How Subjects Can Emerge from Neurons

Process Studies 48 (1):40-58 (2019)
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We pose a foundational problem for those who claim that subjects are ontologically irreducible, but causally reducible (weak emergence). This problem is neuroscience’s notorious binding problem, which concerns how distributed neural areas produce unified mental objects (such as perceptions) and the unified subject that experiences them. Synchrony, synapses and other mechanisms cannot explain this. We argue that this problem seriously threatens popular claims that mental causality is reducible to neural causality. Weak emergence additionally raises evolutionary worries about how we’ve survived the perils of nature. Our emergent subject hypothesis (ESH) avoids these shortcomings. Here, a singular, unified subject acts back on the neurons it emerges from and binds sensory features into unified mental objects. Serving as the mind’s controlling center, this subject is ontologically and causally irreducible (strong emergence). ESH draws on recent experimental evidence, including the motivation of a possible correlate (or “seat”) of the subject, which enhances its testability.

Author Profiles

Eric LaRock
Oakland University
Mostyn W. Jones
University of Manchester (PhD)


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