Saturday, 26 February 2011

Oxford Think Week - Consiousness

A gentleman in the audience began his question with "Speaking as a geologist, your arguments are largely incomprehensible to me . . ." and I can only agree with him.

The most incomprehensible arguments came from Raymond Tallis who tried to persuade us that neuro-science will never be able to explain conciousness.  Although he was an erudite speaker, looking through my notes I find almost nothing to say except that I think I prefer Daniel Dennett's well reasoned views on the same topic.  Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" was quite challenging, but this speaker was impossible (in the nicest possible way).

The other side of the argument was presented by David Papineau.  At least I could grasp the basics of what he was talking about!  He believes that there is a chain of causation relating to consciousness.  The fact that we want to know why a certain brain activity feels as it does (e.g. the feeling that something is red) just shows that it is hard to rid ourselves of dualism (separating the mind from the brain).  He argued that there is no such separation.  Non-dualists don't even need to ask why certain brain processes give rise to conciousness.  They just are the feelings.

Now it is quite possible that I got all of that completely wrong.  Still, wearing my Fusion sweatshirt I got the chance to evangelise fusion to a bright young physicist.  The evening was not totally wasted.

1 comment:

Steve Zara said...

I think of it like this: we keep asking the wrong questions. Consciousness is not a thing that needs explaining: what needs explaining is why we have beliefs about consciousness, or to reduce things to a more basic level, why do brains say that they are conscious? That's surely a question that can be answered in principle by neuroscience.