I am seeking published discussions or arguments about this proposition, though some discussion here would be useful:

Science can prove or provide significant evidence that the brain is the source of the mind?

Note -- I am not asking about whether the brain is the source of the mind, just whether science can throw light on that question, though I can imagine that references on the latter will also discuss the former.

Pointers to discussions of larger issues would be useful, for example, this philosophy.stackexchange question -- What is the meaning of "There are questions that science can't answer"?) -- as long as they do cover this science/mind/brain issue. Usually those discussions are mostly about ethics.

I realize that the majority of people reading this probably accept or lean toward the underlying belief that the brain is the source of the mind, or at least the main source. There is even a survey: What do philosophers believe?, Bourget, D. & Chalmers, D.J. Philosophical Studies (2014) 170: 465. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-013-0259-7. The result on the underlying issue, posed in terms of physicalism are:

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?
   Physicalism: 56.5% (Accept (34.6%), Lean toward (21.9%))
   Non-physicalism: 27.1% (Accept (14.2%), Lean toward (12.9%))
   Other: 16.4% (The question is too unclear to answer (6.3%),  
      Agnostic/undecided (2.5%), Accept an intermediate view (2.4%))

But to what extent do you or philosophers believe (or disbelieve) physicalism because of evidence from science, or is it more from philosophical "evidence" and/or a metaphysical assumption, perhaps influenced by the prevailing scientific zeitgeist and/or the beliefs of most (neuro)scientists that the brain is indeed the source of the mind.

Addendum to address the "on hold".

Can science (by any reasonable definition -- or should I say "natural science"?) arbitrate between physicalism and non-physicalism, or is physicalism/non-physicalism a metaphysical assumption that science simply cannot address directly? By directly, I mean within the enterprise of science, using legitimate scientific methodology by pretty much any reasonable definition.

And even if science can't directly address physicalism, maybe the undeniable success of science in general, particularly physics, is in some sense inductive evidence for physicalism.

So there are philosophical issues there. I personally believe that science cannot provide any evidence in favor of physicalism by either of those routes or by any other that I can imagine (see below for the "against" prong). Maybe lots or even most philosophers agree, maybe not. But a lot of people think science can and does provide such evidence, and maybe even settles the question in favor of physicalism. Certainly a lot of scientists believe that, particularly neuroscientists.

That's the issue. I am looking, however, not just to elucidate it, but for published work along these lines, hence the "reference request" tag. I would like to be able to cite such work in some scholarship I am doing in a non-philosophical field, where just such statements are often made or implied -- for example, "Given current neuroscientific knowledge, it is plausible to believe that the brain is the source of the mind". I'd like to be able to say (and cite), perhaps, that philosophers generally agree that science cannot directly address such issues, or at least lay out the philosophical arguments for or against that capability for science.

BTW, there is another possibility here. It is pretty widely agreed that the search for biological correlates or explanations of consciousness has thus far barely gotten off the ground -- science is thus nowhere near understanding mind in the same way physics has made great strides in understanding matter or biology understanding life. Does that failure so far constitute inductive evidence against physicalism?

I think the issues around Chalmer's "hard problem", the work of McGinn and Nagel, etc are somewhat relevant here, though they mostly address the capabilities and limitations of philosophy, not science.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 12:48
  • @christo183 I share your general opinion. But... Instead of thinking of it as a sort of Philosophical 'God of the gaps' approach, I prefer to imagine that good scientists keep an open mind about things we've yet to understand. It's how I struggle to operate anyway.
    – Richard
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 13:00
  • First scientists would have to prove that there is such a thing as Mind. It's not easy to see how they could do this.
    – user20253
    Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 13:05
  • @GeoffreyThomas -- Please consider for reopening, as I have added an addendum with clarification. Also please note the number of votes for the question as well as for the two answers with fruitful material. If thiis is all still insufficient, I would be grateful for specific critiques and suggestions. Regards. --David Lewis Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 16:48
  • 2
    The brain and also the gut. scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain
    – user4894
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 4:00

7 Answers 7


The mind is the faculty for consciousness and thought. Methodological naturalism, which is what science operates under, assumes no underlying supernatural or non-physical cause because this type of naturalism just goes by directly what can be observed. If we were to pose a hypothesis that there was non-physical interference as a cause or influence on the mind we would need to be able to show it through the scientific method to attribute any form of credence to the idea and then it would become a theory. Typically a hypothesis is formed based on prior, reliable, information about what we observe and this a problem for the non-physicalist hypothesis because the information being presented in its case has yet to be shown as reliable and scientific meaning we can't test for it. This isn't to say we can definitively, or beyond a shadow of a doubt, rule out such a hypothesis and say there is no such thing as non-physical things but, we can just assume beyond a reasonable doubt that the hypothesis is likely wrong. The physicalists perspective quite obviously works just fine in doing neuroscience research and it's relation to human consciousness so that we are able to theorize how consciousness and different percepts arise.

Different brain regions are theorized to be responsible for certain things because neuroscientists find consistencies in people with damage or structural differences in certain brain regions or we can, using deep brain stimulation, turn on and off certain areas of the brain. More recently we've developed fully maps of fly brains. We've developed maps of human brain regions and the brains connectome. What science has yet to have figured out is how exactly different brain regions give rise to consciousness. Maybe with further technological advancements and research, we might just figure it out one day.

The sources below should provide you with other answers for what you're looking for. The first is a book that encompasses most of the scientific literature on consciousness up through 2016 however, unfortunately, each article costs money to read. The second, third, and fourth provide an overview of the empirical perspective of consciousness. Five, six, seven, and eight are some of the latest research in finding what parts of the brain facilitates consciousness. Nine and ten addresses neuronal computation just in case you or anyone else is up for learning about that. Finally, I've added a link to Khan Academy Neurology as another learning resource.

  1. The Neurology of Conciousness
  2. The Source of Consciousness
  3. In which I argue that consciousness is a fundamental property of complex things
  4. Quality and Content: Essays on Consciousness, Representation, and Modality
  5. A Human Brain Network Derived From Coma-Causing Brainstem Lesions
  6. Human Consciousness Is Supported by Dynamic Complex Patterns of Brain Signal Coordination
  7. Electrical Stimulation of a Small Brain Area Reversibly Disrupts Consciousness
  8. Claustrum Wikipedia
  9. Biophysics of Computation: Information Processing in Single Neurons
  10. Neural Computation
  11. Khan Academy Neurology
  • Thanks! I worked through most of those, and they, and your answer, seem to be mostly trying to understand mind with science, with the explicit or implicit assumption that it is possible. I am seeking, however, philosophical treatments of whether such understanding is even possiible, conceivable, etc. Koch has said (in this one or somewhere) that the best theory he knows of, IIT, is still in its infancy. Given that science, by its nature, cannot predict its own future success, I'd call that an admission of a decidedly negative answer thus far. Refs along those lines are what I am seeking. Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 18:04
  • @David Lewis I think the best we can currently do is just assess the likelihood of either of the two concepts based on either logical or subjective inferences of what we currently have observations of. I think both are still in the realm of possibility though until we can conclusively rule one out. You might be able to rule out some hypothesis’s of non-physicalism if they’re inconsistent with observations. But I’m glad I could be of some help.
    – user37181
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 20:26

Science can, in fact, provide strong evidence for that. We have a lot of very good information that shows very strong correlation between physical processes in the brain and how the mind works, but even more importantly, we have a lot of information showing causal relationship between physical processes and in the brain and how the mind doesn't work.

For the first part, we have for instance:

  • Data from MRI scans, showing consistent correlation between brain activation and mental and emotional processes
  • Related to the above, an existing technical ability to detect certain types of thoughts and mental processes, to the point where it's currently possible to control a mouse on the screen using nothing but thought
  • Further related to the above, the ability to accurately glean and predict certain mental states and outcomes with great accuracy. Specifically, there are experimental setups in which it's possible to predict a subject's responses and decisions several seconds ahead of them reporting having reached them, based on nothing but observation of the brain activity. IIRC, the accuracy was on the order of 80-90%, far greater than chance
  • A decent, if still very incomplete, understanding of how neurons work and are organised, which allows us to state with a very good degree of confidence that their function is related to computational processes of the type that we would expect, and indeed observe, to happen if the brain was the source of mind
  • Biological and evolutionary evidence that the size and type of brain is strongly correlated to the complexity of behaviours and thus (indirectly) mental facilities of the organism
  • The ability to cause and invoke certain mental states, thoughts and emotions by the appropriate stimulation of the brain, which leads to...

the second part. We know that:

  • Destruction of the brain is invariably and completely linked to the cessation of any observable mental processes
  • Certain developmental malformations in the brain are correlated to, and broadly predictive of, mental deficiencies
  • Chemical imbalances in the brain can greatly affect both the mood and mental capacity, and conversely, it's possible to improve both using appropriate chemical agents. Whilst we still don't have any real understanding of how most psychoactive drugs work, we know for sure that they do
  • Selective destruction and damage of certain regions of the brain can and observably do result in alteration, sometimes dramatic, of the personality, mental capacity, mood, beliefs and other aspects of the person's mind. We know of a host of striking syndromes and delusions (for example: Capgras syndrome, Cotard's delusion, somatoparaphrenia, anosognosia) which can lead to striking changes in one's mind and utterly bizarre beliefs and behaviours, and for at least some of them, we have a decent idea of the underlying physical causes
  • Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, CJD and others can degrade or completely inhibit, both selectively and broadly, the functioning of the mind

All of the above points to the inescapable conclusion that the mind seems to work, and break, just like a complex physical mechanism would. In order to posit a host for the mind that isn't the brain, and is indeed non-physical, you would need to provide a mechanism that explains both the non-physical seat of the mind, and its susceptibility to disruption and examination using physical means, equivalent to that of the physical mind. This entirely disqualifies any sort of "mind is fully non-physical" explanation. Even if we didn't know about all the physical processes correlated with the functioning of the mind, such an explanation would still need to account for the link between the non-physical mind and the physical body, which is clearly present, meaning the supposed "non-physical" mind is, in fact, subject to physical explanation.

This leaves us with various "brain as an antenna for the non-physical mind" approaches, but with our current understanding of the brain and mind, such an explanation has strictly less explanatory power than the physical mind, since it has to account for all the same physical characteristics of the mind that we know for a fact exist, while adding nothing to our understanding that the physical mind doesn't also provide. Any antenna sufficiently complex and varied to account for the variety of disruptions we know are possible raises a question if it wouldn't be simpler to have it run in the brain directly. I.e. such an explanation adds complexity for no gain, and thus violates the law of parsimony.

Footnote: As you can see, I was rather light on sources, mostly citing from memory. If necessary however, I can find and provide sources for the experimental results cited.


Here is the question:

But to what extent do you or philosophers believe (or disbelieve) physicalism because of evidence from science, or is it more from philosophical "evidence" and/or a metaphysical assumption, perhaps influenced by the prevailing scientific zeitgeist and/or the beliefs of most (neuro)scientists that the brain is indeed the source of the mind.

Dean Radin, a parapsychology researcher, provided a selected list

of peer-reviewed journal articles about psi (psychic) phenomena, most published in the 21st century. There are also some papers of historical interest and other resources. A comprehensive list of important articles and books would run into the thousands.

One could look at this as scientific evidence for non-physicalism, in particular, evidence that the brain is not the source of the mind. By the OP's assumption there also exists evidence for physicalism, that the brain is the source of the mind.

So based on evidence from science one could take either a physicalist or a non-physicalist view of the mind. That would suggest that the belief that the brain is the source of the mind is "a metaphysical assumption, perhaps influenced by the prevailing scientific zeitgeist and/or the beliefs of most (neuro)scientists".

"Selected Psi Research Publications" http://deanradin.com/evidence/evidence.htm

  • I like that @Frank -- thanks -- science can't arbitrate between physicalism and non-physicalism; it's a metaphysical assumption. Any published philosophy work along those lines? Maybe it's obvious (it is to me) but there are plenty of people who think science can say things about physicalism, mostly pro -- certainly a lot of scientists, ordinary folks, maybe even some philosophers. So it's a legit topic for philosophers. BTW, I think science might actually have something to say con -- if we spend huge efforts to understand mind by science and utterly fail -- that's inductive evidence IMHO. Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 23:53
  • @DavidLewis Something that might be useful is Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies. Plantinga claims the supposed conflict between religion and science is only shallow. The real conflict is with naturalism and science. Also for the zeitgeist you might consider how socionomics views social mood, a kind of zeitgeist, but with a spiral pattern so changes can be roughly predicted: socionomics.net/learn-about-socionomics It is more science than philosophy.The mood switches between positive and negative and moves in an overall progressive manner. Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 0:13
  • @FrankHubney -- Thanks. I skimmed that Plantinga piece, especially the synopsis. It's a very odd conclusion -- I thought your comment had a typo, substituting "naturalism" for "non-naturalism", but nope, that's what he says. And the argument is even odder. Finally he leans heavily on evolution and says little about brain/mind, so it doesn't really help me much, even if I accept it. Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 22:05

The brain is the most likely cause of consciousness given the fact that there is no evidence that one can be conscious without it. We’ve also mapped correlates in the brain to different stages of consciousness successfully. So to answer your question, yes, and the answer seems definitive.

If the brain isn’t the cause of consciousness, it would still be a physical cause. The very idea of something “non physical” creating something physical makes no sense. If you think it does, try merely imagining it. You won’t be able to. The very idea of something non physical existing independently of anything physical arguably results in a contradiction: independent existence necessarily requires the physical. One can imagine a physical existence independent of other things. One cannot do the same for the “non physical”.

The response of us using mental events to cause physical effects doesn’t work here, since each mental event can be linked to some physical brain process.

  • Every one of us every day experiences the no body state — Hindus call it deep sleep sushupti, modern lingo non REM sleep. This is the central pillar of many eastern religions. One example in somewhat more detail if you're interested
    – Rushi
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 12:46

The best source I know for an objective but non-physicalist account of the whole issue is Bernardo Kastrup's recent book The Idea of the World (available in Kindle).

Essentially his argument is, the mind is not the brain. Mental experience -- consciousness -- is not "generated" by physical processes and, indeed, by its very nature cannot be. Kastrum goes into great detail concerning the arguments that support this view, citing numerous recent experiments in neurophysiology in support of his own view. This is the impressive part. Kastrup is a self-described "analytic idealist" and so essentially presents cogent analytical arguments including neurophysiological experimental evidence (which the physicalist view seems mostly based on these days) to demonstrate that physicalism has a much higher epistomological "price tag" than idealism.


I have found a variety of references that cite significant evidences on both sides of this question. These demonstrate that this is a question for science, and there is a debate raging.

  • Irreducible Mind is a compilation of a significant amount of evidence for the non-reducibility of mind to matter.
  • Susan Blackmore A Very Short Introduction to Consciousness is a compilation of the evidences that refute all physicalist models of consciousness. She argues that physicalism must be true, therefore consciousness must be a delusion.
  • Here is an evidence-based critique of Kelly's team's later book, Beyond Physicalism:
  • Here is an attack on the concept of Soul as a hypothesis, and a critique of this attack:
  • And here is a citation of evidence both for and against an afterlife, with review, critique, and commentary
  • Your Kelly link is a copy of Susan Blackmore. Rest +1. [It would read better if the long links were hidden under suitable names]
    – Rushi
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 4:59
  • Kelly link corrected. Thanks. Rename links is not something I know how to do.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 6:16
  • I've edited in the links for better readability. Please edit to your taste
    – Rushi
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 10:10

Here are some recent findings for the question:

Scientists identify mind-body nexus in human brain April 19, 2023

*The relationship between the human mind and body has been a subject that has challenged great thinkers for millennia, including the philosophers Aristotle and Descartes. The answer, however, appears to reside in the very structure of the brain. Researchers said on Wednesday they have discovered that parts of the brain region called the motor cortex that govern body movement are connected with a network involved in thinking, planning, mental arousal, pain, and control of internal organs, as well as functions such as blood pressure and heart rate.

The researchers called this system the somato-cognitive action network, or SCAN, and documented its connections to brain regions known to help set goals and plan actions.*



Last month, materialist neurologist Steven Novella made a rather astonishing claim in a post at his Neurologica blog: A recent open-access study of learning and decision-making in mice shows that the human mind is merely what the human brain does.What is not in doubt is that, to some extent, thoughts correlate with brain activity. On that, dualists and materialists agree.


Continued progress in neuroscience has helped to clarify many of these issues, and its findings have been taken by many to support physicalists' assertions

Farah, Martha J.; Murphy, Nancey (February 2009). "Neuroscience and the Soul". Science. 323 (5918): 1168. doi:10.1126/science.323.5918.1168a. PMID 19251609. S2CID 6636610.

Over the past years, research in cognitive sciences has highlighted the importance of the body for cognition. Proponents of the embodied cognition theory of mind hold that cognition (and mental phenomena) is the product of active interactions between individuals and their surrounding environment. 2019

Shapiro, Lawrence A. (2019). Embodied cognition (2nd ed.). London. ISBN 978-1-138-74698-5. OCLC 1088600407. Archived from the original on 2022-07-30. Retrieved 2022-03-11.

So yes, science is very close to prove or provide evidence that brain is the source of the mind and Idealism seems the face strong arguments in contrast.

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