The previous part hints that life may have a non-material aspect to it, but the criterion of coherence demands more direct support for such an assertion. Although it may apply to other life forms, the most conducive way to approach this issue is by focusing on human beings. This has the advantages of being able to refer to one's personal experience and to utilise the ability of language. So, examining the so-called ‘mind-body problem' (how mental processes are related to bodily states or processes) seems the best starting point. An additional benefit is that this ‘problem' is also democratic. Unlike the mysteries of the universe or subatomic particles that require equipment available only to a few specialists, everybody has access to shis own mind.

Before the various options are considered though, a modern myth related to this subject must be addressed. It consists of the claim that science has already solved or is close to solving the riddle of consciousness and its relation to the brain. The myth is perpetuated by some scientist (e.g. professor Semir Zeki) but more often by non-scientists (such as philosopher Daniel Dennett) or the media. It is true that science has made a great contribution in recent years to understanding the structure and functioning of the brain, but this is a different matter. In fact, science is no closer to solving this problem than it was fifty or more years ago, when the interest in the subject re-surfaced. The consensus of the speakers at the 1995 conference in London, Consciousness - its place in contemporary science, was that ‘science really did not understand anything about consciousness - what it is, how it evolved, how it is generated by the brain, or even what it is for' (Sutherland, 1994, p.285). The issue is not that science is not there yet, and that only more study and more sophisticated instruments are needed. More fundamentally, with the current methodology, science is unlikely ever to address this problem fully and adequately. The commonly accepted criteria for data in a scientific analysis are that they are objective, public, and replicable (leading to predictability). However, consciousness has some unique characteristics that render these criteria inadequate:


The first person perspective - the present scientific methodology favours observation, but the mind is not open to external observation. The mental is private, non-accessible to the outside, objective, public sphere, unlike physical objects or phenomena. It is intimately and directly accessible to its ‘owner', but not to others (a report is already second hand data). Güzeldere, a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, writes (1995b, p.116):

...from the outside, the first-hand exploration of the consciousness of others just seems to be out of the reach of ordinary scientific methods, others' experience being neither directly observable nor non-inferentially verifiable.


Non-spatiality - the other problem is that the materials of consciousness are non-spatial. They are not located in any specific place nor do they take up a particular volume of space; they are not made of spatially distributed parts nor have they spatial dimensionality; they are not solid and some of them don't even have a shape (e.g. the ideas of love or freedom). Since they are non-spatial, they are in principle unobservable. The view of some scientists that the appearance of non-spatiality is a kind of illusion seems so far to be baseless. It was discovered a while ago that certain sets of neurons process lines, angles or simple geometrical forms, but this is a far cry from even the simplest mental images. Nobody has yet managed to find in the brain anything that even remotely looks like a house or the grandma that one can imagine or remember. It has been proposed that the brain, in theory, can produce something similar to holograms, but this has never been detected, so its spatiality cannot be taken for granted even if the premise is correct. Thus, it is reasonable to accept that mental events as such are unobservable from the third person perspective, and for all practical purposes, non-spatial until shown otherwise.


Qualia (qualities that experiences such as feeling pain, seeing the colour green, or smelling a flower consist of). There is clearly a difference between the particular behaviour of nerve cells associated with pain for example, and the actual experience of pain. Even materialists such as Koch, admit that ‘there seems to be a huge jump between the materialistic level, of explaining molecules and neurons, and the subjective level' (1992, p.96). To paraphrase philosopher Chalmers, however much knowledge neuroscience gains about the brain, there will still be an ‘explanatory gap' between the physical and subjective realms. Experimental work on perception, for instance, only relates to the contents of consciousness, not to the experience itself. Neuro-science can explain, to some extent, how sensations can be ‘translated' into electro-magnetic impulses, but it does not say anything about how these impulses are translated into images, thoughts, feelings (not to mention that humans are able to create them too). Put simply, science has not found mental events in the brain. The best it can do is to provide a detailed map of the physical processes that correlate with specific subjective states. No neurological theory explains why brain functions are accompanied by them.


The contribution of science should not be underestimated, but the inevitable conclusion is that science, on its own, cannot truly solve the mind-body problem. Bearing this in mind, various possibilities of the relation between the brain and mind can be examined.

Matter exists, mental does not

This view is known as reductive materialism or materialistic monism. It is based on the belief that the mind can either be identified or reduced to the brain (or body) activity. For a true materialist the ‘mind' is nothing more than a way of describing certain electrical impulses and chemical processes in the brain and the rest of the body. Thoughts or emotions are just a mere folk terminology for them. Consequently, the laws of nature govern these processes, and freedom of choice is merely an illusion.

Arguments for materialism do not amount to much. Some of its proponents admit that they are motivated by such considerations as Occam's razor and a general belief that everything is reducible to one kind of entity. The reason why this perspective seems plausible to many is that brain injuries or chemicals can alter mind states. However, although this proves that the brain affects the mind, it is not evidence that the mind is the brain. To make a comparison, if a car breaks down or runs out of petrol, the driver is forced to stop shis journey. This is not a proof, though, that the driver does not exist, or that s/he is identical to or a product of mechanical processes in the car's engine. Yet, materialistic interpretations make comparable claims in an attempt to explain the mind solely by brain processes. One thing is, however, clear. There is no scientific evidence that the mind is only a product of brain activity:

...connection is not enough. To say that rain is connected with a fall of the barometer is very different from saying that rain is a fall of the barometer; and the same is true of sensations and brain-processes - even assuming that they could be correlated in the same sort of way. To go from correlation to identification requires a further step. Is this further step also a matter of science? (Hanfling, 1980, p.52)

Materialism looks attractive because it offers an easy solution to the problem that bedevils dualism: how states of the mind (expectations, volitions, feelings) can initiate physical movements. If the mind is identified with the brain this issue becomes trivial: the one part of essentially the same system affects another in a way that a car engine affects the wheels (dualists would comment that it is not the car-engine, but ultimately a driver who initiates the movement, and s/he is not a part of the system). The materialist solution, however, creates even bigger problems and requires sacrificing much of what it tries to explain. The mental must be completely eliminated because if it is acknowledged, it must be material, and therefore spatial and accessible from the third person perspective. Yet, this does not seem to be the case. So, there are several attempts to sidetrack this essential aspect of human experience (the irony is that there is so much bickering about  the best way to do so, that materialists appear to be the best critics of each other).



The eagerness of psychologists to present themselves as objective and show that the third person perspective can be employed to study the mind too, resulted in the theory of behaviourism that reigned for fifty years (roughly between 1915 and 1965). A radical form of materialism, it reduces all mental states to phenomena that can be observed and measured (i.e. behaviour). A particularly influential form was the ‘logical behaviourism’ espoused by philosopher Ryle in his book The Concept of Mind. He also coined a disparaging phrase for dualism - ‘the dogma of the ghost in the machine’.  Once the mental is identified with behaviour, it is easy to discard the mind altogether. Ryle, for example, argues that one cannot expect to find a mind over and above all the various parts of the body and its actions, for the mind is just a convenient label for certain physical actions. He uses the metaphor of a university that does not exist out and above the buildings and people that make a university. So, as university, the mind does not really exist, it is only a different level of description. There are many objections to this perspective:

  • Ryle may be right to compare the mind with the concept of ‘university’ in so far as the mind does not exist independent from its constituents (it is just a name for a sum of mental processes). However, identifying these processes (thoughts, images, feelings, desires etc.) with the description of behaviour leads to some absurd consequences. For example, from this perspective, no distinction can be made between the person who is really in pain and the person who acts convincingly that s/he is in pain. Also, what about those who do not show any external expressions of mental events (e.g. a person who is paralysed or meditating)? Although public evidence for one’s thoughts or feelings must indeed come from shis observable behaviour, it is a real leap of faith to assume that they can be reduced to it.
  • By identifying mental events with behavioural tendencies this doctrine leaves qualia out of the equation. The experience of being in pain cannot be simply reduced to a disposition to scream, wince or say ‘I am in pain’. Feeling the pain is too important to be ignored. Philosopher Kripke argues that the behaviourist account of the mental fails because the subjective character of an experience (or ‘its immediate phenomenological quality’, as he calls it) is the essential property left out by such analyses.
  • Behaviourism naturally does not allow the possibility that behaviour can be caused by mental events such as beliefs for example. According to this view, such events do not exist independently of behaviour, they are just dispositions to behave in a certain way. For example, one does not take an umbrella because s/he believes that it is going to rain, but because s/he has a disposition to take an umbrella. This, however, blatantly contradicts common experience and common sense.
  • Behaviourists’ claim that an individual learns about shis own beliefs by monitoring shis behaviour and by listening to what s/he says, also seems absurd. It would mean that we cannot have any beliefs that we have not first acted upon or verbally expressed.
  • A logical consequence of such a position is that the mind is fully determined by its environment (‘nurture’), but this does not leave any room for choice, creativity and other common phenomena (and if they did not exist on the first place, they could not even be invented, since invention involves creativity).

Not surprisingly, behaviourism was eventually rejected even by those who subscribe to materialism, so other ways have been sought to dispose of  the mental.



Eliminativism is an extreme materialist doctrine that attempts to solve the ‘mind-body problem’ by completely eliminating the mind. It simply denies the existence of the phenomena that cannot be explained from a materialistic perspective. Eliminativists maintain that mentality is nothing more than folklore, and advocate the replacement of everyday psychological concepts (such as feelings, desires, beliefs, intentions etc.) in favour of neuro-scientific ones. This position was championed by Patricia and Paul Churchland and Daniel Dennett. The latter, in his rather over-confidently entitled book Consciousness Explained, asserts that consciousness - and our sense that we have a self - is an illusion. This, however, cannot be justified for several reasons:

  • A claim that common mental phenomena are illusions - similar to optical illusions, is not only unsubstantiated, but also misleading. Unlike perception, which is mediated by the senses that can play tricks on us, phenomenological experience is direct and cannot be an illusion. Only its interpretations can be, because they require a correspondence to events or objects outside one’s mind. However, being aware, intending or the sense of self are not interpretations (we do not project them onto or seek correspondence with something ‘out there’). They are prime examples of unmediated experiences. So, we may be wrong believing that they are in the brain (or not in the brain), but they cannot be dismissed as an illusion. For instance, if a person says that s/he feels pain, s/he may be wrong about many things (e.g. where that pain is coming from) but not that s/he is experiencing, is aware of pain. Saying ‘No, you are mistaken, you are not aware of any pain’ simply does not make sense (unless it is suspected that the person is deliberately lying, but this is beside the point).
  • The complex organisation of a brain is merely a mechanism, and being a mechanism it cannot be sufficient to account for what Chalmers calls the ‘hard problem’. He points out that ‘ is conceptually coherent that brain processes could be instantiated in the absence of experience’ (1995, p.208). Therefore, if they may happen without experience, referring to the physical processes alone cannot adequately explain why experience arises.
  • Qualia cannot be eliminated without losing the essential quality of consciousness. A particular part of the brain may be active when one feels sad, for example, but this electro-chemical process (even if it was the physical cause of the experience) is not the same thing as a phenomenological experience of sadness.
  • If the mind is the brain, no discrepancies between these two should be possible. Yet, there are several empirical findings of dis-synchrony, such as temporal discrepancies between neural events and the related experiences apparent in backward masking, antedating and a commonly perceived slowing down of time in acute emergencies (see Popper and Eccles, 1977).

The conclusion is that although eliminating the mind would make life easier for those who study consciousness, it does not seem to be a viable option. Roger Sperry, one of the most distinguished neuro-scientists in the second half of the 20th century, declared in his paper ‘Changing priorities’:

Current concepts of the mind-brain relation involve a direct break with the long-established materialist and behaviourist doctrine that has dominated neuroscience for many decades. Instead of renouncing or ignoring consciousness, the new interpretation gives full recognition to the primacy of inner conscious awareness as a causal reality. (1981, p.7)


Identity theories

Identity theories, a variant of the above, claim that mental events and brain processes are identical, just different descriptions. The oldest version is the so-called type-identity theory. It states that mental events and physical ones are just two ways of looking at the same thing (like H2O and water). The fact that many people have no knowledge of brain processes but know intimately their own thoughts and feelings is not a problem per se (they are contingently identical). However, there are several other reasons why this theory does not seem plausible.

  • The identity theory fails to explain why a particular neural activity causes a certain experience (e.g. why the excitation of C-fibres is associated with pain, not itching).
  • Logical differences between propositions about the mind and propositions about the brain pointed out by many philosophers cannot be ignored. Brentano’s intentionality is one example: mental states are about something, while brain states are not, they just are.
  • Another problem is that the same kind of a mental event can correlate with different neural mechanisms. It is hard to believe that the same mechanism underlies pain for all the different actual and possible pain-capable organisms. Thus, it seems that there is no single physical kind with which pain, as a mental kind, can be identified.
  • If thoughts and brain states are identical, they should share the same properties and be located in the same place (as water and H2O do). However, mental events have attributes that physical events do not have (and vice versa). Brain-processes are very different from mental images, thoughts, experiences, intentions, beliefs, etc. These differences cannot be seen as only different descriptions. A mental image, for example, cannot be described in terms of brain activity without losing the essential qualities of that image. Philosopher of mind, Thomas Nagel, writes:

The idea of how a mental and physical term might refer to the same thing is lacking, and the usual analogies with theoretical identification in other fields fail to supply it. They fail because if we construe the reference of mental terms to physical events on the usual model, we either get a reappearance of separate subjective events as the effects through which mental reference to physical events is secured, or else we get a false account of how mental terms refer (for example, a causal behaviourist one). (1981, p.401)

  • If H2O is just a different name for water, water must be always present when H2O is present. This is not the case with the brain and the mind. There are brain processes that do not have corresponding mind events, and arguably vice-versa, as neuroscientist Libet claims: ‘ is possible that some mental phenomena have no direct neuronal basis’ (2004, p.184).
  • It is hard to explain from this position why we are aware of some brain processes and not others, or how we can alternate between being aware and not being aware of certain neural events without altering them (e.g. the sensations associated with sitting).
  • The implication of this theory is that the brain processes would always produce the same mental events, and that mental events are always associated with identical brain processes. Yet, this is unlikely. A thought today may involve a different brain state than the same thought one had a day before. Mental events cannot be segmented and isolated from general experience as physical processes can. To overcome this problem, a so-called token-identity theory was developed. Unlike type-identity theory, this one allows that mental events of the same type need not all be brain states of the same type. The theory however does not explain how it is possible, which makes the relationship between the physical and the mental even more mysterious than dualistic interpretations.



Functionalism became a popular theory of the mind in the late 20th century, not only because it looked more promising than identity theories and behaviourism, but also because it could be linked to the development of Artificial Intelligence that was gathering momentum at that time. It claims that a functional role, rather than the intrinsic features of a system, determine a mental state. Mind events can be observed in terms of the relation between input, existing brain state and output. In other words, the mind is a name for the various functions that the brain performs, and the brain can be seen as a sophisticated and complex computer (the organic basis, therefore, is not necessary and can be replaced, for example, with a silicon one). Although an improvement to the previous theories, functionalism can also be criticised on several counts.

  • Searle’s famous mind experiment, known as the ‘Chinese room’, highlights the difference between processing information, and thinking and understanding in human terms, that the proponents of functionalism tend to neglect. The person in the room does not understand Chinese. Through a letterbox come various Chinese characters printed on cards. On a table in the room is a book, and the task of the person is to match the Chinese character on a card with a Chinese character in the book. The book will then indicate another, different, Chinese character which is paired with the first one. The person takes this other character from the pile of cards that s/he has and pushes it back out through the letter box. The cards coming into the room are questions written in Chinese. Those the person pushes back out are shis answers, also in Chinese. Even though s/he does not understand Chinese, it appears from outside that s/he is giving intelligent answers in that language. Yet, the person does not have any relevant experience or understanding; s/he is simply manipulating what for shim are meaningless characters. Artificial Intelligence is in the same position as the person in the ‘Chinese room’. Like shim, it just manipulates symbols without genuinely understanding what they refer to. Thus, functionalist model does not capture a complete picture of the mind. Güzeldere writes:

Something essential to (at least our common sense conception of) consciousness, it was largely believed, was necessarily left out in characterizing consciousness only by specifying its functional role in the cognitive economy of human mentation and behaviour. (1995a, p.49)

  • The other way to pinpoint the inadequacy of the functionalist account is to compare human behaviour with the behaviour of purely mechanical complex systems such as machines, robots or ‘zombies’ (a term used in this area of study to signify something that looks like a human, but does not have conscious experience or freedom of choice). Any significant differences would indicate that a living organism cannot be reduced to the functions of shis physical component. The obvious one is a lack of two essential characteristics of life: experience and agency. Let us consider pain again. Pain is functional in many ways. In principle, a machine may be programmed to process or react to the same stimuli in a similar fashion, without, in fact, experiencing pain. Yet, human beings do not react only functionally to pain, they do a lot of things that are not functional: they may jump up and down, bite their hand, swear, or even masochistically enjoy their pain. These may not all be functional in respect to the body, but serve some purpose for the one who is experiencing the pain (these are reactions to experience, rather than to an informational aspect of the pain or its cause). There is not any need for robots or ‘zombies’ to exhibit such reactions, and therefore they would not be present if living organisms were the same. Moreover, humans reactions are far less causally determined than what one would expect from machines:

If our brain operates like computers, appropriate behaviour to avoid harm and remedy damage could simply be the output of unconscious computation, and pain would be superfluous. As it is, pain gives us notice of the desirability of such behaviour, and a motive to engage in it; but it leaves us with a choice to do something else if we judge other considerations to be more important. (Hodgson, 1994, p.213)

There are many other manifestations of human behaviour that are unlikely to be found in inanimate systems: self-determination, insecurity, anticipation, curiosity, intolerance of boredom, creativity, surprise, choice based on future perspective (e.g. expectations), guessing, indecisiveness, or desire to survive often irrationally expressed in acute situations (robots would have no use for panic, and such a reaction is too complex to spontaneously occur as a result of their malfunctioning). Of course, theoretically it may be possible to make a machine that could simulate these characteristics,  but this would be only a form without a content[1]. Chalmers concludes:

the explanation of functions does not suffice for the explanation of experience. Experience is not an explanatory posit but an explanandum in its own right...  (1995, p.209)

Functionalists, of course, may disagree, but, as Alwyn Scott puts it,

Computer functionalism is a mere theory of the mind, and our experiences of qualia and free will are widely observed facts of nature. What are we to believe - our own perceptions or a belief handed to us by [reductionist] tradition? (1998, p.76)



It seems that reductive materialism cannot find a plausible way to exclude the mental from the equation without losing what is essential:

None of these theories can count as solutions to the perennial mind-brain problem; they are rather, evasions of the problem. They provide various linguistic formulae for sustaining the pretence that there is no problem as traditionally supposed. However, since they all involve a denial that subjective experience constitutes an irreducible datum, they must be deemed to fall at the first post. (Beloff, 1994, p. 33)

It may be worthwhile to summarise the problems with this perspective in relation to the criteria of reasoning specified in the first part (p.42).


Incompleteness - materialism leaves out the essential elements associated with the mental: awareness (experience, qualia), intent (initiating mental acts that can affect the body, too) and self (as that which is aware and intends). The philosopher Schopenhauer described such a view as the philosophy ‘of the subject who forgot to take account of himself’. More recently, the neuroscientist Nunn (1994, p.127) makes a similar comment:

Recognising the incapacity of ideas of this sort to account for qualia, Dennett took the desperate, and in our view mistaken, step of arguing that they do not really exist in quite the way that everyday introspection suggests.

Materialism cannot acknowledge qualia because they would have to be material, which would mean that we should be able to find them. This would also imply that there are physical events that have that property and some that do not, which leads to property dualism that is hard for a materialist to accept and justify. Yet, the subjective cannot be reduced to the objective without losing its essential character. Nagel writes:

Any reductionist program has to be based on an analysis of what is to be reduced. If the analysis leaves something out, the problem will be falsely posed. It is useless to base the defence of materialism on any analysis of mental phenomena that fails to deal explicitly with their subjective character. For there is no reason to suppose that a reduction which seems plausible when no attempt is made to account for consciousness can be extended to include consciousness. Without some idea, therefore, of what the subjective character of experience is, we cannot know what is required of physicalist theory.  (1981, p.392-393)

Creativity (e.g. finding original solutions, or simply formulating a new sentence) is another phenomenon that materialists cannot adequately explain, considering that the brain processes, according to them,  should be solely governed by natural laws[2].


Inconsistency - biologist J. B. S. Haldane was first to point out that materialism is self-defeating, it cannot claim to be supported by rational argument. If materialism is true, we cannot know that it is true. If opinions are nothing more than the electro-chemical processes going on in the brain, they must be determined by the laws of physics and chemistry, not logic. Developing this argument further Popper concludes:

Materialism... is incompatible with rationalism, with the acceptance of the standards of critical argument; for these standards appear from the materialist point of view as an illusion, or at least as an ideology. (1977, p.81)

Even illusions themselves are a discretely mental category (computers do not have illusions), which is what materialists deny. In other words, they claim that having an illusion is itself an illusion - a contradiction in terms.


Incongruence - materialistic interpretation also cannot adequately account for some experimental data, such as split brain experiments (forebrain commissurotomy - the removal of the corpus callosum), blind sight, temporal discrepancies between neural events and mental experiences, intentional activation of a brain module without corresponding action, and binding (integrated character of the experience that is not reflected in the brain)[3]. An eminent scientist and brain surgeon, Penfield, concludes:

Because it seems to me certain that it will always be impossible to explain the mind on the basis of neuronal action within the brain, and because it seems to me that the mind develops and matures independently throughout an individual’s life as though it were a continuing element, and because a computer (which the brain is) must be programmed and operated by an agency capable of independent understanding, I am forced to choose the proposition that our being is to be explained on the basis of two fundamental elements... mind and brain as two semi-independent elements.  (1975, p.80)

Materialists are right that the brain has an essential role in mental processes, but they do not provide convincing support for the claim that the mind can be fully reduced to it. As Scott points out, ‘...this chasm between the details of a mechanistic explanation of the brain and the ever-present reality of conscious awareness, has continued to yawn... Reductive materialism fails to bridge that gap’ (1995, p.101).

  • [1]. Writer Lem makes this point in a more descriptive way: ‘One can, to be sure, program a digital machine in such a way as to be able to carry on a conversation with it, as if with an intelligent partner. The machine will employ, as the need arises, the pronoun "I" and all its grammatical inflections. This, however, is a hoax! Nothing will amuse such a machine, or surprise it, or confuse it, or alarm it, or distress it, because it is psychologically and individually No One... One cannot count on its sympathy, or on its antipathy. It works towards no self-set goal; to a degree eternally beyond the conception of any man it "doesn’t care", for as a person it simply does not exist... It is a wondrously efficient combinatorial mechanism, nothing more’ (1981, p. 306-307).
  • [2]. One should bear in mind that the unpredictable and chaotic behaviours of some complex natural systems are not the same as creativity.
  • [3]. These empirical findings will be addressed in more detail later on.

Mental exists, matter does not

This position, known as idealism or transcendental monism, is advocated by a number of scientists and philosophers (e.g. A. S. Eddington, J. Jeans, G. F. Stout, W. Harman). In conversation with Einstein, a famous Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore defended, rather successfully, a (‘weak') version of idealism against realism. Idealism is not so absurd as it seems at first glance (especially if it is considered epistemologically rather than ontologically). In the end, what we know is the content of our mind (our perceptions are part of our mind not reality). And that content does not necessarily correspond to something ‘out there'. For example, the experience of solidity is only a mental product. As science confirms, a stone that appears solid is in fact mostly empty space. The usual refutation that goes something like ‘if you hit a table, the pain will be an obvious proof that it is real', does not, in fact, hold water. There is no reason why pain cannot be an established reaction to mental representations as much as material objects that have an independent existence. After all, we can experience pain in a dream as a result of hitting a dreamt table that is evidently not material.

A more serious problem that this position faces is how things unknown and unperceived by anybody can still exist. For example, somebody hides a treasure and subsequently dies. Nobody knows about it, but years later it is accidentally found. It makes sense to think that the treasure has existed all the time (although it was not in the mind of anybody). Bishop Berkeley, a philosopher often associated with this perspective, argues that reality is coherent and has continuity because it is in the mind of God - an omnipresent observer. Husserl also suggests in Cartesian Meditations that the transcendental ego would remain in existence even if the entire universe was destroyed. However, even if God or transcendental ego as a universal observer is accepted, another fundamental issue still remains. Whatever is called matter in our mental representations is distinct from non-matter (a dreamt table is, for all practical purposes, different from what is normally considered a real table). So, even if they are both subgroups of the mental, there is still a need to find out how these two subgroups relate to each other (e.g. what are hallucinations?). In other words, assuming that this perspective is correct would still leave the mind-body problem largely unresolved.

It can be concluded that neither materialist or idealist monism provide helpful arguments to overthrow the common sense assumption that both matter and mind exist and cannot be reduced to each other. This however, does not preclude the possibility that one causes the other, which is considered next.

Matter causes mental

Although the starting point is matter, this is a very different perspective from reductive materialism. Its proponents acknowledge that the mind is irreducible even if it is the result of the brain. Therefore mental, as something distinct from matter, exists, which already makes this position a form of (‘weak') dualism[4]. The most popular view, asserting that the mind arises from the brain complexity, is called emergentism (advocated by Sperry, Popper, Scott and many others). The assumption behind this is that a combination of simple structures can give rise to some qualities that their constitutive elements do not have. A simple example is the wetness of water that emerges from non-wet molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. More generally, the idea is that physics gives rise to chemistry, chemistry to biology, biology to the brain and the brain to consciousness, but none of them can be reduced to their precursors. This is a big improvement on reductive materialism because it can account for subjective experiences and perhaps even for the non-physical properties of the mental, but it has some other shortcomings.

  • Emergentism does not explain why and how the brain gives rise to mind, but simply assumes that it happens. Not only does the question why the complexity of the brain would lead to consciousness remain unanswered, but also why the complexity increases at all. Considering that emergent systems are always open systems, it is possible that factor(s) external to the system force this increase. If this proposition is taken onboard, what these conditions and factors that contribute to the emergence of consciousness are, would need clarifying.
  • The assembly of neurons and other cells that make up the brain undoubtedly produce some new qualities (e.g. an equivalent to the wetness of water would be the sponginess of the brain). However, the mind is different. Its phenomenal properties appear sharply dissimilar to those of the brain. It can be expected that the increased complexity of the nervous system would allow more complex processes in the brain to occur, but it seems implausible that sentient, experiencing entities could spontaneously evolve at one point out of wholly insentient, non-experiencing substance.
  • There is no reason to believe that these properties are specific to human beings. True, the mental life of other organisms may be much more limited, but that does not mean that they are just carbon based robots that don't have any experience. In fact, as far as observation can be relied on, it seems that even some one-cell organisms exhibit behaviour hinting that they are capable of experience and that they can be pro-active. If this is true, then the ability to experience and some other mental qualities cannot be the result of the brain complexity. Seager concludes:

If consciousness is not reducible then we cannot explain its appearance at a certain level of physical complexity merely in terms of that complexity and so, if it does not emerge at these levels of complexity, it must have been already present at the lower levels. (1995, p.279)

  • Even if it is accepted that consciousness emerges from brain complexity, how the matter affects the mind needs an explanation. There is no reason to believe that physical-to-mental causation is easier to understand than mental-to-physical causation.

This last point leads to the issue of mental causation (which true materialists could avoid by simply denying that the mental exists). Many scholars recognise that a materialist perspective is too narrow and mistaken to exclude the mental. Yet, they feel the need to deny that the mental can be causal because it would conflict with the assumption that the universe only operates according to physical laws. This is called epiphenomenalism. In this view, the unique properties of mind are accepted, but mind is considered a result of brain activity, and therefore determined by natural laws. Mind does not influence the body in any way, so choice and agency are illusions. Qualia are acknowledged, but rendered irrelevant. All the processes within an individual and global processes such as evolution would take place anyway, whether living organisms were aware or not. There are several difficulties with this view:

  • If mental events are just epiphenomena that do not have any effect, if they are ephemeral, it is hard to understand why it seems that they play such an important part in evolution, human society and the lives of every individual. It is incredible that human beliefs and desires have nothing to do with actions, that civilization would have developed even if no human had ever acted upon shis conscious thought.
  • The brain cannot be determined by future projections. Yet, at least some actions seem to be based on decisions that rely on predictions and expectations, and they are of a distinctly mental character. If this is just an epiphenomenon, the question can be raised why would the mental process of making a choice (e.g. when faced with two alternate means to achieve a goal) exist at all.
  • To broaden this question in the context of the evolutionary perspective, if consciousness is an epiphenomena, why would it appear in the first place? The mind has too important a role to be seriously considered just as an accidental by-product.
  • Besides common experience, there is also substantial empirical evidence (which will be considered later) that clearly shows that mental events can affect the brain and body.

Some emergentists (e.g. Popper) accept that the mind can affect the brain, but this has an overtone of circular causation: the brain creates the mind that in turn affects the brain. This would necessitate that the mind (although the result of the brain) has a relative independence from the brain. Properties that are intimately related to an object (e.g. the colour of a flower or music from an instrument) cannot affect this object above and beyond what it already is or does. How it is possible for the mind to be created by the brain and then sufficiently separated so that it can influence the brain, remains mysterious. This issue will be further discussed within the causal dualism perspective.



Although it is based on an assumption rather than explanation, and despite the above contentious issues, emergentism can still be a highly useful concept. The main charge against this perspective is not so much in what it claims, but its incompleteness. It can be accepted that the complexity of the brain enables some processes associated with mentality. It is even plausible that such processes can have qualities that appear non-physical. Pribram, for example, convincingly argues that brain waves may create something like holographic images. However, even if this is accepted, it is not enough. TV stations are also complex systems that produce wave forms that can be transformed into images, but nobody seriously considers that they are conscious. Moreover, what would their use be if something else does not exist to ‘pick up' these waves? This is missing in emergent theories. Their world looks like a place with a lot of radio or TV transmitters without radios or TVs to receive their signals. Considering all these points, the conclusion seems inevitable that if the idea of emergentism is pushed far enough, it is likely to end up in one form or another of either dualism or materialism, with all the additional problems that these theories have.

  • [4]. The word ‘dualism' is at present ostracised to such an extent in the academic world that some scholars (e.g. John Searle) would counter-intuitively try to avoid this conclusion at any cost.

Mental causes matter

Although this position may seem counterintuitive, the support for it may be found in some interpretations of a particular strand of modern science - quantum physics. Home and Robinson comment that ‘Bohr's quasi-positivistic, essentially subjective view of nature... taken to its logical extreme, denies the existence of the physical world - or at least its dynamical properties - until they are measured' (1995, p.175). Bohr is not alone in taking this view. For example, Hameroff, who believes that the solution to the mind-body problem lies in quantum physics, writes: ‘When unobserved, an atom or sub-atomic particle behaves as a ‘wave of possibilities'; observation in effect ‘collapses the wave function' and a particle appears' (1994, p.100). One of the founders of quantum physics, Heisenberg, stressed that physicists no longer deal with elementary particles, but with our knowledge of these particles - that is, with the contents of our mind. Schrödinger and Wheeler have a similar view. Morowitz rightly concludes that ‘such interpretations moved science towards the idealist as contrasted with the realist conception of philosophy' (1981, p.38-39). This perspective may be attractive as an antidote to the prevailing materialism in scientific circles, but it too faces a few uncomfortable issues.

  • First of all, this particular interpretation of quantum physics is not the only possible interpretation. Bohm for example devised a system that is compatible with experimental results and yet does not necessitate an observer to make matter real.
  • It is ridden with paradoxes. Einstein, who was one of the founders of quantum physics but firmly held the realist view, designed mind experiments, trying to show the apparent absurdity of such a position. For example, he asked, would a mouse that accidentally observes an experiment change the outcome? This difference is what created the rift between him and the other originators of quantum physics.
  • Even if this position is correct, it does not seem to be very helpful with regard to the mind-body problem. A notorious issue in quantum physics is an inability to ‘translate' or make a bridge between the micro level (the realm of subatomic particles) and the macro-level (the realm of everyday reality). In other words, although the theory may work on the micro level, different rules of the game operate on the macro level - and many issues concerning the mind-body problem relate to that level of organisation.

The above does not mean that quantum physics cannot contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between the brain and the mind, only that it is unlikely to provide the solution on its own.


It can be concluded that although evidently there is a connection between matter and mind, it is not likely that the one is fully the result of the other. So ‘hard' dualism, as a possibility, needs to be considered, but there are various options there too.

Mental and matter exist and interact

Dualism is based on a belief that there are two qualitatively different entities that interact with each other. Even if a number of scientists and philosophers in the 20th century were acutely aware that the physicalist perspective is inadequate and advocated various forms of dualism, this view is now largely abandoned, mostly because it does not fit the dominant ideology. Very few are prepared to publicly support such a position and risk their academic or scientific careers, be exposed to ridicule, and diminish the chance to publish their work. So, only already well established figures (e.g. Eccles, Popper, Wigner) have dared to argue in its favour. Common sense, however, never fully abandoned this idea. Descartes was the first who tried to establish it on a rational basis in the 17th century, which became the dominant view for a few hundred years. He envisaged two entities, one consisting of the immaterial mind (with properties such as thinking, feeling, willing), and the other of the material body with physical properties (shape, size, mass). By recognising the specific quality of mental states, dualism can account for many phenomena that are an insurmountable challenge for materialists. However, it has its own problems.

  • The first difficulty is the very existence of mind. Brain, as a material substance, can exist independently from brain processes (as in the case of a corpse). However, this does not seem to be the case with the mind. One subjectively experiences mental events, but not the mind independent from those events. An individual in a deep sleep, for example, is aware of nothing, rather than an ‘empty' or stagnant mind, indicating that the mind is just a term for the conglomerate of these processes. However, if this is the case, the mind cannot exist on its own and cannot interact with the brain. It can only be either a product of the brain activity or a product of an interaction between the brain and something else (this option will be considered later on).
  • Descartes would not allow the possibility that animals have minds. This begs the question how and why would simple organisms (without mind) evolve into creatures that have it. And where from and why has this mind substance suddenly appeared?
  • Classic dualism also fails to explain how qualitatively different entities can interact (mental causation). Descartes suggested that all mental events are part of the soul, and that the connection between soul and body is in the pineal gland (the only part of the brain that is not duplicated). However, the pineal gland is definitely a part of the body, so the question remains how its physical nature can respond to that which is not physical. Popper proposes that it is a pseudo problem: after all it is accepted that ‘non-material' gravitation affects material objects without needing further explanations. This may not be a satisfactory answer in the case of mind-body interaction, though. Gravitation is a force, or a way of describing how large bodies influence each other at a distance. Every force (or energy field), as far as we know, requires a source (in the case of gravitation, a physical object). However, from the dualist perspective matter is not a source of the mind, so in order to interact the body and the mind would require a common medium and such a medium cannot be just assumed and left unexplained.

Mental and matter exist, but do not interact

In order to avoid the interaction problem, some philosophers took the position that both, immaterial (mental) and material (brain) substance exist independently, but they do not interact. This view is called parallelism and was first formulated by a follower of Descartes, Geulinx, but is more often associated with the philosopher Leibniz. The obvious problem here is that it certainly appears that there is a causal relation between body and mind (it is normally assumed that an injury is the cause of the subsequent pain, and that feeling pain makes one scream). To explain this, Leibniz proposed that God arranged this in advance, so that the mind and body act synchronously (the so-called doctrine of pre-established harmony). Thus, the experience of pain is not caused by the injury, it is prearranged that one event parallels the other. Such a ‘deus ex machina' explanation seems highly implausible. One would expect that a being capable of instituting ‘pre-established harmony' would also be able to find a way to allow the interaction between mind and body - surely a more elegant solution. A similar (but perhaps even more bizarre) view is known as occasionalism, proposed by Malebranche. He suggested that whenever he wanted to move his arm, for example, it was actually moved by God rather than his volition. This would make God very busy indeed.

The virtue of dualism is that it is less reductive than materialism and corresponds better to common sense. It can account for the qualitative difference between mental processes and brain processes as commonly experienced. Yet, dualism also seems to be a dead-end in many respects.

One gives rise to two

There is another way to deal with the problem of causation, commonly known as dual aspect theory originally espoused by the 17th century philosopher Spinoza. It ascertains that mind and matter are both manifest aspects of a more fundamental property of the nature, which appear to interact by virtue of some unfolding, grounding process within nature itself. So, the experiential aspect is inseparable from its physical correlate, but neither of them can be analysed in terms of the other. There have been recent proponents of this view. For example, physicist Pauli writes:

It would be most satisfactory of all if physis and psyche (i.e., matter and mind) could be seen as complementary aspects of the same reality. (Jung and Pauli, 1955, p.210)

A consequence of this perspective is that everything, including objects such as a stone or stick, has both a mental and a physical aspect. A modern version of this view is developed by Charlmers, who claims that the fundamental feature behind mind and matter is information. Some objections to this view can be raised too.

  • Dual-aspect theory seems more an attempt to avoid the problem than to solve it. The issue of how such apparently different phenomena could be aspects of one thing remains obscure. Let us consider information, as Charmers proposes. The fundamental problem here is that an event becomes information only if it is cognised. An ability to experience must be already present for anything to be information. Therefore, either the experience is prior to information, or information, experience and its physical correlate appear at the same time. In the former case information cannot be a fundamental feature, while the latter endorses panpsychism (as argued by Whitehead and more recently Seager). This view would allow even a thermostat (as Chalmers tentatively suggests) to have, albeit a very primitive, experience. But this is incohesive. Inanimate objects can be fully explained by physical principles, so granting them another fundamental feature seems unnecessary. The behaviour of a thermostat can be satisfactorily accounted for without it having experience. The metal in a thermostat expands because of its intrinsic qualities and the laws of physics, not because it receives (feels) the information that the temperature has changed. Becoming aware and acting upon information is a very different matter from an automatic reaction, and this distinction is not only blurred, but difficult to explain from this position.
  • As with some other already mentioned models, dual aspect theory is also unable to adequately explain certain discrepancies between neural events and its phenomenal correlates (e.g. antedating that will be discussed below).


It does not seem that the above possibilities provide an adequate explanation for the relationship between the brain and the mind. Although many of the theories have some elements that ring true, none of them are fully satisfactory. To summarise the main problems, materialism does not adequately explain experience and agency, while dualism cannot explain the interaction between mind and matter. A fresh look at the issue is required. As philosopher McGinn puts it, ‘consciousness is an anomaly in our present world-view and, like all anomalies, it calls for some more or less drastic rectification in that relative to which it is anomalous.' (1995, p.226)


The model described below is based on the following postulates:

  • The mind heavily depends on the nervous system (including the brain) and its development. This is not controversial, so it does not need further discussion.
  • As the above criticism of the materialist perspective shows, the mind, however, cannot be identified with the brain. Even Aristotle argued that the mind must be immaterial on the bases that a material organ could not have the range and flexibility that are required for human thought. Similarly, in modern times, mathematician Gödel, for example, believed that his famous theorem showed that there are demonstrably rational forms of mathematical thought that humans are capable of, which could not be exhibited by a mechanical or formal system of the sort that mind would have to be if only physical. Brentano's notion of the irreducible flexibility of intellect, points in the same direction.
  • Rather than being a discrete entity (as a brain is), the mind is considered a convenient name for the sum of mental events belonging to one person. These mental events must be interactive processes, otherwise the mind would be an epiphenomenon. And, if this interaction is only between the environment and the body/brain (behaviourism), the mind would be again just a passive observer in the best case. The mind cannot be reduced to the interaction between the various parts of the brain either, because it has certain features that the brain in all its complexity does not have[1]. A direct interaction between the brain and the mind (dualism) is also implausible, because it would make the mind too independent from the brain. To make a parallel, if the brain is a car, a road the environment, the journey itself can be called the mind. The journey does not interact with the car - it is the result of an interaction between the car and the road, and also between the car and the driver.

To follow up the above analogy, in order to account for qualia and agency, an equivalent of the driver is indeed necessary. Something that is not an integral part of the car, but interacts with the car and by doing so, affects the journey. Its existence is not only supported by common sense and transpersonal experiences, but also (contrary to popular belief), by findings from contemporary experimental research. For example, the already mentioned temporal discrepancy between neural events and conscious experiences indicates that something else is involved:

The cortical activities evoked by some sharp stimulus to the hand in conscious human subjects took as long as half a second to build up to the level for giving consciousness; yet the subject antedated it in his experience to a time which was the time of arrival of the message from the periphery onto the cerebral cortex, which may be almost half a second earlier. This is an extraordinary happening, and there is no way in which this can be explained by the operations of the neural machinery. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.476)

Considering all the above, it is not surprising that such an entity is not and cannot be found in the brain (the point of agreement between materialists and dualists). In fact, non-physical properties of consciousness (e.g. non-spatiality) strongly suggests that a non-material component is involved, which may even, as McGinn puts forward,  pre-date the matter:

...the origin of consciousness somehow draws upon those properties of the universe that antedate and explain the occurrence of the big bang. If we need a pre-spatial level of reality to account for the big bang, then it may be this very level that is exploited in the generation of consciousness. That is, assuming that remnants of the pre-big bang universe have persisted, it may be that these features of the universe are somehow involved in engineering the non-spatial phenomenon of consciousness. (1995,  p.224)

Of course, there cannot be material evidence for this non-material aspect, its existence can only be extrapolated through its consequences (as with gravitation and the other forces). However, including it can provide a more complete and coherent interpretation than reductive approaches. The Synthesis model is, therefore, tripartite: the mental (or the mind) is considered the result of an interaction between the two qualitatively different aspects of a living being: one material and one non-material, but it cannot be identified with either of them[2]. This model differs from materialism because it acknowledges the existence of a non-material element and differs from dualism because it does not equate the mind with this element. In other words, the view is that materialists are mistaken to identify the mind with the body, and dualists are mistaken to identify the mind with the soul.

The medium through which this interaction can occur needs to be discussed. As already mentioned, Descartes failed to provide a plausible explanation in this respect, which is not surprising considering that at that time certain phenomena such as waves and fields were unknown. A better grounded account is possible if these concepts are utilised.

The starting premise is that the medium of interaction must be something that has a dual nature. The phenomenon that fits this requirement is the wave. Waves sometimes behave like particles, but not always (for example, they can propagate through a vacuum - no particles are involved). That waves transcend matter is transparent even in its mathematical expression.  √-1 that is necessary to describe a wave does not correspond to anything material. Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum physics, wrote that if particles are not seen as material bodies, then they show ‘a distinct formal similarity to the  √-1 in mathematics' (1952, p.62). Much earlier, philosopher Leibniz would say that ‘the imaginary number is a fine and wonderful recourse to define spirit, almost an amphibian between being and non-being'. Waves too can be seen as an amphibian between two realities[3]. The waves travelling at the speed of light can be considered the top limit of the material world and the bottom limit of the non-material one. They connect these two worlds and at the same time separate, set the boundaries, to them. The renowned psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung writes:

the psyche... robs bodies of their reality when the psychic intensity transcends the speed of light. Our brain might be the place of transformation, where the relatively infinite tensions or intensities of the psyche are tuned down to perceptible frequencies and extensions. But in itself the psyche would have no dimension in space and time at all. (in Laszlo, 1993, p.191)

The importance of the wave patterns in brain activity is well recognised:

Just how the neurotransmitters affect the mind itself is un­known. But everything indicates that they affect the rhythms of the brain and the rest of the body. Molecules of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain do only one thing: they excite or inhibit nerve cells, and thus they control the ‘firing pattern' of nervous tissue. There are thousands of different patterns of such firings within the brain and elsewhere. Every­where there are patterns and rhythms of activity... More obviously, the firing patterns within the brain can be driven by sensations coming from the ‘outside'. Flashes of light or pulses of sound, touch, odours, or taste are well known for their ability to capture and ‘drive', or ‘entrain', rhythmic neural activity. For instance, repetitive drumming, known as ‘trance drumming' - performed in great variety in every corner of the world - is ritually used to implant new rhythms, by subduing and ‘taking over' personal rhythms. It does not take long in listening to classical Indian music to realise that such music - through intricate and interlocking beats, tones, and rhythms - actually operates on our neural codes and thereby works on our emotions. Literally hundreds of different vocal practices of chanting, singing, and recitation have been discovered to affect different regions of the body and to musically excite or calm the mind through harmonic manipulations and resonances. (Podvoll, 1990, p.184)

Any image, thought, or word can be expressed as a wave function. The Gabor-transforms that limit the infinite Fourier-transforms (the ways of converting complex patterns into component waves) enable a precise match between any brain activity or cerebral network and the corresponding waveform. Waves, therefore, could indeed be the medium through which the brain interacts with a non-material aspect (and vice versa). Cortical regions responsible for visual perception, for example, can decode incoming light signals into waveforms of specific frequency and amplitude. So, rather than assuming that the brain constructs information from the input of a sensory nerve it is more accurate to suppose that the centres of the nervous system resonate to this input (see Gibson, 1980). Of course, only waves of a particular frequency serve as the medium of communication between the two aspects. Relatively recent research indicates that the synchronisation of neuronal activity at about 40Hz can be linked to consciousness (Crick and Koch, 1990; Llinas and Ribary, 1993).

Phenomena that can be associated with the non-material part are obviously those that cannot be explained in terms of brain processes (those that do not have neuro-correlates). There are three candidates: the self, awareness and intent (they cannot be illusions because they are the essence of our phenomenological experiences). Not surprisingly, considering the overall purpose, they coincide with the properties of the One. The following model is a simplified representation of this interaction:

What these properties are and their characteristics will be discussed later, for the time being only the support for their existence and non-material nature will be presented.

  • [1]. Some of them have already been mentioned and will be further discussed below.
  • [2]. It is worth noting that these three constitutes have been recognised in a number of spiritual traditions. For example, this was a dominant view in Christianity (using the term spirit instead of mind) until the year 869, when the Church reduced them to body and soul. Vedanta also recognises three ‘bodies'.
  • [3]. It is tempting to think that imaginary numbers and the wave function are just a mathematical convenience, but this is not he case. As Nunn puts it, ‘the wave function is nearly as real as anything else that passes for reality. And the implications of complex numbers have to be taken seriously' (1996, p.46).


There are several reasons why awareness is unlikely to be the result of brain activity.

You can be aware of different external and internal phenomena, but awareness is the property of none of them. For example, you can become aware of a chair, but the chair does not possess awareness. By the same token, you can become aware of your body, thoughts or emotions, but your emotions, for instance, are neither aware of themselves nor of any other part of you. So, if awareness cannot be identified with any mental process,  it either resides in a discrete part of the brain or it is not in the brain at all. A part of the brain that is responsible for awareness (not sensations that provide the materials of awareness) has not been located. Considering the prominence of awareness, if it is not located by now, it is not likely to be located ever. True, waves of a certain frequency are present when we are aware, but they cannot be the source of awareness, otherwise a machine producing these waves should be aware too.

This, of course, poses a problem for materialists, so awareness is sometimes considered an emerging property of brain activity that is evenly distributed, and therefore cannot be distinguished from the ‘noise' (unspecified neuronal activity). However, if this is the case, awareness should be far less discriminatory. Yet, most of the processes in the brain do not trigger awareness, and there are no processes that we necessarily have to be aware of (including sensory, motor, cognitive and affective ones). You can have a sensation, but not be aware of it until you pay attention. For example, if you focus on your sitting in a chair, you will suddenly become aware of the sensations associated with sitting. Your nervous system has been processing these sensations all the time, but you have not been aware of them until you have turned attention to the sitting. This indicates that awareness does not automatically emerge from neuronal activity. On the basis of his own experiments, Libet concludes that awareness cannot be simply the result of brain complexity (as emergentists would like to believe):

Many, if not most, mental functions or events proceed without any reportable awareness... even complex functions, as in problem solving or intuitive and creative thinking. On the other hand, the simplest kind of mental functions can be accompanied by awareness/subjective experience, like awareness of a tap on the skin... It is not, then, simply the complexity or creativeness of a mental function that imparts to it the quality of subjective awareness of what is going on. The cerebral code for the distinction between the appearance or absence of awareness in any mental operation would seem to require a mediating neuronal mechanism uniquely related to awareness per se rather than to complexity, etc. (in Nunn, 1996, p.40)

The last sentence seems to suggest that a specific brain mechanism should be associated with awareness, but Libet was not able to identify any (besides duration of the stimuli). In fact, even duration and intensity do not always  correspond to awareness. One can become aware of the sensations transmitted through the nervous system or not, without any qualitative or quantitative changes in the activity of the nervous system (unless awareness triggers an intention or some other reaction). Moreover, experiments show that the threshold of awareness is lower after one has become aware of a sensation. If awareness and the brain process are identical, the relation between the intensity (or duration) of the stimuli and experience of a sensation should be fixed, and this does not seem to be the case.

Some empirical data also support the view that awareness is not a brain function.

Electrical stimulation of the cortex can initiate memory flashbacks so realistic that they are perceived as real experiences. This is sometimes taken as evidence in support of the materialistic view. However, the very neurosurgeon who conducted these experiments, Wilder Penfield, drew a very different conclusion. Patients are aware of both, being on an operating table and the triggered memories at the same time. Penfield reasons:

The fact that there should be no confusion in the conscious state suggests that although the content of consciousness depends in large measure on neural activity, awareness itself does not... If the brain mechanism is busy creating the mind by its own action, one might expect mental confusion when the neuronal record is activated by an electrode.  (1975, p.55)

Transpersonal experiences (e.g. dislocated or expanded awareness occurring sometimes in meditation) and some experiments in para-psychology that have produced small but statistically significant positive results under unusually stringent conditions[4], also point in the same direction - namely that awareness can exist beyond or independent of brain processes. To quote Penfield again:

After years of striving to explain the mind on the basis of brain-action alone, I have come to the conclusion that it is simpler (and far easier to be logical) if one adopts the hypothesis that our being does consist of two fundamental elements. (ibid., p.80)

If one of these two fundamental elements is not in the brain, it must be non-material.

  • [4]. For relatively recent reviews see Bem and Honorton (1994) and Schlitz and May (1998).


Despite the opposition of materialistically orientated scientists[5], common experience provides overwhelming support for the existence of intentional, self-initiated activity (the nature of intent as its irreducible source will be discussed later). Libet writes:

...that mental processes can influence or control neuronal ones, has been generally unacceptable to many scientists on (often unexpressed) philosophical grounds. Yet, our own feelings of conscious control of at least some of our behavioural actions and mental operations would seem to provide prima facie evidence for such a reverse interaction, unless one assumes that these feelings are illusory.  (1994, p.120)

Empirical findings are actually congruent with common sense. Libet's experiments showing that an action can start before the conscious decision to act may be an interesting case. The conclusion is that a decision does not always initiate action, so it is sometimes inferred that action itself triggers neural activity, reducing consciousness to its interpretative or inhibitive role at most. Yet, it is established that a brain module can be activated without corresponding action, which goes against this possibility:

...neural activity (as indicated by measurements of regional blood flow or metabolic rate) has been shown to increase selectively in the supplementary motor area (SMA) when the subject is asked to imagine moving his fingers without actually moving them. (ibid., p.124)

Thus, a more plausible explanation is that a pre-verbal and even pre-thought energy impulse (an intent) initiates an action that is, in turn, faster than formulating the impulse (which is a cognitive process known as decision).

The reason why materialists try to deny intent is not only their affinity for physical determinism but also the fact that the seat of intent cannot be found in the brain. There are modules of the brain that are associated with vision, movement or language, however, these modules are not responsible for intending to move, speak or perceive. Of course, there are some other factors that can activate these brain regions, but it is universal experience that people often move, speak or even perceive because they intend to do so. Yet, no source of intent itself has been located in the cortex. One part of the brain can effect another (e.g. chemicals produced in the amygdala can affect electrical activity in the frontal lobe). However, these are invariably non-intentional effects - any part of the body, including the brain, if left to itself, should operate on the basis of physiochemical laws - it does not have intent. Nor can the source of intent be identified with the whole. This would contradict the principle of causal grounding stating that ‘the causal efficacy of any complex... is entirely dependent upon the causal efficacy of the basic constituents of its physical instantiation' (see Seager, 1995, p.276). To use an example, one part of a car or computer can affect another, but a car or computer as a whole does not affect its constituent parts. Analogously, mental causation cannot be explained by overall activity of the brain. Therefore, if the notion of intent (leading to a self-generated action) is accepted, it makes sense to conclude that it is a property of a non-material component of the human being.

The objection is sometimes raised that non-material intent would break the law of conservation of energy or the first law of thermodynamics (stating that the total energy in a closed system remains constant). But, there are several ways to account for this. The physical world generally and the brain specifically are better perceived as open systems. Any energy gain or loss in one place could easily be stabilised by gains or losses elsewhere, and even if any deviation from the first law existed, it could never be ascertained by measurements. This is especially the case considering that the mass of the deflected electrical current is almost equal to zero so that there is no problem in compensating for a switch which changes the direction of the current in the brain. Furthermore, as Schrödinger states, energy is equal hv, where h is a constant, a v is frequency. So, energy is proportional to the frequency, and frequencies have statistical averages. This is very much relevant for neuronal activity, because the statistical element in the frequencies of the waves would allow for intent without breaking the first law. Even if this is not taken aboard, the low of preservation of energy may not play a role in this case, on the first place. Scott writes:

The Hodgkin-Huxley equations, which describe the dynamics of the nerve impulse on an axonal tree, are not after all, constrained by the conservation of energy. Instead this is a system of nonlinear diffusion equations which - like a lighted candle - balances the rate of electrostatic energy release from the membrane to the power that is consumed by circulating ionic currents. Since the electrodynamics of an individual neuron is not constrained by the First Law of thermodynamics, there is little reason to expect this law to constrain a system at a higher level of organization. (1994, p.156)

  • [5]. Willis Harman, who was a distinguished scientist himself, points out that ‘"downward causation", causation-from-consciousness, is for the most part considered unacceptable as a scientific concept in spite of the fact that it is one of the most impressive facts in our practical experience' (1994, p. 141).

The self

There are two interrelated issues that need to be examined in connection with the self. Firstly, whether the self exists and secondly if it does, whether it is in the brain.

All the materialists (e.g. Crick, Dennett and others) argue correctly that there is no audience, no homunculus (an ‘observer') within the brain. There has been a consensus that no single cell or group of cells is likely to be the site of conscious experience. So, in order to remain faithful to their ideology, they must reject that the one who is aware, who is experiencing, exists at all, despite the fact that it contradicts common sense. Note that there is not either empirical or rational support for such an assertion - it is purely ideological. In fact, there is much support that the self that is experiencing does exist (although not necessarily within the brain or body).

The sense of self is universal to all human beings and possibly other life forms. A unique (subjective, first person) perspective that we all have and machines do not, however ‘clever' they are, indicates its existence. The self is sometimes dismissed as an illusion and compared to perceptual illusions. However, as already pointed out, there is a fundamental difference between these two. The sense of self is not based on perception, and therefore cannot be an illusion. It is a phenomenological experience not mediated by the senses that can trick us. Dismissing such experience as an illusion is on the same level as dismissing that reality exists (‘maybe we are all dreaming...')[6]. Hume declared that the self does not exist because he could not find it anywhere. However, this conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise. Self cannot be directly aware of itself because it is the source of awareness, like a torch that can illuminate everything except itself, or an eye pupil that can enable seeing many things, but not itself. The self cannot be ‘found', but it can be recognised as a source - something that is not in the mind, and yet is necessary in order to have the first person perspective. It can be compared with the conductor of an orchestra (although, admittedly ‘the orchestra' in this case is often ruled by other factors rather than the self). When listening to an orchestra the conductor cannot be heard, yet shis role is indispensable. Hume is mistaken to regard the self as ‘nothing but a bundle of different perceptions'. Perceptions - that is, thoughts, sensations and so on, is what the self is aware of (they are the materials of awareness), so it cannot be reduced to them. Popper, writes:

One might be tempted, under the indirect influence of Hume, to think of the self as the sum total of its experiences... But it seems to me that this theory is directly refuted by the memory experiences... At the actual moment at which the memory delivers something to us, neither the delivering memory nor the object that it delivers to us is part of our selves; rather, they are outside of our selves, and we look at them as spectators (thought we may be active immediately before and after the delivery) and, as it were, watch the delivery with astonishment. We can therefore separate our conscious experiences as such from our selves. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.488)

Some scholars (e.g. Susan Greenfield) consider the self an emergent property of the whole brain, but this does not seem to work either. If the brain and the mind are the same, and the self is distributed in the brain, it should be distributed in the mind too. However, this does not correspond to the common experience. Take, for example, an ordinary dream. In a dream there are usually many characters that, from this position, should be all the result of neural activity. Yet the self identifies with only one character (you know in a dream who is yourself and who are others). If the self is the sum of all the processes, it should equally identify with all the characters which is clearly not the case - a single point of view is always present. Moreover, as already discussed above (p.108-109) if the self is identified with a whole (rather than being a distinct element) it would be reduced to a passive ‘observer', an epiphenomenon.

Empirical evidence also supports the idea of the self. For example, split brain surgery (the removal of the corpus callosum that links the brain hemispheres) conducted by Sperry in the 1970s and followed up by Victor Mark and others, show that even when the two sides of the brain are separated, the person is not usually aware of it and acts normally. There is a sense that the two hemispheres still form an integrated entity, although the information they share is minimal. Brain stem and cross-perception (perceptual stimulation of both hemispheres at the same time) may play a role, but they are not sufficient. It is observed that split-brain patients can perform complex activities such as playing the piano that require a high level of synchronisation between left and right hands (and therefore two hemispheres). This integration must happen somewhere else. Only sometimes or under experimental circumstances does it become transparent that the hemispheres do not communicate directly and may even conflict each other. It would be premature, however, to draw a conclusion from such instances that split brain leads to split self, especially if it is taken into account that these experiments rely on short term memory and verbal reports that heavily depend on the brain (in the latter case, mostly on one hemisphere). Even ordinary people often have internal conflicts (one part of the person wants to go out while the other wants to stay in), but this is not to say that a single perspective, from which a whole conflict can be experienced is not retained. Quite the opposite, that the self can be aware of the processes in both hemispheres (although not necessarily able to formulate them), identify with one, or shift between them, indicates its relative independence from the brain.

Blind sight experiments point in the same direction. It is observed (in animal and human subjects) that if a segment of the occipital cortex is damaged or surgically removed, the subject is not aware of a part of shis visual field (although shis visual apparatus work properly). However, if asked to guess what is in that part of visual field, they guess correctly in a number of cases far above the statistical average. This means that neuronal processes cannot be identified with awareness. It is more likely that the occipital lobe plays the role of a relay station, producing waves accessible to awareness. Scott, a scientist with a special interest in consciousness, concludes:

...the split-brain and blind sight experiments, among others, provide objective evidence for the existence of a mental monitor that might or might not be in operation during a particular act of visual response. (1995, p. 162)

After all, if it is accepted that we can be aware and act intentionally, it must be somebody or something that is aware and intends (and if these are the properties of a non-material aspect, the self too is not likely to be material).

The so-called binding problem is also relevant in this case. Everyday experience and experiments on seeing and hearing demonstrate that there is a unifying quality to consciousness. In other words, perceptions, beliefs and attitudes ‘hang together'. All our experiences are closely related and integrated not only with past experiences but also with our actions, expectations, theories, evaluations. However, the brain contains no corresponding kind of unity. Binding or the unitary character of the experience, is not reflected in its structure or functions. Constitutive parts that make up the form of an experience (a movement, colour, shape, sound, smell, texture etc.) are processed in different parts of the brain. Considering this segregated nature of the brain and the relative absence of multi-modal association areas in the cortex, the question is how  neuronal inputs are synchronised and overlaid to form a single unified and meaningful perception. A simple example: the image on the retina is processed in over twenty different areas of the cortex, each of them dealing separately with specific features of the image. Neural machinery that could recombine the output of these specialised visual feature detectors is not found in the brain. So, it is unlikely that these ‘point-events' are fully integrated again by purely physiological activity. Eccles writes:

...all the time we are learning more and more about feature extraction neurones and how they come to make more and more complex patterns but never does it get beyond the stage of showing us more than little flashes of simple geometrical fragments to which each cell is responding specifically. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.533-534)

Of course, there are several levels of integration: the integration of a simple image such as the shape of an object; the integration of the shape with colour and movement; the integration of a complex image (such as scenery); integration with abstract elements (e.g. a name). Indeed some binding that is dependent on intrinsic properties of the stimuli (such as direction of movement, time, edges, intensity, etc.) may occur even on a sub-neuronal level, on the level of neurons, and some binding probably also occurs on the higher level of neural organisation (cortical regions). But this is not enough:

All we were working with there are patterns of impulses signalling progressively more complex features. There has to be an interpretational read-out. This is what we believe to give us a unified picture and it is a picture involving all kinds of features such as light and colour and depth and form. ( ibid., p.534)

This integration is, therefore, not an ‘objective' (as, for example, the integrative character of a computer programme), but ‘subjective' one that can only derive from the focal point that keeps it all together - the self[7]. In order to preserve materialistic dogma and avoid this simple common-sensical explanation, a number of complicated theories are employed to explain the binding problem (Chaos theory, Quantum theory, Object Template Constrained Feature Processing theory, etc.). Yet, with all that armoury none of them can account for all the cases of everyday visual perception, let alone other types of binding commonly experienced. Most of these theories boil down to variations of Hume's claim that the elements of perception are bound by spatiotemporal association. However, Kant already pointed out the shortcomings of associationism. We must actively bind the various features of objects together, so that what we see are the synthesised constructions of our world. Therefore, intentionality (to use Brentano's term) must be involved. The relatively recent empirical research, such as the work of Ann Treisman (1986, 114-125) on illusory conjunctions (‘mistakes' in binding), also indicates that attention, which can be defined as intentional awareness, is essential to binding.

In any case, on the level of brain processing, waves or oscillations that are a product of neural activity are likely to play a role. Indeed, research suggests that assemblies relatively far from one another synchronise their activities at a frequency between 40 and 80 Hz (the gamma range). They become phase-locked oscillations. However, this does not solve the binding problem as some scientists are tempted to declare. Nunn (a neuroscientist himself)  writes:

...all that has been achieved is to show that temporally determined groupings are important to brain activity as well as spatially related groupings... This is an important step forward but it does not obviously get us any nearer towards accounting for awareness.  (1996, p. 35)

Commenting on Libet's experiments on temporal discrepancy (that we live up to half a second behind the times) Nunn concludes that ‘the main casualty of accepting the obvious interpretation is any hope that coherent EEG activity on its own can account for the binding problem in relation to awareness since epochs of coherent activity are reaching their end before awareness occurs' (ibid, p.42). Furthermore, the discharges were also found in a wide range of states not connected to stimulus interpretation, so synchronous oscillations may be necessary, but cannot be sufficient for feature binding. For the final level of binding these phase-locked oscillations need to be selected and ‘picked up', for which awareness and intent are essential, and consequently the self - as their source. Only then they can be  connected in a meaningful whole:

This read-out by the self-conscious mind involves the integration into a unified experience of the specific activities of many modules, an integration that gives the pictured uniqueness to the experience. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.388)

This can also explain why it is possible to use the same group of neuro-connections in presentation of different objects. Many other phenomena point in the same direction. For instance, a changing brain would not be able to perceive a change without a non-changing element and yet, there is not an unchanging part of the brain. Thus, it is proposed that awareness, intent and the self enable particular connections out of endless possibilities (even within the restrictions of time-space associationism). Some neuroscientists, such as Sperry and Doty, who are not dualists, also acknowledge that integration seems to be best accounted for in the mental sphere. Eccles concludes: has been impossible to develop any neuropsychological theory that explains how a diversity of brain events comes to be synthesized so that there is a unified conscious experience of a global or gestalt character. The brain events remain disparate, being essentially the individual actions of countless neurones that are built into complex circuits and so participate in the spatiotemporal patterns of activity... the experienced unity comes, not from a neuropsychological synthesis, but from the proposed integrating character of the self-conscious mind. (ibid., 362)

This sort of binding is not only necessary for perception but also for a  meaningful, intentional action. At least some actions must be the result of an interaction with something outside the system producing these actions (i.e. you cannot move a boat by blowing into its sails if you are in the boat). Admittedly, this interaction could be between the brain and the environment, which is why behaviourists adopted the belief that we are completely socially determined. Yet, this is not the case. Every person is (to a degree) an agent. The movements of physical objects may not involve purpose (as Aristotle thought), but purposeful, teleological causation is common to human beings. We are often motivated by the future, an end result. In other words, many actions are meaningful - and such a teleological pull is different from a conditioned push. However, any purposeful activity requires something that can grasp the causal relationship between an activity and its results. Such an element needs to be, as it were, outside any specific process that contributes to the action. An analogy with a factory as a complex system may be appropriate here. The production of the factory may consist of many relatively discrete and specialised processes. Each of them is part of the whole, but none of them determines the whole. Only something that can grasp the whole and its relation to the external world can determine a meaningful direction. This, of course, does not require interfering with or being aware of all the individual processes. Particular units of the body, such as the digestive system, can act independently, but those actions are only re-actions, rather than a directed activity that involves the whole body. The same applies to the brain with its modules that have specific functions - in most cases these modules will carry on unabated by the choices a person makes, and yet they serve them.

All the above suggests that the existence of the self makes more sense than otherwise, and that this universal human experience can be vindicated by empirical findings and reason. However, as already mentioned, everybody agrees that the self cannot be found in the brain. And if it is not in the brain, it must be elsewhere. That the self is located in other parts of the body is even less likely (which is apparent from spinal cord injuries that lead to paralysis but not a loss of self). So, concluding that it is an element of non-material reality seems inevitable. An attempt can be made now to conceptualise that to which the self, awareness and intent belong to.

  • [6]. Nagel writes: ‘It is impossible to exclude the phenomenological features of experience from a reduction in the same way that one excludes the phenomenal features of an ordinary substance from a physical or chemical reduction of it - namely, by explaining them as effects on the minds of human observers... The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view' (1981, p.393).
  • [7]. This applies even in the extreme cases of so-called split personality, which are most likely the result of an impermeable segmentation of that with which the self identifies. Sufferers of this disorder still maintain a unique, first-person perspective that enables them to become aware of or dis-identify with some personalities.


The self, awareness and intent cannot exist in a void. It makes sense that they are the properties of a relatively discrete (non-material) energy field. Despite its baggage, the traditional name for this part of a living organism, the soul, still seems to be the most convenient. To ease possible discomfort from certain associations that the usage of this word may evoke, a brief historical perspective will be presented first.

The notion of soul (interpreted in various ways) appears in practically every culture: the Egyptian term was ba, the Hindu atman, the Jewish neshamah, the medieval Christian anima divina. Popper writes:

There is an abundance of important evidence that supports the hypothesis that dualistic and interactionist beliefs concerning body and mind are very old - prehistoric and of course historic. Apart from folklore and fairy tales, it is supported by all we know about primitive religion, myth, and magical beliefs. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.157)

Greek philosophers identified the soul with the life principle itself and also the source of inner movement. Plato considered the self (soul) distinct from the body and capable of living without it. Aristotle also acknowledged a non-material aspect of a human being (although he interpreted it in a different way from Plato). A Roman biographer Plutarch speaks about nous, uncorrupted soul that survives death. Cicero too was a dualist. Soul, as a breath of life, appears in Egyptian Gnostic Myths, the book of Genesis and the Arabian Creation Myth. Not all religions however, support this notion. Mainstream Buddhism rejects the idea of the eternal non-material soul that is taught in Hinduism (anatta doctrine), which is consistent with its creed of impermanency and makes its essentially idealistic position closer to materialist views. However, this creates a number of other inconsistencies (in relation to the concepts of the self, reincarnation and Nirvana). The Old Testament seems ambiguous about whether humans are purely physical beings or not. In the earlier period, the emphasis is very much on this world (as, for example, in the Book of Job). Later, though, the soul becomes more independent from the body. In Christianity, it is considered an eternal, divine, perfect and beautiful aspect of the human, which nevertheless resembles the physical body and can suffer an equivalent of physical pains and pleasures. Some modern theologicians (such as Teilhard de Chardin) rejected these naïve notions of the soul and developed much more sophisticated interpretations. So the idea of the soul has a long tradition, and should not be identified with any particular religious framework.

The perception of the soul (epistemological issues)

The soul is not material, so it cannot be detected indirectly through the physical senses or mechanical instruments[1]. It can be, however, directly felt, experienced. Most people are vaguely aware of these experiences (although they are often ascribed to the body or mind). For example, it is common to describe individuals in terms of energy properties, such as ‘warm or cold', ‘open or closed', ‘deep or shallow', ‘cracking', ‘being on the same wave length', etc. They may be the descriptions of some processes at the non-physical level, rather than just metaphors. Yet, the understanding of the soul has remained rudimentary even for those who believe in it, for several reasons:

  • Such experiences are unstable, fleeting, vague, unstructured and difficult to classify, so they are usually consciously ignored as a background noise.
  • Perception of the soul is easily overrun by more intense and concrete physical and mind processes, such as inputs from the environment and more tangible mental states (e.g. imagination or thinking).
  • They are not based on sensory perception, so it is extremely difficult to conceptualise and objectify these experiences within a socially shared framework.

A fuller comprehension of the soul requires the combining of several methods: transpersonal perception, phenomenological reduction and deductive inferences.

  • Transpersonal experiences are of course essential, but they involve shifting the focus of awareness. Considering that the soul is non-material, using a visual apparatus, of course, is not necessary. However, maintaining the attention (e.g. on a person) and stabilising fleeting impressions are.
  • An accurate perception (that may or may not produce a mental image) requires separating that which comes from the observed soul and that which belongs to the observer. So, phenomenological reduction, concentrating on the experience of phenomena related to the soul without social and personal interpretations, is essential. In other words, the accuracy depends on the extent to which a person is capable of bracketing and going ‘below' the constructs through which reality is normally perceived and other projections.
  • Deductive conclusions (following the criteria of reasoning) can also contribute to a better understanding by bridging the existing gaps.
  • [1]. Whatever instruments can find could only be properties of the matter, because they are based on such properties. This limitation of instruments should not be a reason to dismiss other phenomena out-of-hand.

The description

An objection may be raised that any attempt to describe the soul may ruin the magic and mystery associated with this subject. However, although the soul is very special (being different from anything else) there is no reason to mystify it. Reality is mysterious enough (not only in relation to the soul), so there is no need to worry about attempts to understand and describe what can be understood and described.

The first challenge that such an endeavour faces is that the soul is not a kind of substance or ‘stuff' (as assumed in the so-called ‘ectoplasm' account). It is more accurate to think about it as focused fluctuations of pure energy (meaning without ‘stuff' that fluctuates). However, for any intelligible account it is practically impossible to imagine or speak about the soul and avoid completely the terms usually associated with substance (i.e. shapes or colours). In a similar vein physicists represent light, for example, as a wavy line with peaks and troughs although, in fact, light is not like that. So for the sake of better understanding, these familiar terms will be used in the description of the soul, fully acknowledging that any conceptualisation is not only limiting, but crude too.

On the basis of the above methods, several inferences can be drawn. The soul, first of all, does not resemble the physical body. It would not be functional for the soul of a rabbit, for example, to have the shape of a rabbit. This shape is adapted to life in the physical environment and would not be of much use in non-material reality (what would be the purpose of legs, for example?) The difference between the body and the soul, despite their resonance, is possible because the experiences (that may be mediated through neuronal activity) are not organised in the same way as the nervous system. This is not unlike various parts of the body being disproportionally represented in the neocortex. It is already put forward that such an energy has to be focused (crate loops). So, it is suggested that the basic ‘shape' of the soul can be conceived as spherical, although its better topological representation would be torus[2] (a doughnut shape) with an infinitely small point in the middle (known as ‘umbilicoid') and an infinitely large field:

The soul, therefore, can be considered a field that consists of energy loops and two major vortexes. This resembles an electro-magnetic field, except that the latter does not have the centre. Transpersonal experiences indicate, however, that the soul is not a uniform lump of energy. It seems that the soul has a complex structure, with various components and their specific functions. In a way, such an energy field is better compared to a single-cell organism, with its centre, inner space and the membrane. These components are not sharply demarcated though, there is a much greater fluidity between them than between biological components. Different layers of the soul can also have a different density. For example, in the part of the soul where the processes associated with physical life occur[3], the layers towards the surface are comparatively less dense but faster. A diagram below is a simplified representation of the basic (but not exhaustive) movements of the soul; it is not, by any means, a picture of the soul, but only a highly schematised diagram of energy trajectories in relation to the central point.


It is not controversial that energy does not need to be corpuscular (material). What makes the soul non-physical is that it exists in a non-material realm where only some known laws are relevant (e.g. the effect of a variance in energy potential). Thus, the soul is not in the body, nor does it leave the body after death. The soul is a low density and high speed energy that is all the time in non-material reality and only resonates for a while with the body.

The soul defines how one is, rather than who one is. So, various descriptions such as physical appearance, name, role, gender, race, nationality or religious affiliation have nothing to do with the soul, although they may affect it indirectly, to the extent to which these descriptions are allowed to influence one's experience and actions.

Because they are often associated with an ideal image, the common assumption is that souls are perfect and beautiful. However, some transpersonal experiences suggest that  this is not always the case. For example, a soul can be so ‘soft' that it loses its shape, or so solidified that it loses its fluidity. Some impulsive and uncontrollable desires (when the energy of the soul stretches out before an action) may look like protrusions from the main ‘body'. Also, the surface of a soul may have ‘cracks' that interrupt the flow of energy, darkened areas (that can be the result of inner conflicts or traumatic experiences) and depressions. Moreover, the movement of energy may not always be pleasant: a soul normally pulsates, but sometimes this pulsating can be erratic or resemble trembling (like in fever). Nevertheless, every soul possesses an element of infinity, which without doubt has an aesthetic quality (even if the individual shapes may not be particularly appealing).

  • [2]. A torus is different from a sphere - one cannot be reshaped into the other.
  • [3]. This part is so distinct from the rest of the soul that it can be practically seen as a separate unit.

The dynamic of the soul

Contrary to popular belief, souls are not perfect (the idea of perfect souls is incompatible with interactionism and the purpose - what would be the point of physical life if souls were perfect and unchanging?). In fact, souls are initially latent, little aware, and with minimal internal control (akin to children). They need to develop in order to become independent and capable of self-determination. In a way, souls can be seen as a raw material that have to undergo various processes (experiences) and the treatment of tools (the body and mind). In other words, they are the units of volatile energy that require a form to give them stability. To maintain a soul's coherence, its energy is first limited by the body and then by the mind, until the self is capable of controlling it. So, although the soul should not be identified with the mind, the mind (as well as the body) affects the soul. Plutarch (among many others in the Ancient world for whom the perception of the soul was a matter of fact) thought that the variations and movement of colours could reveal the passions and vices of the soul. So, the energy of the soul gradually grows and gets harmonised through the evolution and development of the mind.

The soul is shaped through life experiences, in other words, through an interaction with the internal and external environment. Every experience affects its shape - redistributes energy (which we may be aware of as a feeling, the recognition of the effects that an experience has on us). This, however, does not mean that the soul is directly involved. As in a dream, the dreamer is not really in that realm, but s/he still experiences, and these experiences can have an effect even after waking up. To follow this analogy further, like a dreamer while dreaming, the soul is, in a way, suspended during the life-time. It could be said that the soul sleeps (meaning that the self is not normally aware of non-material reality). This is why the soul does not exist for most of people, as the one who dreams usually does not exist for the one in the dream. In terms of quantum physics, the soul is suspended in a state of uncertainty until the function that is physical life, collapses (at the moment of death). Sometimes the soul can become aware of a larger reality (lucid dreams - when the person realises that s/he is dreaming without actually waking up, would be an equivalent), but such events are arguably rare. This is not to say that the soul is completely passive. The soul affects the brain (body) by intent and energy shifts, but its influence is not very strong, although it can increase in time (the more effects the self can have, the more developed life is). So, differences between souls are the result of  having different experiences and making different choices.

The overall dynamic of the soul can be also considered in terms of the balance (or imbalance) between the two basic principles, static and dynamic:

  • The stronger static principle is manifested as the slackness of the soul and a longing for security and predictability, which can lead to inertia and stagnation. If this principle is balanced, it can contribute to internal and external harmonisation. Balance is achieved by developing agency (which includes curiosity, courage, creativity, and also personal responsibility).
  • The dominant dynamic principle can be recognised as the restlessness of the soul, a longing for freedom from the constrains of the physical environment, body and mind, which can lead to chaos and even madness. If balanced, it can contribute to self-actualisation and development. The balance is achieved by nurturing self-discipline.

The most important characteristic of the soul is that it is a focused energy. This focal point that enables awareness and intent can be called the self. However, the self needs to be distinguished from I (personality); awareness needs to be distinguished from the materials of awareness (such as thoughts, images, feelings etc.); intent also needs to be distinguished from other possible causes of activity (reflexes, urges, desires, will). To make this clearer, these three properties and how they relate to the material aspect of the human being are discussed next.


What the self is not

The self is different from 'I' (or personality), which can be considered the sum of its identifications. The self (as the source of awareness and intent) already exists when an infant is born, while most of aspects of 'I' do not, but are slowly formed. The self initially identifies with that which enables the materials of awareness and can be influenced directly by intent. This is normally a physical body. That the self identifies with the body rather than being the body is implied by the fact that in dreams the self can dis-identify from the body and identify with an image (without even noticing the difference). The same applies to one's thoughts, behaviour, name, various roles, etc. They all constitute what is commonly referred to as 'I', but they are not part of the self, nor is the self part of them:

The self itself, the necessity - as Kant put it - of the ‘I think' being able to accompany all of my representations, a transcendental ego which is quite different to, and independent of, the empirical self that in the natural standpoint each of us identifies as 'me'. (Solomon, 1988, p.136)

So, any part of oneself that the person can observe, imagine or think of, is a part of 'I' not the self. For example, you can observe your thoughts, but this requires distancing from them, indicating that your self is different from your thoughts. If you have an image of the one who observes, this also can only be just another identification, not the self. Michael Daniels, a psychologist with a special interest in transpersonal psychology, explains this in the following way:

This mental-intellectual realisation of our own subjectivity occurs at the moment when I have the thought that I exist as an experiencing and active centre. It is, therefore, based on the simple ideas that 'I experience this and 'I do this. Such thinking immediately sets up a dualism between subject and object. Since I also realise that any ideas about myself are themselves objects to experience then 'I cannot be any thing I think I am. The real 'I' must, therefore, be the subject - the witness or agent who is distinct from any mental contents such as perceptions, thoughts, intentions or self-concepts. (2005, p.168)

In theory, the self can identify with an infinite number of forms. These identifications do not require a special type of connection, they are based on already existing connections. This is similar to a driver, for example, who identifies with the car s/he is driving (it often feels like a body extension while driving) or a person who identifies with a pair of glasses as long as s/he is wearing them.

What the self is

The self is a different kind of entity from anything physical. This becomes apparent if the argument from personal identity is considered. Philosopher Geoffrey Madell writes: '...while my present body can thus have its partial counterpart in some possible world, my present consciousness cannot. Any present state of consciousness that I can imagine either is or is not mine. There is no question of degree here (1981, p.91). In other words, if your parents conceived your body a day earlier or later it may have been to a degree different; but you, as a subject, would either exist or not (it would be you or somebody else - no degree). This makes the self unique, and unlike physical bodies, it cannot be described (or imagined), except perhaps as being an infinitely small, indivisible point. A developmental psychologist with a transpersonal bent, Jenny Wade, writes:

Everyday consciousness contains a transcendent element that we seldom notice because that element is the very ground of our experience. The word transcendent is justified because if the subjective consciousness - the Observing Self - cannot itself be observed but remains forever apart from the contents of consciousness, it is likely to be a different order from everything else. Its different nature becomes evident when we realize the observing self is featureless, cannot be affected by the world any more than a mirror can be affected by the images it reflects. (1996, p.56)


This 'true self is recognised and variously described by different traditions as the Atman, spark, centre, apex of the soul, or ground of the spirit. However, sometimes the self is taken as something above and superior, implying that individuals should strive to 'connect with it[1]. Such interpretations can be misleading (especially if it is attempted to imagine that 'higher self). Considering that the self enables experience, and we are experiencing most of the time, the self must already be 'connected. This relationship can be compared to the relationship between somebody who is playing a computer game and the character in the game with whom the player identifies. The player can be so engrossed in the game that s/he may forget shimself and the real world, but nevertheless the one who is experiencing and is the source of any action within the game is the player shimself not the character in the game.

 The self can be considered the focal point of a relatively discrete energy field, and is a property of all life forms. From this perspective, it is universal. Everybody is different, but this has nothing to do with the self. Individual differences are the result of qualitative and quantitative differences in the focused energy and mediums with which the self identifies.

  • [1]. One example of this view can be found in Assagiolis 'Psychosynthesis model.

The purpose of the self

The most important function of the self, as the focusing point, is to enable awareness and intent. Without the self, nobody would be there to be aware. As Chandler puts it,

Both understanding and consciousness depend on something outside, i.e. transcending the computational system, something which knows and relates them. (1995, p.360).

Awareness is intimately related to experience, so it can be said that the self makes experience possible. But, what sort of experience one will have and its quality depends on what a self identifies with. Physical pain, for example, will affect the person to the extent to which the self identifies with the body at that moment[2]. The intensity of an experience can make, in turn, this identification stronger (up to a point). Without the self, intent (self-initiated action) could not exist either. Awareness and intent can be considered other forces (besides the four recognised in the material world). Certain scholars reject this possibility on the basis that in this case we would all be telepathic or telekinetic. But this does not follow. The effects of awareness and intent come about only in particular circumstances and on a subtle level (the same applies to the physical forces - electro-magnetism, for example, was not even discovered until relatively recently). Intent can directly affect only the matter that its source (the self-soul) is engaged with, which is usually the brain, and awareness is even more specific. It affects its source, rather than its object (some quantum physicists would claim that it can also affect its object, but this is debatable). This is not to say that the self exists only when the person is aware and intends (just as the eye pupil does not disappear when the eye is shut). The continuity is preserved despite unconscious episodes, because at least some soul waves remain focused even when awareness and intent are not obviously involved.

The self is also necessary for binding, so that a person can be and can act as a whole. It has a unitary or integrative function not only in relation to our past experiences but also our present evaluations and constructs, and our future expectations or predictions. Eccles writes that 'the self has the drive or the need or the tendency to unify and bring together the various activities of the brain. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.498)

All this enables a degree of auto-control. Although many processes in the body and brain are not under the direct influence of the self, self can still have (through its identifications) an overall control, a function similar to an operator. The importance of this function can be recognised if the experience of those who have lost it is observed:

...without the everyday orientation of being the one who controls, the 'operator who directs the mind, he realizes that he must function without a sense of self... the person entering psychosis creates limitless confusion by trying to reinforce his personal identity, in an attempt to catch his bearings by trying to build himself up. (Podvoll, 1990, p.145)

The comparison with an operator should not be pushed too far, though. In most cases the self is only a potential operator. Other stronger factors (such as physical and environmental conditioning) may have a greater influence. Usually the self can have an effect only when these factors are in a relative equilibrium. Through the processes of evolution and development they gradually lose their dominance and the role of the self increases. In other worlds, through life experiences the self-soul is learning to master its energy.

The self is the equivalent of the One on the level of individual life forms. It relates (potentially) to ones inner word as the One relates to Reality. The self intends, but does not perform. The self also does not think in a conceptual way, but it enables a person to be aware of shis thoughts (as well as everything else) and form proactive, creative ones. That the self is the source of awareness and intent, but not the source of conceptual thinking is not a contradiction. It is like a user-computer system. The computer has its own language that the user does not need to understand in order to interact with the computer and be aware of what is on the screen; which is in the case of the self, the end result of mental process. To think in terms of images, words and other representations, some hardware is also necessary - the brain. The self is, in fact, rarely aware of the routes that lead to formed thoughts and conversely, our thoughts are not always intentional.

  • [2]. A character in Charles Dickenss Hard Times, when asked on her sick-bed whether she was in pain, answers: 'I think theres a pain somewhere in the room, but I couldnt positively say that I have got it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many people have had a similar experience when their association with the body (or a part of the body) is weakened.

The dynamics of the self

The self does not change, it simply is. What brings the dynamic principle is the energy that the self focuses, which is why its relative position within the energy field is not fixed. Metaphorically speaking, the self is like an antenna, that collects, connects and focuses the waves on a particular frequency and in that way transforms them into information or experience. Factors that can affect these changes (starting from the most intense one) are: the processes in the body, in the mind and in the soul.


The self can change 'size, direction and position.

  • The 'size regulates the focus (attention). Note that the self, in fact, does not have size, the term refers to the volume of information that is in the focus at any particular point (in theory, an infinite number of lines can intersect at one point).
  • Direction enables identification with different sides of ones personality (which can be compared to changing radio stations). This is not to say that when a direction of the self is changed the self really moves. Rather, the energy configurations with which the self is associated shift. Such a shift is experienced as being in different states of mind or different mind-frames.
  • A change of the relative position within its energy field is commonly recognised as being in depth or near the 'surface, for example. It depends on the energy redistribution (or a change of the 'shape of the soul). This move depends on the qualities of interaction with the environment (i.e. intensity and attachment). For instance, increased intensity (excitement), usually draws the self towards the surface (while calming down leads to depth). A degree of involvement or attachment to external events can have even more lasting and profound effects in the same way. This move towards the 'surface is usually perceived as pleasant, because it enables a quantitative increase in experience and information. However, self-control is more difficult on that level, and the quality of experience may be reduced.
  • A change of the absolute position can be compared with moving from radio frequencies to, for example, mobile phone frequencies. The intensity of and engagement with the material world usually fix the self in one position. When the absolute position is changed, what is perceived may change too, because different waves are focused. Such a change can be induced deliberately (through some esoteric practices or the use of psychotropic drugs), but sometimes it can happen spontaneously. Exhaustion, for example, can affect the brain is such a way that the habituated structure of reality that keeps the self in a particular position loosens up. This may lead to a spontaneous shift of awareness, and hence altered perception (although ordinary hallucinations, that are just projections, are far more common).


What awareness is not

To clarify what awareness is, first a distinction has to be made between awareness and other phenomena that are easily confused with it.

Awareness is different from mental processes such as thoughts, images, sensations, emotional reactions etc. The Ancient Greeks had separate terms for awareness (psyche) and mental activity (pneuma), yet this difference is obscured nowadays. Some philosophers and neuro-scientists (e.g. G. E. Moore, Baars) have recognised though, that they cannot be treated as the same thing. Grossman, for example, writes: ‘We can introspectively discriminate between the contents of consciousness and the quality of being conscious' (in Bogen, 1998, p.237). Libet makes the same point: ‘The content of an awareness can be anything. But being aware is a unique phenomenon in itself, independent of the nature of the particular content in awareness' (2004, p.188). To preserve this distinction, the term consciousness is used throughout the text for all the mind activities (of which some comprise the materials of awareness). Awareness, on the other hand, does not refer to any specific mental processes, but to that which enables the self to relate to them. An analogy can be made with a movie projection: everything that is on the screen can be considered consciousness, while awareness would be the equivalent of the projector light that is not a part of the movie, but enables whatever is on the screen to be visible. Another parallel can be made with a torch that casts light on various objects. If what is lit by the torch comprises consciousness, awareness is the light from the torch (and like a torch, it cannot illuminate all the objects at the same time).

Awareness cannot be identified with sensory perception either. Rather, it refers to the effects that perception has on that which is aware, establishing the relation between the subject and the perceptual representations. In fact, we do not need to perceive to be aware (as, for example, in dreams)[1]. Awareness of our thoughts, emotions, feelings and other mental states is also a direct experience not mediated by the senses. By the same token, some perceptual sensations can escape awareness (e.g. we may not be aware of all the details in a picture we are looking at, although our brain receives them).

  • [1]. This was recognised a long time ago. For example, the following rhetorical question can be found in Vedanta: ‘Impressions arise from light, but during a dream no light from outside enters the body. So, what is that light that creates images that we see in dreams?'

What awareness is

Awareness is the crucial concept for a proper understanding of reality, because the only certainty is that one is aware (it does not matter of what: sensations, thoughts, external reality, feelings, or anything else). The usual translation of Descartes' famous dictum ‘Cogito ergo sum', as ‘I think, therefore I am' is somewhat off the mark. Being aware (of my mental processes among other things) rather than thinking, is the evidence that I exist. It seems that Descartes' himself recognised the importance of awareness, given his definition in the Principles of Philosophy: ‘By the term "thought" I understand everything which we are aware of as happening within us, in so far as we have awareness of it' (in Güzeldere, 1995, p.45). So, the claim ‘I am aware, therefore I am' may be more appropriate[2]. This puts awareness in its proper place, as being one of the two fundamental properties (the other being intent) of the focused energy. As the gravitational field is a property of matter, awareness can be considered a property of life. Being a fundamental property, awareness cannot be defined by using other, more basic terms. For all practical purposes, however, awareness can be described as an ability to illuminate to the self some of the materials that comprise consciousness[3].


The purpose of awareness

Awareness is necessary for life. The soul feeds on information and experience, which is what we are aware of, and the function of awareness is to enable this process of subjectivisation (or appropriation). In other words, the energy is assimilated through the process of transforming it into information and experience. Moreover, agency, or voluntary action, would not be possible without awareness, every action would only be a reflex re-action (which would make human beings and other life forms automata). The self can affect only what it is (or has been) aware of. So, as awareness grows, the amount of energy that is under the influence and control of the self grows too.


The functioning of awareness

Direct awareness of reality may be possible, but it is impractical (for the reasons described below) and short lived. Normally, the materials of awareness are first mediated by the senses, nervous system and the brain, and then by mental constructs. Electro-chemical processes in the brain create waves or oscillations on a particular frequency. These carrier waves provide most of the content of awareness. There are strong indications that synchronisation of neuronal activity at the frequency range of 35-70 Hz can be associated with awareness[4]. When in a deep sleep, for example, these waves are not present. The body can react to changes in the surroundings (e.g. temperature variations), without any awareness. However, when the brain starts producing these waves the self becomes aware - with a sensory input (when awake) or without (in dreams[5]). So, awareness depends, first of all, on the frequency, although, of course, other factors, such as the recurrence of a particular neural activity, also play a role.

Even the awareness of processes in one's own soul is normally linked to the same band of frequencies that are produced in the brain. Hence, such awareness is usually limited to phenomena that are associated with experiences in physical life, rather than to the rest of the soul or non-material reality. The focus is maintained within a certain range by the intensity of physical stimuli and habituation (in other words, it is largely biologically and to some extent socially conditioned). This is not to say that awareness can function only within the above range, but that the perception of reality is fixed because the range of frequencies within which awareness operates is fixed by these factors. Therefore, transpersonal experiences that require expanding awareness beyond usual perception, can be facilitated by reducing the input from the senses and the brain (without losing awareness). So, sensory deprivation, the hypnagogic state (between being awake and falling asleep), or meditation, can all be conducive in this respect.

  • [2]. The state of deep sleep or unconsciousness does not count in this case, because one cannot make any judgements when in these states. True, they can be confirmed by somebody else, but the person involved can legitimately doubt that the other person really exists (‘perhaps I am only dreaming shim'), while s/he cannot reasonably doubt that s/he is aware, when s/he is aware.
  • [3]. The above refers to the usual use of this ability. It is possible in some instances to become aware of reality directly rather then mediated by mental constructs (such as images and thoughts), but these can be considered as exceptional cases.
  • [4]. Relating these synchronous oscillations in the brain to conscious experience (the temporal binding of various sensory features) is attributed to Koch and Crick. More than a hundred years earlier though, Payton Spence came to the same conclusion based on purely theoretical work. A neurophysiologist from that period, M. M. Graver, followed it up experimentally and found that mental activity is sub-served by a cerebral oscillatory mechanism with the frequency of 36-60Hz. Their work passed almost unnoticed. It seems typical that Crick is accredited for the work already initiated by somebody else (the other case is the largely unacknowledged contribution of Rosalind Franklin to the discovery of the DNA structure).
  • [5]. It is interesting that these episodes of awareness occur, as a rule, several times during sleep, as if it is not desirable to suspend awareness for prolonged periods. Why they seem to happen in regular time intervals is not clear.

The direction of awareness

Broadly speaking, there are three common domains of awareness[6]:

The physical domain: awareness of the physical phenomena, including one's own body.

The mental domain: awareness of mental states and processes (e.g. thoughts, images and other constructs, related to oneself and external reality).

The non-physical domain: awareness of some processes in one's own soul (e.g. being open, being in one's depth) or in the souls of others that are usually experienced as a feeling, but can also be perceived as a shape, colour, or movement.


The self can be aware of information from all these domains, but the signals coming through the brain (the physical domain) are on the whole the strongest. The intensity of the information from this domain screens out, to some extent, potential information from the other domains. Furthermore, the mental processes (e.g. thoughts, images) are also more intense than the processes in the soul, so the latter are often concealed by both, sensory perception and mental activity. Hence, even though they are more direct, sensations from the non-physical domain are normally recognised only if those mediated by the brain and mind are not prominent, because they are not as strong and clear as the other ones. Nevertheless, despite being usually clogged up by the stronger stimuli, some materials from this domain are attainable. Intending to become aware of them and bracketing information coming from the other domains,  maximise the chance of this happening. These two (intending and bracketing) are also sufficient, no special techniques are required.

In addition, awareness can be directed towards external reality or internal reality. The latter can be called self-awareness, which is awareness of the system with which the self identifies, commonly referred to as ‘I'. It includes awareness of some processes in one's body, mind and soul (the effects of experiences on its dynamics). Self-awareness is sometimes taken to be a uniquely human ability, but this claim is dubious. Animals can also be aware of themselves (that they are in pain or hungry, for instance). They, however, are not capable of reflection and self-reflection, which requires not only self-awareness, but also mental distance. What enables this distancing and why it is uniquely human, will be discussed later in the text (see Constructs).

  • [6]. The transpersonal domain (awareness via non-material reality including so called mystical experiences or shamanic journeys) is not included because it is rather exceptional.

Restricting awareness

When not restricted by the body and mind, the soul potentially has a wider awareness, but such a wide awareness is difficult to organise and contain. Awareness of all the potential information in each of the above domains would not be practical. Too many stimuli may, in fact, decrease awareness. Making sense out of disparate pieces of information would be harder without some restrictions. So, to minimise confusion and overload, there are mechanisms that limit the quality and quantity of experience and information accessible to awareness. In other words, potential information passes through several filters before it becomes actual information. This narrowing enables paying attention to details and organisation, which in turn allows gradual development. Awareness can be restricted in the following ways:


Limiting potential materials

First of all, materials that are accessible to awareness are limited depending on their source. These limitations can be grouped in three categories:

Limits of perception - potential information about physical reality and the body are restricted by the limitations of the sensory apparatus and nervous system. The 19th century philosopher and psychologist Henri Bergson was not much off the mark when he suggested that ‘perhaps our senses are intended to keep things out, rather than to let them in'. Indeed, they do not register at all many signals (for instance, those on the frequency of infra-red light). Also, some signals are not intense enough, and some are overrun by stronger stimuli.

Limits of the mind - the mind is not only narrower than the brain (there are processes in the brain that never become a part of consciousness), but it imposes its own limitations. The main purpose of the mind is to construct reality out of experiences and available information, which implies selectivity. Also, in time, many pieces of information become inaccessible (because they are blocked or because an associative path is lost).

Limits of the soul - only a part of the soul is related, at any point, to a physical or mental life. We are normally aware of experiences connected just to this part. Furthermore, awareness of the processes in the soul depends on their intensity and their relative position within the energy field. For example, awareness seems to increase with a decrease of density (that allows a greater momentum), which is why becoming aware of something is generally associated with bringing it to the ‘surface'. In other words, the deeper processes are, the harder it is to become aware of them.


Limiting awareness itself

Awareness is characterised by selectivity which is demonstrated by the fact that only a few of the myriad of neural events are illuminated, and these few are arranged hierarchically. Eccles writes:

The self-conscious mind has to select. We'd be overloaded by information if at any moment we had to take notice of everything that was poured into all our senses. This is perhaps one of the very important reasons for the operation of the self-conscious mind and its evolution... It gives a selection or a preference from the total operative performance of the neural machinery. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.475)


This selection is achieved by amplifying some signals at the expense of others, possibly through the process of positive feedback (see, for example, Harth, 1993).

Awareness is a complex phenomenon, closely related to short and long term memory, which makes the matter even more complicated. Three distinct states (but with fuzzy boundaries between them) can be distinguished in relation to the focus of awareness: being unaware of what is received; being aware only superficially (floating awareness that scans incoming stimuli without ascribing meaning to them); and being fully aware (focused), which enables constructing and memorising the available materials.

Non-awareness - we are not aware of everything we receive. One simple example has already been mentioned. If you are sitting right now, you are most likely oblivious to the sensations that are the result of your body being in contact with the chair until you turn attention to them, yet they are always present. Similarly, you are usually aware of only a few elements that are in your visual field at any time. Filtering or ignoring some potential information is necessary, so that awareness can be freed to focus on what is new, important or interesting. For this selection procedure, the existing constructs (based on previous experiences and other forms of knowledge) are normally used as a template with which the immediate experience is compared. Information congruent with what is expected can be ignored. These corresponding constructs are brought up automatically (on the basis of expectation and recognition). On the level of mind, some potential pieces of information are accessible, but awareness is simply not focused on them. Structured activities such as writing or driving, for example, are usually automatic and ignored by awareness (unless a novel element is introduced). Awareness is, therefore, narrower than both, perception and consciousness. By the same token, certain available processes in the soul may be ignored too (we may not feel them).

Divergent awareness (sometimes called peripheral awareness) - awareness often ‘floats' loosely, which is why we can become aware of unexpected information. Those materials that are insignificant or match what is already structured or expected are filtered, so we are only superficially aware of them (meaning that we do not pay attention, do not focus on them). As above, this comparing and filtering is mostly an automatic process, the parameters, ‘commands' are pre-defined. However, it is important to bear in mind that the template (to take the case of visual perception) does not consist of the exact images of objects or movements  but of the ideas of objects and movements. For example, if we walk down a familiar street we normally ignore most of the information. This is possible not because we have ever seen exactly the same scene before; cars and pedestrians change all the time. Nevertheless, we can ignore most of them because we are familiar with that scene on the basis of an heuristically formed idea of what to expect. Only orientation pointers (necessary to direct an activity such as walking) are briefly in focus, while the rest remain on the periphery.


Convergent awareness involves attention and concentration. Attention is an ability to focus on a particular object, while concentration is the ability to maintain awareness on the object of attention. Therefore, attention is essentially a type of intention. An intent directs awareness by creating tension that is resolved by a matching set of information (a corresponding form). Elements that are similar to the pieces of information contained in what is looked for will enter our awareness. For example, if we are trying to find the keys with a yellow key-ring, any small yellow piece will attract our attention. Of course, other factors, besides our intentions, can influence this focusing and directing of awareness. Here are the most important ones:

Intensity: its influence is determined by a variable threshold that depends on a general degree of sensitivity, tension or competing stimuli.

Novelty, unexpectedness (e.g. appearance of an unusual colour, movement, shape, sound, smell etc., or recognition that something familiar is missing): information that does not match expectations and requires re-structuring or expanding of the existing constructs.

Interestingness is another (subjectively determined) attractor. The element involved may not be necessarily novel, as in the case of when something is perceived from a different perspective.

Importance ascribed in advance to a potential piece of information. One familiar situation in which this factor plays a role is so-called ‘cocktail party' phenomenon: you are attending to a conversation at a party, but suddenly become aware that your name is mention somewhere else in what was just a background noise a moment earlier.

Expanding and development

Expanding awareness

The expansion of awareness means an increase of either the variety (quality) or the amount of information and experience, and the ability of the self to hold them together. This is achieved by grouping (organising, structuring) existing materials, which enables adding new ones. The main function of consciousness is connecting various pieces of information and creating such a network of energy configurations. The brain and mental constructs play an important role in this respect. So, the expansion of awareness depends on the ability of the mind to receive, organise and store information, and on the amount of neuro-connections established in the brain, which is enhanced through their use.


The development of awareness

Awareness is first restricted by the body to the point at which the energy can be organised and managed. It only slowly expands through biological evolution, and later on social and individual development. Thus, at the beginning awareness is narrow, and then it gradually increases. Animals are generally more aware than plants, and humans are more aware than animals. The flip side, however, is that awareness of the non-material domain normally decreases throughout this process. This is because the  better constructed reality is, the more difficult it is to perceive beyond the constructs.

Some possible questions

What is the difference between focusing waves with the pupil of the eye for example (which does not produce awareness), and with the self?

The eye is a part of the material world, while the self is not, so it is not surprising that they function differently. Awareness is a property of focused energy that enables the formation of loops with which new pieces of information interact, leading sometimes to their integration. On the other hand, an eye pupil is a mechanical instrument, acting like a window that enables some light waves to pass through.


Is that what enables awareness the same as that what is aware (these two may be different, the eyes enable us to see, but they do not see)?

The soul and self can be only in theory considered as separate entities. In reality they are not. So, what enables awareness and what is aware is the soul-self system.


If awareness is linked to a particular frequency, how are its materials  differentiated?

As the individual instruments of an orchestra are differentiated in a radio transmission, although they all arrive in a ‘parcel' of the same frequency (a carrier wave).


What happens when we are unconscious?

As long as a soul is connected to the body, awareness responds to the brain waves and depends on the brain for its content. In a similar vein, as long as we look at the screen we depend on the film in the projector for the content. The self is in a position that focuses waves of a particular frequency, produced by neuronal activity. In other words, a self focuses pieces of information that are on the frequency it is tuned to. If there is no information on that frequency, if the brain is inactive in this respect, but the self remains in the same position (e.g. deep sleep without dreams), it does not have anything to focus on and is aware of nothing which, for all practical purposes, cannot be distinguished from not being aware[7]. If the receiving frequency is changed, it is possible to become aware independently from the brain, but, in most cases, we do not remember such experiences when we wake up, because there is no associative chain.


Why do we sleep (why do awareness and intent need to be regularly switched off )?

The brain has a natural tendency to return to an inert state. The neurotransmitter arexin activates arousal, the wake-promoting systems in the brain, otherwise we would always be asleep. On the other hand, awareness and intent are anti-entropic (they are associated with synchronised wave patterns) so they require an effort. This effort (focusing) is difficult to sustain, which is why falling asleep regularly occurs. Deep sleep involves a shift of the dominant frequency of the brain below the threshold of awareness.

  • [7]. Some practitioners of meditation claim that they can maintain ‘pure' awareness - without being aware of anything, but this can be considered an exception and is also debatable. For example, the very knowing that one is aware can be regarded as a material of awareness.


What intent is not

Intent is different from other possible causes of activity (such as instincts and urges, reflexes, desires, aims, or will). The distinction between will and intent may need to be clarified because it is not self-evident. Intent is a pre-thought, pre-language (in other words pre-construct) phenomenon, while will has a cognitive basis, closely related to decisions. Animals and young children do not show much will (they may exhibit the peculiarities of their character, but this is not will). They do not have an overall conscious control of their actions. Intent, on the other hand, is present in all life forms from the start, although it may not be strong and is often muted by more intense determinants. Will can be triggered by intent but also by other factors (e.g. social pressure, rational principles etc.).

The already mentioned Libet's experiments (p.108) provide experimental support for the difference between will and intent. In the case of a voluntary action, such as moving a finger, for example, a pre-verbal and pre-thought energy impulse (intent) fist initiates a neuronal activity. This is called readiness potential (a tension before an action, detected by EEG as a voltage change in a brain region associated with such action). Formulating the impulse (a cognitive process known as decision and normally associated with will) comes later. It is like a driver who first starts the engine, and only after a few moments moves the car. So, in a way, the engine is prepared for the action before the driver decided to move the car (but after s/he had intended to do so). Congruent with Libet's own conclusions, will (decision) has a purpose either to veto or proceed further with the act (see Libet, 2004).

To summarise, the main difference between intent and other phenomena related to action is that the former is not structured (so it can never be precisely formulated) while the latter are. Roughly speaking, will is based on decisions, desires on imagination, and aims on thinking. Of course, these processes are often intertwined. For instance, intent can underlie an aim (that, as a rule, has a convergent role). The aim can provide a form for intent, but intent is still necessary to sustain the act. Other processes in the body and mind can also trigger, modify, contribute or block an intent, but they do not have intent. Such activities are reflexive or conditioned responses. Only the self-soul intends.

What intent is

Intent is the ability of the self to affect and utilise its energy field directly (rather than through constructs). Intent does not act, but creates and maintains tension (creates potential), so that the energy itself spontaneously tends towards a resolution. In a way, intent can be seen as content in a search of a corresponding form. A simple activity such as looking for a word may illustrate this. A person knows what s/he wants to express, but s/he is searching for the way (form) to express it. The tension so created is the result of one's intent. Once the word is found, it is experienced as a release (as if a light was turned on or a dam opened). Polanyi and Prosch summarise this process:

Heuristic tension in a mind seems therefore to be generated much as kinetic energy in physics is generated by the accessibility of stabler configurations. The tension in a mind, however, seems by contrast to be deliberate. A mind responds in a striving manner to comprehend that which it believes to be comprehendible but which it does not yet comprehend. Its choices in these efforts are therefore hazardous, not "determined". Nevertheless they are not made at random. They are controlled (as they are evoked) by the pursuit of their intention. These choices resemble quantum-mechanical events in that they are guided by a field which nevertheless leaves them indeterminate. They are therefore also "uncaused", in the sense that there is nothing within the possible range of our knowledge that determines or necessitates that they become precisely what they do become. (1975, p.176)


The wave energy from the soul can produce manifest effects due to the receptivity of the brain to scalar wave-propagations[1] and the sensitivity of the neural network to the chaos dynamics. The latter means that vast collections of neurons can shift abruptly and simultaneously from one complex activity pattern to another in response to extremely fine variations. In other words, neural activity is susceptible to so-called chaotic attractors that can amplify the minute fluctuations and affect an overall process although no exact neural path is determined. This is why intent cannot be specific and yet it can influence a general trend.

It is suggested that the effects of intent can be detected in experimental settings as the above mentioned readiness potential. Readiness potential is linked only to intentional movements, and not to reflex actions such as a scratching or pulling away from something painful. Libet also noticed that if his subjects had chosen not to actively participate in his experiments, readiness potential was very different, which is another indication that it is related to agency and intent (even if the decision to act comes later).

  • [1]. Scalar waves have magnitude, but unlike vector waves they do not have a specific direction.

The functioning of intent

The effects of intent on the brain is relatively slow and weak:

The self-conscious mind does not affect a direct action on these motor pyramidal cells. Instead, the self-conscious mind works remotely and slowly over a wide range of the cortex so that there is a time delay for the surprisingly long duration of 0.8s... It is a sign that the action of the self-conscious mind on the brain is not of demanding strength. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.365)


This is not surprising if the intensity of the material world is taken into account. Intent can be and often is, in fact, muted by stronger influences: physical or social conditioning and the individual will. It is possible to pay no attention to or to override intent. Thus, in many cases it does not make a significant difference. However, if maintained, intent can have an accumulative effect (like drops of water that individually produce negligible results, but their prolonged action can break a rock). This can lead to a more fulfilling outcome, but is not easy because it requires abstaining from immediate gratifications (e.g. fantasies or other substitutes) and sustaining the state of suspension, which is not always comfortable. On rare occasions though, intent can take over. It is felt most intensely in so-called flow experiences that occur when the waves produced in the brain become synchronised. Many engaging activities such as writing, playing sport or an instrument or discussing an interesting subject can produce this effect (after the skills have been acquired). Such an event, compared to the usual brain activity, is the equivalent of laser light in comparison to normal diffused light. It is experienced as an effortless but highly focused state, like being in a tunnel or on rails (in the words of the late Formula One champion, Senna). It also includes an ambiguous sensation of not being aware of oneself and still being in control at the same time. This is because the ego personality, that we normally identify with, remains in the background. Intent initiates brain activity directly, rather than through its constructs which is usually the case (although, of course, the awareness of constructs is still preserved). So, performance can be faster and less energy consuming than when consciously controlled. Being in such a state is not always an advantage though, since it can lead to losing sight of a larger perspective. A highly focused state normally narrows the scope of awareness[2].


The relationship between awareness and intent

The energy of the soul can be shaped unintentionally. In fact, every experience and information restructures the energy, which happens all the time and does not have to involve intent. Intent depends on awareness, because without awareness it cannot be directed. This means that one has to be aware in order to intend, but this is not to say that one has to be aware of shis intent permanently. Some intents and their context may be forgotten (the person is not aware of them any more) and yet they can still have an effect. With increased awareness (as in lucid dreams, for example) the potential for intentional control grows as well. Conversely, intent can direct awareness, too. Not by guiding, for instance, our sensory apparatus, but by creating tension that spontaneously turns awareness in a direction that would lead to a release. Moreover, besides affecting direction, intent may also play a role in the process of selecting and extracting pieces of information.


The development of intent

Although it may be very weak, intent is present from the start, and like awareness it also grows through evolution and development. Intent is a delicate force, so the less a soul is developed, the smaller its role is. With an increase in the complexity of the nervous system it is much easier to balance stronger factors and be more frequently responsive to the minute influences of intentbbb. This means that humans have a greater potential in this respect than animals. The souls of animals are mostly shaped through an interaction of bodily instincts and their surroundings, while the self, although indispensable, has little direct effect. As already mentioned, intent does not seem to be strong even in humans, but there is still substantial scope for growth within the existing boundaries. These boundaries, or the physical aspects of life and how they relate to the above elements, are worth considering, so they will be addressed next.

  • [2]. Moreover, these states may be pleasant and conducive to achievement, but they rarely contribute to development. The circumstances need to be favourable too, in terms of not producing an unpredictable resistance, and overcoming resistance is what leads to a constructive change. Similar to so-called ‘peak experiences', these ones provide a glimpse of possibilities, but are not fully integrated in most cases.


The materialistic interpretation

Materialistic doctrine is based on the belief that the functioning of living organisms can be reduced entirely to physical and chemical processes[1]. Some of the propagators of materialism, zealous to associate life with inanimate matter, even use machine-like terminology. For example, biologist Richard Dawkins describes living organisms in terms of mechanisms, replicators and robots. Ironically, this, in fact, contradicts materialism:

It has for some time been generally supposed that organisms are mechanisms and that, since mechanisms work in accordance with physical and chemical laws, organisms must also do so... Unfortunately this assumption has been misconceived to mean that organisms must be wholly explicable as the resultants of physical and chemical laws because mechanisms are. Actually it means exactly the opposite. For mechanisms are not wholly explicable as the resultants of the operation of physical and chemical laws. (Polanyi and Prosch, 1975, p.168)

Machines are purposely built and they can be fully understood only in that context. So, if life forms are machines, the same should apply[2].

Leaving this philosophical point aside, explaining life in terms of the physical and chemical properties of its components is not straightforward. Although science has identified most of the necessary chemicals and can describe fairly well many processes in a cell, why a living cell functions at all remains a mystery. It says nothing, for example, on why cells replicate (especially when the process goes from a simple to a more complex structure). The replication mechanism may be encoded in the DNA, but this does not explain why and how it is encoded in the first place:

Whatever the origin of a DNA configuration may have been, it can function as a code only if its order is not due to the forces of potential energy. Just as the arrangement of a printed page is and must be extraneous to the chemistry of the printed page, so the base sequence in a DNA molecule is and must be extraneous to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule. (ibid. p.172)

Thus, the boundary conditions that determine the structure and organisation, ‘must consist of principles other than those of the material they bound' (ibid., p.177). This, of course, does not apply only to replication, but also metabolism, growth, cell cooperation, etc.

There are a number of other issues worth mentioning. While alive, an organism maintains a highly ordered, low-entropy state. Silver writes:

The fact that the contents of the cell include very large (highly improbable) molecules, and that the cell is a highly ordered (highly improbable) structure, implies that living matter is in a state of comparatively low entropy as compared with the disorganized mess of small molecules into which it disintegrates when it dies. (1998, p.323)

This is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics. Although it does not break this law because it is an open system, the question remains why it persistently acts against it[3]. If life is nothing more than chemistry and physics, why does a living cell behave so differently than a cell that has all its components intact, but is not alive?

Explaining ontogeny (the sequence of events involved in the development of an individual organism) is also a problem. Laszlo states that ‘the principles of the regulatory circuits involved in embryonic development are not known... almost nothing is known about how the human organism instructs itself to build, for example, a human hand' (1993, 101). The development of the embryo requires the ordered unfolding and coordinated interaction of billions of dividing cells (e.g. some cells become a liver and some a thumb at a precise time and place). If this process were entirely coded by genes, the genetic program would have to be complete and detailed and yet flexible enough to ensure the differentiation and organisation of a large number of dynamic pathways under a potentially wide range of conditions. Yet, the genetic code is the same for every cell in the embryo. Anticipation of embryo development is more than a technical issue:

Since the chemical compound DNA is assumed to act only chem­ically, it cannot vary its actions in the way a builder with a mind can. Therefore, there must either be another element in the organism that can function as a builder, merely using the DNA compound as its blueprint, or, as the theory supposes, the DNA must merely be responding chemically to chemical compounds. In the latter case, if it acts differently at different times, there must be different chemical compounds for it to react with at different stages of embryonic development. But these compounds must be called into existence only at the end of the embryo's previous stage. Timing is therefore most important. No theory yet exists to explain how this can be done in a strictly chemical way. The development of such a theory is rendered more difficult because, as Driesch first showed in his work with sea-urchin embryos, there seems to be some resilience possible in the development of tissues. Some tissues can sometimes seemingly be "pressed into" undergoing changes they do not normally undergo, because some part of the embryo has been prevented from developing in its usual way. It is almost, in these cases, as if there were a builder who has had to use some ingenuity because of shortages of one material or another or because something has previously been built erroneously and he must now build upon and around this. (Polanyi and Prosch, 1975, p.166)

This is reinforced by the findings that some organisms ‘possess programs of repair that could not have been naturally selected: the kind of damage which they repair is not likely to have befallen their progenitors in the entire history of a species' (Laszlo, 1993, p.102).

The problems that the materialistic framework faces are not limited to the internal workings of living beings, but extend to some widespread behavioural aspects of complex organisms. One among many examples highlighted by biologist Rupert Sheldrake is the European cuckoo that lays its eggs in the nests of birds of other species. The young never see their real parents. Towards the end of the summer the adult cuckoos migrate. About a month later, the young cuckoos congregate and also migrate to the same region. They instinctively know that they should migrate, when to migrate, in which direction they should fly and what their destination is. Materialists believe that this is all somehow programmed by their genes, but this is far too complex behaviour to make this explanation likely.

The results of a series of experiments meant to test whether learned behaviour patterns are inherited are equally puzzling. Behavioural psychologist William McDougall in the early 1920s trained some rats to perform a simple task. The experiment involved 32 generations of rats and took 15 years. Later generations of rats (separated from the previous generations) consistently learned more rapidly than the previous ones, the last over ten times faster than the first one. More significantly, when separate experiments in other parts of the world replicated the original one, the first generation of rats learned almost as rapidly as McDougall's last generation. A number of them even performed the task correctly immediately, without making a single error.

The above suggests that not all biological functions cannot be comfortably explained within the materialistic paradigm. Life seems to be more than just molecular reactions. Polanyi and Prosch conclude:

We must admit that we do not yet have the reduction of living processes to physical and chemical laws that modern biologists seem to think we can have. We not only have not proved that these adaptive aspects of the DNA's building capacity can be reduced wholly to physical and chemical operations, but we never can do so. (1975, p.167)


Religious interpretations

Most religions accept a dualistic nature of life, meaning that it cannot be cut down to the physical or chemical properties of the organism. A non-material component is, in fact, considered essential for life. Almost every spiritual tradition recognises the existence of soul, spirit or atman, which is one of the main differences between them and the materialistic perspective. However, it is unclear how this component interacts with the body and to what extent it can exist independently from the body (before birth or after death). Moreover, it is also uncertain which organisms have this non-material component. Philosopher Descartes, for example, who attempted to provide rational foundations for dualism, reserved it only for human beings, but this seems arbitrary.


The contribution of philosophy

Vitalism is a major contribution of philosophy to the debate about the nature of life (Henri Bergson being its best known exponent). Its main input was to point out the incompleteness of reductionist and mechanistic interpretations. Like the ancient Greek philosophers, including even Aristotle, Vitalism argues that the difference between living organisms and inanimate bodies cannot be explained solely in material or physicochemical terms. Living forms, it is claimed, have an additional, non-material, vital element - a universal life force, which may or may not be capable of existing apart from its hosts. The nature of the life force was debated even earlier by numerous philosophers of which some (e.g. Paracelsus) believed that it is an external property and others that it is an internal, spontaneous, event. Life as an explanatory and evaluative concept appealed to many philosophers in the 19th century as a reaction to scientific materialism, although the success of synthesising an organic compound artificially in the first half of the same century weakened dramatically the Vitalist position. Failed attempts to find vital élan in the body which, in fact, would have reduced it (if they were successful) to another type of physical force similar, for example, to the electro-magnetic force, confused the matter further. Vitalism resurfaced in the 20th century in the work of the already mentioned Hans Driesch, when he discovered that despite extreme interference in the early stages of embryological development, some organisms nevertheless develop into perfectly formed adults. He proposed the existence of a soul-like force which guides the development of an embryo (in his later writings, Driesch argued that all life culminates ultimately in a ‘supra-personal whole'). Such conclusions are, of course, only interpretations of data available at that time. However, there are further reasons why prevailingly dismissive attitude at present towards similar ideas may be inadequate. They will be considered below.

  • [1]. Consequently as biologist Morowitz puts it ‘the study of life at all levels, from social to molecular behaviour, has in modern times relied on reductionism as the chief explanatory concept' (1981, p.34-35).
  • [2]. Polanyi concludes: ‘Biologists will tell you that they are explaining living beings by the laws of inanimate nature, but what they actually do, and do triumphantly well, is to explain certain aspects of life by machine-like principles. This postulates a level of reality that operates on the boundaries left open by the laws of physics and chemistry' (1969, p.154).
  • [3]. Entropy can also decrease in some inanimate open systems (sometimes called dissipative structures) but not with an increase of functionally different dynamic processes and non-uniformed (but not random) complexity at the same time, as in the case of life.


Life is usually defined as an entity that has the capacity to perform certain functional activities including metabolism, growth, reproduction, responsiveness and adaptation to stimuli such as light, heat and sound. It is further characterised by the presence of complex transformations of organic molecules and by the organisation of such molecules into the successively larger units of protoplasm, cells, organs, and organisms.

Although the above mentioned abilities are obviously a very important part of the life process, it is questionable if they really define life. An organism that does not reproduce (e.g. mules that are born sterile) or has stopped reproducing or growing is still alive, thermometers can respond to heat yet they are not alive. These examples are brought up not to point out that such a definition is imprecise (after all, most definitions have fuzzy boundaries) but that something essential may be missing. What common-sensically seems fundamental to life are the abilities to experience and to be pro-active, and consequently, having a unique centre of experience and pro-activity (meaning that my experience cannot be your experience). In other words, awareness, intent and the self. A computer, for example, can perform certain operations that can be paralleled to mental processes. Yet, a computer has nothing that can be paralleled to awareness. A computer can perhaps simulate thinking, but it is not aware, it does not experience. It can beat a human being in chess, but it is not aware that it has won and it cannot feel happy about it.

There is, however, an epistemological problem with the above proposition. An ability to be aware may be a necessary characteristic of life, but due to the inherent limitations of observation, it cannot be easily verified. We phenomenologically know that we are aware. It can be also extrapolated from verbal reports and the behaviour of others that they also experience. Animals react in a similar way to situations that cause pain, pleasure or fear, so it is plausible that they have a similar capacity. But what about plants or bacteria or even individual cells in one's body? Do they experience at all? They may have some rudimentary experiences that are so different (e.g. temporally) that it is impossible to make any conclusions on the basis of observations, including transpersonal ones[4]. The self is also non-observable. However, something that separates an organism from inanimate matter can be observed, and this is self-generated movement. Some believe that this will also eventually be traced back to physical causes, but nobody has ever managed to come close to proving it. Philosopher Teichman writes: ‘A human being is in a way a self-caused cause so far as his actions are concerned, unlike a stone' (1974, p.33). There is no reason why this should not be expanded to other living organisms. That innate activity is an important difference between the animate and inanimate has already been pointed out by Cicero, Thomas Aquinas and many others. While one of the main characteristics of the matter is inertia, agency is one of the main characteristics of life. Inanimate objects can undergo certain processes or be moved under the influence of various forces, but are not active. They are passive, acted upon. A stone does not fall, it is fallen by the combination of gravitational force and other physical factors. On the other hand, life can be proactive, as well as reactive. Many internal processes are the result of an organism's chemistry and some of its activities can be reduced to reflexes, but not all. Similarly, many processes in the car and its movement are the result of the car machinery and its interaction with the environment, but a driver is necessary to start and direct it. This distinction is quite clear in practice. The limbs of dead frogs can be made to twitch by applying an electric current, but nobody in shis right mind would confuse this with life. What is recognised as self-initiated movement is associated with life and only with life. As discussed earlier (and as is also evident from any introspective analysis), intent seems to be its most plausible source. Considering that intent is impossible without the self and awareness, they too can be linked to life. To put it simply, energy is alive if it is focused.

The self, awareness and intent are attributes of the One. If life forms are in the process of becoming the counterpart to the One, they must also have self and at least rudimentary intent and awareness, and consequently a non-material aspect - the soul[5]. So, energy is alive if it has the self and the abilities of awareness and intent (they, of course, do not need to be always active - an unconscious person is not dead, just as a switched off radio is not broken[6]). This is what distinguishes the animate from the inanimate. The soul brings the dynamic principle (inner movement) into that interaction, which enables life, development and evolution. This view was commonly held since antiquity. Thomas Aquinas wrote (using the Latin term anima for the soul):

Animate means living and inanimate non-living, so soul means that which first animates or makes alive the living things with which we are familiar.  (in Thompson, 1997, p.120)

What does not have the self, awareness and intent does not have its own life. Only humans can conceptualise their intentions and what they are aware of, but it has been observed that even simple organisms possess a certain level of awareness and intent[7]. This implies (contrary to what Descartes thought) that soul can be associated with all living organisms not only humans. Which is not to say that an individual soul always corresponds to an individual biological form. Almost certainly not every fruit-fly or ant has its own soul and self. Considering the highly synchronised nature of their societies it is more likely that most of the related non-material energy of single-cell organisms, some insects and plants is focused collectively, while individual selves constantly appear and disappear depending on the extent of separation from the collective that is happening at any point. Evidence for this is that an insect such as ant, for example, cannot learn from experience, but insect colonies can. Even in higher organisms some energy fibres may still be attached to a collective energy field, which could account for the cumulative learning of species mentioned earlier on (p.142)[8].

Thus, the basic premise here is that life is a result of an interaction between two distinct types of energy (material and non-material) and therefore cannot be reduced only to the physical and chemical properties of the body. Reductionist attempts run into numerous difficulties, and also certain phenomena can be better explained otherwise. So, although the claim that all life forms (including one-cell organisms, plants, animals and humans) have a non-material aspect cannot be materially verified, it is not less rational than the belief that one day everything will be possible to understand in terms of physical and chemical properties. Such reasoning is not foreign to science. Gravitational fields, for example, (not to mention super-strings and other esoteria) cannot be detected directly either, but are postulated from their effects or the requirements for a coherent model of reality. It should be also taken into account that the above inference is supported by common sense (e.g. the notion of self) and cross-cultural transpersonal experiences.

  • [4]. The concern here is not with the nature of such experiences (which is the subject of Nagel's classic paper ‘What is it like to be a bat?'), but whether they experience anything at all.
  • [5]. If referring to these elements rather than to the physical body, humans and, in fact, all life forms reflect indeed ‘God's image' (in the case of the latter, of course, God merely reflects the human image).
  • [6]. These inactive states are temporary, so the above argument regarding reproduction, for example, does not apply. A permanent cessation of awareness and intent, for all practical purposes, indicates cessation of life (there are border cases though, when a person is artificially kept alive, but if there is no hope that such a person will regain at least some awareness, life support machines are usually turned off). Permanent cessation of reproductive ability, on the other hand, does not indicate cessation of life.
  • [7]. Polanyi and Prosch maintain that ‘...even paramecium is an individual that quite apparently strives... to adapt itself to its conditions and to stay alive and to reproduce' (1975, p.170).
  • [8]. Rather than bubbles, souls can be imagined as the crests of waves that are connected underneath.

The connection

It is already suggested that the waves produced in the brain are instrumental for mental processes, but they are not sufficient to maintain the relationship between the material and non-material aspects of a living system (otherwise the connection would be broken in a deep sleep or when unconscious). The body, however, produces other wave patterns. The body can be indeed considered ‘a complex network of resonance and frequency' (McTaggart, 2000, p.53). All the organelles (cell's ‘organs') are rotating and vibrating. Each of them is involved in this ‘musical' activity of creating rhythmic waves of energy. Some of these vibrations are innate to chemical components, but some of them are genetically programmed. It is known that DNA produces a wide range of frequencies, so genes can be understood as ‘notes' in a composition that is unique for each person. Of course, functional genes are not the candidates for the connection. However, the wave patterns produced by some of the DNA sequences that present scientists call ‘genetic garbage' (because they do not contribute to protein production) may be responsible. One curious characteristic of life is that, unlike machines, life cannot be interrupted. For example, a car can be switched off and turned on again much later. Life cannot. A living organism needs constant activity. In principle, this should not be necessary in order to preserve body functioning, and is ineffective from the energy consumption point of view. It is more likely that the constant working of the body is needed to maintain the vibrations that connect the body to the soul[9].

Non-material energy consists of wave patterns too, so there are reasonable grounds to believe that, at least in some cases, they can resonate with the waves produced by heavy and slow matter (or its constituent parts on the border with non-material reality). The soul and the body can therefore be considered different forms of energy that are linked via waves[10]. Thus, the soul is not in the body or attached to the body, but body and soul resonate with each other. This process goes in both directions, but the material aspect is normally more intense. The likely way that this connection happens is that each body and soul has a specific wave pattern, a unique signature. When a new organism is created, if those signatures are compatible, the waves of the soul harmonise with the waves of the body and in that way the body gets connected to the soul. When the body ceases to function (and produce waves), that connection is broken. This means that the body is a replaceable part of that system.

Although the connection between the body and soul may be attributed to the waves produced on the molecular level, the question may be raised whether there is a ‘relay station', a crucial part of the body in this respect. Historically, several ‘seats of the soul' have been suggested (liver, heart, brain, pineal gland), but the only part of the body that could really be a candidate for this role is the brain stem (the area at the base of the brain that includes the midbrain, the pons, and the medulla). The brain stem contains the ascending reticular activating system, which plays a crucial role in enabling and maintaining alertness. Even small lesions in some parts of the midbrain and the pons cause permanent coma. The brainstem also contains the respiratory centre that is responsible for breathing (so it can be associated with the ‘breath of life'). Moreover, all of the motor outputs from the cerebral hemispheres (e.g. those that mediate movement or speech) are routed through the brainstem, as are the efferent fibres of Autonomous Nervous System responsible for the integrated functioning of the organism as a whole. Most sensory inputs also travel through the brainstem. Consequently, if there is no functioning brainstem, there can be no integrated activity of the cerebral hemispheres, no thoughts or sensations, no interaction with the environment.

All this, of course, does not amount to a proof and is no more than suggestive. Because of its anatomical position and other factors brainstem is notoriously difficult to study. Nevertheless, if there is a crucial part of the body responsible for a stable connection with the non-material aspect, brainstem seems the safest bet. This is not to say that the brainstem  is an ‘organ of connection' (otherwise organisms that did not develop a brainstem would not be really alive). It is the only probable place though, where there could be a necessary and sufficient concentration of wave patterns to maintain the permanent resonance in higher organisms. Possibly all body parts have weak connections, but they most likely cannot be maintained if not linked to this centre[11]. It is interesting that an interference with the wave patterns of an organ can cause disassociation even if it is still attached to the body. For example, when one's arm is exposed to a strong electric current, it is not experienced as one's own, but as a foreign attachment.


  • [9]. Plant seeds and some simple organisms can be dormant for a long time, which seemingly contradicts the above. However, they can be considered not a life but a potential life, similar to frozen sperm.
  • [10]. It should be pointed out though, that not the whole soul, but only a part of it is associated at any point with physical (or mental) life.
  • [11]. ‘Most likely' is added because of strange recent claims that patients with transplanted organs can apparently pick up some experiences that belonged to their donors. More research is required for all these issues, but in the present climate, this is something that one can only hope for.

The beginning

An answer to the question how life started can now be attempted. As discussed earlier, it is likely that the necessary conditions and an initial push are the result of the Intent, but then the process could unravel in a more spontaneous way. It can be speculated that non-material energy separated from the rest by the material world was at the beginning amorphous - a sort of energy soup. Some energy or, to continue with the above metaphor, some drops from the energy soup at the edges (of speed and density) may have developed a ‘resonance attraction' to the heavy matter. But not any matter would do for life. Being movement, the energy has an affinity towards a form of matter that gives least resistance to movement. The specific features of carbon based matter (e.g. amino acids that can be spontaneously formed) make it perfectly suited to attract energy: plasticity (e.g. water is too fluid to allow formation of discrete structures, while crystals are too solid to allow the necessary dynamics); the capacity to form multiple bonds and a vast numbers of diverse compounds; relative stability (the inertness of carbon in its molecules) and yet propensity for chemical reactions; possibility to grow in complexity (the forming of long chains of atoms).

The above characteristics enable the segments of undifferentiated non-material energy on the boundaries with the matter to resonate with and get attached to it. This process does two things: it separates (at least partially) these segments from the rest, which enables differentiation, and at the same time keeps them coherent. Such ‘enclosing'[12] leads to energy loops that make possible the focusing of energy into one point. Thus, separation and focusing are the result of an interaction between non-material and material forms of energy. However, separation alone is not enough to keep energy focused. A certain degree of integrated complexity that minimises permeability, a plasticity that allows activity, and reproductive potential are also needed. The molecular structure of RNA/DNA and the resonance it produces fulfil these criteria. The pro-activity of the energy, in turn, separates a particular form of organic matter from the rest, reflecting the separation on a non-material level. This is possible because organic matter is sufficiently flexible to enable the expression of self-generated movement. So, the first cell membranes that can keep the intricate chemistry inside can be formed and maintained long enough to start the whole process.

  • [12]. This, of course, is not a physical enclosure, but the resonance field enclosure. A crude analogy can be made with the gravitational field of the Earth that captures the Moon, yet the Moon is not inside the Earth and its own field also subtly influences the Earth.

The body

The Synthesis perspective concurs with the view that physical bodies are extremely complex organic instruments. Materialists make a similar claim, but it is inconsistent within their framework. They seem to neglect the facts that instruments are always built with a purpose and their working has to be externally initiated (at least the working of the first one that may create and initiate the working of other machines). This inconsistency is avoided here since the Intent and purpose are acknowledged. ‘Instrument' does not imply though, that the body is simply a mechanical thing. Its enormous complexity and organisation is unparalleled, so a real comparison with machines is admittedly a gross simplification. In any case, the body is considered the material aspect of a living system that consists of comparatively slow but very dense energy. This is why physical sensations (e.g. pain, hunger) can have such a strong effect. The body is the intermediary through which the interaction between the non-material and material, the soul and the environment, occurs. The body enables physical life, but itself is not alive. It is a part of a living system for as long as it is coupled with the soul. To say that the body dies feels counter-intuitive because it has never lived.


The relation between the body and the soul

Asking where the soul is in relation to the body (e.g. whether it is in the body) does not make sense, since they do not share the same ‘space'. It could be said, though, that the soul encompasses the body it is connected to, because it belongs to the realty within which the physical domain is situated, and because it has potentially a wider scope than the body (as the one who dreams includes the one in the dream). On the other hand, the body is largely a boundary at least for the part of the soul during the life-time. So, depending on the perspective, the soul ‘encloses' the body and the body ‘encloses' the soul[13]. An urge to see the soul as being somewhere else in space (usually above as if it was a satellite) should also be resisted. This is as misleading as imaging that the soul dwells in the body. One metaphor, however crude, may, perhaps, help to avoid these temptations: the soul and the body can be compared to a wind and a sail. A sail captures some wind, and the wind blows into the sail, so they interact for a while. But, where does the wind dwell? Not in a particular place, it is a moving mass of air, in which the sail, boat and everything else is submerged.


The purpose of the body

The function of the body is to hold the soul grounded (to slow down the energy), which enables its rudimentary shaping. The body allows dynamism, but a limited one. So besides enabling communication with the environment, it also creates the boundaries that are needed until the non-material aspect is capable of self-control. In other words, the body has a role to stabilise and protect (primarily from the volatile exercise of agency and an excessive amount of input)[14]. As already mentioned, the senses are the first instance of selecting that of which we are going to be aware. This narrowing of the soul is necessary to allow a gradual development. Without these restrictions, it would be like a radio or TV receiver that picks up all the available transmitting signals; they would not produce potential information, but a meaningless noise.


The contribution to development

An interesting fact is that the brain is allowed to use an extraordinary amount of energy relative to its size. In humans, as much as 30% of the body's resting energy expenditure (oxygen and glucose) is due to the brain, while its mass accounts for around 3% of one's weight - ten times more than its share. No other part of the body by far is in such a privileged position, which strongly indicates that biological evolution is geared towards the development of the brain. It seems that the body exists to support the brain, not the other way around. This is congruent with common sense: if you had to choose, would you rather be without the body and retain the brain, or without the brain and retain the body?


Some possible questions

Why does the soul not separate from the body during a lifetime (or join another body)?

For the same reason why people do not jump out of cars at full speed. A car must stop or substantially slow down so that the person who is in it can get out safely. Similarly, the body and the brain must stop or at least substantially slow down and the corresponding soul must dis-identify in order to separate. Connecting to another body is practically impossible, not only because every body has its own unique code, but also because it would have to be ‘vacant', not already resonating with another soul. In such a case it would not be a functional body any way (although purely physico-chemical processes in some parts of the body can continue even without the connection).

  • [13]. As already mentioned (p.149) this is not a physical enclosure, but the resonance field enclosure.
  • [14]. In the later stages of development additional factors are involved too, which will be elaborated later.

The aura

There is a long and widespread tradition of belief that the body extends beyond its physical boundaries, in other words, that it has its own energy field. In Christianity, the term aureole is used for such a field surrounding the whole body and halo for the part of it around the head. Bio-energy fields are also commonly recognised in the East (e.g. Kundalini, chi, or energy flows that are associated with chakras and treated in acupuncture). In modern times, a morphogenetic (form-generating) field was postulated as early as the 1920s by biologist Alexander Gurwitsch, who claimed that the generation and regeneration of organisms is guided by it. In the 1930s, as a result of experimental work[15], a professor of anatomy Harold Burr and a professor at Yale at that time F. S. C. Northrop, proposed the existence of a life-field that shapes the organism. Experiments at Lanzhou University and at the Atomic Nuclear Institute in Shanghai seem to confirm the existence of an energy field generated by the human body; moreover, it appears to be affected by the mental power of the subjects. Scientists at the A. S. Popov Bio-information Institute in Russia reported that the field consists of frequencies within the range of 300 to 2 000 nanometres. All this indicates that the existence of such a field, for which a common term in the West is the aura, should not be dismissed.

The body, as any other physical object, ultimately consists of subatomic entities that have a dual nature. So, while the physical body, as normally perceived, can be identified with its corpuscular form, what is commonly called the aura could reflect its wave (or field) nature. This is not to say that there is an exact correspondence between those two (just as the two sides of the same coin can have different engravings). The body perceived as a field may have some properties that the body perceived as a conglomeration of particles does not, and the other way around.

In any case, such a field seems necessary. About 100 000 chemical reactions per second occur in each cell of the human body, so billions of chemical reactions happen at every moment. They all have to be synchronised for an organism to function. Chemical processes throughout the body are simply not fast enough to achieve this. It was already suggested (by physicist Hebert Fröhlich, for example) that some sort of collective vibration was responsible for getting proteins to cooperate with each other and carry out DNA instructions. As early as the 1960s, a Nobel laureate for Medicine Albert Szent-Györgyi proposed that protein molecules can function as semiconductors, meaning that they can conserve and pass along the energy of electrons as information over relatively long distances (Becker and Selden, 1985, p.93-94). Both, molecules and intermolecular bonds, emit unique frequencies, so it is possible that they interact with other molecules through a resonating wave, creating a cascade of electromagnetic impulses.

This ‘morphogenetic field' may also account for some phenomena that remain a mystery for modern science, for example, how the one-dimensional sequence of bases in the genes determines three-dimensional tissues and organs that give the organism its shape and properties. The extremely complex and intricate processes of embryogenesis (the development of an embryo) are most unlikely to be mapped by stable attractors[16] and governed alone by genetic information. It is more probable that such a chaotic (meaning ultra sensitive) system results from an interaction between DNA, environment, and the organisation of the morphogenetic field - or the aura. According to biologist Brian Goodwin, bio-fields are the basic unit of organic form and organisation; molecules and cells are merely ‘units of composition'. Life evolves in the interaction between organisms and the field in which they are embedded. Polanyi and Prosch write:

A considerable amount of experimental work, done by such biologists as H. Spemann, Paul Weiss, and C. H. Waddington, has shown that some of the development that takes place in embryos is controlled by fields, although exactly how this occurs is still uncertain. (1975, p.176)

Guiding the development of each organism by its own species-specific morphic resonance can also explain why species always breed true (the morphology of the offspring becomes similar to the morphology of its progenitors). The aura is already three-dimensional and contains complete information, so it can form a mould before the cells form a body. In other words, it is possible that when an egg is fertilised, a three dimensional blueprint (as a potential) is formed, which governs the activation of different sets of genes in different cells[17]. It ‘envelops' embryonic cells which allows some genes to be expressed while others are suppressed. So, the dual nature of organic matter enables the whole to act upon the parts.

This concept may also account for an extraordinary re-generation ability of some simple organisms. It appears that the cells are guided by an orientation system that functions even when they are separated from one another. Such a capability diminishes though in higher organisms. This is probably the case because the processes in their organs are less chaotic and seem to lose their sensitivity to the feedback from the field fluctuations. With greater organ specialisation the intensity and power of the aura to act as a blue-print for the body is decreased and the regeneration capacity is largely lost. Such an explanation is in line with the experimental research done by biophysicist Fritz-Albert Popp showing that the more complex the organism, the fewer photons are emitted (McTaggart, 2001, p.50).

The aura, however, should not be mistaken for the soul for several reasons. If the above mentioned pieces of research are credible, the aura has to be a part of the material world (situated within the space-time framework) while the soul is not. The aura cannot be separated from the body (chakras for example, roughly correspond to bodily glands, and the meridians of chi energy partly to the nervous system) and it dissolves after death. The soul, on the other hand,  does not correlate to the body so closely. For example, the aura of a new born baby reflects its relative structural simplicity, while the associated soul is, according to Jenny Wade who researched pre-natal consciousness, more complex (1996, chapter 2). Moreover, it seems that only highly sensitive individuals may be able to perceive this field, while to perceive a soul (or more accurately, the soul processes associated with an immediate experience), extraordinary abilities are not necessary[18].

There are some indications though, that the aura can reflect the state of the soul. It is well known, for example, that attention (which is linked to awareness and intent) can have an effect on the aura. So, it is likely that the non-material aspect of a living organism communicates with this field rather than the corpuscular body, and such interference[19] may be reflected in the aura. This mutual interaction can be accounted for by the findings of physicist Renato Nobili, showing that the fluid in cells promotes wave patterns that correspond with wave patterns in the brain cortex and scalp. If this is correct, the aura cannot be reduced only to an electro-magnetic field that the body produces (as some investigators believe). Thus, the characteristics of the field depend first of all on the body and environmental factors, but also the mind and the soul itself,  which is why it is apparently possible to distinguish different layers of the aura.

  • [15]. It consisted of separating and mixing up the cells of a salamander embryo. If that mixture was then put in a slightly acid solution they would re-form into an embryo.
  • [16]. Equilibrium states or end points into which these process would settle.
  • [17]. This coincides with transpersonal insights. The spiritual philosopher (with a Christian bent), Rudolf Steiner, described the etheric body, another name for aura, as ‘the principle which calls inorganic matter into life'. For this reason it is sometimes also called ‘formative-force-body'.
  • [18]. Tuning in beyond the constructs of reality and stabilising perception is sufficient in this case (see The perception of the soul).
  • [19]. Interference is the mutual action of two or more waves that results in a new wave pattern.

The brain

The brain does not have a uniform structure. It is neurologically organised into three distinct parts that reflect the evolutionary development of species. The part of the brain that is developed (in utero) and starts functioning first, is dominant during early life; it is also the most primitive, corresponding to the reptilian brain (hence, the name The R-Complex), and is chiefly responsible for physical preservation through instinctive behaviour. The second one built on top or rather surrounding the first one, is called limbic system; it corresponds to the brain of early mammals and is involved in emotional reactions. The last one, the neocortex, that is developed in primates but is especially enlarged in humans, is related to cognitive functioning. The neocortex is also divided into two hemispheres that have somewhat different functions (for example, the region associated with language is situated in the left one). On the cellular level, the sheer complexity of the human brain is hard to grasp. It is estimated that it contains approximately thirty billion neurons (3 x 1010), and each neuron can have as many as ten thousand synaptic connections. These give an unimaginably high number of possible combinations. Any detailed description of the brain structure and its functioning is far beyond the scope of this book, so the focus will be only on those aspects that are relevant to the relation between the brain and the non-material side of the living organism. In a nutshell, neurons, via synaptic links, enable electro-chemical processes that provide the material basis for consciousness. They create waves that through awareness become information or experience, and in this way affect the soul.


The brain's contribution to consciousness

There is no doubt that the brain is instrumental for consciousness, especially for the formation of specific patterns (images, words) that correspond to, or are associated with, the phenomena and events of physical life. In a way, the brain helps in forming scaffoldings to support more fluid energy configurations. The likely mechanism that enables this process is the interference of coherent electromagnetic fields at the point of dendritic interactions[20]. This interference can (at least in theory) produce holographic-like representations. It also allows memory to be recalled by a ‘reference' signal (any associated element can be a trigger, ‘reminder' for the activation of the pattern), and enables the storing of potential information in a distributed rather than localised manner. On the basic level, though, a very complex structure of the brain does not seem to be necessary. A cytoskeleton consisting of micro-tubules could play a similar role to the nervous system in cells with a nucleus. Pribram, Hameroff, Schempp and many others have applied quantum physics to analysing the relation between consciousness and neuronal functioning. They claim that quantum coherence (which means that when two quantum systems interact, their wave functions become ‘phase entangled') can occur in micro-tubules and provide a mechanism for intracellular quantum holography. If this is correct, it is possible that all living organisms (even very primitive ones), have at least a very rudimentary consciousness. Of course, this is not to say that the activity of neurons and their simpler equivalents is sufficient. A global, synchronised production of waves of a particular intensity and frequency is necessary to enable the ‘read-out' by awareness. Like any other matter-energy systems, the brain continually interacts with a non-material energy field of a specific sort - in other words, with a part of the soul.


Brain Functions

The brain has several essential roles regarding the mind.

Perceiving - one of the main functions of the brain is to be the intermediary between the soul and the environment, translating signals into the wave patterns that awareness can pick up. In other words, the brain provides the materials by transforming sensations into potential information or experience. The already mentioned ‘blind sight' experiments (p.112), for example, indicate that the major function of a particular brain region is to enable the link with awareness, rather than perception as such[21].


Selecting within an accessible range of signals, happens on several levels, but first of all in the brain. Bergson regarded the brain as a filter whose purpose is to reduce the amount of data which would otherwise invade our consciousness, and to eliminate what is superfluous. This view is experimentally vindicated:

Much of neural activity is known to be inhibitory... There is ... evidence that selective attention operates, in part, by the inhibition of nonattended stimuli (cf. Arbuthnott, 1995). This is consistent with the view that the brain may act as a filter (as well as an organizer) of information. (Velmans, 1995, p.261)

The importance of this selection becomes clear considering that 75% of neurons in the human brain are inhibitory, compared with 45% in the monkey brain and even less in rabbits or cats. A release from inhibition though, could explain certain phenomena such as the sudden improvement in short-term memory performance, if after a series of trials with similar stimuli, the features of the stimuli to be remembered are changed (see Wickers, 1972). Alleged extra-sensory perception might also be a result of bypassing this filter.


Constructing - another important function of the brain is structuring and organising. Neurons and synapses create a network that is strengthened by repetition. The brain is not aware, but it can perform complicated operations and preserve connections without awareness (similar to a computer). Corpus callosum (the structure that bond the two hemispheres), for example, is necessary to maintain the link between the image of an object and the corresponding word. However, it is important to remember that different brain modules process different types of signals (shape, colour, movement etc.) They do not form meaningful representations (which is why it is possible to use the same group of neuro-connections to form images of different objects). So, awareness is still necessary as a field within which these connections are established and reinforced (therefore, the claim that one can learn a foreign language while sleeping is largely unfounded). Although awareness is required for the process of connecting and separating, to what extent and what can be connected or separated depends on the complexity of the brain organisation. Psychologist Rock writes:

... it would seem that the world we perceive is the end result of events that occur in the nervous system and in this sense is a construction. It bears a certain kind of similarity to the realm of the material world, but is also very different from it.' (1975, p.4)

Storing - the brain also has an essential function in storing information in a specific form. Neuronal connections enable particular structures (e.g. images and words) to be permanently preserved. Without the brain, experiences and information are not lost, but the form they have taken can be. This is because the brain configuration is more solid than its non-material equivalent, and because a form can be reinforced by sensations from the material world, dialogue and internal monologue (language structures). It is still possible to create and preserve mental constructs without the brain, but in such cases they are much more fluid, so normally, the brain is necessary to consolidate, stabilise and maintain them.


Movement - the brain also plays an intermediary role for both, voluntary and automatic movements, in terms of coordination of its sequences. Furthermore, it can amplify a weak intent signal and initiate the mobilisation of physical energy for an activity.


The contribution of the brain to development

The increase of brain complexity enables the development of the mind which, in turn,  can enhance the complexity of energy configurations in the soul. In other words, the growth of consciousness (that depends, to a large extent, on the growth of the brain) enables expansion of awareness and a greater influence of intent. A larger number and variety of neural connections also facilitate the further separation of the soul from the rest of non-material energy, leading to self-reflection and internal feedback. This not only enables individualisation, but also the intentional shaping of the soul. So another factor, besides the body, that contributes (with the help of the brain) to the forming of the soul is the mind - the subject of the following part in the book.


Some possible questions

Does every (intentional)  thought trigger brain activity?

Every thought carries some energy (because it is essentially made of waves), so it should have an effect on brain activity. This energy, however, can be so small that it is practically undetectable. The important point to be made in this respect is that the mind affects the brain field, so there is no one to one correlation with brain processes. This enables the mind to utilise the plasticity of the brain. For example, having an active mind can slow down the progress of Alzheimer's disease because unaffected areas of the brain can be used (however, when they become affected too, the deterioration becomes rapid).


Is there any symmetry between the material and non-material aspects?

If the soul is considered parallel to the body, its ‘surface' can be paralleled to the brain. So, in a way, there is an inverse symmetry: the body is the cover of the brain and the nervous system, while this surface is the cover of the soul.


Why this exceptional increase in complexity does not happen in the kidney, for example, but in the brain?

One of the conditions for evolution is an exposure to a variety of external stimuli or an adaptation to environmental changes. All the senses are connected to the brain. So while kidney cells are exposed to a relatively narrow range of stimuli, brain cells are frequently brought into contact with new ones, which is conducive to learning and ongoing development. In other words, the kidney can ‘afford' its relative simplicity.

  • [20]. Dendrites are numerous branches from the main body of a neuron that connect it with other neurons.
  • [21]. This may also explain the paradox of the primary visual brain area (V1): it is claimed that ‘V1 does not ‘explicitly' represent colour and form because it has no cells that are sensitive to colour, and so on. And yet conscious appreciation of colour and form is destroyed by damage to V1' (Baars, at al., 1998, p.275).