Over at Mormon Insights the erudite S. Faux has been blogging an very interesting series on consciousness and the brain. One of the recurring themes in that series is that consciousness is a physical phenomenon which will eventually be entirely explained by physics. As I explored in my previous post, I believe that the concept of moral responsibility is eviscerated in the context of physicalism. I poked at S. Faux along those lines on a couple of occasions (once starting in this comment, and then again starting in this comment).
S. Faux responded to my prodding with his typical graciousness and even took a stab at answering a few clarifying questions about his philosophical assumptions. My first impressions about his physicalist assumptions appear to me to be supported by his responses there.
Despite the humility and often wisely tentative responses he gave to me, Blake, Jeff G, and others on his blog, he seemed to open up a bit when a few days later he expressed frustration with people like me to fellow frustrated-with-those-who-question-science scientist SteveP:
Why are some Latter-day Saints cafeteria consumers of science, picking and choosing their facts with the same kind of selectivity that my teenager uses when eating mixed vegetables on his plate?
Why are some LDS afraid that our physical brain could be conscious? (S. Faux at Mormon Organon, emphasis mine)
I thought I’d post a response to that question. First, I must clarify some starting assumptions. For this post, let’s stipulate the basic components of Mormon theology (as S. Faux does on his blog). Namely, that
1. There is a preexistent spirit
2. It inhabits the physical body during mortality
3. It persists after death
4. It is ultimately joined to a perfected physical body in the resurrection
5. It is ultimately judged based on choices and actions taken in mortality.
It seems clear to me that:
a. 1 and 3 require consciousness without a physical body
b. Continuity between 1-5 and item 5 per se require the consciousness of 1 and 3 to be related in some fundamental way with the consciousness in 2 and 4,
c. The concept of moral accountability required by 5 makes no sense in the context of determinism (go to my previous post to comment on that.)
d. Moral accountability in 5 is accountability with respect to things that happened exclusively within our consciousness during mortality.
This last one deserves a bit of explanation. We we talk about agency and accountability, what we have in mind is that we will be held accountable for our choices. Lots of stuff happens in our bodies and in our brains that we are totally unconscious of, but these are not things we hold each other morally responsible for.
We hold each other responsible for the choices we make in our conscious minds. It is when we deliberate, when we think, and when we take conscious control of something that we consider ourselves accountable. This is why we view death by suicide as a morally different situation than death by heart attack or brain aneurysm. To claim that our consciousness is reducible to brain micro-physics is to undermine moral accountability (this conclusion from d. depends on the validity of c.).
There you have it. These are my reasons for fearing the idea that consciousness is completely explained by the physical brain. My fear is that it leaves no hope of our theology being correct.
 I have no reason whatsoever to believe he was thinking of me when he wrote the comment, but I think I fit the description of the people he is talking about.
 I readily concede that fleshing out the details of that fundamental relation is tricky business which I can’t adequately accomplish at the moment. I think the relationship is required by our theology nonetheless.