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I'm watching a TED Talk by John Searle who is claiming that consciousness is a biological function. Is there any indisputable evidence for or against this assertion?

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I would say that it is definitely biological. However, whether the function of consciousness can be defined in terms of the biological properties of the individual neuron is something that is usually up for fairly wild debate. – Chuck Sherrington Nov 2 '13 at 5:10
@ChuckSherrington: If consciousness is definitely biological, but we can't agree on how it functions at the level of the neuron, then what can we say about its biological properties at any level? With all of this in mind (excuse the pun), I'm afraid my question is more philosophical than scientific. If so, let me know and I'll either delete it or move it to the Philosophy Stack Exchange. – Micah Bolen Nov 2 '13 at 5:55
I think it's fine to leave it here, as I'm sure it will spark some interesting answers. My first point above was tongue-in-cheek, of course. I don't have a definitive answer to your question in the comment, unfortunately. – Chuck Sherrington Nov 2 '13 at 5:59
@MicahDelaneBolen every thought, and all activity within the brain, subconscious, dreaming, is biological.. I think you need to narrow this Q down a bit.. It is a good question for here.. I'm not sure it would be suitable for Philosophy. I am happy to edit it for you if you like, using your comments.. you can always roll it back if you don't like it. – user3543 Nov 2 '13 at 11:54
I have a book written by a neuroscientist on consciousness, I will dig it out.. I'm sure it will have good answers. He is an unreal professor – user3543 Nov 2 '13 at 11:56
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Consciousness is a broad concept.

In a binary world (conscious/not conscious), biological evidences are irrefutable. For example, a 2009 Brain article stated that "Impaired consciousness during temporal lobe seizures is related to increased long-distance cortical-subcortical synchronization." (Arthuis et al.). A 2012 Lancet Neurology article had the following sentence "the consciousness system,a specialised set of cortical-subcortical structures, maintains alertness, attention, and awareness" (Blumenfeld) - a system that is described on wikipedia. Here, we can see that the binary view of consciousness can be divided into smaller pieces.

Dehaene et al. ("Conscious, preconscious, and subliminal processing: a testable taxonomy", Trends in cognitive science, 2006) proposed a more complex view within a 2 by 2 frame: consciousness is a product perception (weak and strong) and top-down attention (absent and present) - the fully conscious experience arising in the "strong perception/present attention" case. Here again, biological evidences are strong, but the type of the published article (opinion, not a review-type article) says that consciousness is far from being well understood - not even well defined.

An interesting aspect: the first two articles cited here (1st paragraph) are written by neurologists - meaning pure biology. Dehaene et al. (2nd paragraph) are cognitive psychologists and philosophers - a wee bit more of humanities but still biologically grounded. When it comes to philosophy alone, consciousness can completely loose its biological link: William Lycan, for example, argued in his book Consciousness and Experience that at least eight clearly distinct types of consciousness can be identified (organism consciousness; control consciousness; consciousness of; state/event consciousness; reportability; introspective consciousness; subjective consciousness; self-consciousness) (from wikipedia). And when it comes to non-science, the views on consciousness are purely spiritual (The 144 Levels of consciousness).

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Thanks, this answer significantly improved my understanding of the subject matter in a short amount of words. I must admit that, for better or for worse, I have a penchant for just reading abstracts of most scientific articles. On another note, what religion/tradition/culture does this notion of 144 levels of consciousness originate from? I have never heard of it before. – Micah Bolen Nov 3 '13 at 19:59

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