Review: Consciousness: Evidence for the Existence of God by Roy Varhese
June 23, 2010
“Five phenomena are evident in our immediate experience that can only be explained in terms of the existence of God. Consciousness is one of the five. The following is a extremely condensed overview of the fundamental phenomenon known as “Consciousness.”
We are conscious, and conscious that we are conscious. No one can deny this without self-contradiction—although some persist in doing so. The problem becomes insoluble when you realize the nature of neurons. First of all, neurons show no resemblance to our conscious life. Second and more important, their physical properties do not in any way give reason to believe that they can or will produce consciousness.
Consciousness is correlated with certain regions of the brain, but when the same systems of neurons are present in the brain stem there is no “production” of consciousness. As a matter of fact, there is no essential difference in the ultimate physical constituents of a heap of sand and the brain of an Einstein. Only blind and baseless faith in matter likes behind the claim that certain bits of matter can suddenly “create” a new reality that bears no resemblance to matter.
Although mainstream body-mind studies today acknowledge the reality and consequent mystery of consciousness, Daniel Dennett is one of the few remaining philosophers who continue to evade the obvious. He says that the question of whether something is “really conscious” is not interesting or answerable and affirms that machines can be conscious because we are machines that are conscious!
Functionalism, Dennett’s “explanation for consciousness, says that we should not be concerned with what makes up so-called mental phenomena. Rather, we should be investigating the functions performed by these phenomena. A pain is something that creates and avoidance reaction; a thought is an exercise in problem solving. Neither is to be thought of as a private event taking place in some private place. Ditto with all other supposedly mental phenomena. Being conscious means performing these functions. Since these functions can be replicated by nonliving systems (e.g., a computer solves problems), there is nothing mysterious about “consciousness.” And certainly there’s no reason to go beyond the physical.
But what this account leaves out is the fact that all mental actions are accompanied by conscious states, states in which we are aware of what we are doing. In no way does functionalism explain or claim to explain the state of being conscious, of being aware, and thinking.
Interestingly, some of the strongest critics of Dennet and functionalism are themselves physicalists—David Papineau, John Searle, and others. John Searle is especially sharp: “If you are tempted to functionalism, I believe you do not need refutation, you need help.”
In contrast to Dennet, Sam Harris has strongly defended the supraphysical reality of consciousness. “The problem, however, is that nothing about a brain, when surveyed as a physical system, declares it to be a bearer of that peculiar, interior dimension that each of us experiences as consciousness in his own case.’ The upshot is startling: “Consciousness may be a far more rudimentary phenomenon than are living creatures and their brains. And there appears to be no obvious way of ruling out such a thesis experimentally.”
To his credit, Dawkins acknowledges the reality of both consciousness and language and the problem this poses. “Neither Steve Pinker nor I can explain human subjective consciousness—what philosophers call qualia,” he said once. In “How the Mind Works”, Steve elegantly sets out the problem of subjective consciousness, and asks where it comes from, and what the explanation is. Then he’s honest enough to say, “Beats the heck out of me.””