Whence Cometh Consciousness?

The human brain is extremely complex, and the relation of brain and mind have never been adequately explained. What is consciousness? How can pure matter have self consciousness? Is there truly a mind, or is it an illusion? What role does the soul play in the brain & mind?

Author John Searle gives an illustration he calls “The Chinese Room.” A man is locked in a room with only a slit in the door. He has a rule book about Chinese characters, but the man cannot read nor understand Chinese. Someone will slip a Chinese character through the slot in the door. The man sees the character, then uses the rule book to determine what other character to slip out through the door. To the people outside, the conversation is perfectly intelligent. But the man has no clue as to what is being said in Chinese. Does the man “understand?” Obviously not.

The story is designed to show that merely following rules (syntax) is not sufficient to establish meaning (semantics). So we have a couple of major problems presented to us.

The first is “How can pure matter develop syntax (rules)?” A computer is made up of silicone and electricity. But the silicone and electricity are not the computer program, which is the syntax and rules. Likewise, the human brain is made of neurons and synapses, but these are not the logicical rules that the brain follows. How does our brain get these syntactical rules? Philosophers and brain researchers have wrestled with this problem since Plato, and do not have consensus.

The second question is this: “Can the presence of syntax (rules) in the brain be sufficient to establish semantics (meaning)?” For example, the computer on which I type a love letter  will accurately record the letter, but the computer has no idea of the meaning of the love letter. A computer program can be made to simulate the conversations of a human, but the computer is not truly sad, happy, frustrated, etc. The semantics (meaning) does not exist in the computer program, similar to the man locked in the Chinese room. Thus the logic that Searle points out is:

1. Programs are syntactical.
2. Minds have semantic content.
3. Syntax by itself is not the same as nor sufficient for semantic content.

Further, we have still not shown how the syntax is arrived at in the first place by a human brain or mind.

So what is the point? The point is that just the brain is not sufficient to explain the human mind, such as conciousness and meaning. Pure materialism is defeated, and atheism takes a mortal wound.

For the Christian, the problem is explained in the Bible, when it tells us that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made,” created in God’s image, and given a soul.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Atheism, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

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