to the Self-Conscious Mind
G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays
version (PDF, 220K, 12 pages).
See also an earlier
(PDF, 85K, 7 pages, 2006).
- The human being
consists of (1) an energetic, non-material “mind” that is united with
(2) a material brain and body.
- The mind is the
seat of conscious experience.
- When brain
structures are damaged, mental faculties dependent on them are
partially or totally impaired.
- This theory solves
the “hard problem” of how conscious experience can arise from physical
- All interactions in
the mind have two sides: they entail both phenomenal experience and a
physical causal role.
- How can mind-brain
- How does brain
injury also impair the non-physical mind?
- How can the
mechanism for interaction between the brain and mind explain phenomenal
- How does this view
avoid the Cartesian Theater in the brain?
- How is this view
not a category-mistake? How is this not just a “ghost in the machine”?
- Doesn’t this view
violate causal closure of the physical?
the brain and the “hard problem”
prevalent view in neuroscience is that the brain produces
consciousness. We are conscious because the electrical activity in our
neurons works in a complex way and consciousness somehow “emerges” from
complex neural activity. The difficulty with this view is that it
really explain our interior, subjective experience
of consciousness, as
pointed out by David Chalmers (1996), which is really the “hard
argues that conscious experience can’t be explained
solely from physical phenomena and offers several arguments to support
brain’s neurological activity alone does not explain the qualities
of our internal experience – why a red object appears red
to us. A person brought up in a totally black-and-white environment may
know everything there is to know about how the brain produces color
experience but still would not know what it is like to see color (the
qualia or knowledge argument).
is logically conceivable that a physically identical duplicate of a
person can exist which behaves identically but which lacks conscious
experience. This possibility implies that conscious experience is not
logically dependent (“supervenient”) on the physical (the zombie
is conceivable that in a world physically identical to ours, conscious
experience is different, for
example, that color experience is inverted – where we see red, people
in the identical world see blue, and vice versa (the inverted spectrum
facts of physical causation in the world (in physical objects,
biological systems, etc.) alone do not suggest that there should be any
consciousness. The only way I know about consciousness is because I
experience it (the epistemic asymmetry argument).
phenomenal “feel” of conscious experience cannot be explained as a
functional property of a physical system through functional analysis –
only the effects of conscious
experience play functional roles (the absence of analysis argument).
advocates the view that everything including conscious
experience is a consequence of basic properties and laws. Because
experience can’t be reduced to physical processes, it necessarily
new fundamental properties and laws beyond the existing physical laws.
The new laws
will be “psychophysical” laws which specify how the phenomenal
consciousness depend on physical laws. Chalmers calls this stance a
dualism” in that consciousness can be explained by basic natural laws,
through transcendent elements or mystery. But the current natural laws
rejects all forms of interactionist dualism, which hold
that a non-physical consciousness could be causally effective in
the brain. Even if a mechanism for causal interaction could be found,
mechanism for interaction itself would not explain conscious experience
more than neurological mechanisms do.
fundamental problem of a theory of consciousness then is
bridging the “explanatory gap” between the physical level and conscious
experience. Tim Bayne and Chalmers (2003) further suggest that a theory
consciousness must be compatible with the idea that a subject’s
states are necessarily unified, that is, the conjunction of all of a
phenomenal states at any time is itself a phenomenal state. The notion
unity of consciousness implies the concept of a subject
in whom the phenomenal states are unified. Consciousness
would then be viewed as a total phenomenal state: what it is like to be
at a time.
consciousness, mind and brain
earlier research (Mays & Mays, 2008a), we introduced the
idea of the self-conscious mind* or
“mind”, an autonomous, non-material field of consciousness, spatially
coextensive with the body which is intimately integrated with the body
brain. The brain mediates cognitive faculties; the brain’s neural
activity is required for consciousness. On the basis of this model, we
a theory of consciousness that addresses the issues of the “hard
mind” is different from that of Karl Popper and John Eccles (1977) who
used the term in a dualist interactionist theory of mind.)
being consists of (1) an energetic, spatially extended, non-material
that is united with (2) a material brain and body.
The mind is
a “field of consciousness”; it is non-material (does not consist of
atoms, etc.) but rather is a structured, energetic region of space that
interact with physical processes, in particular with neurons, and thus
physical attributes. The mind is united and co-extensive with the brain
body and interacts directly with the brain, probably via electrical
interactions with cortical and other dendritic structures. The basic evidence for this idea derives
from the phenomena of the
near-death experience (NDE) (Moody, 1975; Greyson, 2000) and various
neurological phenomena including phantom limbs:
mind is a separate entity, a “field of consciousness”:
(1) During NDE, the locus of consciousness appears to separate from the
physical body and operate independent of the brain, having heightened,
lucid awareness, logical thought processes, and vivid perceptions
including veridical perceptions of the surroundings; (2) during the
out-of-body component of NDE, the locus of consciousness has a
particular position in space and a particular visual perspective; (3)
phantom limbs appear to be fields of sensation extending beyond the
body in the space where the physical limb was present, such that when
the phantom limb is “touched”, the amputee can feel sensations and when
the phantom limb “touches” another person, that person experiences
sensations (Mays & Mays, 2008b); (4) amputees generally can
feel “touch” during Therapeutic Touch therapy of their phantom and the
therapist can generally “feel” the presence of the phantom limb
(Leskowitz, 2000 and 2001).
mind is non-material, but has the character of a structured energy
field, interacts with physical processes, and thus has physical
(1) The out-of-body mind appears to pass readily through solid objects
and is invisible to ordinary sight, but it also appears to interact in
subtle ways with physical processes: physical objects, light, sound,
and other persons’ bodies; (2) the out-of-body mind entity can
apparently be “seen” by animals; (3) phantom limb “touch” on another
person’s head in the region of the brain can elicit visual and other
sensations similar to electrical brain stimulation (Mays &
Mays, 2008b); (4) at least two phantom limb subjects (M.G. and A.Z.)
report being able to “see” their phantom limbs as a faint glow against
a dark background or in the dark (Mays & Mays, unpublished
report, 2009; Brugger, et al., 2000); (5) a field (region of space)
which entails interaction with physical processes, itself has physical
attributes, although it is not like any currently known physical fields.
mind is united with the brain and interacts directly with it, probably
via electrical interactions:
(1) People generally feel that their locus of consciousness extends
throughout their physical body; (2) electrical brain activity is
correlated with conscious experiences (e.g., electrical brain
stimulation, EEG, brain imaging technologies); (3) some NDE accounts
include a report of the NDEr “merging” with an in-body person in order
to see and hear through them (Mays & Mays, 2008a); (4) some
NDEs suggest an electrical nature to the NDEr’s “body” (e.g.,
interaction with fog); (5) one after-effect of NDE is abnormally high
electrostatic charges around the person's body, which can interfere
with watches and electronic equipment.
The mind is the seat of conscious experience.
All cognitive faculties (perception, thinking,
feelings, volition, memory and self-awareness) reside in the
entity, not in the brain. However, the mind ordinarily is completely
on brain structures and neural activity for consciousness. Mental
conscious only when there is sufficient electrical brain activity. If
electrical activity is not sufficient, the percept or other mental
remains subliminal. On the other hand, the mind can initiate electrical
activity and thereby serves as
the agent that initiates volitional activity, exerts “mental
force”, alters brain neural patterns plastically, and is the unified
field resulting in the sense of the unity of consciousness.
cognitive faculties reside in the non-material mind, but ordinarily
need the brain’s neural activity for conscious awareness:
(1) During NDE, the locus of consciousness retains all cognitive
faculties while apparently operating independent of the brain; (2) in
the ordinary case, if a person loses brain electrical activity, they
requires sufficient electrical brain activity, else sensations remain
(1) Sensations become conscious only after a sufficient duration of
electrical brain activity (Libet, 1973; Libet, et al., 1975; Libet, et
al., 1991); (2) lower than liminal stimuli do not rise to conscious
awareness but forced-choice responses are accurate (e.g., Libet, 2004,
cases of blindsight, etc.).
mental agent appears to initiate electrical brain activity:
(1) People generally sense that “their” volitional activity results in
their physical movement, speech acts, etc.; (2) cognitive behavioral
therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder implies an agent that
generates a “mental force” which causes neural changes (Schwartz,
1999); (3) “plastic”
changes in neural structures can occur rapidly when fine motor
movements are practiced mentally (e.g., Pascual-Leone, et al., 1995),
which implies an agent that exerts purely endogenous mental effort can
effect neural reorganization and physical performance improvement.
mental agency appears to serve as the unified phenomenal field:
(1) Subjective backward referral of sensation, in which a person
appears to “antedate” the time and specific body location of a stimulus
even though awareness of the sensation comes 500 msec later (Libet,
1973; Libet, et al., 1975), implies an agency that “holds together” the
time and location until the sensation comes to consciousness; (2)
large-scale phase-locked neural synchrony occurs cross-hemispherically
from posterior to anterior brain regions during arousal, sensorimotor
integration, attentional selection, perception and working memory (Lutz
and Thompson, 2003), and implies an agency that effects the synchrony
and produces the subject’s unified phenomenal experience.
brain structures are damaged, mental faculties dependent on them are
or totally impaired.
For example, memory content resides solely in the mind entity but
memory formation, consolidation and recall require hippocampal and
structures, and when the latter are damaged, memory function is
Impairment is due to interference with the interface between the
neurons and the
corresponding structures of the mind. The field of the mind has an
structure which corresponds to the cortical and other neural structures
brain. In fact, it is likely that the internal structure of the mind’s
directly maps to the neural structure throughout the body. The mind
brain neural activity in particular cortical locations for particular
damage causes mental impairment, by interfering with the neural
interface to the mind:
(1) There are numerous examples connecting brain damage to cognitive
impairment, in addition to memory impairments; (2) damage to neurons
implies that the neural interface to the mind is impaired such that
sensory, motor, affective and thought processes may be altered or
impaired; (3) during anesthesia, the anesthetic agent suffuses the
brain and the patient loses consciousness, implying that the anesthetic
agent interferes with the neural interface with the mind.
of the mind has an internal structure:
(1) In at least some NDErs, the out-of-body “body” appears to have an
intricate, luminous structure, for example with tiny structures in the
hands and tubes of light up the arms (Moody & Perry, 1988, p.
10); (2) (from a previous point) the interaction of the mind with the
body is probably via electrical interactions with neurons; (3) in order
to selectively interact with specific neural activity, the mind needs
to be in close proximity with specific neurons; (4) some NDE accounts
include a report of the NDEr “merging” with an in-body person in order
to see and hear through them (Mays & Mays, 2008a), which
that the mind’s internal structure can interface with the brain in a
similar way from one person to another and therefore the mind’s
internal structure is similar from person to person; (5) there is an
relationship between phantom limb sensations and neural activity in the
stump, implying a connection between stump neurons and mind structures
in the phantom: sensations can be modulated by stump manipulations,
temporarily abolished by local stump anesthesia, or altered by changes
in stump blood flow, and altering the sodium channel conductance in
stump neurons can increase or block phantom limb pain (Nikolajsen
& Jensen, 2001).
of the mind’s field with the brain occurs in particular cortical
Brodmann areas have distinctive cytoarchitectures (Brodmann, 1909),
which generally map to cognitive functional areas, and other structural
differences exist between functional areas, which implies that
particular mind structures interact with particular cortical and other
neural structures in the brain.
theory solves the “hard problem” of how conscious experience can arise
physical brain activity
– conscious experience depends on a second entity
with physical attributes, the conscious mind, which interacts with the
produce phenomenal experience. Subjective experiences of qualia are an
in the mind resulting from neural electrical activity in specific
the brain. A philosophical zombie duplicate of a person is impossible
physical duplicate would necessarily include a conscious mind as well
physical body and thus would entail conscious experience. The unity of
consciousness results from the unity of the mind’s “field of
The mind is the subject in whom
phenomenal states are unified.
conscious mind, a second entity with physical attributes, interacts
with the brain:
(earlier points) (1) The mind is a separate entity, a “field of
consciousness”; (2) the mind is non-material but interacts with
physical processes and thus has physical attributes; (3) the mind is
united with the brain and interacts directly with it, probably via
electrical interactions; (4) all cognitive faculties reside in the
with the brain produces phenomenal experience:
(1) There are at least five situations in which phenomenal experience
occurs: (a) during NDE, the out-of-body person has phenomenal
experience by apparent direct interaction with physical processes
(light, sound, etc.) without apparent involvement from the brain or
body, implying that the brain and body are not necessary for phenomenal
experience; (b) a limb deficient person has phenomenal experience by
apparent “touch” of the phantom limb by an object or another person
(Mays & Mays, 2008b; Leskowitz, 2000 and 2001), implying that
phenomenal experience can occur with interaction by physical processes
with the non-material field of the phantom; (c) a person has phenomenal
experience by apparent “touch” in the brain region by another person’s
phantom limb (Mays & Mays, 2008b), implying that the phantom
limb can induce phenomenal experience in another person through
interaction with the brain; (d) a person has phenomenal experience by
direct cortical electrical stimulation (Penfield & Rasmussen,
1950), implying that electrical brain activity imposed from without can
produce phenomenal experience; (e) a person has phenomenal experience
by ordinary sensory stimuli, implying that phenomenal experience occurs
in this case by the electrical brain activity interacting with the
mind’s field. (2) Thus, interaction of the field of the mind in a
variety of ways always entails phenomenal experience, including
interaction of the mind with the brain.
of qualia are an effect in the mind resulting from electrical activity
in specific regions:
(1) (previous point) Interaction with the brain produces phenomenal
experience; (2) (previous point) interaction of the mind’s field with
the brain occurs in particular cortical locations; (3) particular
cortical locations are associated with phenomenal experience of
particular qualia, which implies that electrical activity in a
particular location affects the mind’s field in that location and
produces that specific associated quale.
philosophical zombie duplicate of a person is impossible:
(1) (previous point) The mind is non-material but interacts with
physical processes and thus has physical attributes; (2) a physical
duplicate would necessarily include a conscious mind as well as a
physical body; (3) (previous point) all cognitive faculties reside in
the mind, but ordinarily need the brain’s neural activity for conscious
awareness, implying that the duplicate would have phenomenal
unity of consciousness results from the unity of the mind’s “field of
(1) During NDE, the locus of consciousness appears to be in a single
location with a particular visual perspective; (2) during NDE, the
out-of-body “body” appears to be a single field which is never divided,
implying that the mind’s “field of consciousness” is a singular entity.
states are unified in the mind as subject:
During NDE, the mind “field of consciousness” is the locus of all
phenomenal states and is felt to be the person’s self.
interactions in the mind have two sides: they entail both phenomenal
experience and a physical causal
causal closure is maintained because the mind is a non-material entity
physical attributes, whose structures can act causally on neural
domain of what constitutes “the physical” must necessarily be expanded.
conscious mind entails new fundamental properties and is a fundamental
of reality, namely a person’s seat of consciousness.
in the mind always entail phenomenal experience:
(1) (previous point) There are at least five situations in which
phenomenal experience occurs: (a) during NDE, (b) “touch” of a phantom
limb region, (c) “touch” of the brain region of a subject by a phantom
limb, (d) electrical brain stimulation, and (e) ordinary sensory
stimuli, each involving interactions with the mind; (2) there are no
known interactions with the mind which do not entail phenomenal
in the mind always entail a physical causal role:
(1) (previous point) The five situations involving interaction with the
mind include a physical causal role by (a) direct physical processes
(light, sound, objects), (b) direct physical processes (objects or
another person), (c) the brain of the second subject, (d) electrical
pulses to the patient’s brain, and (e) physical stimuli acting on
sensory neurons; (2) there are no known interactions with the mind
which do not entail a physical causal role, except possibly telepathy,
which may still require neural activity to be received.
closure of the physical is maintained:
(1) (previous point) The mind interacts with physical processes, and
thus has physical attributes, implying that at some level, the field of
the mind becomes a physically causal entity.
domain of “the physical” must necessarily be expanded:
When phenomena are discovered which imply new physical entities or
forces, the domain of what constitutes physical reality has
historically been expanded. The case of the mind as a new aspect of
reality is no different.
mind is a fundamental aspect of reality with new properties and is a
person’s seat of consciousness:
(1) conscious experience is a fundamental aspect of human beings and
(we can infer) some animals; (2) (previous point) the mind is
non-material, but has the character of a structured energy field and
interacts with physical processes, implying that it has properties that
are unique; (3) (previous point) all cognitive faculties reside in the
non-material mind, implying that the mind is the seat of the person’s
present theory is a form of
“interactionist dualism”, which posits the mind and the body, and a
for the interaction between them. The
main objections to dualism, and responses relating to this
can mind-brain interaction occur?
is no conceivable mechanism whereby a totally non-physical mind could
material body. If the mind and body are totally different types of
can they intermingle and interact with each other? Response:
The mind is not totally non-physical. It
non-material, but has the character of a structured energy field that
with physical processes. The evidence supporting this view, presented
includes phenomena from NDEs and from phantom limb interactions. In
see the following section on “Interaction of the non-material mind with
does brain injury also impair the non-physical mind?
When the brain is damaged in some way, mental faculties are always
compromised or impaired to some degree. If the mind is a completely
substance from the brain, how does brain injury also impair the mind?
(Churchland, 1988). Response: The
mind is not a completely separate substance from the brain. It
character of a structured energy field that interacts with physical
in particular with neurons. Impairment is due to interference with the
interface between the neurons and the corresponding structures of the
mechanism for interaction between the brain and mind explain phenomenal
Even if a mechanism for causal interaction could be found, the
mechanism for interaction itself would not explain conscious experience
more than neurological mechanisms do (Chalmers, 1996). Response:
The mind is itself the locus of phenomenal
experience. All interactions with the mind entail phenomenal
evidence supporting this view, presented earlier, includes phenomena
and from phantom limb interactions.
this view avoid the Cartesian Theater in the brain?
interactionist dualist theory posits that the brain informs the mind of
perceptions and the mind directs the brain in appropriate action. The
thus like a “homunculus” in the brain. There is no interior homunculus
observing the results of neural activity and giving commands in a
in the brain”, as such theories imply (Dennett, 1991). Response:
The mind’s structures unite
directly with neural structures without an intermediate stage of
“interpretation”. All neural activity interacts directly with the mind,
resulting in phenomenal experience. Even stimuli of very short duration
in phenomenal experience, albeit subliminal.
view not a category-mistake? How is this not just a “ghost in the
that places “mind” and “body” together in relation to one another as
the same logical category makes a category-mistake, since they are not
same logical category. There is no hidden entity, the “mind”, inside a
mechanical “body” (Ryle, 1949). Response:
Both the mind and the material body are
extended entities, one a non-material field and the other a material
unite together to form a cohesive unity. There is no category-mistake
relating entities belonging to different logical categories: both mind
are objective aspects of reality that relate to each other through
interaction. There is no “ghost in the machine” because the mind is
united with the body through a physical interaction relationship.
this view violate causal closure of the physical?
Causal interactions between a non-physical entity and a material body
would violate the “causal closure of the physical world”. The
interaction of a
non-physical entity would introduce an influence on a physical system
would violate the principle that all physical effects can be ultimately
to physical causes. Response: The
a field (region of space) that interacts with physical processes, and
physical attributes, implying that at some level, the field of the mind
a physically causal entity. As a consequence, the domain of what
“the physical” must necessarily be expanded to include minds. Causal
closure of the physical world is
NDEs just the result of abnormal brain function?
number of physiological factors are
generally cited as explanations of NDE (Greyson, et al., 2009). None of
explanations is adequate to explain NDE, because (1) the reported
bear only slight resemblance to NDE, (2) many NDEs occur under
without the suggested physiological factor, or (3) in cases where the
factor is present, NDEs are not reported in even a large percent of
- Altered blood gas levels:
Cerebral hypoxia or anoxia (too little or no oxygen), especially in
cases of induced rapid acceleration (G-force loss of consciousness),
and hypercarbia (elevated carbon dioxide) are cited as factors
resulting in NDE-like experiences. While hypoxic conditions do
sometimes involve NDE features (tunnel vision, bright lights, sense of
floating, brief fragmented visual images), their primary features
include symptoms not found in NDEs – jerking movements, compromised
memory, tingling sensations, confusion upon wakening, etc. Similarly,
while hypercarbic conditions apparently produce some features commonly
found in NDEs, these features are rare and other NDE features are
absent. Furthermore, NDEs occur in conditions without hypoxia or anoxia
(non-life-threatening illnesses, falls, etc.) and NDEs occur in
patients where measured blood levels do not reflect lowered oxygen or
elevated carbon dioxide levels. Finally, NDEs occur in only 10-20% of
cardiac arrest cases where anoxic conditions are very likely to occur.
- Neurochemical factors:
Release of endorphins or similar chemicals in the brain at the time of
stress may produce cessation of pain and feelings of peace, both common
in NDEs. However, injection of endorphins tends to produce long-lasting
effects, whereas these effects in NDEs begin and end abruptly, with
separation from and return to the body. An endogenous ketamine-like
anesthetic agent may produce effects similar to low doses of ketamine
(sense of being out of the body, travel through a tunnel to a light,
believing one has died, etc.) However, unlike the vast majority of
NDEs, ketamine experiences are usually frightening, having bizarre
imagery and are felt to be illusory. Other important features of NDEs
(meeting deceased friends and relatives, life review) are absent from
reported ketamine experiences.
- Temporal lobe seizure or other
abnormal electrical activity in specific brain regions:
Abnormal electrical activity or dysfunction in the temporal lobes are
claimed to produce all or most NDE phenomena (out-of-body sensations,
panoramic memories, mystical visions, vivid hallucinations, etc.).
Electrical brain stimulation studies by Wilder Penfield are commonly
cited as evidence. However, electrical brain stimulation is not the
same as seizure or dysfunctional electrical activity in the temporal
lobe and the experiences cited are dissimilar to those reported in NDEs
(fragments of music, isolated scenes from memory, fear or other
negative emotions, bizarre imagery, etc.) Transcranial magnetic
stimulation (TMS) has also been cited as inducing all of the major
components of NDE (out-of-body experiences, being pulled toward a
light, hearing strange music, etc.). However, the experiences reported
were unlike typical NDE features or were too vague to compare, and
other researchers were unable to replicate the results. Finally,
temporal lobe seizures themselves do not result in experiences that
resemble NDE features.
- Induced out-of-body experiences
Out-of-body experiences have been claimed to result from seizure
activity or electrical stimulation in the region of the
temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), which is thought to involve
integration of vestibular information with other sensory information
regarding the location of the body in perceptual space (Blanke, et al.,
2002 and 2004). The interpretation of the results of these studies,
involving a total of six patients, is controversial. In one patient no
overt anatomical defect or specific diagnosis could be identified, so
identifying even general localization is completely speculative for
this case. Further, there is no clear evidence of lateralization, for
example to the right TPJ, because the remaining cases are split between
the right (n=2) and left hemispheres (n=3). The generalization of cases
of moderate to severe neurological pathology to all
persons experiencing OBE is conjectural when such pathology is
apparently absent in the vast majority of persons experiencing OBE.
Further, the cases of OBE associated with TPJ seizure and electrical
stimulation are not typical of spontaneous OBEs, especially those
associated with NDE: TPJ induced OBEs are more fragmentary, distorted
and illusory, involving incomplete or non-veridical elements. (Veridical
in this sense includes both the patient’s subjective sense of being
real and verification that what was observed had
actually occurred.) In spontaneous OBEs, there is a strong sense of the
reality of the experience, body image disturbances are unusual,
veridical perception of events, including those occurring at a
distance, are present in many cases, and non-veridical perceptions are
none of these
physiological factors is adequate to explain NDE, such factors may play
for example in triggering the onset of NDE. The similarities which are
may be an indication of this role. However, no single physiological
present in all cases of NDE: the NDE appears to be a phenomenon with
of the non-material mind with physical processes
does the non-material mind interact with the physical processes of
the brain and body?
The NDE “body” appears to be
non-material: it readily passes through solid objects, cannot be seen
etc., and has no apparent interaction with physical processes. However,
literature includes a number of reports of NDErs interacting with
processes. The interactions are subtle but do
occur. Furthermore, a
phantom limb appears to be a “field of sensation and touch”, where the
limb once was, and also exhibits subtle interactions with physical
of interaction from NDEs:
NDE, the NDEr’s “body” appears to be a thing (a field) with a shape and
location (Mays & Mays, 2008a). The “body” may appear luminous
to the NDEr,
with a luminous interior structure, and can be “seen” by animals and
NDErs. There is apparent interaction with physical processes such as
sound, because the NDEr reports veridical visual and auditory
There is apparent interaction with physical objects, because the NDEr
on the ceiling, and feels slight resistance when passing through
as walls. There is one account of an NDE involving apparent interaction
NDEr’s “body” with fog on a cold night. The NDEr jumped up and down and
“jumping fog” was seen by another man.
NDEr “body” can interact with
another person's body: an NDEr’s hand went through the doctor’s arm,
“gelatinous”; an NDEr could tickle the nose of another patient until
sneezed. There are at least three cases where an NDEr “merged” with
person to see and feel what they were seeing, feeling and thinking.
imply that interaction with and influence over neural activity in the
possible, in particular, “merging” implies that the mind readily joins
interacts with the brain, even another person’s brain.
of interaction from phantom limbs:
A phantom limb is the vivid subjective experience of the presence of
a limb that is absent congenitally or through amputation. The phantom
appears to have objective reality as a “field of sensation and touch”
region where the physical limb was (Mays & Mays, 2008b).
Phantom limbs appear
to be the exposed “mind limbs” extending beyond the physical body.
have observed interactions with one
subject (M.G.), born without the fingers of her left hand. Her phantom
“touching” physical objects evokes physiological sensations in the
in the left palm and along the left arm, and presents physiological
skin color, twitching of the finger buds). In experiments “touching” a
of other subjects, especially in the region of the brain, the “touch”
subtle but definite physiological sensations (warmth, pressure in the
sinuses) and distinct, unusual inner visual images. M.G. also reports
“massage” of her phantom fingers (i.e., the therapist passing her hand
finger area) evokes tickling sensations. Finally, M.G. reports that she
sometimes can “see” her phantom fingers as a faint whitish or bluish
held up against a dark background. (Another congenitally limb deficient
subject, A.Z., reports similar ability: “In darkness, I have noted a
glowing of my phantom body parts”, in Brugger,
et al., 2000.)
number of case reports appear in the
literature (e.g., Leskowitz, 2000 and 2001; Sheldrake, 1995, pp.
involving Therapeutic Touch treatment of amputee phantom limb pain. The
features of these cases include: (1) the therapist can usually feel the
limb as “present” in the expected location, sometimes having a
“energy”; (2) the patient can usually feel the presence of the
in the phantom limb area that the therapist is working in, despite the
that the patient cannot see what the therapist is doing (the eyes are
the patient is looking away or the patient’s eyes are bandaged); and
patient experiences immediate and dramatic reduction in the subjective
pain reduction is usually long-lasting after several sessions.
from both NDE and phantom limb phenomena thus suggest that
between the non-material field of the
person and physical processes (objects, light, fog and sound), as well
person. The interactions evoke phenomenal sensations in the subject and
other person. In addition, evidence also suggests that the non-material
can appear luminous at times, both to the subject and to animals.
of this theory
is a process of “coming to awareness”:
Benjamin Libet’s “time-on” principle (Libet, et al., 1991) proposes
that about ½ sec (500 msec) of brain electrical activity is required
person becomes aware of a sensation, regardless of its content. The
adjusts for this delay by “antedating” the subjective sensations back
actual time. For example, a person can process and react to an
becoming conscious of it (Libet, 2004). In Libet’s view, sensations are
subliminal. Visual stimuli that are presented too quickly for conscious
awareness are nevertheless “seen” and “interpreted” if the subject is
give an answer. Subjects show greater accuracy for longer presentation
person can be (emotionally) affected when shown an emotionally
picture, even if the perception remains subliminal. These cases imply
is subliminal cognitive processing (detection, recognition) which
to awareness. We propose that all
conscious experience requires at least 500 msec of brain electrical
come to consciousness, including endogenous mental acts such as
images and decisions. This proposition is similar to Libet’s own
(1993, p. 385). The thought, image or decision remains subliminal for
time-on period but is not antedated
to its time origin.
delayed awareness of willed action:
In a series of experiments to time the relationship between the
subjective sense of willing to move and the actual movement, Libet told
subjects to flex their wrists at a time freely chosen (Libet, 1985;
al., 1983). The neural response to a subjective command to move is
the top of the head and is called a “readiness potential”, a slow rise
electrical negativity which indicates preparation for the movement.
these experiments, Libet found that
the readiness potential neural response (RP) typically started 550 msec
the actual muscle movement measured at the wrist by an electromyogram
asked subjects to note the time they first became aware of wanting to move, by noting the position
of a revolving spot on a
circular electronic “clock”. Ironically, the subject’s first
awareness of the intention or wish to move (W) was on average
about 350 msec after the onset of
readiness potential. This delay makes it appear that the brain has
move prior to the subject’s actual
conscious intention to move.
apparent “decision” by the brain to
act prior to the actual awareness of the intention to act is
and implies that people do not act out of free will, even when they
subjectively feel that they do. However, if one accepts the proposition
people’s awareness of their own endogenous mental acts is delayed (see
section), Libet’s result is less enigmatic. We propose that the
subliminal wish to move requires a time-on of about 500 msec before the
of the wish to move (W) and, thus, occurs some 150 msec prior to the
the readiness potential. The relative times of events from Libet’s
would thus be as follows:
msec: wish to move, initially subliminal (proposed)
msec: readiness potential begins (RP)
msec: awareness of wish to move (W)
85 msec: awareness of
msec: muscle movement (EMG)
can people subconsciously intend to
do something and then a half second later become aware of the
intention? In our
view, a freewill decision originates in the conscious agency of the
self-conscious mind, but the neural activity reflecting this mental act
meet the 500-msec time-on requirement before there can be awareness of
decision. This explanation is consistent with people’s subjective
that their decisions are purely their own and arise from the conscious
they are in: They would be very surprised to find that they have
something contrary to that context.
time-on delay of awareness of
endogenous mental acts thus helps explain the apparent disconnect
volition and action in this experiment, and in other cases such as
(1890) introspection of the process of getting out of bed on a freezing
morning. Libet’s counterintuitive result points to the unusual way we
organized: a non-material mind interfacing through the relatively slow
electrical activity of the brain.
mind plays an active role in brain development:
In postnatal brain development, significant “regressive events” occur
during infancy in which many neurons die off, and there is gradual
“myelination” of other neurons. Myelin is an electrically insulating
that covers the axon so the neuron can efficiently transfer neural
first brain areas to be myelinated are the motor, olfactory, and
areas. The last areas, myelinated, in teen and early adult years, are
visual functions, executive functions, and working memory. We propose
mind’s activity of interfacing with neural electrical activity,
during infancy and early childhood, influences which neurons are
myelinated, and thus become available for use. This view has
child development and education. Child development entails the child’s
integrating with and re-forming the brain and body through its own
Educational programs should thus be formulated in attunement with the
and teen’s brain development, and use age-appropriate mental and
activities to enhance mind, brain and physical development at each
resides in the mind, not in the brain:
Brain structures and pathways, especially in the hippocampus, are
needed to form, consolidate and recall memories. Bilateral damage to
hippocampus results in the inability to form new memories (anterograde
In contrast, memories that are formed during NDE are accessible
generally are vivid, long-lasting and not subject to embellishment over
This result implies that memories can be formed and “stored” without
Moreover, memories prior to NDE are accessible during NDE, which
memory content is accessible without the brain.
results of NDE accounts imply that
memory formation and recall are both functions of the mind and are only
by brain functions while in the body. In addition, memory content
the mind, not the brain, which suggests that profound retrograde
of long-term memory), such as in dementia, is probably due to the
of brain structures that mediate memory recall rather than destruction
memory content itself. In
existing memories are not destroyed in dementia patients with the
of cortical structures and would return with even a slight reversal of
deterioration. Rather than lose the
past, people with Alzheimer’s disease gradually become blind
what is the self-conscious mind?
is the self-conscious mind exactly? Is it “transcendent” or
our research, we rely on the
phenomena to define the boundaries and extent of the theory. We prefer
speculate beyond what the phenomena indicate.
mind presents itself as a field,
that is, a region of space with specific properties. The essential
the mind is consciousness, more precisely the conscious experience of a
particular individual. The mind has energetic
attributes in that it
appears to interact with physical processes, especially with neurons,
appears to exhibit electrical effects and luminosity. The mind appears
a complex internal structure that
probably directly maps to the neural
structure throughout the brain and body.
are three modes in which the mind can be conscious: (1) during
ordinary consciousness, the mind is united with the physical body and
is conscious because of interactions with the brain and body; (2)
during NDE, the mind is separated from the physical body and is
conscious because of direct interactions with physical processes, such
as light and sound; and (3) in a phantom limb, a portion of the mind’s
field is exposed as a kind of “mind limb” – the region where the
physical limb was present – and the person can sometimes experience
conscious sensations of “touch” when an object or another
person’s body interacts with the mind limb field.
the mind a kind of subtle substance? The
self-conscious mind does not appear to have properties of a
substance, in particular because it appears to be unitary and
it has extension and location in space. The mind readily
ordinary matter and, thus, is not material in any ordinary sense.
Rather than a
subtle substance, the mind appears to be more the seat of consciousness
essential selfhood of the person.
the non-material mind be studied scientifically?
What the mind is and how it functions with the brain are ultimately
empirical questions. Objective, non-material entities can be studied
through their effects on other entities. We propose that further
investigation can be profitable in the following areas:
The phantom limb provides direct access to a “mind limb”, its inherent
internal structure and how that structure interacts with the body and
brain, in particular with the neurons in the stump. The phenomenal
experience of phantom limb sensations and phantom limb pain are
directly reportable, as are interactions of the phantom limb field with
other subjects. Direct physical interaction of the limb field in
measurement devices may also be possible. Research in this area also
has the potential to develop effective treatment modalities for phantom
limb pain, which has hitherto proved intractable.
More thorough surveys of NDE accounts should provide additional cases
and data about interactions with physical processes and “merging” of
the NDEr with in-body persons. These data should provide additional
information about the nature of the mind “body” in its out-of-body
state. More detailed evidence of veridical NDE perceptions will
strengthen the case for the non-material mind.
When the mind has reunited with the brain and body following NDE, there
generally are striking physiological aftereffects (heightened
sensitivities, electrical effects, etc.), which probably result from
the incomplete reintegration of the mind with the physical body. A
direct study of unusual physiological aftereffects, especially just
following NDE, should provide further insight about the mind in
relation to the body.
In principle, all neurological phenomena should be explainable in terms
of the self-conscious mind interacting with the brain. There are
particular phenomena that might provide interesting insights and
confirmation of this theory, for example, phenomena which might better
be explained by the principle of “coming to awareness” such as the
cutaneous rabbit, blindsight and split brain phenomena. Additionally,
the interface of the mind with neurons might be unraveled through a
detailed study of the intercellular structures of specific regions of
the cortex such as M1 and V1-V4.
fundamental entity, a new dimension of reality
self-conscious mind as conceived in
this theory does not fit other known physical phenomena or known
It follows then that mind must be a fundamental entity, a new dimension
reality, and the
domain of what constitutes “the physical” must necessarily be
expanded to include minds. The
proposition that a non-material mind interacts with electrical brain
means that there must be some sort of force which brings about the
We expect that this force must ultimately induce or translate into
effects in the neurons.
essential property of the mind is
the conscious experience of a particular individual. The mind is the
the essential selfhood of the person; it is the
experience arises necessarily within the mind’s field of phenomenal
through the direct interaction of the mind with the person’s brain.
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