I’m trying to concentrate on writing this piece, but my two grandchildren in the room next door have stopped making paper aeroplanes and started arguing. ‘You kicked me,’ yells Freya. Her brother Ben insists it was an accident. ‘I didn’t mean to,’ he cries.Continue reading
The phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” seems especially true for scientists. What we study becomes not only intellectually beautiful, but also literally beautiful: the form is pleasing to the eyes. Appreciation and endearment develops over time as scientists gaze on their subject for hours, days, years. In fact, research by the psychologist Robert Zajonc shows that the more familiar you are with something, the more likely you are to enjoy it.
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
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
What are brain waves? It’s no wonder the term sounds like science fiction. In the 1920s, a German psychiatrist embarked on a highly personal quest to discover the supposed medium of telepathy. By placing electrodes on the human scalp, Hans Berger found waves of electrical brain activity using a tool called electroencephalography, or EEG. Physicists had recently shown that electromagnetic waves could propagate through space to carry information. If the brain had its own waves, could they transmit thoughts to others like a radio broadcast?Continue reading
Have you ever wondered why the same brain regions are often implicated again and again in many tasks and behaviors? For instance, the prefrontal cortex is implicated in so many cognitive tasks that citing its involvement, per se, is hardly more illuminating or meaningful than throwing up one’s hands and saying, “It happened in the brain!” 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