Home » Current Theories of Consciousness » Consciousness through the Minds of Philosophers: Materialism

Consciousness through the Minds of Philosophers: Materialism

The soul persists but the body does not, many religions hold, but what if consciousness is just a result of the physical and nothing more? This is what modern materialists hold.

Materialism; a brief history

Materialism rose through the ranks with the advent of physical scientific enquiry, and the shift from thinking about the brain, to physically exploring the way the brain works. This coincided with the evolution of psychology and neuroscience, which both can trace their origins to philosophy.

With the behavioral revolution in the early 20th century, including Pavlov and his conclusions about conditioning, came the understanding that the mind is a physical object able to be manipulated. If we could manipulate behaviour it seemed possible that we could manipulate consciousness. Indeed, we can, and although views have changed slightly with the rise of the understanding of the brain as a computer, materialism remains a prevalent theory when it comes to considering conscious mental states.

The battlefield

With the advent of scientific enquiry and methodology, an increasing support for materialism resulted. Scientific knowledge of the mechanisms and neurochemical reactions in the brain suggest to many that consciousness is physical. Indeed, disorders of consciousness can be physically identified and treated, and we consider brain death to be the clear end of life as ourselves.

It is difficult to argue with materialism when we consider brain scans, and the link fMRI scans have with conscious thought. These scans do relate to thought and experiences to some degree making the only objection to such a theory now a religious one. Some even argue that beyond the scientific proof, the principle of simplicity supports materialism. When there are two theories equally explaining a concept, it is often the most simplest that holds strongest.

There are, however, still gaps in this theory. It is very difficult to connect the subjective experience of consciousness to the physical evidence of such found through neuroscience. Some still maintain that even though we know where emotions might happen in the brain, or even how, we do not fully understand why and in this we might consider there must be a non-physical aspect to ourselves.

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