Volume 48, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2019
Eric LaRock, Mostyn Jones
How Subjects Can Emerge from Neurons
We pose a foundational problem for those who claim that subjects are ontologically irreducible, but causally reducible (weak emergence). This problem is neuroscience’s notorious binding problem, which concerns how distributed neural areas produce unified mental objects (such as perceptions) and the unified subject that experiences them. Synchrony, synapses, and other mechanisms cannot explain this. We argue that this problem seriously threatens popular claims that mental causality is reducible to neural causality. Weak emergence additionally raises evolutionary worries about how we have survived the perils of nature. Our emergent subject hypothesis (ESH) avoids these shortcomings. Here, a singular, unified subject acts back on the neurons it emerges from and binds sensory features into unified mental objects. Serving as the mind’s controlling center, this subject is ontologically and causally irreducible (strong emergence). Our ESH draws on recent experimental evidence, including the evidence for a possible correlate (or “seat”) of the subject, which enhances its testability.