Talking about Consciousness

Daniel Dennett: The Hard Question of Consciousness ; David Chalmers: How do you explain consciousness? ; Christof Koch: The Search for Consciousness ; Antonio Damasio: The quest to understand consciousness ; Sir Roger Penrose — The quantum nature of consciousness ; Max Tegmark: Consciousness is a mathematical pattern ; Nicholas Humphrey: The Magic of Consciousness

Daniel Dennett: The Hard Question of Consciousness

Daniel C. Dennett, Co-Director
Center for Cognitive Studies
University Professor
Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy

Daniel C. Dennett, the author of Breaking the Spell (Viking, 2006),Freedom Evolves (Viking Penguin, 2003) and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (Simon & Schuster, 1995), is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.

His first book, Content and Consciousness, appeared in 1969, followed by Brainstorms (1978),Elbow Room (1984), The Intentional Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1991), Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), Kinds of Minds (1996), and Brainchildren: A Collection of Essays 1984-1996 (MIT Press and Penguin, 1998). Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, was published in 2005 by MIT Press. He co-edited The Mind’s I with Douglas Hofstadter in 1981. He is the author of over four hundred scholarly articles on various aspects on the mind, published in journals ranging from Artificial Intelligence and Behavioral and Brain Sciences to Poetics Today and The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. His most recent books are Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking (Norton, 2013) and, with Linda LaScola, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (, 2013).

He gave the John Locke Lectures at Oxford in 1983, the Gavin David Young Lectures at Adelaide, Australia, in 1985, and the Tanner Lecture at Michigan in 1986, among many others. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987.


David Chalmers: How do you explain consciousness?

Our consciousness is a fundamental aspect of our existence, says philosopher David Chalmers: “There’s nothing we know about more directly…. but at the same time it’s the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe.” He shares some ways to think about the movie playing in our heads.

David Chalmers is a philosopher of mind whose characterization of consciousness as “the hard problem” has set a very high bar for understanding the mind. He says that “the problem of quantum mechanics is almost as hard as the problem of consciousness.” In his seminal book, The Conscious Mind, he analyzes the mind-body problem in terms of that elusive relationship between the physical brain and conscious events.

He describes his position as a naturalistic dualism. He doubts that consciousness can be explained by physical theories, because consciousness is itself not physical. We agree, because all experiences are recorded and reproduced as immaterial information – in both conscious and unconscious playback. But information, while not material, is embodied in the physical. It is a property of the material world.

In recent years, he has explored panpsychism, the thesis that some fundamental entities have mental states. Thomas Nagel and Galen Strawson have also examined panpsychism. Since information is a universal property of matter, it “goes all the way down,” so the basis of mentality – information – is present in the simplest physical structures.

David John Chalmers is an Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist specializing in the area of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University. He is also Professor of Philosophy at New York University. In 2013, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.


Christof Koch: The Search for Consciousness

Allen Institute for Brain Science – at ZURICH.MINDS

Christof Koch from the Allen Institute for Brain Science explains his search for Consciousness. What is Consciousness? Where is it located?

Talk delivered at the ZURICH.MINDS Annual Symposium 2014. Symposium curated by Rolf Dobelli.

Christof Koch joined the Allen Institute as Chief Scientific Officer in 2011. For the past 25 years, he has served on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), from his initial appointment as Assistant Professor, Division of Biology and Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 1986, to his most recent position as Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive & Behavioral Biology. Previously, he spent four years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Koch has published extensively, and his writings and interests integrate theoretical, computational and experimental neuroscience. His most recent book, Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist, blends science and memoir to explore topics in discovering the roots of consciousness.


Antonio Damasio: The quest to understand consciousness

Every morning we wake up and regain consciousness — that is a marvelous fact — but what exactly is it that we regain? Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio uses this simple question to give us a glimpse into how our brains create our sense of self.

Antonio Damasio is a leader in understanding the biological origin of consciousness. He also argues that emotions, far from being barriers to it, are a crucial component of decision-making. He is founder and director of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute, which draws on partners across academic disciplines to use the explosion of new neuroscience results to tackle issues from mental health to societal and global change.

He is the author of Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, which was adapted into a musical composition performed by Yo-Yo Ma at the American Museum of Natural History.


Sir Roger Penrose — The quantum nature of consciousness

Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS, is an English mathematical physicist, mathematician and philosopher.

The extraordinary scope of his work ranges from quantum physics and theories of human consciousness to relativity theory and observations on the structure of the universe. Penrose is internationally renowned for his scientific work in mathematical physics, in particular for his contributions to general relativity and cosmology. His primary interest is in a field of geometry called tesselation, the covering of surfaces with tiles of different shapes.

Among numerous prizes and awards, he received the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics, which he shared with Stephen Hawking for their contribution to our understanding of the universe.

He is the Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford, as well as an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College.

There is a current view that consciousness is something which arises from some complicated computation. So we have our computers, and people think that because they can do things amazingly fast, and they can calculate very quickly, and they can play chess extremely well, that they are superior to us even, and it is only some complicated aspect of this computational activity that somehow consciousness arises from that. Now my view is quite different from this. I think there is a lot of computational activity going on in the brain, but this is basically unconscious. So consciousness seems to me to be something quite different.”


Max Tegmark: Consciousness is a mathematical pattern

As a physicist, Max Tegmark sees people as “food, rearranged.” That makes his answer to complicated questions like “What is consciousness?” simple: It’s just math. Why? Because it’s the patterns, not the particles, that matter.

Learn more about Max Tegmark at… and TEDxCambridge at


Nicholas Humphrey: The Magic of Consciousness

Is consciousness real? Could it be just an illusion manufactured in the theatre of our minds? And what use is it – why did it evolve in the first place?

Consciousness is at the core of our very existence. An intangible constant that underpins our experience of the world. But for centuries it has been the frustrating source of a seemingly impenetrable explanatory gap – it is largely a scientific mystery.

As we interact with the world, stimuli trigger physical processes in our body. Nerve cells transmit messages around the body and through the brain. But how do these physical interactions give rise to the conscious sensations we experience? Can we get conscious sensation from nerve cells alone?

In this video theoretical psychologist Professor Nicholas Humphrey asks whether consciousness could all be an illusion. Could it be a mirage constructed in the theatre of our minds? Perhaps the questions we should ask are not centred on sensations themselves, but merely on the appearance of those sensations.

And why does consciousness, in any form, exist at all? How did it evolve? The answer might lie in our social interactions. Consciousness elevates our interpretation of the world and the people around us. It alters our psychological profile and breathes joy into our experiences, and makes us value life itself.

Learn more about Nicholas Humphrey at

Get the Full Experience
Read the rest of this article, and view all articles in full from just £10 for 3 months.

Subscribe Today

, , , , , ,

No comments yet.

You must be a subscriber and logged in to leave a comment. Users of a Site License are unable to comment.

Log in Now | Subscribe Today