Modern philosophers, mathematicians and cognitive scientists avidly refute the traditional concept of duality when trying to comprehend or explain human consciousness.

Historically philosophers such as Rene Descartes and Avicenna hypothesised that ‘mind’ (or soul) was separate from the physical ‘brain’ i.e. mind-body dualism. Whenever trying to explain consciousness we come across the dilemma of the physical and the metaphysical interaction. Descartes was an ‘interactionist and substance’ dualist who believed that the mind and body had a causal link. As Daniel Dennett in his book ‘Consciousness Explained’ (1)  points out that the problem with Descartes and other interactionist’s explanation of consciousness ‘…. arises when interactionalism and substance dualism are coupled — namely, how can an immaterial entity with no extension in the physical world cause changes in a physical body, and how can a physical body cause changes, moods or feelings in a non-physical mind?..’

Similarly British philosopher Gilbert Ryle described René Descartes’ mind-body dualism (Cartesian interactionism) as a ‘Ghost in the machine’. The phrase was introduced in Ryle’s book The Concept of Mind (1949) to highlight the ‘absurdity’ of the dualist concept where mental activity carries on in parallel to physical action.

Descartes at one point suggested that the pineal gland in the centre of the brain may be the link between the ‘mind’ and the body, but later abandoned the idea admitting that he did not have an answer to the problem.

Materialists say the mind can be explained by using the same physical principles of physics, chemistry and physiology that are used to explain such things as radiology. Mind is therefore only a physical phenomenon – Therefore the mind is the brain!  However, despite a deluge of theories, no one has as yet come up with a definitive answer to explain how does one model a ‘serial stream of consciousness’ using a parallel or a singular computational architecture? 

But should Art be confined to the pedantic scientific or mathematical boundaries or should it be free to embrace any ontological or ethereal expression of the human consciousness or emotion including the possibilities (and the delicious impossibilities) opened up by the duality concept?

Consequently its not surprising that when it comes to comparing Artificial Intelligence (machine ‘thinking’) with human consciousness there are further layers of logistical complexities that come to the fore. Expressing these layers into an artwork is both a challenge and an inspiration.

Photos: Artwork Exploring Human and Machine Consciousness



(1) ‘Consciousness Explained’ Daniel C. Dennett Published October 20th 1992 by Back Bay Books