We not only exist, but we are also conscious. This consciousness seems utterly basic: we cannot get “behind” it, and it is our entire mode of access to the world of experience. We seem to share consciousness with at least some other animals, but not with plants or nonliving things. Moreover, human consciousness seems to be of a different order than animal consciousness. For instance, consider the way that we experience music. From the materialist point of view, music is nothing but vibrations that collide with eardrums and provoke neural reactions in the brain. But we experience music in an entirely different way. Even our most mundane thoughts and experiences seem inexplicable when described in terms of physical and chemical transactions alone. A doctor, for example, may know more about my cerebral cortex than I do, but of my inner thoughts he knows nothing, and he will never be able to see or weigh or touch them, no matter how good his instruments.

In an earlier chapter on evolution we saw that there is no good scientific or Darwinian account of consciousness. The best that cognitive scientists like Steven Pinker can offer is promissory materialism: we believe consciousness is an epiphenomenon of material reality, but we’ll explain later how atoms and molecules can produce something as radical and original as subjective consciousness. But an explanation yet to come is no explanation at all. Until it arrives it makes far more sense to take consciousness for the irreducible reality we experience it as. Why let conjecture and unpaid intellectual IOUs make us abandon something as fundamental as our self-awareness? Why accept the mental as a projection of the physical when, as far as we are concerned, it is our indispensable window to all the physical reality we can ever experience?