QR6.3.6 Field Theories of Consciousness

If the brain is a network of oscillators, a nerve is more like a Wi-Fi device than a transistor chip. Brain areas aren’t just wired together, they resonate together, suggesting 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.

This doesn’t mean the brain isn’t an information processor. Its nerves identify lines in a picture, so a some 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.

McFadden argues that data processing can’t integrate information but an electromagnetic field can. Nerves affect the brain’s electromagnetic field like pebbles dropped on a pond, to spread ripples that interfere or combine into one result. That the mind is in the field solves the mind-body problem at a stroke, as then 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 are conscious, why isn’t a toaster conscious? CEMI theory argues that when the brain’s electromagnetic field encodes data, like a thought, it is consciousness. We download data from the brain’s electromagnetic field as we download songs from a Wi-Fi field, and a toaster can’t do that.

However, the field can’t be both the observer and the data observed. If the data is in the field, then the brain needs a receiver to download it, just as a smartphone is needed to download songs from a Wi-Fi field. Data encoded by a field needs a receiver to download and decode it (Pockett, 2014), but the brain doesn’t have a central receiver, just as it doesn’t have a central processing unit.

On the other hand, if the observer is in the field, then what is it observing? It can’t observe itself, as observer and observed can’t be the same entity.

Pockett and McFadden also both assume that the brain’s electromagnetic field 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.

    Yet light waves aren’t physical because they travel in a vacuum, which physical waves can’t do. And they vibrate in an imaginary plane that is outside physical space, which a physical wave also can’t do. The electromagnetic field of light is measurable, but it isn’t physical. Indeed, if it were, no observer would be possible because one physical event can’t observe another. Given these inconsistencies, another explanation for the relation between brain waves and consciousness is needed.