Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Biological Naturalism

Promoted by John Searle, biological naturalism states that consciousness is a higher level function of the brain's physical capabilities. The neurophysiological processes in the brain cause mental phenomena, which are also a feature of the brain. However, such features as consciousness are not reducible to neurophysiological systems. Not all brains produce this higher level functioning, and there are many questions still open in biological naturalism, which Searle himself points out. For example: how does neurophysiology account for the range of mental phenomena? how does consciousness come about? how advanced does a neurophysiological system have to be to produce consciousness?

Biological naturalism might also be viewed as a specific example of emergence (Holland, 1998): that is, consciousness could be argued to emerge from the biological operations of the brain, but cannot be reduced to these operations.


  1. Holland, J. H. (1998). Emergence. Reading, MA: Perseus Books
  2. Searle, J. (1994). The Rediscovery of the Mind. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

(Revised December 2009)