Does Consciousness Depend on the Brain? (cont.)
By Chris Carter
But as James points out, from the standpoint of strictly empirical science, these objections carry no weight whatsoever. Strictly speaking, the most we can ever observe is concomitant variation between states of the brain and states of mind – when brain activity changes in a certain way, then consciousness changes also. The hypothesis of production, or of transmission, is something that we add to the observations of concomitant variation in order to account for it. A scientist never observes states of the brain producing states of consciousness. Indeed, it is not even clear what we could possibly mean by observing such production.
And as for the objection that the transmission hypothesis is somehow fantastic, exactly the same objection can be raised against the production theory. In the case of the production of steam by a kettle we have an easily understood model – of alterations of molecular motion – because the components that change are physically homogenous with each other. But part of the reason the mind-body relationship has seemed so puzzling for so long is because mental and physical events seem so completely unlike each other. This radical difference in their natures makes it exceedingly difficult to conceptualize the relationship between the two in terms of anything of which we are familiar. It is partly for this reason that even though it has been more than a century since James delivered his lecture, in all that time neither psychology nor physiology has been able to produce any intelligible model of how biochemical processes could possibly be transformed into conscious experience.
It has been pointed out many times that there is no logical requirement that only “like can cause like” – or in other words, that only things of a similar nature can affect each other. But this consideration has not removed the mystery from the mind-body relationship. As James wrote, the production of consciousness by the brain, if it does in fact occur, is “as far as our understanding goes, as great a miracle as if we said, thought is ‘spontaneously generated,’ or ‘created out of nothing.’”
The theory of production is therefore not a jot more simple or credible in itself than any other conceivable theory. It is only a little more popular. All that one need do, therefore, if the ordinary materialist should challenge one to explain how the brain can be an organ for limiting and determining to a certain form a consciousness elsewhere produced, is to ask him in turn to explain how it can be an organ for producing consciousness out of whole cloth. For polemic purposes, the two theories are thus exactly on a par.