Which Comes First, Consciousness or The Brain?

Science has long held that the brain comes first, but a growing group of scientists are favoring consciousness

Is Consciousness Primary? (Postmaterialist Sciences Series), Stephan A. Schwartz, Marjorie Woollacott, PhD, Gary Schwartz, PhD, eds., Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences (2020).

We are today witnessing a revolution in scientific thinking that is monumental. It is a revolution in the understanding of the nature of consciousness. And it is growing year by year at an accelerating pace. The accepted view in most scientific fields is that matter is primary and consciousness is a product of the physical brain. When any evidence outside the confines of this materialistic view is offered, it is generally dismissed as anecdotal or an anomaly and not given serious consideration. The new view is that consciousness is primary.

Over the past two hundred years we find only a few scientific voices speaking out favoring the view that consciousness is primary. The AAPS book provides a list of major figures from the 1800’s and 1900’s:

· Sir James Clerk Maxwell, PhD – 1831-1879; physicist, electromagnetic theory

· William James, MD – 1842-1910; philosopher & psychologist. “Varieties of Religious Experience” 1902

· Max Planck, PhD – 1858-1947; physicist, originated quantum theory

· Wolfgang Pauli, PhD – 1900-1958; physicist, quantum mechanics.

· Carl Jung, MD – 1875-1961; founded analytic psychology, developed concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious.

· Wilder Penfield, MD – 1891-1976; neurosurgeon,

· Sir John Eccles, PhD – 1903-1997; neurophysiologist

· David Bohm, PhD – 1917-1992; physicist, “Wholeness and the Implicate Order” human condition and consciousness

This list of eight groundbreaking voices includes four physicists working with quantum mechanics and four medical doctors, two of whom focused on the nature of human consciousness, and two brain surgeons who were the developers of modern brain surgery.

In 1918 Nobel Prize winner Max Planck made the case for consciousness:

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.

The accepted wisdom of science today that consciousness is produced by the brain posits the conclusion that without a brain there is no consciousness. In this model of reality, matter is fundamental and consciousness is a byproduct of matter. This materialist view sees the world as a series of mechanical objects with measurable local actions of cause and effect. This very successful model has given us modern technology and modern medicine while at the same time imposing strict limitations on the acceptable areas of investigation for science.

The idea of setting limitations on science has its origin in the conflict of religion versus science that was triggered by the publication of the heliocentric ideas of Copernicus and Galileo in the sixteenth century. Indeed, both of these men were imprisoned by the Roman Church for heresy. For today’s readers to fully understand the initial and absolute barrier surrounding this area of investigation, it must be noted that the Copernican revolution (1540) was closely followed by the Council of Trent (1543), which established the Inquisition and authorized torture and executions to stamp out heresy.

Science has built a dogma of acceptable areas of investigation that disallows the study of consciousness outside of the context of it as a byproduct of a mechanical brain. The definition of the scientific method limits the examination of cause and effect to local measurable events. This limitation to local events prevents a full and meaningful examination of consciousness. At the same time that science is severely constrained by this limited view of consciousness, religion is equally limited. A society educated to accept that consciousness is not central to reality, but rather is tangential to matter which it sees as central, lacks the imagination to understand the full potential of religious experience. Thus the general understanding of religious experience becomes devalued and stunted as well. We see the impact of this view clearly in the reduced interest in religious pursuits today.

The origin of today’s new burgeoning view of the nature of consciousness as primary can be attributed largely to quantum physics. Acceptance of this view has been slow to expand to other scientific fields. We, now a hundred years after the pioneering work of men such as Max Plank, are reminded of a statement attributed to Einstein: Scientific advancement takes place one funeral at a time.

Awareness of consciousness as primary has expanded from our eight pioneer voices of the past two hundred years to a growing chorus of important scientists in a number of fields and is now taking on an organized form.

In 2017 a new organization was formed by Gary E. Schwartz and Marjorie H. Woollacott: The Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences. (aapsglobal.com) Gary Schwartz, PhD is Professor of Psychology, Medicine, Neurology, Psychiatry, and Surgery at the University of Arizona and Marjorie Woollacott, PhD is professor of neuroscience at the University of Oregon. The founding members of this organization, working in a variety of fields, have all contributed to their first publication: Is Consciousness Primary? Perspectives from the Founding Members of the Academy for the Advancement of Post Materialist Sciences (2019).

The easiest way to convey the range of investigation this group has undertaken is to list the chapters and authors of this publication. You are strongly encouraged to check the links provided to the websites of the contributors. It will provide an amazing list of books for further investigation.

Preface to Advances in Post Materialist Sciences Series


Introduction to the Primacy of Consciousness Hypothesis


How Do Scientists Change Their Minds? Example of Survival of Consciousness Research

Gary E. Schwartz, PhD

Part One – Math, Physics and Consciousness


Rational Magic

Dean Radin, PhD


Mathematical Unification of Space, Time, Mass, Energy & Consciousness

Edward R. Close, PhD


Bridging the Perceived Gap between Science and Metaphysics: The Primacy of Consciousness and Experience

Menas C. Kafatos, PhD

Part Two – Neuroscience and Consciousness


The Elementary Mind

Mario Beaugard, PhD


What do Near-Death and Meditation Experiences Tell Us About the Primacy of Consciousness?

Marjorie Woollacott, PhD


A History of Postmaterialism With a Mild Warning to Not Completely Dismiss Matter, Circa 2072

Julia Mossbridge, PhD

Part Three – Psychology, Psychiatry, and Consciousness


Why Isn’t Consciousness a Fundamental in Science and What Is Reality?

Stephan A Schwartz


Beyond Materialism and Madness: A Neuropsychiatrist’s Perspective on Anomalous Experiences

Diane Hennacy Powell, MD


Postmaterial Medicine, Health, and Healing

Larry Dossey,MD


Supersynchronicity as a Contemporary Spiritual Experience: Evidence and Significance

Gary E. Schwartz, PhD

Groundbreaking work related to the primary role of consciousness is not limited to the members of this group. A few searches on the internet reveal the names and book titles of hundreds of other people working in this area today. The special importance of this particular organization lies in the fact that all of its members are recognized scientists who are actively working to promote open-minded, rigorous, and evidence-based inquiry into postmaterialist consciousness research. Their stated values are as follows:

· Support rigorous applications of the scientific method

· Nurture curiosity and creativity in research

· Encourage open-minded exploratory and confirmatory investigations

· Model integrity and honesty in communication and education

· Value experimental and empirical data over dogma

· Create safe settings for sharing theories, evidence, and experiences

· Promote evidence-based innovation and positive societal change

· Expand awareness of the interconnectedness of all things

· Share postmaterialist evidence and understanding with the public

There can be no doubt that the result of this movement will benefit society as a whole as well as expand scientific explorations. From the perspective of a Cosolargist dedicated to the expansion of consciousness, this work is not just interesting; it is of major importance to our society. Increased understanding of consciousness will open new areas of scientific investigation and lead to significant new advances. It will also make clear that consciousness provides the doorway to experience a transcendental universe that most people today do not imagine is open to them. The stated goal of expanding awareness of the interconnectedness of all things will naturally provide the opportunity for an expanded awareness of spiritual reality.

There are two quotes from Nikola Tesla cited in the book that struck me as particularly cogent descriptions of the promise that this new research into consciousness has for science, and for understanding the nature of consciousness:

The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.”

My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.”

The experience of reading the more than 575 pages of AARP’s first publication has drawn me into reading other books written by members of this group of scientists. And each book has opened the way to exploring others. This article will be the first of a series exploring the scientific investigations and findings of this exciting and groundbreaking group of scientists.

Rebecca Willis

November, 2020