I know that I exist. So, can this 'I' exist without the brain? Or is it the creation of the complex structure of the brain?

  • 1
    kulkami "I" is a concept created by our brain, notably by the neocortex. Hence without brain no concept of "I". - What is the context of our question?
    – Jo Wehler
    Mar 21, 2016 at 8:01
  • thank you for your reply Jo Wehler. I am referring the 'I' which exists specifically in deep sleep, where we experience some kind of joy , I don't know what is the state of the brain while deep sleep.
    – pran
    Mar 21, 2016 at 9:52
  • @pran are you asking for a neuroscience explanation specifically (if not why mention "complex structure of the brain" as an explanatory mechanism)? what do you mean by 'I' (also why is it scare-quoted once but not the first two times)? Please clarify. If you're only looking for an explanation in terms of neuroscience, then cogsci may be a better fit for your question.
    – virmaior
    Mar 22, 2016 at 15:19
  • you'll find out after death
    – Ray S.
    Mar 26, 2016 at 20:39

5 Answers 5


The answer to the main question, is no. Your consciousness cannot exist irrespective of your body. Also, the "I" you refer to, cannot exist without your brain. The best example/analogy I can give you is the brain is a computer, and the "I" is a program that performs a unique function. If the computer is destroyed, the program is "erased" and the unique "I," no longer exists.

  • 2
    hello Guill ! What proof do you have? On what Basis you can say firmly ?
    – pran
    Mar 23, 2016 at 3:00
  • @pran: The proof is by induction. Our brain does have many of the characteristics of a computer. Our brain is "programed" by our experiences and learning. When the neurons are destroyed, the "programing" gets destroyed/erased!
    – Guill
    Apr 15, 2017 at 22:40
  • 1
    If we're going to talk about the brain as computer, and the mind as software, then how do you know the software's not backed up or transferred to a different machine? I've had computers go away while keeping the software. Sep 20, 2018 at 20:15
  • @pran: One proof is that you can change the mind of a person by hurting or stimulating the brain by drugs or electric current.
    – Hilbert7
    Sep 20, 2018 at 20:42
  • 1
    I feel it necessary to downvote this as just a received opinion. You are confusing consciousness with the 'self' that by reduction, as you say, does not exist. The question is about consciousness, however, and your view while common is unscientific speculation with nothing to back it up. .
    – user20253
    Sep 21, 2018 at 12:56

There is no simple answer to your question. Trying to discover the relationship between the mental "I" and the physical brain is an entire topic within the filed of Philosophy of Mind, called "The Mind-Body problem".

The way you have phrased the question "I know that I exist. So, can this 'I' exist without the brain?", is oddly reminiscent of Descartes famous cogito "I think, therefore I am", which he first brought up in his "Discourse on Method" (Discourse on Method - Part IV: Proof of God and the Soul). He later gave a latin version - Cogito Ergo Sum - of the same statement in his "Meditations on First Philosophy" (Meditations on First Philosophy - Meditation II: Concerning the Nature of the Human Mind: That the mind is more known than the body). His argument can be thus summarized:

  • I can imagine that my body is an illusion. I can never be certain that I have a body.
  • Because I can think, I cannot imagine that my mind is an illusion. The very fact that I think means that I am certain I have a mind.
  • My body and my mind have different properties, since it is possible that one is an illusion, while it is impossible for the other.
  • By [Leibniz's law][3], if two objects have different properties, than those two objects are different.
  • Therefore my mind is different from my body, and has a separate existence from it.

See this quote:

I have convinced myself that there is nothing in the world — no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Doesn't it follow that I don't exist? No, surely I must exist if it's me who is convinced of something. But there is a deceiver, supremely powerful and cunning whose aim is to see that I am always deceived. But surely I exist, if I am deceived. Let him deceive me all he can, he will never make it the case that I am nothing while I think that I am something. Thus having fully weighed every consideration, I must finally conclude that the statement "I am, I exist" must be true whenever I state it or mentally consider it. (Descartes, Meditation II: On the Nature of the Human Mind, Which Is Better Known Than the Body).

There are several arguments against Descartes reasoning, but as I said, this constitutes an entire topic in philosophy of mind, which I'll leave to you to further research.

  • 1
    4th bullet: I'm not aware that the stated proposition is logically entailed by Leibniz's law, e.g. I don't see how to get your statement from what is stated here plato.stanford.edu/entries/identity-indiscernible
    – Dave
    Mar 21, 2016 at 21:38
  • 2
    @Dave from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Dualism : This Indivisibility Argument makes use of Leibniz's Law of Identity: two things are the same if, and only if, they have all of the same properties at the same time. More formally, x is identical to y if, and only if, for any property p had by x at time t, y also has p at t, and vice versa. Descartes uses Leibniz's Law to show that the mind and body are not identical because they do not have all of the same properties. Mar 21, 2016 at 22:26
  • Philosophy of mind has nothing to say about this. It is a nest of differing speculative opinions and makes no attempt to establish the facts. It is all about ordinary mInd and not at all about consciousness. .
    – user20253
    Sep 21, 2018 at 13:21

I support the view of no as Guill. My proof can be seen in the observed/oberver exercise. What doesn't let most people see this is that they don't contemplate their cognitive processes which I heard a psychologist say that this are automatic. So when not seen by your mind at work you are left with the notion that you have a consciousness. Krishnamurti

This way of processing reveals that in fact we depend on neurons for our understanding and comprehension. And actual subjects with brain injuries have shown the lack of some mental abilities.


"I know that I exist. So, can this 'I' exist without the brain? Or is it the creation of the complex structure of the brain?"

Thanks for a short and clear question.

You speak of the 'I'. Those who study consciousness say there are two 'I's. There is the 'I' that is unique to each of us and the 'I' that is fundamental and our common identity. The former would be non-existent and would only function and seem to exist when we have not realised this. Then there would be the 'I' of 'I Am'. This would be real but cannot be said to exist (as opposed to not-exist) since it would be the Source of Existence and transcend it.

The Perennial philosophy is entirely dependent on the idea (or lived experience) that consciousness is prior to body and mind. Body and Mind would be in consciousness, not its source. Thus by certain methods and techniques we are able to verify that we are immortal. This 'we' would not be the mortal self but the 'I' of 'I Am'.

You'll never find a mystic claiming 'I exist'. They explore consciousness beyond and prior to the mind and body. So while there is no demonstrable proof of the transcendence of body and mind by consciousness we may derive some optimism from the fact that one entire global tradition of thought and practice states that this is the truth about consciousness.

The only way to properly answer the question would be to go and look for yourself. Otherwise you just have to decide who to trust and this is not a good strategy for answering important questions.

In the Indian tradition this ground-state is described as 'Being, Consciousness, Bliss'. If you come from a Christian background David Bentley Hart has written a good book under this title that makes the connections.


An article on the neuroscience of infant consciousness, which attracted some interest a few years ago, asked:

“When does your baby become conscious?” The premise, of course, was that babies aren’t born conscious but, instead, develop consciousness at some point. (According to the article, it is about five months of age).

Yet, it is hard to think that there is nothing it feels like to be a newborn.

Newborns clearly seem to experience their own bodies, environment, the presence of their parents, etcetera—albeit in an unreflective, present-oriented manner. And if it always feels like something to be a baby, then babies don’t become conscious. Instead, they are conscious from the get-go.

Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, for instance, insisted that “it is very important to realize that attention is the key to distinguish between unconscious thought and conscious thought. Conscious thought is thought with attention.

Consider your breathing right now:

the sensation of air flowing through your nostrils, the movements of your diaphragm, etcetera.

Were you not experiencing these sensations a moment ago, before I directed your attention to them?

Or were you just unaware that you were experiencing them all along?

By directing your attention to these sensations, did I make them conscious or did I simply cause you to experience the extra quality of knowing that the sensations were conscious?

Indeed, Jonathan Schooler has established a clear distinction between conscious and meta-conscious processes. “Periodically attention is directed towards explicitly assessing the contents of experience. The resulting meta-consciousness involves an explicit re-representation of consciousness in which one interprets, describes or otherwise characterizes the state of one’s mind. So where attention plays an important role is in re-representation; that is, the conscious knowledge of an experience, which underlies introspection. Subjects cannot report—not even to themselves—experiences that aren’t re-represented. Nothing, however, stops conscious experience from occurring without re-representation:

Dreams, for instance, have been shown to lack re-representation, despite the undeniable fact they are experienced in consciousness. This gap between reportability and the contents of consciousness has motivated the emergence of so-called “no-report paradigms” in the modern neuroscience of consciousness. Clearly, the assumption that consciousness is limited to re-represented mental contents under the focus of attention mistakenly conflates meta-consciousness with consciousness proper.

Yet, this conflation is disturbingly widespread. Consider Axel Cleeremans’s words: **

“Awareness…always seems to minimally entail the ability to know that one knows. This ability, after all, forms the basis for the verbal reports we take to be the most direct indication of awareness. And when we observe the absence of such ability to report on the knowledge involved in our decisions, we rightfully conclude the decision was based on unconscious knowledge.”**

Because the study of the Neural Correlates of Consciousness (NCC) is, by and large, dependent on subjective reports of experience, what passes for the NCC is liable to be merely the neural correlates of meta-consciousness. As such, potentially conscious mental activity—in the sense of activity correlated with experiential qualities—may evade recognition as such.

To see it, notice first the conscious knowledge N—that is, the re-representation—of an experience X is triggered by the occurrence of X. For instance, it is the occurrence of a sense perception that triggers the metacognitive realization one is perceiving something. N, in turn, evokes X by directing attention back to it: the realization one is perceiving something naturally shifts one’s mental focus back to the original perception. So we end up with a back-and-forth cycle of evocations whereby X triggers N, which in turn evokes X, which again triggers N, and so forth.

As it turns out, characterizations of the NCC show precisely this pattern of reverberating back-and-forth communications among different brain regions. Researchers suspect even that when damage to the primary visual cortex presumably interrupts an instance of this kind of reverberation, patients display blindsight. That is, the ability to correctly discriminate moving objects despite the reported inability to see them. This is precisely what one would expect if the reverberation in question were the oscillations between X and N:

The objects are consciously perceived—which therefore explains how the patients discriminate them—but the patients do not know they consciously perceive the objects. By mistaking meta-consciousness for consciousness, we create two significant problems: First, we fail to distinguish between conscious processes that lack re-representation and truly unconscious processes.

After all, both are equally unreportable to self and others. This misleads us to conclude there is a mental unconscious when, in reality, there may always be something it feels like to have each and every mental process in our psyche. Second, we fail to see our partial and tentative explanations for the alleged rise of consciousness may concern merely the rise of metacognition.

This is liable to create the illusion we are making progress toward solving the “hard problem of consciousness” when, in fact, we are bypassing it altogether:

Mechanisms of metacognition are entirely unrelated to the problem of how the qualities of experience could arise from physical arrangements.

Consciousness may never arise—be it in babies, toddlers, children or adults—because it may always be there, to begin with. For all we know, what arises is merely a metacognitive configuration of preexisting consciousness. If so, consciousness may be fundamental in nature—an inherent aspect of every mental process, not a property constituted or somehow generated by particular physical arrangements of the brain.

Claims, grounded in subjective reports of experience, of progress toward reducing consciousness to brain physiology may have little—if anything—to do with consciousness proper, but with mechanisms of metacognition instead.



You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .