An Examination of the View That It Is Possible to Have Disembodied Consciousness

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Religious Studies

An examination of the view that it is possible to have disembodied consciousness

The concept of disembodied consciousness is a mystery, which the human intellect is still not developed enough to comprehend (and perhaps will never be understood). The phenomenon of disembodied consciousness covers a wide range – it could mean things such as Extra-Sensory Perception, seeing the afterlife and returning again (near death experiences), prophecy or simply people who claim they can disembody themselves.

The issue is in fact rather complicated because of the unclear definition of “consciousness”. It is impossible for scientists to find out what can reasonably be inferred from indirect evidence about other people’s private mental experiences. As a matter of fact, nobody on earth seems to have (and I would say “seems” because there is no way I could make an absolute statement out of this) the ability to perceive from anything other than his/her personal point.

When we speak of disembodied consciousness, we quickly think of two different theories regarding whether the body and mind are separate entities- materialism and dualism. Within materialism there is also a distinction between “hard” and “soft”. Hard materialism suggests that everything existing is in fact material (physical). Therefore, consciousness is nothing more than the brain as it is physically. Our minds = the chunk of flesh in our skull. When we die, our minds vanish with the decay of our physical selves. As a result, conscious states of seeing colours, smelling flowers or even mental breakdowns are simply cells and neurons functioning. To hard materialists, a pain is nothing more than receptors in the skin acting on the sensory nerves in a particular way. Although the feeling of pain seems more than that when it is looked at introspectively, according to materialists introspection is a source of false perception. The feeling of pain will always reduce to its physical processes, and such “feeling” and process are not simply correlated, but identical. For some, this view is hard to accept, because if hard materialism were true, then “I” would only be my body, and perhaps nothing but a deceived zombie perceiving through a wrongly designed brain. As for soft materialism, the belief in the mind being a simple physical entity is not as strong, but it is still believed that life is dependant of our bodies. They believe that there may exist a non-material entity we call the mind, but of which is so bound up with our physical brain that it cannot exist without it.

Many people are opposed to the idea of Materialism, and there are various arguments. For example, suppose you knew everything physical about my brain, including how all the smallest particles worked. Would you thereby know what I am thinking of? Obviously not, or so I hope! Therefore, how can the brain and the mind be said to be the same? Why would it be true that our minds will not survive at the mortification of our bodies? Materialists answer this by saying that although you would not know all the things about my mind, or anything about what I am thinking, you may actually know them using other concepts. Perhaps the fact of pain in my mind is the equivalent of cell x acting on fiber y in another concept, and perhaps that “other concept” is what was really true and what my consciousness thought was pain was merely an illusion. The other concept is basically what we know as science. Materialism could be a scientific view of the mind.

Richard Dawkins would be considered a supporter of the materialistic view of disembodied consciousness, as he believes that the human animal is simply the gathering of his/her individual genes, and rejects all notions of religious belief. Dawkins points out that religion only depends on faith whereas science can explain actual questions on life, thus providing concrete evidence against concepts of disembodied consciousness (e.g. Life after death-...
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