The cognitive science revolution of the past two decades has given us the technology to see what is happening in the human brain in real time and the philosophy to interpret it.
It's an exciting time to be studying human nature. Daniel Dennett is a philosopher who takes a reductionist approach to understanding human consciousness, arguing that it is not an impenetrable mystery, and that the same methodology used in other areas can be applied to Big Questions such as How does thought arise from matter? "For as long as I can remember, I’ve been puzzling about how consciousness could work," he recalls. "What can be going on in between one’s ears that could explain all of the things that happen?" If we break down the hard problem of neuroscience, we can begin to build up a sense of all the things that need to go on for us to be conscious, says Dennett.
Philosopher Alva Noe, on the other hand, believes that consciousness is not something that occurs "between one's ears." In fact, it is not an internal thing at all. According to one Noe, one's sense of self does not arise solely from cellular and neurological interactions in the brain, but rather, from a complex composite of experience, time, and presence.