Problems with the notion of a non-material aspect of the conscious process
The idea that there is a difference between “state of consciousness” and physical state” is a non sequitur to me. Specifically, you have emotions whenever you are conscious, and emotions, specifically, mental states are caused by the actions of the neurotransmitter exocrine glands underneath the pons medullas and their actions on the formation and action of neuronal networks inside the conscious mind. So the real question is to what degree emotions are extrinsic and to what degree they are intrinsic. And the other question is to what degree emotions result from internal process, and to what degree they result from external process. The idea that emotions are purely stimuli that respond to the interpretation of sensory data in the immediate world is to say that emotions are wholly external, this is the foundation of the now discredited James-Lange hypothesis. However, it is now said that emotions are to some degree internal, they trigger thoughts and are triggered by thoughts. A hardcore phenominalist would simply argue that mental states can only exist because of the interpretation of sense data (which is true) and therefore that there is no internal causality. Of course, when we speak of emotion being triggered internally, what do we speak of? Thoughts which provoke emotional responses and emotional responses causing thoughts (but in that case, to what are the emotional responses responding to, the answer simply leads us back to the sensory world), but of course, all of that is dependant on memory, and memory is simply a recording of associations and interpretation of sense data from the empirical world. It seems that one way or another, we are always led, in some way, to emotions being caused by some neural process which has a relation to sense data, since the input of sense data is a necessary causal agent for forming neural networks. However, this does not mean it is the only causal agent. I can think thoughts that cause the creation of new neuronal networks that have absolutely nothing to do with my immediate world (but of course, this is simply the result of recollection via memory of sense data anyway). This presents us with a problem since emotions are necessary for consciousness, but anything with the James-Lange bent would imply vice-versa: consciousness is necessary for emotion. So, to understand why the zealous extrinsic phenominalists are wrong, we must understand how the transmitter ducts that govern emotions actually work. Because they do not function solely on causal grounds with sense data. The point is that conscious states do not necessarily imply that emotional responses are only responses to sense data. They can be, and we would be unable to function without this. But they are also intrinsic. I can take away all your senses, called TSD, or total sense deprivation. You will go insane within several days and die several days later, because the neural networks will unravel, but if the James-Lange model is correct, a person would simply die immediately whenever placed in a deprivation tank. This is not the case.
The assertion being discussed is that the soul is the domain of all things mental, that mental states are a seperate reality from the glands and gristle of the brain (but then...what does the brain do? Surely then it would be vestigial, which is absurd). However, neuroscientists have been shooting those off like flies on a windshield. Even the most ardent or ignorant supporters of such a hypothesis will be forced to admit that there is physical and causal grounding for mental states. We now have convincing neurological explanations for emotion, reason, cognition, pain, perception etc, and those phenomenon which we cannot (as of yet) explain, we can at least to deduce the physical nature of such phenomenon (consciousness, self-awareness and thoughts). The deductions of physicality are obvious, you tweak a physical thing in the brain, and you get a corresponding change in mental state. An electrode at X produces a physiological effect at Y and a corresponding mental state, chemical X in neuron group Y produces mental state Z and so on. We have a slew of cerebrovascular, genetic, neurodevelopmental, congenital neurophysiological, neurotoxic and neurobiological diseases to attest. Depression (serotonin VGIC channel malfunction and limbic-cortic dysregulation), which causes, well, depression. Alzheimers (amyeloid fatty plaque accumulation), which causes dementia, senile dementia, which does the same, Wilson’s disease (accumulation of copper in the brain causing dementia and Kayser-Fleischer rings), OCD (subcortical circuitry malfunction) causing obsessive-compulsive behaivor, Lesch-Nyhan’s (autocannibalism and insanity, caused by a missing copy of the functioning hypoxanthanine-guanine ribulotransferanse), autism (miswiring of mirror neurons) causing, in extreme cases, total antisocial behaivor, inability to speak, general inability to interact with others, eating disorders are caused by frontotemporal synaptogenesis malfunction, hallucination by cytokine storms in the retinogeniculocalcarine tract, the list goes on and on.
The question of free will is merely the other side of the coin of consciousness, the existence of a being which is aware of its existence (subject/object) in relation to the world, and has a concept of “I” and hence is able to make decisions about the the world pertaining to the accomplishment of some goal. Neurologists call this executive function. There is a part of the brain responsible, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), although we are not absolutely sure of the precise mechanism involved. Regardless, we can be quite sure of the organic biophysical nature of the decision making process. As I explained before, this is merely the other side of consciousness, which through a series of very easy deductions, we can, as I have shown, prove to have organo-physical grounding. The “free will” and control you excercise over your actions can be altered, controlled, lost, and switched on and off by physical actions in the brain, as evidenced by the poor Lesch-Nyhan sufferer.
But the term “free will” implies your ability to make decisions is...free. It is surely not. There are a host of factors, both acknowledged and programmed, which influence decision making. It is a highly causal and determinate process, depending on the tempermant of the subject in question (which is partially genetic and partially environmental), the electrical signals which knit together to form your cohesive worldview, this is the science of perception, which I shall cover now, memory, the pattern-recognition engines of the brain, the precise neuroelectrochemical concentration at time of the decision being made, and so on. There is no such thing as “free will”, because the processes by which decisions are made are as causal and hence physical as any biological process we care to name. The dichotomy we must entertain is this: Is there a “you” commanding and controlling your thoughts, or are “you” the sum total of your thoughts? Most of neuroscience, as do I, lean towards the latter. There is no mental control room, and it is most certainly not external of the brain. You cannot control your thoughts. Try it. You are your thoughts, and these thoughts are caused by....a guess, anyone? I would suspect, along with the bulk of evolutionary cognitive neuroscientists, that the subject/object self-perception of higher organisms which generates the illusion of “free will” is a by product of the evolutionary expansion of the neocortex along the Pan/Homo genus. After all, humans are not the only animals to possess this capability, although ours is certainly most fine-tuned. At present, great apes, chimps, macques and dolphins are also among this small set of organisms which acknowledge their existence as a defined being from the world they inhabit, and hence they do not behave like mere automata, as Descartes would have us believe.
In preperation for the next section of discussion, we must turn the science of perception. In scientific terms, this is the mechanism by which the electrical signals from the external and internal world are arrayed and read to assemble a picture of reality for the brain to interpret. That’s what the brain does, it runs a first-class simulation of reality.
This simulation is based on thousands and thousands of data hard points inside and outside the body. First, there are the five exoperceptive senses, which we all know, sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, which depend, respectively, on the eyes and optic, trochlear, abducent and oculomotor nerves, the olfactory and glassopharyngeal nerves, the tongue and hypoglossal nerve, the thousands of recepter neurons across the body and the auditory and vestibulocochlear nerves.
Then, there are the lesser known, but equally important introperceptive senses, which regulate balance and spatiotemporal relative position and geometric orientation in the world (inner ear and cochlear tubes) called proprioception, the tracking of movement and muscle memory called mechanoperception (this one is quite remarkable, it is controlled by grid neurons which array a lattice-like projection of external reality, dividing it into grid squares, such that grid neurons corresponding to said squares fire when movement is detected in said squares. Obviously, your brain does not project this onto your vision, as that would be extremely annoying. As a matter of fact, your brain, while efficiently organizing reality, tweaks a lot of things so as not to appear unsettling. For example, the eyes never stop moving, they, even when fixed on a point, are making a jerky motion called sacchares. However, this is extremely unsettling in appearance so the brain eliminates it from the visual projection. It can be detected only by watching someone else’s eyes in the mirror.
There are many introperceptive senses, but they keep inventing new ones as they are discovered, so I shall not mention them all here. The point is that the simulation which the brain runs based on this data is the fundamental requisite of existence for a conscious mind. The mind cannot exist without it. For some hitherto unexplained reason, perhaps psuedo-therepautical, the wealthy sometimes pay to be placed for short periods of time in a total sensory deprivation tank. This is dangerous. Overexposure to total sensory deprivation will cause insanity then death. The sensory processing units of the brain will begin to unravel, as experiments have shown. Imagine a person born more unfortunate than Helen Keller. Not only are they congenitally blind and deaf, but they have CIPA (Congenital insensity to pain with anhidrosis) and ageusia. If I presented this case to a neuroscientist, they would say the baby would die soon after exiting the womb, assuming it has not been born stillborn. The mind cannot exist without the senses.
In addition to the senses and the genetic factors of temperament and chemical concentration across the VGIC arrays, the mind cannot exist without the brain’s pattern recognition engines, without which we would be somewhat like Dory the fish in Finding Nemo, except that in addition to constantly forgetting our own name, we would be unable to walk, talk, or think at all.
There is a final consideration that may shed light on how internal conscious states function in relation to physical states. I am referring to what modern neuroscientists called apraxia, a situation which results in a longitudinal divide along the corpus callosum in epilepsy patients, which causes the dominant hand of the patient to undergo involuntary movement and uncontrollable motor functions. The hand might undo buttons, light cigarettes, even strike objects without the users control. However, combined magnetoencephelogram scanning in 1976 have revealed that this very rare form of epillepsy apraxia is caused by the damage caused to the medial lobes by the incision along the major axis of the brain. There are different brain functions associated with voluntary movement, the cerebellum for proprioception, the grid neuron array for mechanoperception.. The incision along the brain's long axis severs the connection between the lobes controlling movement, with the result that different areas of the brain may at different times be able to command the hand in different ways, but since they are not connected, conscious control over it is lost. Actually, apraxia is often used to make the neurophysiological distinction between intention of execution otherwise known as Executive function (Anterior Cingulate Cortex), and actual execution. In other words, we can show that the self loses control of the hand due to apraxia due to a division along the major long axis of the brain, and although the kinesthetic sensation is there, the sensation of conscious control over the hand is not. For this reason, most neurophysiologists consider that at the supramolecular level, there is an electrophysiological event which translates intent into action. The general area which does this has been pinpointed by fMRI as the medial fronal lobe.
Recently, neuroimaging has revealed the area of the brain responsible for decisional inhibition to be in the parietaloccipatal system. The damage or destruction of this system results in the loss of executive functional inhibition, with the result that the subject may lose conscious control over many physiological functions. But since the area of the brain responsible for action is located on the other lobe of the brain, the result of an incision along the corpus callosum will be in rare cases the loss of ability for interagency neurological control over such functions, with apraxia, with the result that a conscious self loses control for periods of time over the limb in question unless treated. Since the brain is a contralateral control system, which means that damage to the posterior medial lobe results in involuntary movement in the opposite function, the same for the parietal-occipatal system, since the corpus callosum is the link between these two areas and the subcortical synaptogenesis which develops when basic motor skills do, the exertation of control over the movement is partitioned into four areas. In other words, we are seeing exactly what we expect to see with an epillepsy patient experiencing apraxia under stimulation.
The conclusion we should draw from all of this is that there simply cannot be a non-physical component to mental processes, or at very least that no mental process can proceed without a physical one (the latter would seem to be a priori true anyway since the physical world is defined precisely in terms of the world we experience via our sensory perceptions, without which we wouldn't be conscious!) This punches a nice, clean hole straight through the concept of life after death, and the notion of non-material conscious beings.
"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.