"Most neurophysiologists," says philosopher John Hick, Ph.D., "work on some highly specialized area of brain research and are not particularly interested in the philosophical issue, as they see it of the relationship between brain and consciousness." The 'easy problem,' according to Hicks, "is to trace precisely what is going on in the brain when someone is consciously perceiving, thinking, willing, experiencing some emotion, creating a work of art, etc." The 'hard problem', he notes, "is to find out what consciousness actually is and how it is caused."
The 'orthodox' position of most mind science researchers and theorists is that the brain generates consciousness bio-chemically, even though no specific neural correlate (a related area of the brain, or a 'nerve center') has been found for the phenomenon of conscious itself. This 'materialist' view of the origination of consciousness "is encouraged by the fact that it is possible to trace, with increasing precision, the neural correlates of conscious episodes," Hick observes.
Hick, himself, is critical of both camps; but he is particularly so in respect of those dogmatic scientists and philosophers that insist that the almost 1:1 correlation of brain activity and conscious experience is proof that the former causes the latter.
"The question, Hick observes, "is how a conscious experience can be identical with a physical event in the brain, as distinguished from being precisely correlated with it; and to assume that the correlation constitutes identity simply begs that question. The belief that they are identical is not an experimentally established fact or the conclusion of a logically cogent argument but an affirmation of naturalistic faith. . . ."
"(W)ithin the parameters of normal science," he notes, "there is no possible observation or experiment that could ever decisively contradict mind- brain identity if it is false, and accordingly it is not a scientific hypothesis. In moving from examples of two apparently different physical objects or events being the same object or event differently described to the idea that brain and consciousness are related in the same way, we have moved from a scientific hypothesis to a theory that is in principle unfalsifiable."
Not that this resolves the chicken-egg question of whether consciousness or bio-chemistry is the first factor in the causal chain that forms, and informs, our conscious experience. It is equally impossible, again short of reliance on subjective parapsychology, Hick notes, to demonstrate the separate existence of consciousness, in and of itself.
Therefore, he concludes, "there is, surely, more than just a gap that a more complete knowledge of the brain may one day bridge, because no knowledge of the workings of the neural networks, however complete, can convert correlation into identity." Rather, "in spite of being so widely assumed within our culture, that mind-brain identity is a scientifically established fact, Hick states, "its status is that of an article of naturalistic faith." And it is, thus, exceedingly difficult, he points out, for philosophy "to avoid the conclusion at which so many neuroscientists have arrived, namely, that the nature of consciousness is a mystery."