QR6.3.6 Field Theories of Consciousness

Modern neuroscience sees the brain as a network of oscillators not transistors, so a nerve is more like a Wi-Fi device than a chip. Areas of the brain aren’t just wired together, they resonate together, leading to the radical idea that consciousness arises in the brain’s electromagnetic field. Conscious electromagnetic field information (CEMI) theory suggests that:

“… the brain’s EM (electromagnetic) field is the physical substrate of consciousness.” (McFadden, 2020)p5.

If the brain is an information processor with nerves that identify line and color in a picture, a nerve must fire “Yes” to recognize a face, the so-called Jennifer Aniston neuron (Quiroga et al., 2005), but one nerve firing isn’t “information integration” as it can:

“… only encode a single firing rate that cannot represent anything more than a tiny fraction of the information present in a conscious percept.” (McFadden, 2020)p3.

Hierarchical nerve processing can’t integrate information as an electromagnetic field can. Nerves as Wi-Fi units affect the brain’s electromagnetic field as pebbles dropped on a pond spread ripples that interfere or combine in one result. This solves the mind-body problem at a stroke, as the “mind” is then in the field and consciousness is unified because:

“… EM fields are always unified, there is only ever one EM field in the brain.” (Ibid, p6).

CEMI theory also predicts that:

“… conventional computers, despite their undoubted computational skills, have not exhibited the slightest spark of consciousness, nor any signs of the general intelligence endowed by conscious minds.(McFadden, 2020) p9.

But if electromagnetic fields cause consciousness, why isn’t a toaster conscious? CEMI theory argues that the electromagnetic field encodes brain data, like a thought, which is then read by the consciousness it creates. McFadden argues that we download information from the brain’s electromagnetic field as we download songs from a Wi-Fi field.

But the field can’t be both the observer and the observed brain data. If the field is the data, then downloading from a Wi-Fi field needs a receiver. Just as we can’t download a song without a smartphone, so a field that integrates brain data needs a receiver to download it. A distributed brain is as unlikely to have a central receiver as it is to have a central processing unit. Data encoded by a field instead of by processing still needs a receiver to decode and download it (Pockett, 2014).

On the other hand, if the conscious observer is in the field, it must be physical as both Pockett and McFadden assume the electromagnetic field creating consciousness is physical:

“… matter is not the only kind of physical entity. Electromagnetism is also an undeniable part of the physical world.” (Pockett, 2017)


“… consciousness is rooted in an entirely physical, measurable and artificially malleable physical structure and is amenable to experimental testing.” (McFadden, 2020)p11.

But by what possible means could a physical thing observe? A physical event can be observed but there is no evidence for or mechanism that allows an event to observe.

It is accepted in physics that electromagnetic waves aren’t physical because they travel in a non-physical vacuum medium, which a physical wave can’t do. Also, light waves vibrate in an imaginary plane outside physical space and can superpose, entangle and collapse in physically impossible ways. That light is measurable by its physical results doesn’t alter this. Just as quantum theory is measurable but quantum reality isn’t physical, electromagnetic fields are measurable but aren’t physical. If they were, no observer would be possible.