Looking at the mind and body it can presumably all be accounted for with physics and chemistry each activity happening purely as a result of the previous state just like as machines work (making free will look quite questionable).

It confuses me that I'm forced to experience it, looking at it purely from a standpoint that there is nothing intrinsically different from a machine or at least couldn't be replicated.

However when under anaesthetic or to a lesser extent sleep I'm unconscious in the sense of no longer viewing life. So I could infer that the part of my brain that creates consciousness is the part that is shut down when under anaesthetic or I'm simply unable to recall being conscious as the brain doesn't memorises the experience so its lost afterwards?

I look at consciousness from the standpoint that consciousness is being trapped in an empty theatre and having your life played on a screen. I'm just interested what the scientific explanation is if there is one?

  • 2
    This topic is dealt with many times: look at tags such as, 'consciousness', 'free-will', 'body-mind-problem'... You are correct in thinking consciousness (of the waking world) can under anesthesia be compromised by either a shutdown of a "consciousness brain function", or simply of memory (in fact various anaesthetics work in different ways). Unconsciousness might also be induced by blocking interaction (directly or indirectly) between mind and body. Science does have a lot to say about consciousness, but nothing very convincing. - Welcome to Philosophy SE!
    – christo183
    Jan 1, 2019 at 7:19
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    There is no scientific explanation. Some say there will be one in future but others say such hopes rest on a serious category error. The Mind-Matter problem is ancient and it is metaphysical.
    – user20253
    Jan 1, 2019 at 14:04
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    We're living in interesting times. From a traditional 'realist' science perspective.. currently it's believed that consciousness is the gestalt effect of brain electrochemistry. Little more than that can be said. But in a very short space of time.. it's likely we'll reproduce it electronically. Which will allow for far closer Inspection than we can currently perform. You can take that... Or leave it. But IMO that's the answer.
    – Richard
    Jan 1, 2019 at 23:50
  • I've been spending a lot of time recently thinking about Dawkins' memes idea. As the answer below points out, some things 'yes and no' are intangible. They exist only in consciousness, they are absolutely without substance. The concept of how to correctly tie a winter scarf was recently re-imagined by humanity and spread around the world as a meme. Idealists have no problem explaining the intangible, but realists are going to need to find out how imaterial conscious decision can result in the acceleration of mass... If they are to remain 'dudes'.
    – Richard
    Jan 2, 2019 at 0:05
  • Sorry for the spam. One last thing.. as a fairly commited scientist I find the dismissal of free will by some serious neuro scientists to be a risible cop-out on this question. The answer below suggests that consciousness is simply a 'monitor' of physical brain function. IOW we have no free will. I hereby refute that.. I.. most certainly chose tiramisu over brioche earlier today. Quite how I followed that decision by picking up a spoon worried me... As a realist.
    – Richard
    Jan 2, 2019 at 0:28

2 Answers 2


Question: “Can science account for consciousness?”

I don’t think everyone currently agrees on the answer, but personally, I believe it can. The future will tell.

Question: “I'm just interested what the scientific explanation is if there is one?”

You’re asking for the scientific explanation; I think I can give some. The followings are current scientific account of consciousness that I know of:

1. What causes or creates consciousness?

The scientific answer is that it is some group of neural circuits. Current evidence shows that the Default Mode Network (1), which includes cingulate cortex, precuneus, medial prefrontal cortex, and other associated areas, is the network of the consciousness neural process when the mind is not concentrating on any specific task. This network overlaps with the network of Global Workspace theory (2) and that of Global Neuronal Workspace theory (3), which include the cortico-thalamic (C-T) core and a network of neurons with long-range axons densely distributed in the prefrontal, fronto-parietal, parieto-temporal, and cingulate cortices. These latter two networks are found to be the consciousness neural process network when the mind is in the mode of attending to a certain stimulus. So, the complete neural network of consciousness is likely to be some form of a combination of the former networks and the latter networks, such as that proposed by Song (4).

It is presently irrefutable that consciousness is caused by the function of this network. Consciousness cannot occur without the function of this network, and anything that affects the function of this network affects the consciousness accordingly. That is why one cannot maintain his/her normal consciousness when this network is affected by injury, diseases (encephalitis, tumor, increased intracranial pressure, etc.), metabolic disturbances (hypoglycemia, hypoxemia, hyponatremia, etc.), pharmacologic effects (sedatives, psychedelics, stimulants, etc.), electrical shock, etc.

2. How can a group of neural circuits, which are material things, give rise to consciousness, which is an immaterial thing?

This question is more difficult to answer scientifically, yet currently there are many theories regarding this issue. For example, some propose that the reentrant neural activity in the thalamocortical system gives rise to conscious experience (4,5). Although, from experimental evidence, the reentrant neural activities seem to be necessary for consciousness to occur, no one can answer why and how consciousness (a non-material entity) should arise from such material activities, all the same. Other theories involve integrated information, electromagnetic field, attention, and adaptation of the brain (7-12), and many of them seem to have the same problem, which in philosophy is known as the hard problem of consciousness (13).

However, currently, there is a way to answer this problem, but the issue is too complex and lengthy to put it here. Briefly, it’s like this: when you see someone nods his/her head, you understand that he/she means yes. So, in principle, an abstract, non-material entity (the non-material information “yes”) can occur from the material activity (the physical nodding). Similarly, in the nervous system, non-material information can occur from material neural signaling. For example, when a certain neural circuit signals the information of a red color, other neural circuits, after reading this signal, acknowledge the red color, and there is the information of the red color in the neural circuit. Yet, this is not what the color red occurs in our mind; it’s just the information of the red color in our mind, like the information of the red color in a computer. Now, when a certain neural circuit signals the information of a conscious awareness of a red color, other neural circuits, after reading this specific signal, naturally acknowledge the conscious awareness of a red color, and the conscious awareness of a red color inevitably occurs in the neural circuits. That is how the non-material conscious awareness of the red color (the red color as it appears in our mind) occurs in our material brains. (See here and here for more detailed discussions).

3. Why is there consciousness?

You can note that we don’t have consciousness of every mental activities in our mind, some are sub- or unconscious mental activities. Consciousness occurs in only the final-stage external sensory perceptions and in the highest cognitive-executive functions. That’s why we’re not conscious of early-stage sensory perceptions (e.g., we don’t know what the visual signals that arrive at the primary visual area are like) and why we’re not conscious of cerebellar, basal ganglia, brainstem, and autonomic system activities (e.g., we don’t know what it’s like to coordinate contractions of millions of individual muscle fibers accurately, to contract our pupils, to secrete sweat or hormones, etc.). This is consistently true for billions of humans nowadays and in the past. So, consciousness does not scatter or occur anywhere arbitrarily in the brain – it selectively occurs in only the latest-evolved parts of the brain. This indicates that consciousness is an evolved function, not arbitrarily occurring function.

Now, does consciousness have effects?

Because you’re conscious of your consciousness, the consciousness neural process must function to acknowledge the occurrence of consciousness (otherwise, you cannot be conscious of your consciousness). This means consciousness has physical effects because it affects a physical process (the consciousness neural process) to function to acknowledge it. What is (are) the result(s) of this effect other than acknowledging the consciousness itself? We don’t know for certain now what it is or what they are. But to add another function requires resources to build, to maintain, and to operate it, if the overall effects are not beneficial, the species that have consciousness should become extinct in competition with other species that don’t have consciousness. But, nowadays, human beings and other beings that seem to have consciousness (e.g., mammals and birds) seem to thriving and dominating. So, it indicates that consciousness must have overall beneficial effects that help increase the chance of survival of the species that have it.

Overall, it can be concluded scientifically that consciousness is an evolved function to help increase the chance of survival. And that is why there is consciousness. (Again please read here for more detailed discussions.)

The above answers may not be completely correct yet. But we have come this far only after several decades of serious scientific studies of consciousness. So, I’m confident that finally science can account for consciousness.


  1. Buckner RL, Andrews-Hanna JR, Schacter DL. The brain's default network: anatomy, function, and relevance to disease. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008 Mar;1124:1-38. DOI: 10.1196/annals.1440.011.

  2. Baars BJ, Franklin S, Ramsoy TZ. Global workspace dynamics: Cortical “Binding and propagation” enables conscious contents. Front Psychol. 2013;4:200. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00200 PMCID: PMC3664777.

  3. Dehaene S, Naccache L. Towards a cognitive neuroscience of consciousness: Basic evidence and a workspace framework. Cognition. 2001 Apr;79(1-2):1-37.

  4. Song X, Tang X. An extended theory of global workspace of consciousness. Progress in Natural Science. 2008 Jul;18(7):789–793. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnsc.2008.02.003.

  5. Edelman GM, Gally JA, Baars BJ. Biology of Consciousness. Front Psychol. 2011;2:4. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00004 PMCID: PMC3111444.

  6. Llinás R, Ribary U, Contreras D, Pedroarena C. The neuronal basis for consciousness. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1998 Nov;353(1377):1841–1849. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.1998.0336 PMCID: PMC1692417.

  7. Tononi G. An information integration theory of consciousness. BMC Neurosci 2004,5:42. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2202-5-42

  8. McFadden J. The CEMI Field Theory gestalt information and the meaning of meaning. J Conscious Stud. 2013;20 (3-4):3-4.

  9. Ukachoke C. The Basic Theory of the Mind. Charansanitwong Printing Co, 2018. Bangkok, Thailand.

  10. Graziano MSA,Webb TW. The attention schema theory: A mechanistic account of subjective awareness. Front Psychol. 2015;6:500. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00500 PMCID: PMC4407481.

  11. Grossberg S. Adaptive Resonance Theory: how a brain learns to consciously attend, learn, and recognize a changing world. Neural Netw. 2013 Jan;37:1-47. DOI: 10.1016/j.neunet.2012.09.017.

  12. Block N. Comparing the major theories of consciousness. In: Gazzaniga MS, editor. The Cognitive Neurosciences (Chap 77). 4th ed., Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 2009:1111–1122.

  13. Chalmers DJ. Facing up to the problem of consciousness. J Conscious Stud. 1995;2(3):200-219.

  • Thanks, you said that consciousness may affect a physical process so the organism may be conscious that it is conscious. I have to suggest another possibility, that there are physical processes that cause consciousness on the one hand, and instead of the subjective experience to cause anything physical, those processes that cause this consciousness loop back and cause further processes that contribute to the consciousness of being conscious.
    – SmootQ
    Feb 2, 2019 at 15:44
  • In this view, consciousness is just parallel to the physical events, and does not affect anything.
    – SmootQ
    Feb 2, 2019 at 15:48
  • @SmootQ Thanks for the comments. The hypothesis that there’re physical processes that cause consciousness (C1) and the consciousness of being conscious (C2) and that C1 is parallel to the physical events and does not affect anything (including not causing C2) is interesting. But if that is the case then the consciousness that we feel is C2, not C1, because C1 does not affect anything, including our feeling. So, the consciousness that we feel, talk about, or even discuss about right now in this thread is all C2, and C1 is irrelevant to our physical world.
    – user287279
    Feb 3, 2019 at 8:22
  • The questions about the proposed hypothesis are (1) if C1 is in the parallel universe and does not affect anything, how can we ever prove its existence and (2) in what aspect does this hypothesis explain the problem of consciousness better than the existing hypotheses? If these questions can be answered, then the hypothesis will certainly be more interesting and useful.
    – user287279
    Feb 3, 2019 at 8:26
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    @SmootQ I agree and believe that consciousness is a self-reflexive process, and currently there is evidence for this: self-reentrant neural circuits are found to underlie the occurrence of consciousness.
    – user287279
    Feb 3, 2019 at 14:59

As for an account for consciousness, I think the subject is beyond the reach of science, although I do believe that neuroscience can give reliable arguments and even good (although limited) evidence for physicalism (i.e That Consciousness is produced by the brain).

So, I think we can scientifically know whether mind is product of the brain or not (and neuroscience nowadays seems to support the former).

But, to give an account for Qualia (i.e : How and Why do we have subjective experience?), I think this is the hard problem, and we are very far from a solution.

Logically speaking, I have a good reason to think that consciousness is the product of the brain, consider this argument :

  • Premise: For all x, if x is conscious then x has a brain.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, There is no x such that x has consciousness and has no brain.

It is a valid argument, and this is its form in predicate logic :

  • (x)(Cx → Bx)
  • ∴~(∃x)(Cx & ~Bx)

So, the deductive reasoning behind it is valid. If all x that has consciousness has a brain, then it follows that there is no x that has consciousness without a brain.

But how can we support the premise ? is the premise true

By induction, we know that all entities that are conscious that we have met in the past have brains, we have never met a being that is conscious without a complex material brain.

Then it follows that, inductively speaking, if we met another conscious entity in the future, this entity will probably (like 99.99%) have a brain.

So, by induction and the argument I described earlier, one can come to the conclusion that consciousness is not independent from the material brain.

Unless one can point to a rock or a table that is conscious.


The previous argument is analogous to this one :

  • Premise: For all x, if x is a rainy day then x is cloudy
  • Conclusion: therefore, there is no x, such that x is rainy but not cloudy.

You can clearly see here that clouds are necessary for rain, in similar arguments: the consequent is necessary for the antecedent to be true.

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    If x is a rainy day, cloudy can not be x, because cloudy does not contain the ‘time period’ in x = a rainy day. A rainy day can be sunny if the rainy clouds are above you and the sun is at an angle shining from under the clouds.
    – Ajagar
    Feb 2, 2019 at 14:50
  • The idea here is that there is no rain without clouds, even the slightest droplets of rain need something in the sky that looks like a cloud that can account for it.
    – SmootQ
    Feb 2, 2019 at 14:56
  • So, rain is impossible in a day where there is no clouds in the visible sky
    – SmootQ
    Feb 2, 2019 at 14:57
  • Is this a question? Rainy day and cloudy are not the same thing. One can cause the other but they can not both be x. But if you mean that being alive creates conciousness under the conditions that the brain can experience it. X creates Y conditionally.
    – Ajagar
    Feb 2, 2019 at 16:45
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    You didn't understand : the conditional is "If rain then clouds" , and not "if clouds then rain"
    – SmootQ
    Feb 2, 2019 at 16:46

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