The microstructure view of the brain-consciousness relation

In Sven Walter & Helene Bohse (eds.), Selected Contributions to GAP. 6, Sixth International Conference of the Society for Analytical Philosophy. Berlin: (2008)
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How can consciousness, how can the mind be causally efficacious in a world which seems—in some sense—to be thoroughly governed by physical causality? Mental causation has been a nagging problem in philosophy since the beginning of the modern age, when, inspired by the rise of physics, a metaphysical picture became dominant according to which the manifest macrophysical world of rocks, trees, colors, sounds etc. could be eliminated in favor of, or identified with, the microconstituents of these entities and their basic physical properties, plus their effects on human or animal minds. Against the background of this ontology, the argument from causal closure, or the causal completeness of physics, exerts strong pressure to also identify consciousness with microphysical entities—or even to eliminate it in favor of the latter—the only other options apparently being either the denial of the causal closure of the physical level, epiphenomenalism about the mind, or the view that its physical effects are generally overdetermined. In this paper, however, I want to introduce what I call the “microstructure view” (MV) of the brain-consciousness relation, and I want to try to make plausible that the problem of mental causation can also be solved, or perhaps rather dissolved, on the basis of this account. On the MV, the minimal neuronal correlates of consciousness—of the global state of consciousness, or specific states of consciousness such as pain—are not identical with these states, but rather constitute their microstructure, or, as I shall also say, equivalently, compose them.

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Michael Schmitz
University of Vienna


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