Can one be a hard-boiled believer in neural correlates of consciousness and at the same time believe in things like

and if so, which approaches have been taken to reconcile these beliefs?

Who are the most prominent (neuro-)scientists that don't exclude the possibility of immortal souls, reincarnation, or telepathy - and on which grounds (when not relying on miracles)?

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    Certainly telepathy is theoretically compatible with physicalism. It’s not true (it’s been tested for a century with null results) but it’s a valid hypothesis not requiring supernatural axioms. Same with “reincarnation” if you count “mine uploading” or “mind transfer” as reincarnation and allow it may be possible by technical means (eg molecule-for-molecule reconstruction of a brain or brain/body pair).
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 14, 2020 at 13:29
  • I'd like to exclude "artificial" kinds of reincarnation (like "molecule-for-molecule reconstruction") and telepathy (like "technical read-out of 'thoughts' from one brain and transferring them technically to another brain"). I mean "natural" kinds of reincarnation and telepathy. Jan 14, 2020 at 14:17
  • The natural telepathy part I was arguing is compatible with physicalism with no artificial intervention. It’s a valid hypothesis which can be tested empirically using sound scientific methodology, not requiring dualism or supernatural assumptions, etc. In fact, it has been, a lot (without success). But it’s compatible with physicalism. Reincarnation, I’ll grant, is not compatible if we don’t admit artificial intervention.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 14, 2020 at 14:27
  • @DanBron: Could you please give me a reference where I can learn why telepathy is a valid hypothesis but reincarnation is not? (For me it's not at all clear how even telepathy could be a valid hypothesis.) Jan 14, 2020 at 14:30
  • I suppose an existence proof is enough? There have been a number of high-profile and well-funded research groups within prestigious institutions (eg PEAR at Princeton) dedicated to the scientific study of psi phenomena (including telepathy, among others). There are no such institutions studying reincarnation, so far as I know.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 14, 2020 at 14:56

1 Answer 1


The simplest answer to this question is to remember that correlation does not equal causation. Neural correlates are exactly that: biological phenomena that correlate with subjective experiences of consciousness. We have no clear idea (yet) what produces (causes) the subjective experience of consciousness, and so we have no theory on which to base a methodological approach to the question. We cannot exclude the possibility of an immortal soul on rational or empirical grounds. Nor can we defend the possibility. This question is currently outside the horizon of proper scientific investigation.

  • Somehow happy to hear that - because it leaves possibilities open. Jan 14, 2020 at 16:21
  • Interesting answer, but somehow strikes me as a little unhelpful because you only address the hard problem of consciousness (i.e. how subjectivity arises at all, which we have no materialist account for as is). Doesn't the immaterial soul claim to be more than just this subjectivity-providing mechanism? If we're talking about a soul that can somehow float out of the body at death, I don't see how that would be compatible with the fact that we have a good idea of how physical activities in the brain shape consciousness, even if we don't have an account of how consciousness arises.
    – natojato
    Jan 16, 2020 at 19:08
  • @natojato — I tend to take a neutral/conservative approach to science, acknowledging its intrinsic self-limitations. Should a soul that 'can float out of the body' exist, it certainly could be the causal source of the neural correlates we observe, in exactly the same sense that Santa Claus (should he exist) could be the causal source of presents appearing under a Christmas tree. There are more obvious mechanisms for the appearance of Christmas presents, so most of us give up the 'Santa' theory. But as of yet there are not any obvious mechanisms for these neural correlates. Jan 16, 2020 at 20:30

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