Does Consciousness Come from the Brain?

August 5, 2019
IONS Board Member Mark Gober

Consciousness remains a huge mystery. We all have it, but science has no idea how it could arise from a physical brain. Our brain is physical and yet our consciousness is not. How could a nonphysical consciousness emerge from a physical brain? Science Magazine has called this “hard problem” the #2 question remaining in all of science!

In spite of this hard problem, there is a prevailing assumption in modern science which says consciousness comes from the brain. We don’t understand how, but that’s because the brain is complicated and one day we’ll figure it out (so the story goes). But what if the brain doesn’t produce consciousness at all? Maybe that’s why we haven’t solved the hard problem. Then, we’d need to rethink reality in a big way. Philosopher Dr. Bernardo Kastrup uses an analogy which succinctly summarizes an alternative. Imagine that all of reality is like a stream of water, where water represents consciousness. Each of us is like a whirlpool in the stream (i.e., a localization of water). We are fundamentally connected as part of the same stream but have the appearance of separation.

Under this model, it would be possible for some of the water in one whirlpool to get into another (think: psychic or telepathic abilities). Similarly, if a whirlpool de-localizes, the water flows back into the broader stream (think: consciousness survives bodily death). So this model would predict that psychic phenomena and survival of bodily death should occur. They wouldn’t be paranormal. They’re only paranormal if we assume the brain creates consciousness, which as discussed is a huge question mark.

In fact, there is an abundance of scientific evidence for these phenomena. Psychic abilities like telepathy (mind-to-mind communication), remote viewing (perceiving at a distance), precognition (knowing or sensing the future), and psychokinesis (mind impacting matter) have been experimentally tested. For example, a recent paper published in the mainstream academic journal American Psychologist suggests that there is indeed strong statistical evidence for these phenomena. Additionally, there is an abundance of evidence for the survival of consciousness beyond the body in areas such as near-death experiences, mediumship, and children who remember previous lives.

Why does this matter? If we truly are connected as part of a single underlying consciousness, then what does that imply for how we might treat one another? Would it be rational to harm another if we are all “the same” at the most fundamental level? Given the state of the world today, this topic is of utmost importance.

For those interested in learning more, feel free to tune into my new podcast Where Is My Mind? in which I’ve interviewed 50 world-leading experts on these topics (including many IONS researchers!). Also my book, An End to Upside Down Thinking, compiles the scientific evidence that consciousness does not come from the brain.

Mark Gober is a Partner at Sherpa Technology Group in Silicon Valley, a former New York investment banker with UBS, and former Princeton University tennis team captain. He is the author of An End to Upside Down Thinking, host of Where Is My Mind? podcast, and serves on the Board of Directors at the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

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