It is the neurologists who still largely believe in classical physics, through which they want to explain consciousness as an emergent phenomenon of the brain. European neurologists are busy working on the Human Brain Project. This is one of the largest research projects in the world. In its final phase (April 2020 – March 2023) the HBP’s focus is to advance three core scientific areas – brain networks, their role in consciousness, and artificial neural nets – while further expanding EBRAINS. They expect – and hope – that their digital copy of the neural netwerk that we harbor in our skulls will become aware. For the sake of this emerging digital awareness, I hope not. In the main media I regularly come across articles that subscribe, rather uncritically, to this emergence idea. Fortunately, I also come across critical reviews, such as here in The Telegraph.
The neurologist’s message: your consciousness is a hallucination. It’s a recursive pattern within a pattern within a pattern of neuronal activity.
If you repeat a message often enough, a significant portion of the recipients will simply believe it. Just look at Donald Trump, about 43% of the male residents of the US currently believe that large-scale vote fraud has been committed in the presidential elections of 2020. The other male 57% are just looking uncomprehending at such a belief, since it can only survive if you completely ignore the facts. Apparently this is also the case with this neurological ‘We are our Brains’ brainwashing. It’s a belief. Verified facts are completely ignored. Entire tribes believe it. Of course you are free to believe what you want, but this is a belief with major consequences for science, humanity and its future.
Suppose the question of the origin of consciousness were the subject of case law. In such a fictitious case, consciousness is accused of masquerading as an objectively existent thing when, according to the indictment, it is just a hallucination of our neurons. Therefore, its right to exist as an original phenomenon is dubious and unfounded. A verdict would have major consequences for our society. Fortunately, there are facts to consider, both for and against consciousness as a product of our neurons. So let’s put consciousness in the dock, and ask the judge to make a legal decision based on scientifically established facts.
Your Honor, if I get a blow on the head, I lose consciousness. If I drink a lot of alcohol, my consciousness will behave less well. When I get demented and my brain is affected I forget who I am and who my husband is. With a dose of LSD or DMT I experience the most fantastic hallucinations. These are all examples where the cohesion and/or the chemistry in my neurons is affected. I am my brain. My consciousness pretends to be real, but it is only an illusion.
Your Honor, what has been put forth is by no means conclusive evidence that consciousness is produced by the brain. The correlation of the electrical behavior of neurons with thoughts and sensations has been demonstrated, but a correlation is not a causal relationship. The fact that many firefighters are usually present at a fire does not mean that their joint presence causes fires. There is no question that the brain plays a role in our consciousness, but it is arguable that the brain is only an instrument of consciousness, to be able to interact with the world, a receiver of awareness with a very advanced filtering capacity.
When I crash my iPhone, it stops functioning, but the content that was ready to be shown or to be played is still there. When I buy and install a new iPhone, this content can be revived again. Much to the amazement and unbelief of someone of the 19th century. Furthermore, fMRI research has shown that when people use drugs such as LSD and DMT, their neuronal activity decreases while the intensity of the hallucination increases. This contradicts the idea that the brain produces their intense experiences and directly supports the filter hypothesis. Finally, you can also ask yourself what it is that experiences that illusion. Those neurons?
Your Honor, consciousness here apparently masquerades as something that exists outside the physical body and communicates with it in ways unknown to us. This is not possible given generally accepted scientific knowledge. As far as we know there is only matter and energy, and energy exchange can only take place between matter and other matter. No disembodied consciousness has ever been demonstrated in the laboratory. The Cartesian duality, a disembodied spirit in a physical body, is a misrepresentation born of outdated religious beliefs. I think the me, who thinks so, is itself an illusion.
Pardon me, this is an illusion addressing me? Well well, I surely want to hear more of the defence now.
Your Honor, if the prosecutor thinks his thinking self is an illusion, I wonder why we should listen to an illusion. And that a disembodied consciousness has not been demonstrated in a laboratory is not proof of the non-existence of a such a phenomenon. The measuring instrument that would be needed is, as far as is known, not yet available. The only known way to perceive consciousness is consciousness. Current scientific knowledge is necessarily incomplete and based on materialistic models, the correctness of which in the past had to be repeatedly adjusted or even rejected. That energy exchange can only take place between matter is not a fact but an unproven dogma. Quantum physics, the most successful physical theory currently, seems to indicate strongly – by delayed choice experiments, among other things – that the observer creates the observed. Matter thus seems to become the illusion, not the perceiving consciousness. But it is not matter that is in the dock here to be defended.
There are excellently documented cases of individuals where no brain activity at all could be detected – flat EEG and ECG – while this person was observing the environment from a point of view different from the usual, that is, observing the world from somewhere outside the body. In support of this defense I offer here an excellent verified file of cases where brain and normal sensory perception could not function, but where the person concerned clearly consciously perceived and remembered details that were verified on correctness in a way that cannot be explained with a strict material model of reality. Something that means that strictly material theories are limited in their explanatory models and that full awareness at the time of the Near-Death experience cannot be a product of complex neuronal activity. A clear awareness going together with a cerebral cortex that is demonstrably no longer functioning cannot be reconciled with the idea of an emergent consciousness.
I want to present here also the case of the 44-year old man with a tiny brain. His case was published in The Lancet in 2007. The man seemed to function normally with a healthy IQ, but, as a result of hydroencephalitis, he walked around with a skull mainly filled with cerebrospinal fluid. See the x-ray for yourself.
Consciousness in this case can hardly be the result of an extremely complicated network of neurons that produce together a pattern within a pattern within a pattern.
Your Honor, finally I would like to add that if I were to say to my GP, “I think the me, who thinks this, is an illusion,” she would be concerned, write a referral to the psychiatrist and think probably, “Oh my, the poor wretch’. But when a neuroscientist says the same their audience apparently listens breathlessly. I beg you to remain critical.
Your Honor, I hope you will exercise some patience in this matter and will wait until there is conclusive scientific evidence to show that consciousness is a product of the brain and thus is a hallucination. We are confident it will be produced within a few years fom now. That person with so few neurons still had quite a few, as you can see from the x-ray, so apparently not so many are needed for intelligent consciousness as we thought. That proof, that consciousness is a product of the neurons, will come, I assure you. That won’t be long. We are working on it with all our might. I implore you to have confidence in the promise of science and its devoted practitioners. In anticipation of the outcome we are already so sure of, I propose that consciousness should already be given the status of hallucination at this stage. This will, according to our belief, explain completely the emergence of consciousness from matter and, very important, in that way we only need matter to explain the world. Please, let’s not complicate matters more than necessary.
Your Honor, it should be well known that at this time any active interest of scientists in consciousness as an independent primary cause that does not originate in matter, could be detrimental to their careers, even if they already had a Nobel Prize. Nevertheless, there is a steadily growing number of scientists who dare to defy this career risk. I therefore I ask you urgently not to base your verdict upon some vague promises, but only on documented and verified facts, even if they do not come from laboratories, and to assign consciousness rightly its status as an actual, independent and original entity. Thank you very much.
Paul J. van Leeuwen graduated in applied physics in Delft TU in 1974. There was little attention to the significance of quantum physics for the view on reality at that time. However, much later in his life he discovered that there is an important and clear connection between quantum physics and consciousness.
What he learned between then and today resulted in a post academic course in quantum physics for non-physicists. A little bit later he decided to put the contents of that course, and more, in a book published in Dutch: Kwantumfysica, Informatie en Bewustzijn – and started a website on the subject. He translated the Dutch version of his book in English, titled: ‘Quantum Physics is NOT Weird’.