Neuroontology, neurobiological naturalism, and consciousness: A challenge to scientific reduction and a solution

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


One of the great challenges to a science of consciousness is the inability to reduce critical features of consciousness to neural processes. In this paper I identify four neuroontologically irreducible features (NOIF) - referral of neural states, mental unity, qualia, and mental causation - defined as aspects of consciousness in which subjective experience is not wholly reducible to objectively observed or objectively understood neurons (ontological subjectivity). I next analyze the emergent and unique system properties of the neural hierarchy and argue that while the NOIF are indeed ontologically subjective, each of the NOIF individually can be explained by the unique architecture and functional properties of the neural hierarchy that lead to both emergent properties and their irreducibility in a manner that does not violate any known physical laws nor require any new physics or the application of physics to emergence or reduction beyond that normally applied to biology in general. I conclude that consciousness is a neurobiologically unique and local phenomenon that is specific to particular neural systems, a view that is consistent with both ontological subjectivity and biological naturalism. I call this position weakly emergent nonreductive physicalism or neurobiological naturalism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-34
Number of pages22
JournalPhysics of Life Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Consciousness
  • Emergence
  • Nested neural hierarchies
  • Neurobiological naturalism
  • Neuroontology
  • Reductionism


Dive into the research topics of 'Neuroontology, neurobiological naturalism, and consciousness: A challenge to scientific reduction and a solution'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this