The answer to that depends entirely upon whether you believe we are a soul inhabiting a body or simply, as Francis Crick once described, “No more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”
. If what he says is true, then consciousness doesn’t really exist. The “I” that you contemplate throughout the day does not exist.
. If what he says is true, then there really isn’t anything resembling free will. The choices that you think you make are simply reactions to stimuli.
. If what he says is true, it’s an illusion to think that you are aware or are able to pay attention to what’s going on inside of you.
The renowned “Father of modern neurosurgery,” Wilder Penfield, has performed thousands of operations on patients with epilepsy. With electrical stimulus he could cause patients to move their arms or legs, turn their heads or eyes, talk or swallow. Patients would respond to these actions by the doctor with comments like, “I didn’t do that. You did that.” The patient thinks of himself as having an existence separate from his body. An existence that involves the ability to choose and decide.
To examine this phenomenon further, Penfield would electrically stimulate the proper motor cortex of conscious patients to make one of their hands move. He would then tell them to decide to use the other hand to keep the stimulated hand from moving when the current was applied. The patient would seize this hand with the other hand and hold it still. Thus, one hand under the control of the electrical current and the other hand under the control of the patient’s “mind / soul / essence / conscious self” fought against each other. Penfield, himself a staunch materialist was forced to say that we have not only a physical brain but also a nonphysical reality that is able to interact with the material brain. To expect the highest brain mechanism to carry out what the mind / soul / essence / conscious self commands is absurd for a materialist.
“What a thrill it is, then,” Penfield felt compelled to say, “to discover that the scientist, too, can legitimately believe in the existence of the “human spirit.”
I use the same premise on a frequent basis in counselling as I explain to those requiring significant changes in their lives that, “OUR (meaning our soul / mind / essence / conscious self) brain believes what WE (meaning our soul / mind / essence / conscious self) tell it. If WE want the chemical balance in OUR brains to change then WE must change what WE tell our brains.” There is no location in our physical brain where a chemical exchange, or the firing of neurons will cause a client to believe or to decide one way or the other. That is because believing / deciding / choosing etc. originates in the conscious self (the part that atheists say doesn’t exist), not the physical material organ we call the brain.
Reviewing copious amounts of confirming evidence for a dualistic mind / soul / body, anthropologist Marilyn Schlitz says, “I would take the position of a radical empiricist, in that I am driven by data, not theory. And the data I see tells me that there are ways in which people’s experience refutes the materialist position that the mind is the brain and nothing more. There are solid, concrete data that suggest that our consciousness, our mind, may surpass the boundaries of the brain.”
In a moment of self-honesty an atheist wrote - “Why should a bunch of atoms have thinking ability? Why should I, even as I write now, be able to reflect on what I am doing and why should you, even as you read now, be able to ponder my points, agreeing or disagreeing, with pleasure or pain, deciding to refute me or deciding that I am just not worth the effort? No one, certainly not the Darwinian as such, seems to have any answer to this. The point is that there is no scientific answer.”
Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse