A long time ago neuroscientists discovered that when a persons brain is split their consciousness splits as well. Some people have found that the discovery of split consciousness shows that substance dualism must be wrong.

How can substance dualism account for this discovery of split consciousness due to split brains?

2 Answers 2


The substance dualists whom I have read address this question do so by denying that there are two selves. This argument relies upon several points:

1) The family of the split brain patients, as well as the patients themseves, report that they are one integrated self, not two. Any division may then be an exotic artifact of the experimental setup, not an actual split. 2) These "selves" are not co-equal, the secondary ones are generally non-verbal. It may be an unjustified inference that they are both selves. In the experiments conducted, there may only be one real self, plus an automoton that has no inner life.

The dualists who advocate these arguments generally believe in the unity of a self, hence their dualism requires them to deny even strong evidence of the modular nature of selfhood.

Some dualists have instead advocated that all humans have two selves. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences/article/case-for-mental-duality-evidence-from-splitbrain-data-and-other-considerations/CCC275C97E2E658D56F9BF3CA7463DE4

Here are three references that will help point to how this question is addressed. Nagel points out the problem is not just a problem for dualists -- it is not just dualism that concieves of consciousness as a unity, pretty much all people who accept the existence of consciosuness do: http://www.oswego.edu/~delancey/100_DIR/Nagel.BBUC.pdf

This link discusses further some of the materialist use of these experiments, and a variety of dualist strategies in addressing the materialists: http://www.oswego.edu/~delancey/100_DIR/Nagel.BBUC.pdf

This third link focusses more explicitly on the dualist responses, and their validity. Note that Nagel is a property dualist, and the other two links discuss several variants of dualism, not just substance dualism. This third link, by quoting extensively from Eccles, provides the most extensive substance dualist discussion. https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/do-split-brain-cases-disprove-the-existence-of-an-immaterial-soul-part-two/

There are not a lot of substance dualists developing the theory, and I have not seen any offer the model I think is most consistent with this evidence. This model is:

a) selfhood, and willing, are products of the spirit b) in early life -- spirit ensouled proto-life, and provided awareness, processing, and willing functions which early life had not developed chemically, and this gave ensouled protolife a massive evolutionary advantage over any that were not ensouled.
c) as life became more complex, the throughput of spirit to guide a living entity was insufficient, so evolutionary processes lead to much of the actual processing offloaded from spirit to chemistry.
d) As life continued to get more complex, even much of consciousness was partially offloaded and/or amplified by chemistry. e) this leads to unconscious neural modules doing functions which COULD be separated from the consciousness, per 2) above f) or the possibility that more than one spirit could ensoul bits of a neurology, particularly if that neurology is no longer self-integrated due to being sliced into separate pieces.

  • 1
    +1 However, without pertinent references (quotes to prove they are pertinent) I don't have anywhere to go for more information should I need it. Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 13:24
  • 1
    Yes, my initial answer was based on cumulative lifetime reading, and i could not recall which dualist said what, in what reference.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 16:28
  • Why can't substance dualism be compatible with the idea that there really are 2 consciousness's the entire time? Or that the one conscious splits in two?
    – Noah
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 16:49
  • There have been some substance dualists who argued that all people have two minds. The Nagel paper discusses the "2-selves" option pretty extensively.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 16:52
  • What are your thoughts on the 2 minds proposition?
    – Noah
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 16:54

Personally, I don't see how this split personality phenomenon would go any way at all to answering whether consciousnesses is a dualism or an intrinsic quality. Both philosophies would have the same split consciousnesses effect in a damaged brain as far as I can imagine.

Because it could be only a small part of the brain that is the seat of our consciousness, it's only that part which need split to have the effect. While most articles cite the cerebrum as the source of consciousness, who's to say where we actually experience that consciousness. I'd guess it'd be smack bang between the two hemisphere's myself as a guess, part of the brain stem.

According to the article, "Split personality is a rare consequence of a split brain", thus it actually only sometimes splits that part of the brain in two, not always.

Splitting other parts of the brain would yield no change to the count of consciousnesses, though perhaps it would be missing a few faculties.

The small part of the brain that causes consciousness, when split, would have two parts, each that could have connections to both sides of the brain still, or perhaps not. Both scenarios would produce two consciousness in theory. Sometimes with the roughly the same personalities, sometimes very different.

p.s. I'm no neuroscientist. Take this with a serious pinch of salt.

  • If you have any references (perhaps with quotes) taking the same views that you do that would support your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Regardless, welcome to this SE! Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 16:36

You must log in to answer this question.

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