Wahbeh H, Radin D, Cannard C and Delorme A (2022) What if consciousness is not an emergent property of the brain? Observational and empirical challenges to materialistic models. Front. Psychol. 13:955594. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.955594
The nature of consciousness is considered one of science’s most perplexing and persistent mysteries. We all know the subjective experience of consciousness, but where does it arise? What is its purpose? What are its full capacities? The assumption within today’s neuroscience is that all aspects of consciousness arise solely from interactions among neurons in the brain. However, the origin and mechanisms of qualia (i.e., subjective or phenomenological experience) are not understood. David Chalmers coined the term “the hard problem” to describe the difficulties in elucidating the origins of subjectivity from the point of view of reductive materialism. We propose that the hard problem arises because one or more assumptions within a materialistic worldview are either wrong or incomplete. If consciousness entails more than the activity of neurons, then we can contemplate new ways of thinking about the hard problem. This review examines phenomena that apparently contradict the notion that consciousness is exclusively dependent on brain activity, including phenomena where consciousness appears to extend beyond the physical brain and body in both space and time. The mechanisms underlying these “non-local” properties are vaguely suggestive of quantum entanglement in physics, but how such effects might manifest remains highly speculative. The existence of these non-local effects appears to support the proposal that post-materialistic models of consciousness may be required to break the conceptual impasse presented by the hard problem of consciousness.