Within this website I explore whether there is a spiritual realm, a supernatural realm, containing God, mind, souls, consciousness with its contents (ideas, emotions, love, reason, etc) — this, from a purely philosophical and unreligious point of view.
In this article, I first assume there is a spiritual realm so as to explore the implications; then I present my conclusions elsewhere.

An emergent property is: Interactions of collections of things resulting in something bigger and new. Examples:

  1. Swarms of birds flying, or schools of fish swimming.
  2. The geology and weather of planets.
  3. Cell membranes made from lipids.
  4. The neural network of the brain.

There was once a time in the development (evolution) of the universe in which stars did not exist; they "emerged" over time.

There are many views of emergence; I have no interest in getting all tangled up in all this. Rather, I focus on the nature of consciousness, of whether it is an emergent property of the neural network of the brain.

The subjective experience of consciousness is not an emergent property of matter. There is no force of nature and no quantum field called "consciousness".

I suppose technically conscious is an emergent property of brain function, but my point is: saying so does not explain anything.

In this article I propose that surface tension of water (and other emergent properties) are not appropriate analogies for how consciousness emerges from brain function.

Note: I am referring to the architecture of the brain as a "neural network". Some might object to this use of the term, but it's easy and understandable, so I'll use it anyway.

Categories of the Mind

Emergent properties only exist within the mind of humans. For example, when enough water molecules collect under the influence of gravity, those at the top layer experience different forces acting upon them than those within the volume. There is no new force of nature and no new quantum field called "surface tension".

Rather, the surface tension of water is a category of human reason and thinking. You can develop equations to describe it, but these equations do not control the motion of the atoms above and below the surface.

Thus, emergent properties are merely categories of the mind, of human consciousness. They are ideas having no substantive independent material existence.


Since emergent properties are merely constructs of the mind, of consciousness; then how can human consciousness (the so-called emergent property) arise from human consciousness? (This is infinite recursion.)

Therefore, consciousness is not an emergent property. Rather, it exists as its own entity apart from all other aspects of reality.

Nested emergent properties

If you think of specific meta-phenomena as emergent properties (for example, the surface tension of water, or a school of swimming fish, or atoms combining to form molecules):

A molecule is an emergent property of an atom. An atom is an emergent property of the quantum fields and the standard model and the fundamental forces and properties of the universe.

A specific cell type is an emergent property of all the molecules it's composed of. A tissue is an emergent property of a particular kind of cell type. An organ is an emergent property of a particular kind of tissue. An organism is an emergent property of specific organs.

So you end up with emergent properties of emergent properties of emergent properties.

The whole idea of an emergent property collapses under the weight. I think it's better to think of everything as structures built from the components and attributes of the universe.

But maybe that's all an emergent property is; but no one says this. And I've never heard of anyone considering nested emergent properties.


This discussion is not satisfying without additional considerations:

(1) It's true there is a tight correlation and coupling between brain activity and conscious experience, but this doesn't prove that active neural networks of the brain cause consciousness. If there were a way for consciousness (or mind) to affect physical brain functioning, then it could just as well be that consciousness is the cause of some kinds of brain activity. In another article I describe a possible mechanism invoking quantum mechanics.

(2) Some other materialist/physicalist views of the essence of consciousness that are just as unsatisfying as calling it an emergent property: (1) it's an illusion created by the brain, (2) the flow of electrons in the neural network causes consciousness to arise, (3) the collapse of the wave function creates a bit of qualia which is then structured and organized by the brain into consciousness as we experience it. This last idea implies that all of matter is in some way conscious, or at least, proto-conscious.

(3) Materialist physicalists must assume that consciousness exists within the universe, but there is no quantum field or law of nature called "consciousness". Thus, materialism/physicalism is false, and mind-body dualism is true. Consciousness exists somewhere outside the physical universe.

Since the subjective experience of consciousness does not reside within the physical universe (since there is no law of nature or quantum field called "consciousness"), therefore, (according to my hypothesis) there are two distinct "realms": (1) the physical realm, and (2) other (I call this the spiritual realm).

(4) So what is consciousness? My view explains it all.