The universe is filled with physical phenomena that appear devoid of consciousness. From the birth of stars and planets, to the early stages of cell division in a human embryo, the structures and processes we find in Nature seem to lack an inner life. At some point in the development of certain complex organisms, however, consciousness emerges. This miracle does not depend on a change of materials—for you and I are built of the same atoms as a fern or a ham sandwich. Rather, it must be a matter of organization. Arranging atoms in a certain way appears to bring consciousness into being. And this fact is among the deepest mysteries given to us to contemplate.
Sam Harris: The Mystery of Consciousness II
There is a sense in the air that, after decades of going nowhere, the science of consciousness is on a roll. New ideas about the “global neuronal workspace”, and “integrated information in the brain” are offering possible explanations for how the brain, when conscious, is able to bring together the products of perception, memory, emotion, etc. to yield intelligent decisions.
But there’s a problem. We are getting a theory of consciousness that leaves out the essence of consciousness. Nothing in the new thinking even begins to explain the seemingly magical qualitative dimension of conscious experience: the qualia of sensation, “what it is like” to see red or feel pain.
Nicholas Humphrey: Consciousness Spirited Away.
What is the problem with consciousness? What is the relationship between consciousness and the brain? What is the function of consciousness? What does it do? What are experiences for? What is the relationship between consciousness and matter? Could a machine be conscious?
These are a few of the questions that With Consciousness in Mind (Part 1) explores, with exclusive interviews and articles from some of the world’s most renowned thinkers. In this issue philosophers, neuroscientists, scientists and artists explore the issue of consciousness.
In ‘Discussing Consciousness‘, John R Searle explores consciousness as a biological phenomenon and Patricia Churchland discusses the ‘Interface between NeuroScience and Philosophy’. Philip Goff explains how we need to radically rethink our understanding of matter in order to explain consciousness, and Paavo Pylkkänen discusses ‘Mind, Matter and Bohmian quantum information‘.
How does our brain generate a conscious thought? And why does so much of our knowledge remain unconscious? In an extract from his latest book, Stanislas Dehaene, describes the pioneering work he and other cognitive neuroscientists worldwide have accomplished in defining, testing, and explaining the brain events behind a conscious state.
The very notion of consciousness and it’s relationship to the brain has been a rich source of inspiration to a number of contemporary artists. In ‘Art and the Brain‘, Julia Buntaine discusses her interest in neuroscience and the interactions between art and science. Lisa Park is multidisciplinary artist who experiments with biosensors (brainwave, heart-rate monitoring devices) to provide a vehicle for manifesting her inner states in Eunoia – beautiful thoughts. Artist and ceramicist, Hans Borgonjon, draws his inspiration for ‘Microtubuli X4’ from such scientists/philosophers as David Chalmers, Stuart Hammeroff and Roger Penrose.
Further discussions on consciousness are explored in the magazine blog, ‘Talking about Consciousness’, featuring 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 and Nicholas Humphrey: The Magic of Consciousness.
And in Generation Next, young adults respond to the questions ‘Why is it so difficult to understand consciousness?’ and ‘What can be done to understand it better?’
‘With Consciousness in Mind’ will continue with Part 2 (May 2015) with contributions from Max Velmans, Raymond Tallis, Iain McGilchrist,B. Alan Wallace, Susan Aldworth, Garry Kennard and Marilyn Schlitz, among others.