Decapitating Consciousness
Robert Epstein

I think the philosophers still have an interesting question to puzzle over in thinking about what it means to observe (is this just a neural (or neuro-glial) conglomeration that can reflect processed sense data in a way that allows for further processing divorced from the original sense data (eg the thalmus), or is it something else? How does the interaction of this center of consciousness with the other parts of the brain ‘create’ the observer? As another commenter points out an industrial controller has all the properties of conscious Harry described), but the grander point alluded to is that questions about what consciousness IS has obscured a much more interesting yet prosaic scientific debate about what it’s FOR, at least in popular imagination. As Darwin’s work on emotions suggest, it’s intuitive to think it evolved as a mechanism to coordinate the increasing mess of inherited perceptual-motor reactions from our evolutionary history so the organism’s multiple goal-pursuit isn’t scrambled. Answering these more scientific questions well will probably yield insights into deeper questions about the nature of the observer, which remains deep and mysterious (just saying Harry or Sally can observe because you can ask them to verify that they do doesn’t tell us what observation is, or if it even exists). If people like Max Tegmark are moved to posit consciousness for mathematical objects, it’s likely that it’s still deep and mysterious (that is to say, hard to answer or even formulate a question about, realms best left to philosophers).

For the purposes of psychologists and other scientific non-philosophers, we can contain ourselves to Susan Greenfield and other’s definition of consciousness — it’s that thing we gain when we wake and lose when we go to sleep. That doesn’t mean that the philosophers don’t have deeper questions about it to ponder, eg can we really verify or know that it exists?

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