The Conscious Mind – Where Is It?

This was another really challenging lecture that challenged us to really question and inspect the difficult reality of locating consciousness. I know personally it was not something I had ever questioned before, and on the face of it the answer seems simple. We were challenged however, to dig into the difficulties of locating anything really that simply.

We discussed the two leading theories on the location of the conscious mind.


Held by theorists such as William James, Chris Frith and Helmholtz, internal-ism holds that awareness and consciousness is located only in the brain. Some theorists have proposed that it exists within a small section of the brain – involving highly specialized neurons , others have proposed that consciousness exists throughout all of the brain. Despite these proposals, at present the conscious mind has not been located within the brain.

“…I am firmly convinced that I am a product of my brain, as is the awareness that accompanies me” (Chris Frith, ‘Making up the mind’)


External-ism holds that the world is not just held inside our heads – that the mind is not something solely dependent on our cognition, but that we rely on factors external to the body also. We are able to project activity into the outside world. Near death experiences, psychic phenomena and instances where damage to the brain has not generated any outward abnormality, are given as possible pointers towards consciousness existence beyond the brain.

“…the actual local operations that realize certain forms of human cognizing include inextricable tangles of feedback, feed-forward, and feed-around loops: loops that promiscuously criss-cross the boundaries of brain, body, and world. The local mechanisms of mind, if this is correct, are not all in the head. Cognition leaks out into the body and world.” (Clark 2008)


A helpful summary that Rob Pepperell put forward

Altering the brain does alter consciousness – so brains are important But brains don’t do much on their own – they need the body and world


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