousness cannot survive the destruction of the brain. However, as we have seen earlier, there seems to be compelling reasons for rejecting the first of these theories, and it is questionable if the latter two theories are at all consistent with observation and introspection – or for that matter, are anything more than just silly.
If however, we are willing to admit the existence of consciousness and not only as a useless by-product, then the post-mortem existence of consciousness is at least a logical possibility – that is, there is no self-contradiction in the assertion that consciousness may exist in the absence of a brain. Then the question becomes whether or not survival is an empirical possibility – that is, whether or not the idea of survival is compatible with the facts and laws of nature as currently understood.
Implicit Assumption behind the empirical arguments against the possibility of survival
All the arguments mentioned above that are opposed to the empirical possibility of survival are based upon a certain assumption of the relationship between mind and body that usually goes unstated. For instance, one of the arguments mentioned earlier starts with the observation that a severe blow to the head can cause the cessation of consciousness; from this it is concluded that consciousness is produced by a properly functioning brain, and so cannot exist in its absence.
However, this conclusion is not based on the evidence alone. There is an implicit, unstated assumption behind this argument, and it is often unconsciously employed. The hidden premise behind this argument can be illustrated with the analogy of listening to music on a radio, smashing the radio’s receiver, and thereby concluding that the radio was producing the music. The implicit assumption made in all the arguments discussed above was that the relationship between brain activity and consciousness was always one of cause to effect, and never that of effect to cause. But this assumption is not known to be true, and it is not the only conceivable one consistent with the observed facts mentioned earlier. Just as consistent with the observed facts is the idea that the brain’s function is that of an intermediary between mind and body – or in other words, that the brain’s function is that of a two-way receiver-transmitter – sometimes from body to mind, and sometimes from mind to body.
The idea that the brain functions as an intermediary between mind and body is an ancient one. Hippocrates described the brain as “the messenger to consciousness” and as “the interpreter for consciousness.” But, like the materialist theory, this ancient argument also has its modern proponents – most notably Schiller, Bergson, and James.