Toward a More Complete Model of the Brain, Mind, and Consciousness
The study of consciousness, it seems, cannot advance beyond its own limited premise without incorporating a lightly held balance of both science and ontology; a balance between knowledge and mystery. As evinced by Koch (2018), one of the common perspectives held by the larger scientific community is that consciousness is, in some necessarily quantitative manner, a byproduct of brain activity – and yet, at the very same time (and counter to that proposition), consciousness does not appear to be the sum total of the brain and its parts. It is not easily explainable through a reductionistic, materialist view of the ‘brain’ as the origin of consciousness – hence the “hard problem of consciousness” that pervades to this day. Another perspective could shed a very different kind of light on the “hard” problem of consciousness by shifting our perceptual frame of reference just enough to catch that light.
Prenter (2021), for instance, has prepared a nondual account of the interaction between perception and consciousness which, among its many other well-made points, states that “there is no question of whether matter is ‘intrinsically’ conscious, since material objects are icons on interfaces” (p. 101). When this perspective is turned toward consciousness itself, we must question whether or not we have made consciousness an icon, projected upon an interface, from the very outset – causing a great deal of confusion on the matter. In sharp contrast to this deep examination of foundational assumptions, the account of Pepperell (2018) seeks to present arguments in favor of a physical and energetic explanation for consciousness that emerges from neuroscience, biological processes, and the physical sciences. He suggests that complex organizational structures, producing a dynamic range of energetic patterns, are responsible for creating a “recursively self-referential” mechanic of differentiation which we could then describe as consciousness (p. 9). Neither model, in and of itself, sufficiently explains consciousness or answers to the origins of consciousness though. Perhaps by holding both in the same space, we can seek a resolution in the ‘and’ that exists between them.
Held together in the ‘and’, this balance between science and ontology allows for a very different relationship between the various models of mind being used to explain consciousness. Indeed, when we see consciousness as the byproduct of brain activity, we quickly arrive at a limitation in our abstractions of mind. Whereas opening ourselves to the possibility that the brain could be an object of consciousness, made manifest through conditional conceptual models and the unquestioned acceptance of authoritative knowledge, may allow us to step out of the view which sees the physical as primary and consciousness as secondary; enough so that the two reverse – and then find equilibrium. Rather than choosing one position over the other, it is in being able to hold both positions at once, without conflict or paradox, which allows us to construct a more complete model of the brain, mind, and consciousness.
Koch, C. (2018). What is consciousness? Nature 557 (S8-S12) doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-05097-x
Pepperell, R. (2018). Consciousness as a physical process caused by the organization of energy in the brain. Frontiers in Psychology 9(2091)
Prentner, R. (2021). Dr Goff, tear down this wall! The interface theory of perception and the science of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 28(9), 91–103. https://doi.org/10.53765/20512201.28.9.091