The Matrix made all of us ask the same disturbing questions: How do I know that the world I see, hear, and touch is real? Can I prove that I’m not actually in a pod created by machines bent on harvesting my bioelectricity?Continue reading
Is consciousness everywhere? Is it a basic feature of the Universe, at the very heart of the tiniest subatomic particles? Such an idea – panpsychism as it is known – might sound like New Age mysticism, but some hard-nosed analytic philosophers have suggested it might be how things are, and it’s now a hot topic in philosophy of mind.
Common sense tells us that only living things have an inner life. Rabbits and tigers and mice have feelings, sensations and experiences; tables and rocks and molecules do not. Panpsychists deny this datum of common sense. According to panpsychism, the smallest bits of matter – things such as electrons and quarks – have very basic kinds of experience; an electron has an inner life.Continue reading
Let’s imagine something crazy.
What if each person in China was ordered to simulate a neuron in a brain, making an enormous “China brain?” Every participant in this grand experiment would be given a two-way radio to communicate with other people, similar to how neurons talk to each other. Some people play the role of “effector neurons,” which control parts of a giant robot, just as motor neurons in our nervous system control bodily movements.
Basically, imagine that the entire nation of China became a giant robot’s brain. What might happen?
Given its subjective nature, consciousness is already a controversial topic in the world of brain science. While some neuroscientists doubt that consciousness can even be studied, others still endeavor towards identifying parts of the brain that support subjective awareness. At a gathering of neuroscientists February 15 in Bethesda, Maryland, an announcement has thrust the quest to understand consciousness into the spotlight once again. A team of neuroscientists lead by Christof Koch has identified neurons in a relatively obscure brain region known as the claustrum that send fibers far throughout the entire cerebral cortex, well beyond where they are expected to project. One neuron shown in the presentation engulfed the brain like a “crown of thorns” with its colossal fibers. According to Nature News, “Koch sees this as evidence that the claustrum could be coordinating inputs and outputs across the brain to create consciousness.”
The minds of individuals are like parallel universes, forever inaccessible to one another. Never do we truly see through the eyes of another person. It is common for us to wonder if other people experience the world in the same way we do. Is your green my red? Is my yellow your blue?Continue reading
“A barber (who is a man) shaves all and only those men who do not shave themselves. Does he shave himself?”
If you can’t solve the above riddle, don’t worry — nobody can. Continue reading
Each night, you place your head on your pillow, close your eyes, and, barring insomnia, you lose consciousness of the world around you, drifting into blissful oblivion. Eventually, you reawaken, only to hallucinate in a paralyzed body. These hallucinations are called dreams. Why do dreams happen, and what function do they serve? Although these are simple questions, the purpose of dreaming (and to a large extent, sleep itself) is far from understood.Continue reading
Some questions cannot be addressed by science. Like parallel universes, the consciousness of others is not something that can be directly observed, measured, or experienced. Rene Descartes famously said,
“I think, therefore I am.“
a declaration that only knowledge of one’s own consciousness is absolute. You assume that friends and neighbors have subjective, internal experiences similar to your own. And yet, you will never know that these individuals are not mindless automatons, behaving in a manner similar to yourself yet lacking conscious experience.Continue reading