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Does Consciousness Depend on the Brain? (cont.)
By Chris Carter

In short, James elaborated lines of reasoning laid out earlier by Schiller, and argued that the dependence of consciousness on the brain for the manner of its manifestation in the material world does not imply that consciousness depends upon the brain for its existence. At the end of his book The Varieties of Religious Experience he admits to being impressed by the research of Myers and other members of the Society for Psychical Research, and concludes that the issue of survival is a case for the testimony of the facts to settle.

James wrote these works around the turn of the nineteenth century, but since then these arguments have been endorsed and developed by several more recent philosophers, neurologists, and psychologists, such as philosophers Curt Ducasse and David Lund, neurologist Gary Schwartz, and psychologist Cyril Burt. The latter elegantly summarized the position set forth earlier by Schiller, Bergson, and James:

The brain is not an organ that generates consciousness, but rather an instrument evolved to transmit and limit the processes of consciousness and of conscious attention so as to restrict them to those aspects of the material environment which at any moment are crucial for the terrestrial success of the individual. In that case such phenomena as telepathy and clairvoyance would be merely instances in which some of the limitations were removed.5

The argument in its essence is that the transmission and production hypotheses are equally compatible with the facts materialism tries to explain such as the effects of senility, drugs, and brain damage on consciousness but that the hypothesis of transmission has the advantage of providing a framework for understanding other phenomena that must remain utterly inexplicable by the hypothesis of materialism.


  1. Fenwick & Fenwick, 1997, pp. 25-26.
  2. Lamont, 1990, page 76.
  3. Lamont, 1990, pages 86 - 108.
  4. Schiller. F., 295.
  5. Cyril Burt, 1975, p. 60.

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