Mind and brain: A scientific discussion
leading to the existence of the soul
by Marco Biagini
Ph.D. in Solid State Physics
Introduction - What is the brain? - Biological life does not imply consciousness - Cerebral activity and consciousness - The laws of physics and the other natural sciences - The laws of physics and history - First principle calculations - Conclusions - A note about the theory of evolution
Certainly the problem of consciousness has been widely discussed in philosophy. Since the aim of this article is to discuss the subject of consciousness from a scientific point of view, I will not dwell upon the different definitions and conceptions adopted by philosophers. I limit myself to define consciousness or psychical life as our capacity to feel sensations, emotions, thoughts etc. I will use the word "intelligence" because today this word is often combined to the concept of artificial intelligence, which does not imply and kind of consciousness. Science, contrary to philosophy, is always based on the observation of phenomena; the possibility of an experimental check is basically what distinguishes a scientific theory from a philosophical idea. Consciousness is a directly observable phenomenon, of which we have then a full experimental evidence (indeed, it represents the foundations of every other experimental observation, since if we were not conscious, we could observe no phenomena); the phenomenon "consciousness" deserves then to be analysed from a scientific viewpoint.
What is the brain?
Now we know that our brain is only a set of particles, such as electrons and protons, interacting through the electromagnetic field. Every biological process is due only to the chemical reactions, which in their turn, are due only to the electromagnetic interaction among the electrons and the protons of the atoms forming our organism. Every neuron and every cell are nothing but sets of electrons, protons and neutrons, in a given spatial arrangement; the electromagnetic interaction may in fact be attractive so that particles may attract one another and form certain geometrical arrangements in the space. The properties of every (including also DNA molecules) and every biological process are due only to the laws of physics; more precisely, since in our organism no nuclear reactions occur and gravitational forces are too weak to interfere with molecular processes, every biological process is due uniquely to the laws of quantum electrodynamics.
Science has proved that all chemical, biological and cerebral processes consist only in some successions of elementary physical processes, determined in their turn only by the laws of quantum mechanics. Such a view of biological processes does not allow to account for the existence of consciousness; so, materialism is incompatible with science. On the other hand, every materialistic attempt to explain the existence of consciousness implies that what suffers, loves, desires, feels etc. in us are objects such as electrons or electromagnetic fields. The point is that objects can feel nothing at all; objects cannot feel happiness, sadness, love, anger,self-awareness, etc.
Science has proved that the equations of the electromagnetic field are universal; they describe the electromagnetic field within our brain as well as within a copper wire or an atom. There is no trace of consciousness, sensations, emotions, etc. in the equations of physics.
These equations do not explain the existence of consciousness and our capacity to feel.
If one hypothesizes that the electromagnetic fields are responsible of our sensations, emotions and thoughts, the only logical conclusion would be that also our television, our washing machine, etc. sometimes would be happy or depressed.
In fact, from a scientific point of view there is no difference between the electromagnetic fields present in our brain and the ones present in those objects.
The claim that the electric impulses in our brain are or generate sensations and thoughts, is in contradiction with the laws of physics that consider equivalent all electric impulses, inside or outside our brain. In fact, an electric impulse is formed only by some electrons moving in a certain direction; according to the laws of physics, electrons are all equal and indistinguishable, and they are always moving in every material or electric circuits.
To ascribe to the electrons in our brain the property to generate consciousness, and not to ascribe the same property to the electrons moving in a bulb, is in contradiction with quantum physics, which establishes that all electrons are equal and indistinguishable, that is they have all exactly the same properties.
Besides, the laws of physics establish that electric impulses generate only electromagnetic fields; so the materialistic hypothesis that the electric impulses in the brain generate sensations, emotions and thoughts is in striking contradiction with the laws of physics.
The electromagnetic waves generated by the electric impulses in our brain are absolutely equivalent to the ones generated by any other electric impulses; such waves go out of our brain and travel in the external space at the velocity of light, as every electromagnetic wave.
The laws of physics establish which kind of processes occur in the physical reality; excluding nuclear and subnuclear reactions, that do not occur in biological systems, the only possible processes are the movement of particles and the exchange of energy among particles (collisions) or between a particle and the electromagnetic field (absorption and emission of photons).
The only possible physical processes are determined by a mathematical operator called "Hamiltonian", which determines also the only possible kind of energy of the physical reality; in fact, the Hamiltonian is formed by the sum of a few terms, each determining a specific kind of energy, such as the kinetic energy of the electron or the energy of the photon.
In order to have new processes or other kind of energy it is necessary to add some new term to the Hamiltonian; however, this would modify the equations of physics, and consequently it would change all their solutions (see the paragraph entitled "The laws of physics and History").
In conclusion, the laws of physics deny the basic hypothesis of materialism, according to which consciousness would be generated by cerebral processes. The laws of physics do not allow us to explain (neither conceptually ), the existence of consciousness; they allow to explain neither the existence of the most banal sensation.
Biological life does not imply consciousness
Science has proved that our brain is only a set of particles (that is an object), and that biological life consists uniquely in a succession of chemical reactions, which, in their turn, consist uniquely in physical processes (more precisely, in quantum-electromagnetic processes). On the other hand, consciousness transcends the laws of physics and cannot then be considered the product of biological and cerebral processes. This implies that our mind and our brain are not the same entity, but two different yet interacting entities. I use the word "psyche" to indicate this non-physical/non-biological element, necessarily present in man, that is man's component responsible of the existence of our consciousness and psychical life. Of course, other words could be used, such as mind, spirit or soul.
At this point, we should try to understand whether there is a scientific evidence of the existence of some sort of consciousness also in animals. Now we know that it is possible to simulate with a computer every feature of the behavior of animals, including their capacity to learn and their apparent capacity to recognize their image in a mirror.
An adequate software can allow the computer to record input data, analyze them and give specific outputs; all these operations occur automatically, without any consciousness, any sensations, any emotions, any thoughts. For example a computer, connected to a camera, can analyse the external images; this occur automatically through some mathematical algorithms, and the computer has no visual sensations. This proves that the fact that a dog can distinguish a bone from a stick, does not imply that the dog has a visual sensation.
Therefore it is not possible to exclude from a scientific and rational point of view, that the life of animals is only a purely biological/chemical process without any kind of consciousness (neither sensations or emotions).
In other words, science cannot exclude the possibility that the animal is only a biological robot, feeling nothing at all, which actions and reactions are uniquely determined by a chemical software implanted in its brain.
It is also possible to explain those behaviors of animals, which are usually considered as an indication of emotions.
For example, the dogs which, because of some genetic mutations, presented some affectionate behaviors, had a greater probability to be adopted by man, and consequently, to survive. It was sufficient that the animal presented those behaviors also towards only a member of the family (even not the one who gave it food) to be accepted by the family. It would be only a case of natural selection, even if unawares induced by man, who has programmed the behavior and the reactions of the dog.
Since we have no way to observe directly the existence of any kind of consciousness in animals, and the hypothesis of existence of consciousness in animals is not necessary to explain the observable phenomena in animals, we can conclude that there is no experimental or scientific evidence of the existence of any kind of consciousness in animals, neither sensations or emotions.
The idea that animals have sensations and emotions is then only an arbitrary hypothesis, without any scientific or rational foundations.
Such an hypothesis can be considered only a reminiscence of childhood, since all children tend to ascribe to animals thoughts, sensations and emotions. Besides, primitive peoples were used to anthropomorphize many natural elements; the sun, the moon, the mountains, animals, etc.
During history man has then understood that natural phenomena occur automatically because of specific natural laws: man has understood that nature is only an object and not a person. The anthropomorfic concept of animals is then only the last residue of this inclination to anthropomorphize natural processes. Now the technological and scientific progress allow us to explain the behavior of animals without ascribing them any anthropomorphic features.
Cerebral activity and consciousness
I would like to point out that the fact that brain damages or drugs induce changes in our mental capacities simply proves the existence of an interaction between the brain and the psyche.
By no means this can be considered a proof that the brain is the origin of consciousness and the capacity to feel sensations, emotions, thoughts, etc. If you have a problem in your eyes, your visual capacities would be altered, but this certainly does not mean that it is your eye which has the visual sensation; this simply proves that your eye has a preliminary role in the process of generation of the visual sensation.
The eye is only an instrument used by the psyche to see, but the eye can see nothing at all and has no visual sensations.
In the same way, the brain has only a preliminary role in the process of generation of sensations or emotions, and it can be considered an instrument used by the psyche.
All neurological studies on brain only prove the existence of an interaction between psyche and brain. But the existence of this interaction is obvious; in fact, without this interaction, our psyche would be completely isolated from the external reality, and we could not interact with the external reality.
It must be stressed that the physical stimulus and the sensation we feel are two completely different phenomena.
For example, the vibrations of the molecules of the air are not the sensation "sound" we feel; the molecules of the air hear nothing, and it would be absurd to say that the molecules of the air are an auditory sensation. The sensation "sound" exist only in the psychical reality, and not in the physical reality; the auditory sensation is generated only by the psyche and is the psychical elaboration of a physical stimulus.
In the same way, the chemical reactions and the electric impulses which occur in our brain are not emotions, feelings, awareness; they are only physical stimuli. It is the our psyche who elaborates and translates these ordinary physical processes into emotions, feelings, etc.
The laws of physics and the other natural sciences
Now I would like to give some considerations about the reliability of our scientific knowledges.
First of all I would like to explain the difference between a phenomenological theory and a first-principle theory.
A phenomenological theory is only an approximated and simplified version of a first-principle theory, that represents the exact explanation of natural phenomena. Biology and neurology are examples of phenomenological theories, while physics is the only first-principle theory, from which all the other natural sciences derive.
Of course, since first principle calculations are very lengthy and arduous, we need also simplified theories in order to treat more easily systems formed by many atoms.
The laws of physics have a general validity, but in their application to specific systems, it is possible to use simpler rules, specific for that kind of system; these rules are neither extraneous, nor independent from the laws of physics, but they are a direct consequence of the law of physics.
A result of these phenomenological theories cannot be accepted if it results to be in contradiction with the laws of physics, which are the only true principles at the origin of the phenomenological theory. Only the laws of physics represent the first-principle explanation of the material reality, both inorganic and organic matter. Obviously, an approximated theory (such as biology and neurology) cannot be used to deny the exact theory from which the approximated theory derives.
All natural sciences are then subordinate to physics. We can also point out that all natural sciences (biology, neurology, etc.) use in their studies and in their microscopic analysis only instruments that have been designed uniquely on the basis of the laws of physics. The data studied and analysed by these natural sciences have sense only because the laws of physics assure the correct working of their instruments. If the laws of physics are questioned, all other natural sciences would immediately fall down to pieces, because all the microscopic data used by these sciences to support their theories, would lose any meaning. Therefore , no natural sciences can elaborate theories in contradiction with the laws of physics. This would mean to make all data to lose sense, data on which the phenomenological theories have been built; it is an obvious logical contradiction. The laws of physics are then the foundations of all natural sciences.
To understand better the relationship between Physics and the other natural sciences, consider the following example:
to open a combination lock, we need know the combination. Even if we do not know the combination, and therefore we cannot open the lock, we already know what kind of process will occur when we find the combination.
The laws of mechanics establish that the only kind of process we will get is the opening of the lock; the laws of mechanics establish that the combination will not make the lock begin to think, feel pain or pleasure, feel sadness or joy.
Similarly, Quantum Electrodynamics establish that every biological process consists only in some successions of chemical reactions, which, in their turn, consist in successions of kinetic and electromagnetic processes, that is movement of particles, emission and absorption of photons. We do not know yet the exact successions of chemical reactions occurring in all biological processes, and biology has the task to discover these successions; however, exactly as in the case of the combination lock, the laws of physics establish that no successions of chemical reactions can generate consciousness, sensations, emotions or thoughts. Hence, a non-physical element (the soul) must exist as the source of our consciousness and our psychical life.
The laws of physics and history
The laws generating all chemical, biological, neurological processes are now perfectly known. Never before in history, science has been able to explain the principles by which all biological processes are originated. This represents a true turn in history. All that physics will discover in the future will have nothing to do with the biological processes in our organism, or any other organism. Even if there are still some things not perfectly known in astrophysics, these astrophysical process do not affect biological processes, which are due uniquely to the laws of quantum electrodynamics.
There is then no reason to question the validity of the laws of physics in the explanation of biological or neurological processes.
The laws of physics consists of a system of mathematical equations. Their mathematical structure exclude the possibility that these equations can be modified; in fact, even a slight change in a mathematical equation would generates radical changes in all its solutions. We have already found billions and billions of correct solutions from the laws of physics; if we changed them, we would suddenly cast away all these correct solutions.
On the other hand, every day we find a systematic experimental confirmation of the laws of physics on ever new systems. To hypothesize that the laws of physics are wrong would be equivalent to say that all these billions and billions of systematic and quantitative experimental confirmations are only a lucky coincidence.
In these last decades, we have done many more experiments than in all history, but the laws of quantum electrodynamics, discovered in the beginning of last century, have never been changed. On the basis of the number of experimental tests, we can say that quantum electrodynamics is the oldest scientific theory in history.
First principle Calculations
Today we are able to do first-principle calculations for molecular systems formed by many atoms; this means that we can calculate the solutions of the equations of quantum physics also for macroscopic systems. The point is that we already know what KIND of information we can get from a first-principle calculation for every possible molecular system. In fact from the solution of the Schroedinger equation for a molecular system we know that we can obtain information such as charge distributions or energy spectra. By no means we can obtain consciousness, emotions, feelings, etc. These are not possible outputs of a first-principle calculation. Even if we had a supercomputer with the capacity to find the wave function for our brain, we could find from the wave function only properties such as charge density or energy spectra. We could not find consciousness from the wave function calculated with the super computer. In fact we already know what KIND of properties can be obtained from every possible wave function. We are already able to do first-principle calculations for many different molecular systems, but the kind of properties we can find from their wave functions does not depend on which molecular system we have studied, because they are general outputs of every first-principle calculation, and it is independent from the kind of atoms or the number of atoms of the system.
If the psyche did not exist as a non-physical component of man, according to our scientific knowledges we should be only a sort of biological robots, without any consciousness and without feeling anything, which actions and reactions were due only to chemical reactions . All the neurological studies prove only the existence of an interaction between psyche and brain, but they reveal nothing about the nature of the psyche.
Materialism is incompatible with the scientific view of biological processes.
Science has in fact proved that all chemical, biological and cerebral processes consist only in some successions of elementary physical processes, determined in their turn only by the laws of quantum mechanics.
This view of biological processes does not allow (neither conceptually) to account for the existence of consciousness;nor it allows to account for the existence of the most banal sensation.
This result acquires a very deep meaning if we analyse the state of our present scientific knowledges.
First of all, all natural sciences are subordinate to the laws of physics, which represent the principles from which they derive and of which they are only approximative versions.
Today in fact we know the laws which determine all molecular, electromagnetic, chemical, biological and neurological processes: they are the laws of Quantum Electrodynamics, the scientific laws which have received the most wide, general, systematic, numerous and precise experimental confirmations in all history. The laws of quantum electrodynamics are confirmed by such a huge number of experimental results that it would be absurd to question their validity in the explanation of molecular systems, and in particular, of biological systems.
On the other hand, the rigidity of the mathematical structure of quantum electrodynamics, makes absolutely unreasonable the hypothesis of a possible change of such laws, since this would have dramatic consequences on all the correct solutions we have presently obtained. This means that quantum electrodynamics can be considered the ultimate theory for the explanation of molecular processes, and, consequently, for the explanation of biological processes.
The laws of quantum electrodynamics can be considered the first principles which determine all molecular and biological processes.
The point is that such principles give (at least conceptually) a mechanicistic explanation of all molecular and biological processes, but they do not allow to explain (neither conceptually ) the existence of consciousness.
The laws of physics deny the basic hypothesis of materialism, according to which consciousness would be generated by biological or cerebral processes.
Consciousness transcends the laws of physics, and therefore, the cause of the existence of consciousness cannot be identified with the brain; consciousness is necessarily originated by a non-physical/non-biological (that is, a supernatural) component: the psyche or soul.
There are then two distinct realities; the physical reality, that is the universe, which has an intrinsic mathematical structure (the laws of physics) determining every physical, chemical and biological process; the psychical reality, which transcends such laws, and consequently, transcends the physical reality.
At this point we must consider the question: where does our psyche come from?
The phenomenon of consciousness proves that, at a certain time, our psyche certainly begins to exist in us.
The laws of physics prove that the psyche cannot be the product of physical, chemical or biological processes. Therefore, the origin of our psyche is transcendent to the physical reality.
We can then identify with God the necessary Cause of the existence of the psyche, being such Cause transcendent. This represents a scientific confirmation of the christian doctrine according to which each man has a soul, created directly by God.
I think that it is correct to say that today the existence of the soul and the existence of a transcendent God are scientifically proved.
A note about the theory of evolution
I would like to add a brief consideration about the theory of evolution.
The theory of evolution can be applied only to biological organisms.
We do not have sufficient elements to establish whether the human biological organism is the result of an evolution process; neither we have sufficient elements to exclude this possibility. However, the point is that consciousness is transcendent to the physical/biological reality and requires the existence in man of a transcendent component (the psyche or soul).
Since no fossils of psyche exist, the theory of evolution can say nothing about the origin of consciousness and human psychical life.
So, even if our organism derived from a previous animal organism, we could have no conscious psychical life if God had not created in each of us a soul.
Without a soul, we would be only biological robots, able to act and react, but without any consciousness and incapable of feeling any sensations, emotions, thoughts, etc.