Mind, Qualia, and Consciousness

Why do we have minds, qualia, and consciousness as they are—manifesting phenomenally as visions, sounds, smells, tastes, emotions, thoughts, etc. that we can experience richly in our lives? Why are we not like computers or robots, doing everything “in the dark” without those phenomena occurring?

Qualia & consciousness in humans vs robots

        The answer is that such minds, qualia, and consciousness have physical effects that increase the survival chances of ourselves and our species. Therefore, minds, qualia, and consciousness as they are—manifesting phenomenally—exist to help us and our species survive with better chances.

How can minds, qualia, and consciousness have physical effects?

    The answer is by inducing occurrences and functions of physical processes. Evidently, when minds, qualia, and consciousness occur, we do have awareness and experiences of them. We can tell that they have happened and what they are like … what visions are like, what sounds are like, what smells are like, what emotions are like, what thoughts are like, etc. But awareness and experiences cannot occur out of nothing—some brain processes must function for them to occur. Hence, minds, qualia, and consciousness must induce brain processes to occur and perform these functions. Since brain processes are physical, minds, qualia, and consciousness induce physical processes and thus have physical effects.

     But how can something with phenomenal manifestations, such as the vision of a house, the sound of a song, and the smell of a rose … in our minds, occur from brain processes, which are physical and do not have phenomenal manifestations?

Qualia and consciousness

  The answer is that some brain processes have signals that mean, among working brain processes, something with phenomenal manifestations, such as the vision of a house. When viewed from the third-person point of view—our point of view when we think about or investigate the signals in labs—they do not appear to be something with phenomenal manifestations because they are only thought about or observed, not read. In contrast, when viewed from the first-person point of view—the natural point of view of working brain processes—the signals are read and interpreted. If the signals mean something with phenomenal manifestation, the reading brain processes will interpret them as such. Consequently, something with phenomenality, such as the vision of a house, naturally and inevitably appears in those neural processes and the brain.

[Quick proof ⇒ Qualia have physical effects]

[Quick proof ⇒ Qualia are neural signals]

How can physical signals have such meanings? What are the ontological and physical nature of minds, qualia, and consciousness? Do other animals, robots, and other things have them?

The answers to these questions and other related problems can be found scientifically. They are in this theory. The readers are kindly invited to explore them.

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“The Basic Theory of the Mind” is a physical theory about the mind and its phenomena, especially qualia and consciousness. It also involves related matters, including the hard problem of consciousness, the explanatory gap, variable qualia, and p-zombies. It is based on scientific evidence and provides scientifically verifiable predictions.

The Mind

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:

Under existing physical laws, all physical entities (entities obeying physical rules), including the brain, interact only with each other. Further, the mind, qualia, and consciousness interact with the brain, enabling us to be aware of and engage in various physical activities related to them (such as discussing, investigating, and writing about them). Therefore, it is logical to deduce that they are physical entities; otherwise, new physical laws must be added. From existing evidence, it can be confirmed that the former, parsimonious case is true. From their physical properties (such as being non-material, having content about something, and being closely associated with neural processes), it can be concluded that the mind, qualia, and consciousness are neural information—a physical entity—in various forms (as specified in the theory). Because neural information inherently exists in the functioning brain, no novel entities are created to be the mind, qualia, and consciousness. This conclusion answers the ontological problem of what these three entities are and the hard problem of how they occur in the brain.

In the third-person point of view, our point of view when we think about or investigate it in the labs, information does not appear as something with phenomenal manifestations (PMs), such as qualia and consciousness, because it is not read and interpreted but only thought about or observed. In contrast, in the first-person point of view, the natural point of view of working neural processes, information is read and interpreted. If it means something with PMs, it will be interpreted as such, and something with PMs, such as qualia and consciousness, will naturally and inevitably appear in the reading neural processes and the brain. This point-of-view account bridges the explanatory gap of how qualia and consciousness can occur in the brain and explains how we can feel and experience ourselves and everything else phenomenally as we do, even though we are merely some forms of neural information.

Since it is a brute fact that there exist minds, qualia, and consciousness in this universe and since, during evolution, possible characteristics can emerge when suitable conditions and opportunities align, minds, qualia, and consciousness eventually emerged at some evolutionary time. This time was no later than when homo sapiens, a species possessing these characteristics, first appeared on earth, around 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. As each characteristic requires resources in its generation, function, and maintenance and may have some adverse effects on the species, if its overall effects are not beneficial to the species’ survival, it and the species having it will become extinct due to competition with species that are similar but do not possess it, such as the original species. This basis is especially true for a major characteristic in a critical organ, such as any of the above three characteristics in the brain, because it will expend significant resources. The continued existence of the three characteristics over at least hundreds of thousands of years means that they have been preserved through the evolutionary process and, with the human race flourishing, not withering, indicates that their overall effects must aid in humans’ survival. Therefore, minds, qualia, and consciousness are evolved characteristics that contribute to our survival. This inference answers the hard problem of why they occur in us.

To continue reading the synopsis of the theory, please click: Synopsis

To begin reading the theory in the webpage format, please click: Introduction and Definitions

To freely download the PDF version of the theory, please click: Download the PDF version

For readers interested in some specific subjects, specific links to them are as follows:

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In the end, it can be briefly concluded that

We as we are—with minds, qualia, and consciousness—

exist to increase the survival chances of our species

… and ourselves.

You, as you are—with your mind, qualia, and consciousness—

exist to increase the survival chances of your species

… and yourself.


The Basic Theory of the Mind: The book.

The First Hardcover Edition (2018)

The Basic Theory of the Mind - The printed book

The Basic Theory of the Mind - Front & Back

Look inside the book

The first edition is now out of stock.


The Second Hardcover Edition (2024)

The Basic Theory of the Mind - The Book

The second edition is being in print and will be released in July 2024.


The theory has also been published as Kindle eBooks, and two editions are now available on Amazon Kindle.

The First Kindle Edition (2020)

The Basic Theory of the Mind - Kindle ebook edition

Buy the first Kindle edition at Amazon Kindle

The Second Kindle Edition (2024)

The Basic Theory of the Mind - Kindle ebook

Buy the second Kindle edition at Amazon Kindle

However, as noted above, a PDF version of the book’s second edition is available for free at:  Download the PDF version.


> Go to Introduction and Definitions


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Synopsis

Based on the wealth of scientific evidence and concepts, this theory has been formed, and 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 occurs, exists, and functions with the brain (Chapter 1) and that it is the composite of all neural information-processing processes (Chapter 2).

“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.”

Because the mind is a composite of neural 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 and involve information that ranges from simple to very advanced, the mind is an informational entity in a highly advanced form. Because the mind is a non-material, informational entity, it is not composed of elementary particles and their interactions, which constitute conventional physical entities (or mechanical entities) like mass, energy, or force. That is why the mind is so different from conventional physical entities. (Chapter 2)

2. Qualia—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—are physical phenomena. They are governed by physical laws and are physically predictable. Specifically, they are neural-process–associated physical phenomena. (Chapters 3 & 4)

3. From the physical properties of qualia and those of special kinds of neural-process signaling patterns, which are neural information and non-material, it can be concluded that qualia are special kinds of neural-process signaling patterns, called special signaling patterns. (Chapter 5)

“If we open our eyes and experience visual qualia occurring right in front of us now, 

with the fact that we can experience qualia only if the brain can experience the qualia,

it is inescapable to conclude that we are, in fact, experiencing neural signaling patterns

because the only things the brain can experience—read and process—are neural signaling patterns!”

Because neural-process signaling patterns are neural information, qualia are special kinds of neural information—information in specialized forms that, when read by neural processes, are interpreted as phenomenal qualia or qualia that appear phenomenally in our mind.

Like the mind, qualia are non-material, informational entities, not mechanical entities. The fact that qualia are neural signaling patterns 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)

4. 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—information in a specialized form that, when read by the consciousness neural process itself by the process of reentrant signaling, is interpreted as phenomenal consciousness or consciousness that appears phenomenally in our minds.

Like the mind and qualia, consciousness is a non-material, informational entity, not a mechanical entity. The fact that consciousness is a signaling state 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 the consciousness neural process’s signaling state, which 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)

5. 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 randomly, indicates that they are not haphazardly occurring phenomena but are evolved phenomena of the nervous system. (Chapter 5 & Chapter 6)

6. Because a neural process that performs a certain function (such as perceiving a vision) without a quale occurring and a neural process that performs that same function (such as perceiving the same vision) with a quale 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. Qualia thus have physical 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.

7. 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 chances 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, such 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 chances 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—are thus evolved functions to help increase the survival chances of the species, including humans, that have them. This is the scientific answer to the other part of the hard problem of consciousness: Why do qualia and consciousness in the form of phenomenal qualia and 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)

> Go to Introduction and Definitions


Keywords:

Mind, consciousness, qualia, quale, the hard problem of consciousness, the explanatory gap, the mind-body problem, theory of qualia, theory of consciousness, consciousness book, p-zombies, philosophical zombie, dualism, physicalism

Dr. Chirapat Ukachoke

Last revision – Apr 15, 2024