MindMods Blog

PBS's Closer to Truth featuring Christof Koch, Leslie Brothers, Joseph E. Bogen & Stuart Hameroff try to answer this question. These four scientists have the same question but give four different answers.

 

Is Consciousness Definable?


One problem is that there are too many definitions! And getting these four guests to agree on what consciousness is and what causes it, is a fun but hopeless task that is revelatory at the same time. These four leading brain scientists couldn't even agree on at what level a simple "memory" was stored, whether as a gross "brain circuit," at the synapse between nerve cells, or in the microstructure of the nerve cells as some sort of quantum effect. But why should it be any different now? Philosophers have debated the "mind-body problem" and the existence of "free will" for thousands of years. However, never before have we been in a position to examine the brain with such precision. Even as we begin to understand the deep science that underlies our cognitive processes, there is no letup in arguments whether we are anything other than automata, just reacting to stimuli -- vastly more complex than a bacterium to be sure -- but fundamentally little different.


Although this spirited and highly qualified group manages to disagree on just about everything, in the midst, they give off a tremendous amount of information about the key issues involving the understanding of consciousness today: Are our "minds" just the artificial integration of multiple brain systems? Are our feelings of self, that unique personal sense of mental "qualia" (e.g., does the color "red" look the same to you as it does to me?) anything other an "epiphenomenon," seemingly real but in reality an illusion? How do firings of neurons, or ultimately vibrations of atoms, emerge up into human self-awareness? Psychiatrist/author Leslie Brothers firmly believes that there is something of the mind that is not in the brain, but it is not spirit or soul. To her, the seat of consciousness resides in the social interaction of living things between brain and brain in society. Says Brothers, without others to reflect ourselves off of, there would be no consciousness.

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Description: Closer to Truth brings together leading scientists, scholars and artists to debate the fundamental issues of our times. One problem is that there are too many definitions! And getting these four guests to agree on what consciousness is and what causes it, is a fun but hopeless task that is revelatory at the same time. Joining host Robert Kuhn are Leslie Brothers, Psychiatrist; Joseph E. Bogen, Neurosurgeon; Stuart Hameroff, Anesthesiologist; and Christof Koch, Computation and Neural Systems.

Video in Quicktime or Windows Media format here

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10:57am April 19-5:00 GMT