Neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) are neural states or processes correlated with consciousness. The aim of this article is to present a coherent explanatory model of NCC that is informed by Thomas Aquinas’s human ontology and Aristotle’s metaphysics of causation. After explicating four starting principles regarding causation and mind–body dependence, I propose the Mind–Body Powers model of NCC.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
C-fiber activation correlated with pain is the standard example in the philosophical literature; therefore I will often use this example. However, as Koch clarified in personal correspondence (8 October 2017): “Ironically, I and most other neuroscientists would not consider these a true content-specific NCC; just like the optic nerve isn’t a visual NCC. Those are input structures that convey action potentials to cortex.”
Personal correspondence (26 December 2016).
‘Hylomorphism’ is often spelled ‘hylemorphism.’ Regarding the nature of the mind–body dependency alluded to here, see Sect. 3.
When citing Aquinas, I use the following acronyms to reference his works: (ST) Summa Theologiae, (SCG) Summa Contra Gentiles, and (QDA) Questions on the Soul. I also use the acronym (DA) when citing Aristotle’s On the Soul.
Powers are irreducible, according to this view. Contra Hume (2007, p. 55), powers on the Aristotelian view are not a mere projection of ours about reality, but rather powers are objective features of reality (Mayr 2016). Entities in the world have powers that cannot be reduced to non-powers. Following Ryle (1949, p. 31), attempts have been made to reduce powers (or dispositions) by giving a conditional analysis of our statements about powers or by reducing powers to non-power properties (cf. Choi and Fara 2016; Mayr 2016). According to the Aristotelian powers ontology I am advocating, such reductivist strategies do not sufficiently describe powers, which seem to be a real feature of the world.
This idea is seen throughout their works regarding human nature. For an example in Aristotle, see Metaphysics (I 1); for Aquinas, see (ST 1a 75.4 ad 1).
The four internal senses are: common sense, imagination (i.e. phantasia), cogitative power, and memory (Pasnau 2002a, p. 281).
See also Marmodoro and Page (2016, p. 16). They likewise emphasize that a substantial form is not an efficient cause.
While we can speak of homogeneity and sameness regarding neurobiology and NCC across a species, it is important to remember we are speaking of homogeneity regarding biological regularities that permit some degree of variation. Variations pertaining to NCC can be due to variations in overall conscious experiences or variations in individual brains across a species.
Allen Institute (2016) Allen Brain Atlas. Seattle, Allen Institute for Brain Science, https://www.brain-map.org
Aquinas T (1947) Summa Theologica. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (trans) Benziger Bros edn. Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Aquinas T (1975a) Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Two: Creation. Anderson JF (trans) University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame
Aquinas T (1975b) Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four: Salvation. O’Neil CJ (trans) University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame
Aquinas T (1984) Questions on the soul. Robb JH (trans) Marquette University Press, Milwaukee
Aquinas T (2002) The treatise on human nature: Summa Theologiae 1a 75–89. Pasnau R (trans) Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis
Barnes J (ed) (1984) The complete works of Aristotle: the revised Oxford translation. Princeton University Press, Princeton
Chalmers DJ (1998) On the search for the neural correlate of consciousness. In: Hameroff SR, Kaszniak AW, Scott AC (eds) Toward a science of consciousness II: the second Tucson discussions and debates. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 219–229
Chalmers DJ (2000) What is a neural correlate of consciousness? In: Metzinger T (ed) Neural correlates of consciousness. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 17–40
Choi S, Fara M (2016) Dispositions. In: Zalta EN (ed) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, Stanford
Cramer SC, Sur M, Dobkin BH et al (2011) Harnessing neuroplasticity for clinical applications. Brain 134:1591–1609
Crick F, Koch C (1990) Toward a neurobiological theory of consciousness. Semin Neurosci 2:263–275
des Chene D (2000) Life’s form: late Aristotelian conceptions of the soul. Cornell University Press, Ithaca
Feser E (2009) Aquinas: a beginner’s guide. Oneworld, London
Freddoso AJ (2012) Oh My Soul, There’s Animals and Animals: Some Thomistic Reflections on Contemporary Philosophy of Mind. Paper presented at the second Thomistic workshop, Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, June 2012
Goodrich GL, Martinsen GL, Flyg HM et al (2013) Development of a mild traumatic brain injury-specific vision sceening protocal: a Delphi study. J Rehabil Res Dev 50(6):757–769
Haldane J (1998) A return to form in the philosophy of mind. Ratio 11(3):253–277
Hume D (2007) An enquiry concerning human understanding. Oxford University Press, New York
Jaworski W (2016) Structure and the metaphysics of mind: how hylomorphism solves the mind–body problem. Oxford University Press, New York
Koch C (2012) Consciousness: confessions of a romantic reductionist. MIT Press, Cambridge
Koch C, Massimini M, Boly M et al (2016) Neural correlates of consciousness: progress and problems. Nat Rev Neurosci 17:307–321
Kripke S (1981) Naming and necessity. Blackwell, Malden
Laudan L (1977) Progress and its problems: towards a theory of scientific growth. University of California Press, Berkeley
Lowe EJ (1998) The possibility of metaphysics: substance, identity, and time. Oxford University Press, Oxford
Lowe EJ (2006) Non-cartesian substance dualism and the problem of mental causation. Erkenntnis 65(1):5–23
Lowe EJ (2009) Dualism. In: McLaughlin BP, Beckermann A, Walter S (eds) The Oxford handbook of philosophy of mind. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 66–84
Madden JD (2013) Mind, matter, & nature: a thomistic proposal for the philosophy of mind. The Catholic University of American Press, Washington, D.C.
Marmodoro A (2014a) Aristotle on perceiving objects. Oxford University Press, New York
Marmodoro A (2014b) Causation without glue: Aristotle on causal powers. In: Viano C, Natali C, Zingano M (eds) Les Quatre Causes d’Aristotle: Origins et Interprétations. Peeters, Leuven, pp 221–246
Marmodoro A, Page B (2016) Aquinas on forms, substances and artifacts. Vivarium 54:1–21
Mayr E (2016) Powers in the history of modern metaphysics. Presentation for University of Oxford: powers structuralism in ancient ontologies, Neo-Aristotelian approaches to the metaphysics of the mind Summer School and Conference, Naples, Italy, 26 September–2 October 2016
Metzinger T (2000) Introduction. In: Metzinger T (ed) Neural correlates of consciousness: empirical and conceptual questions. MIT Press, Cambridge
Moreland JP (2015) Tweaking Dallas Willard’s ontology of the human person. J Spirit Form Soul Care 8(2):187–202
Moreland JP (2016) A critique of and alternative to Nancey Murphy’s Christian physicalism. Eur J Philos Relig 8(2):107–128
Moreland JP (2018) In defense of a Thomistic-like dualism. In: Loose JJ, Menuge AJL, Moreland JP (eds) The Blackwell companion to substance dualism. Wiley Blackwell, Oxford, pp 102–122
Mormann F, Koch C (2007) Neural Correlates of Consciousness. Scholarpedia
Munoz-Cespedes JM, Rios-Lago M, Paul N et al (2005) Functional neuroimaging studies of cognitive recovery after acquired brain damage in adults. Neuropsychol Rev 15(4):169–183
Murphy N (1998) Human nature: historical, scientific, and religious issues. In: Brown WS, Murphy N, Malony HN (eds) Whatever happened to the soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature. Fortress Press, Minneapolis
Oderberg DS (2005) Hylemorphic dualism. In: Paul EF, Miller FD Jr, Paul J (eds) Personal identity. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 70–99
Owen M (2019) Neural correlates of consciousness & the nature of the mind. In: Guta M (ed) Consciousness and the ontology of properties. Routledge, New York, pp 241–260
Pasnau R (2002a) Commentary. In: Aquinas T. The Treatise on Human Nature: Summa Theologiae 1a 75–89. Pasnau R (trans) Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, pp 220–378
Pasnau R (2002b) Intoduction. In: Aquinas T. The Treatise on Human Nature: Summa Theologiae 1a 75–89. Pasnau R (trans) Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, pp xii–xxi
Pasnau R (2012) Philosophy of mind and human nature. In: Davies B, Stump E (eds) The Oxford handbook of Aquinas. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 348–368
Pegis A (1974) The seperated soul and its nature in St Thomas. In: Maurer AA (ed) St Thomas Aquinas 1274–1974: commemorative studies. Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto, pp 131–158
Pruss A (2013) Aristotelian forms and laws of nature. Analiza i Egzystencja 24:115–132
Putnam H (1967) Psychological predicates. In: Capitan WH, Merrill DD (eds) Art, mind, and religion. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, pp 37–48
Ryle G (1949) The concept of the mind: 60th Anniversary edn. Routledge, New York
Stump E (2003) Aquinas. Routledge, New York
Tahko TE (2012) Contemporary Aristotelian metaphysics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Tononi G, Koch C (2015) Consciousness: here, there and everywhere? Philos Trans R Soc B 370:1–18
Wippel J (2002) Thomas Aquinas on the seperated soul’s natural knowledge. In: McEvoy J, Dunne M (eds) Thomas Aquinas: approaches to truth, the Aquinas lectures at Maynooth 1996–2001. Four Courts Press, Portland, pp 114–140
I want to thank the Tiny Blue Dot Foundation for generously funding my work as the Elizabeth R. Koch Research Fellow for Tiny Blue Dot Consciousness Studies. I also want to thank my fellowship advisor, Christof Koch for constructive comments on an earlier version of this article and many helpful conversations. I am deeply grateful for Aryn Owen’s constructive feedback on my writing. Anna Marmodoro, Nikk Effingham, Jussi Suikkanen, Henry Taylor, Mihretu Guta, Daniel De Haan and an anonymous reviewer also provided very helpful feedback on previous versions of this article, for which I am grateful.
Research funded by the Tiny Blue Dot Foundation.
Conflict of interest
The author, Matthew Owen, declares that he has no conflict of interest.
Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
About this article
Cite this article
Owen, M. Aristotelian Causation and Neural Correlates of Consciousness. Topoi (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-018-9606-9
- Neural correlates of consciousness
- Human ontology
- Mental powers