George Johnson does a nice summary
of some current ideas on what consciousness is that were discussed at a recent symposium (live stream here
) at The New York Academy of Sciences. He notes for example Graziano's ideas that I have previously reviewed
Descartes’s notion of dualism — mind and body as separate things — has long receded from science. The challenge now is to explain how the inner world of consciousness arises from the flesh of the brain.
Michael Graziano, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, suggested to the audience that consciousness is a kind of con game the brain plays with itself. The brain is a computer that evolved to simulate the outside world. Among its internal models is a simulation of itself — a crude approximation of its own neurological processes...
The result is an illusion. Instead of neurons and synapses, we sense a ghostly presence — a self — inside the head. But it’s all just data processing...“The machine mistakenly thinks it has magic inside it,” Dr. Graziano said. And it calls the magic consciousness.
It’s not the existence of this inner voice he finds mysterious. “The phenomenon to explain,” he said, “is why the brain, as a machine, insists it has this property that is nonphysical.”
Johnson notes other ideas aired at the symposium, such as "the centuries-old doctrine of panpsychism — the idea that consciousness is universal, existing as some kind of mind stuff inside molecules and atoms."
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