January 27th, 2009

the “grand illusion” of consciousness

This was actually touched upon in my previous entry, but I thought it deserved its own post. An excellent article from NewScientist (22 June 2002) on an approach to explaining consciousness with science:

For the proposal “It’s all an illusion” even to be worth considering, the problem has to be serious. And it is. We can’t even begin to explain consciousness. Take this magazine in front of your eyes. Right now, you are presumably having a conscious experience of seeing the paper, the words, and the pictures. The way you see the page is unique to you, and no one else can know exactly what it is like for you. This is how consciousness is defined: it is your own subjective experience.

But how do you get from a magazine composed of atoms and molecules, to your experience of seeing it? Real, physical objects and private experiences are such completely different kinds of thing. How can one be related to the other? David Chalmers, of the University of Tucson, Arizona, calls it the “Hard Problem”. How can the firing of brain cells produce subjective experience? It seems like magic; water into wine.

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