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 processing can’t integrate information as an electromagnetic field can. Nerves as Wi-Fi units 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 seems to solve 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 cause consciousness, why isn’t a toaster conscious? CEMI theory argues that the brain’s electromagnetic field encodes data like a thought that 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, and a toaster can’t do that.

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

On the other hand, if the conscious observer is the field, then does it observe itself? Pockett and McFadden also 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 in physics, light waves aren’t physical because they travel in a vacuum, which physical waves can’t do. They are also described as vibrating in an imaginary plane that is not in physical space, again impossible for a physical thing. It follows that while the electromagnetic field of light is measurable, it is not physical. Indeed, if it were, no observer would be possible because while a physical event can be observed, there is no mechanism that allows it to observe.