Why do we have minds, qualia, and consciousness as they are—manifesting phenomenally as vision, sound, smell, emotion, thought, etc. that we can experience in our lives? Why are we not like computers or robots, doing everything “in the dark” without those phenomenal manifestations occurring?
The answer, from scientific evidence, is that such minds, qualia, and consciousness have physical effects and that those effects help increase the survival chance of ourselves and our species. Therefore, minds, qualia, and consciousness as they are—having phenomenal manifestations—evolved into existence to help us and our species survive better.
How can mind, qualia, and consciousness have physical effects?
The answer is by inducing occurrences of some physical processes. For, evidently, when mind, qualia, and consciousness occur, we do have awareness and experience of them—we can tell that they have occurred and what they are like … what the vision is like, what the sound is like, what the smell is like, etc. But awareness and experience cannot occur by themselves alone—some brain processes must function for them to occur. Thus, some brain processes must have been induced by the mind, qualia, and consciousness to occur and function for such awareness and experience to happen. But brain processes are physical processes, so some physical processes must have been induced to occur by the mind, qualia, and consciousness. Because of this, mind, qualia, and consciousness can and do have physical effects.
But how can something with phenomenal manifestations, such as the vision of colors, the sound of music, and the smell of roses … in our mind, occur from brain processes, which are physical processes and do not have phenomenal manifestations?
The answer is that some brain processes have signals that mean, in the neural language, something with phenomenal manifestations, such as the vision of colors. Thus, when these signals are read by some neural circuits, they will be interpreted as something with phenomenal manifestations, and something with phenomenal manifestations, such as the vision of colors, will naturally and inevitably occur in the reading neural circuits … and in our brains. Something with phenomenal manifestations—qualia and consciousness—thus can and do occur from physical processes.
[Quick proof ⇒ Qualia have physical effects]
[Quick proof ⇒ Qualia are neural signals]
“The Basic Theory of the Mind” is a physical theory about the mind and its phenomena, such as qualia and consciousness. It also involves related matters including the hard problem of consciousness, the explanatory gap, variable qualia, p-zombies, and free will. This theory is a scientifically verifiable theory – it is based on physical evidence and provides experimentally testable predictions.
The mind is one thing that has always fascinated and puzzled us. It is the only thing that we can be certain of existing, yet, apparently, we do not know exactly what it is, how it occurs, and why it occurs. This is in contrast to things outside the mind, such as houses, cars, and even other people, which we cannot be certain that they really exist – they may be just illusions – yet, apparently, we know what they are, how they occur, and why they occur. What is more, the phenomena of qualia and consciousness, such as the red color as it appears phenomenally red in our mind and our phenomenal conscious awareness and experience of that red color, have always been baffling – what is their nature, how and why do they occur, and cannot there be just the mind without them?
Fortunately, with centuries of studying these matters, first by philosophers and later also by neurologists, neuroscientists, and other scientists in related fields, we now have a wealth of scientific evidence and concepts that are complete enough to form a theory that can answer these great puzzles.
The Basic Theory of the Mind
Based on the wealth of scientific evidence and concepts, this theory has been formed. Its essence is as follows:
1. From the physical properties of the mind and those of the brain (the alive, processing brain), it can be concluded that the mind always occurs, exists, and functions with the brain and that the brain always occurs, exists, and functions with the mind. Both never occur alone without the other. They are a unity. Each is the intrinsic, equivalent, but different (non-material vs material) aspect of this unity. (Chapter 1)
2. From the physical properties of the mind and those of the brain’s information-processing processes, which are non-material processes, it can be concluded that the mind is the composite of the information-processing processes of the brain (Figure 1).
“What happens when we see, hear, and smell things around us, experience moods, think of various things, plan appropriate actions, and command our hands, lips, and body to move, if not information, information, and information are being processed.
We are just informational entities, ever processing information and living on the informational side of the universe.”
Figure 1. The mind is an information-processing entity.
Because the mind is a composite of information-processing processes, it is an informational entity – a non-material entity that is composed of information and information processing, and because the information processing processes that form the mind are innumerable in number and involve information that ranges from simple to very advanced, the mind is an informational entity in a highly advanced form. And, because the mind is a non-material, informational entity, it is not a conventional physical entity (or mechanical entity) like mass, energy, or force; that is why it is so different from the conventional physical entities. (Chapter 2)
3. Qualia, the mental phenomena that appear phenomenally in our mind and that we can consciously experience, such as the vision of a house, the sound of a song, and the odor of a rose in our mind (Figure 2), are physical phenomena. They are governed by physical laws and are physically predictable.
Figure 2. Qualia are mental phenomena that we can consciously experience in our mind.
Specifically, they are neural-process associated physical phenomena. (Chapter 3 & 4)
[Quick proof ⇒ Qualia are physical phenomena]
4. From the physical properties of qualia and those of special kinds of neural-process signaling pattern, which are neural information and non-material, it can be concluded that qualia are special kinds of neural-process signaling pattern. (Chapter 5)
“If we look around and consciously experience the visual qualia occurring right in front of us now, with the facts that our consciousness can experience the visual qualia and that the only things the consciousness neural process is capable of reading are signaling patterns of neural processes, it is inescapable to conclude that we are, in fact, experiencing the signaling patterns of neural processes!”
[Quick proof ⇒ Qualia are signaling patterns]
Because neural-process signaling patterns are neural information, qualia are special kinds of neural information – neural information in specialized forms that, when read by neural processes, are interpreted to be entities with phenomenal appearances or qualia that appear phenomenally in our mind (Figure 3).
Figure 3. When read by neural processes, a normal signaling pattern (A) for a visual perception of a house means “House”, so the mind gets only the physical information of the house (such as its width, length, height, luminosity, and colors) but not the information of what the house looks like. But a special signaling pattern (B) for a visual perception of the same house means “House and what the house looks like”; consequently, a quale of the house naturally and inevitably occurs in the mind.
Like the mind, qualia are non-material, informational entities, not mechanical entities. And this answers the hard problem of qualia and bridges the explanatory gap of how non-material phenomenal qualia can arise from material neural processes: non-material phenomenal qualia are neural signaling patterns, which always exist intrinsically in material neural processes – no novel, non-material entities arise or emerge from material neural processes to be qualia. (Chapter 5)
5. From the physical properties of consciousness and those of a special kind of reentrant signaling state, which is the neural information of the consciousness neural process and is non-material, it can be concluded that consciousness is a special kind of reentrant signaling state.
Because a neural-process signaling state is neural information, consciousness is a special kind of neural information – neural information in a specialized form that, when read by the consciousness neural process itself by the process of reentrant signaling, is interpreted to be entities with phenomenal appearances or consciousness that appears phenomenally in our mind (Figure 4).
Figure 4. When read by the consciousness neural process by the process of reentrant signaling, a special signaling state of a visual perception of a house means “conscious awareness and experience of what the house looks like”; consequently, phenomenal consciousness of the house naturally and inevitably occurs.
Like the mind and qualia, consciousness is a non-material, informational entity, not a mechanical entity. And this answers the hard problem of consciousness and bridges the explanatory gap of how non-material phenomenal consciousness can arise from the material consciousness neural process: non-material phenomenal consciousness is a signaling state that always exists intrinsically in the material consciousness neural process – no novel, non-material entity arises or emerges from the material consciousness neural process to be consciousness. (Chapter 6)
6. The fact that qualia and conscious awareness and conscious experiences of the qualia occur in only the final-stage sensory perception neural processes and the highest-level cognitive and executive neural processes, which are the latest-evolved neural processes, and never occur in the more primitive neural processes, such as the brainstem, cerebellum, and basal ganglia, or over the whole brain scatteredly, indicates that they are not randomly occurring phenomena but are evolved functions of the nervous system. (Chapter 5 & Chapter 6)
7. Because a neural process that performs a certain function (such as perceiving a vision) without qualia occurring and a neural process that performs that same function (such as perceiving a vision) with qualia occurring have different information in the processes, they have different signaling patterns (to convey different information). Therefore, they have different physical effects on other neural processes, at least from the different effects of different signaling patterns (Figure 5). Qualia thus have physical effects.
Figure 5. Different signaling patterns have different meanings and different effects
Also, because we do have conscious awareness and conscious experiences of qualia, qualia must certainly induce the consciousness neural process to function to be consciously aware of and to consciously experience the qualia; therefore, because the consciousness neural process is a physical process, qualia cause changes in a physical process and thus have physical effects. (Chapter 5)
Similarly, it can be concluded that consciousness (conscious awareness and conscious experiences) has physical effects. (Chapter 6)
Therefore, qualia and consciousness are evolved neural functions that have physical effects.
8. Because a function requires resources in building, maintaining, and operating the function and may have some negative effects, if its overall effects do not help increase the survival chance of the animals that have the function, those animals and the function will likely become extinct in the evolutionary process. This is especially true for a major function in a critical organ as in the case of qualia and consciousness in the brain. The fact that qualia and consciousness still exist today indicates that they have been selected to remain in the evolutionary process. This means that their overall effects must help increase the survival chance of the species that have them. Qualia and consciousness, in the form that they are – phenomenal qualia and phenomenal consciousness, or qualia and consciousness that appear phenomenally in our mind – thus are evolved functions to help increase the survival chance of the species, including humans, that have them. This is the scientific answer to the other part of the hard problem of consciousness: why does consciousness in the form of phenomenal consciousness occur in this universe? This is also the scientific answer to one of the most basic questions of our lives: why do “we” exist? (Chapter 5 & Chapter 6)
“We” – our mind, qualia, and consciousness – exist
to increase the survival chance of ourselves
… and our species.
“You” – your mind, qualia, and consciousness – exist
to increase the survival chance of yourself
… and your species.
The above summarizes the principal concepts of the theory but is just part of the theory. Other subjects of the theory include subsidiary theories, variable qualia, p-zombies, self, and free will. The complete content of the theory consists of Preface, Introduction and Definitions, Chapter 1 to 12, and Conclusions, which are partitioned into separate chapters on this website.
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The Basic Theory of the Mind: The book.
The theory was published in a hardcover form in 2018 but is now out of stock.
The next hard-cover edition is due to be published in 2023.
The theory has also been published as an eBook edition and is now available on Amazon Kindle.
The eBook edition of the theory
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Mind, consciousness, qualia, the hard problem of consciousness, explanatory gap, the mind-body problem, p-zombies, philosophical zombie, self, free will, dualism, physicalism, neural information
N.B. The hard problem of consciousness and the explanatory gap are answered in items 5 to 9.
Dr. Chirapat Ukachoke
Last revision – Mar 28, 2021