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Is “consciousness” a useless concept? Michael Egnor makes the case


He asks,”Why did the concept of “consciousness” suddenly appear in the early modern era after millennia of profound contemplation of the soul and its mental powers had never invoked it?”

Mental states are powers of the soul that enable us to sense, perceive, imagine, remember, have emotions and desires and to exercise intellect and will. Many of these abilities are altered by sleep, drugs, injury, or even death, but there is no good evidence that all mental states are extinguished by any circumstance. The more we understand about the neuroscience of arousal, sleep, anesthesia, coma, and NDEs, the more it evident that “consciousness” is to neuroscience what phlogiston and the ether was to thermodynamics. It is an outdated concept that served as a scientific placeholder and obscured reality, until deeper insights are gained that render it superfluous.

Werner Heisenberg noted: “What we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”

‘Consciousness’ leads us to a method of questioning based on the mechanical notion that the mind can be switched on and off like a machine. But there is no evidence — either philosophical or scientific — that the mind or the soul (of which the mind is an aspect) has an “on switch” or an “off switch.” The most reasonable scientific inference is that we are never “unconscious,” nor are we “conscious” in any meaningful sense. Our mental life is a composite of abilities — arousal, sensation, perception, locomotion, reason, etc., and these abilities appear to subsist in modified form despite dramatic changes in the body and brain. We are aware of sounds and sensations and dreams when we sleep, we are aware of many things in our environment — pain, some conversations around us, etc. — when we are “unconscious” from a concussion. There is abundant evidence that in the deepest stage of coma (persistent vegetative state) we are capable of remarkably sophisticated levels of thought. Even after death, we often seem to retain awareness that can be verified, and even have heightened awareness, as the massive literature on near death experiences demonstrates.

Michael Egnor, “Your soul has no “off switch”” at Mind Matters News

You may also enjoy: Does the ability to think depend on consciousness? From a medical perspective, “consciousness” adds nothing to the description of mental states. (Michael Egnor)


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