Consciousness is an unusual phenomenon to study scientifically. It is defined as a subjective, first-person phenomenon, and science is an objective, third-person endeavor. This misalignment between the means-science-and the end-explaining consciousness-gave rise to what has become a productive workaround: the search for 'neural correlates of consciousness' (NCCs). Science can sidestep trying to explain consciousness and instead focus on characterizing the kind(s) of neural activity that are reliably correlated with consciousness. However, while we have learned a lot about consciousness in the bargain, the NCC approach was not originally intended as the foundation for a true explanation of consciousness. Indeed, it was proposed precisely to sidestep the, arguably futile, attempt to find one. So how can an account, couched in terms of neural correlates, do the work that a theory is supposed to do: explain consciousness The answer is that it cannot, and in fact most modern accounts of consciousness do not pretend to. Thus, here, we challenge whether or not any modern accounts of consciousness are in fact theories at all. Instead we argue that they are (competing) laws of consciousness. They describe what they cannot explain, just as Newton described gravity long before a true explanation was ever offered. We lay out our argument using a variety of modern accounts as examples and go on to argue that at least one modern account of consciousness, attention schema theory, goes beyond describing consciousness-related brain activity and qualifies as an explanatory theory.
Contrary to the books title, I still have no idea how consciousness really works. But I now have a lot less trouble accepting that in principle it could be explained in terms of simpler components such as neurons or other biological machinery. It has slowly inched from the realm of eternal mystery towards that of a wonderfully complicated scientific problem.
Perhaps more relevant is our understanding of life. We still do not understand life well enough to produce a living organism from scratch and there is still a debate as to how life should be defined. But there are no longer many vitalists arguing that there is some fundamental aspect of life that can never be explained in terms of the biochemistry of molecules such as DNA and proteins.
But when it comes to consciousness, it is hard to accept that it could ever emerge from the mindless interactions of simple components. And even when we do try to embrace that perspective, we end up getting tangled up in various paradoxes and never ending philosophical arguments. Why do the principles that we so readily apply to other unimaginably complex systems fail to satisfy us when applied to consciousness
The reason, according to Dennett, is that our intimate familiarity with consciousness produces strong intuitions which directly contradict the reductionism described above. The paradoxes and confusion that we encounter while thinking about consciousness are the result of simultaneously entertaining mutually contradictory ideas. A major contribution of Consciousness Explained is to pinpoint the precise intuition that is at odds with reductionism. Once it is out in the open, we will proceed to investigate some of our common conscious experiences and demonstrate that this intuition is not as obvious as it appears.
This intuitive notion of consciousness is clearly at odds with reductionism and few people today would argue that it is literally true. For starters, there is the issue of infinite regress which comes up when you try to explain the Cartesian Theater itself. If the theater is simply composed of atoms then nothing is gained by assuming its existence. But if it cannot be explained in terms of simpler components then we must ultimately choose between the theater being either a single atom or some exotic form of matter than has never been detected, neither of which are particularly compelling.
In the remaining chapters we will build our intuition for the Multiple Drafts model by inspecting some common everyday experiences. In the process of doing so we will shed light on some of the paradoxes and mysteries which typically occur in the study of consciousness.
In summary, many aspects of our learning experience are not easy to reconcile with the strict turnstile of consciousness imposed by the Cartesian Theater. How about the Multiple Drafts model In this model, we become aware of sensory input if that input triggers a self sustaining pattern of mental activity. The strength and duration of the pattern determines our awareness level. When we learn a new skill, we create connections and frameworks in the brain that make it easier for certain patterns to persist.
The philosophical notion of qualia frequently comes up in the context of understanding consciousness. The idea is that objects in the world seem to possess certain subjective qualities which can not be explained in terms of their physical attributes. A common example is the quality of the color red. Consider this beautiful red square:
Another reason for the seductive nature of the zombie argument is that we greatly oversimplify what it would take to build one. For example, it must be possible for you to collaborate with this zombie on a complex project for many years without you noticing that anything is off. Such a machine would be significantly more advanced than anything we could build today and it is premature to assume that we know anything about it at all. We certainly are not in a position to speculate about the nature of its consciousness.
I hope I have been successful at explaining why Dennett has changed the way I think about consciousness. The key realization was that the philosophical knots I used to tie myself in while thinking about the subject could be traced to my simultaneous belief in reductionism and intuition for the Cartesian Theater.
Then came the real work of shifting my intuition from the pernicious Cartesian Theater to this new model. This was done by carefully inspecting key aspects of consciousness such as speech, thought and awareness which defy simple theater theoretic interpretations.
I just finished a great book written by philosopher Daniel Dennett entitled, Consciousness Explained. The title is ambitious but not misleading, as Dennett forms a theory for how consciousness might actually happen.
According to Descartes, this mind stuff was linked to the matter stuff through the pineal gland in the brain. This was where he presumed that it all came together and consciousness happened. This place where mind meets brain is referred to as the Cartesian Theater. Since our conscious experience seems very much like watching (and participating in) a theater.
Reseach in artificial intelligence has lead to computer scientists making simple brainlike, parallel computers off of linear, digital computers. Dennett believes consciousness could be an opposite process. It is a linear, sequential machine built on top of a massively parallel structure such as the brain. This machine is the reason people have the intuitive sense of events happening in a linear fashion, even though the processing to create them is happening simultaneously in the brain.
Is consciousness just a mystery that is better left unknown Although learning more about a phenomenon strips it of some of its mystique, it adds understanding. That understanding gives us power and opens the way for new, unsolved mysteries.
Dennett compares consciousness to the user interface of a computer. The contents of our awareness, he asserts, bear the same relation to our brains that the little folders and other icons on the screen of a computer bear to its underlying circuitry and software. Our perceptions, memories and emotions are grossly simplified, cartoonish representations of hidden, hideously complex computations.
Let me nonetheless conclude by thanking Dennett. Agree with him or not, I always find him provocative and entertaining. And by forcing me to pay closer attention to my awareness, his eliminative outlook has roused me from my normal torpor. This zombie can always use a little more consciousness.
The origin and nature of these experiences, sometimes referred to as qualia, have been a mystery from the earliest days of antiquity right up to the present. Many modern analytic philosophers of mind, most prominently perhaps Daniel Dennett of Tufts University, find the existence of consciousness such an intolerable affront to what they believe should be a meaningless universe of matter and the void that they declare it to be an illusion. That is, they either deny that qualia exist or argue that they can never be meaningfully studied by science.
The majority of scholars accept consciousness as a given and seek to understand its relationship to the objective world described by science. More than a quarter of a century ago Francis Crick and I decided to set aside philosophical discussions on consciousness (which have engaged scholars since at least the time of Aristotle) and instead search for its physical footprints. What is it about a highly excitable piece of brain matter that gives rise to consciousness Once we can understand that, we hope to get closer to solving the more fundamental problem.
What happens to consciousness if parts of the cerebellum are lost to a stroke or to the surgeon's knife Very little! Cerebellar patients complain of several deficits, such as the loss of fluidity of piano playing or keyboard typing but never of losing any aspect of their consciousness. They hear, see and feel fine, retain a sense of self, recall past events and continue to project themselves into the future. Even being born without a cerebellum does not appreciably affect the conscious experience of the individual.
We can narrow down the seat of consciousness even further. Take, for example, experiments in which different stimuli are presented to the right and the left eyes. Suppose a picture of Donald Trump is visible only to your left eye and one of Hillary Clinton only to your right eye. We might imagine that you would see some weird superposition of Trump and Clinton. In reality, you will see Trump for a few seconds, after which he will disappear and Clinton will appear, after which she will go away and Trump will reappear. The two images will alternate in a never-ending dance because of what neuroscientists call binocular rivalry. Because your brain is getting an ambiguous input, it cannot decide: Is it Trump, or is it Clinton 59ce067264