A matter of mind: reductionism and emergentism as frameworks for understanding consciousness
Saenger Amoore, V.M.
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According to materialists, mental processes are a product of the brain. In the context of neural properties such as complexity and consciousness, new frameworks for understanding the brain have raised philosophical issues on how to interpret neural activity and if the underlying structure is sufficient to explain consciousness. Reductionists argue that macro-phenomena such as consciousness can be fully explained by description of the corresponding underlying micro- phenomenon (e.g., molecules and neuron interactions). This approach constitutes the core of contemporary neuroscience and has been used in many different fields, ranging from cognitive to system neuroscience. However, it underestimates the role of all macro-level properties (emergent). An integrative framework called emergentism that tries to explain the relationship between macro and micro- mechanisms has allowed to study the brain from a network-centered perspective, showing that phenomena such as consciousness are better understood by quantifying and addressing the interactions of the elements. Emergentism should then be adopted as a framework to study properties that cannot be explained by studying each of the elements of the system separately and at the same time, reductionism should be carefully used to trace the elements. Both frameworks are mutually inclusive and a better understanding of consciousness is achieved if they are used in conjunction.