We've Been Looking for Consciousness in the Wrong Place
One of the problems in the contemporary neuro-scientific study of consciousness is really a basic fundamental one, which is that we’ve been looking for consciousness in the wrong place. We’ve been looking for it inside of us. That’s a profound mistake. It’s a little bit like trying to find the dancing in the musculature of the dancer or trying to find the value of money in the chemical composition of the dollar bill. It’s the wrong kind of place to look.
The idea that I've had in my work is that instead of thinking about consciousness as something that happens in us or to us in our brains or anywhere else, why don’t we try to think of consciousness as something that we do or enact or perform in our dynamic involvement with the world around us.
There are some unquestioned assumptions that are motivating the neuro-scientific study of consciousness and I think nothing encapsulates that more than the idea that you see all over the literature in this field, which is that you are your brain. You, your personality, your emotions, your memories, your feelings are nothing but the action of your brain cells together with their associated molecules.
In fact, these words are almost an exact quotation of something that Francis Crick wrote in a book toward the end of his life called The Astonishing Hypothesis. Crick claimed that it was precisely this idea that you are really nothing but your brain. That is the astonishing hypothesis that has sort of come forward out of contemporary neuroscience. He said that idea is so strange to the way most people think today about themselves that it can truly be called astonishing. But the thing I argue in my book is that actually the striking thing about that idea is it’s not astonishing at all. The idea that consciousness is inside us, that there is a thing inside of us that thinks and feels and that you are that thing is an old idea.
In the olden days the older generation of philosophers and scientists couldn’t conceive how that thing inside of you that thinks and feels and is conscious could be your brain. They couldn’t understand, couldn’t even imagine how mere stuff, mere meat could do that. And so the contemporary scientists say it’s the brain that’s the thing inside of you that does all that. It’s not the soul, the immaterial spirit. But the truth of the matter is we don’t have any better idea today how the brain accomplishes what the spirit was supposed to accomplish. Sorry. We don’t have a better idea today how the brain does that than Descartes had how immaterial soul stuff does that.
So when I say that the contemporary approach to neuroscience is resting on unquestioned assumptions, I primarily have in mind the idea that consciousness is something that happens inside of you. Look, if I said to you here is a dollar bill, let’s look at it and try to discover its value you’d say that’s crazy because the value isn’t in the dollar bill. Where is it? That’s an interesting question. And then if you came to me and said "Look, I've got the best electron microscope in the world, let’s really study that dollar and try to find its value." No, you’re looking for the value in the wrong place. And the idea I have is that the neuroscience of consciousness has been making that kind of mistake in assumption about where to look for an understanding of what consciousness is and how it happens, how it arises.
Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.
- Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
- Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
- "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Learn how to redesign your job for maximum reward.
- Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
- There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
- "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.
- The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
- The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
- While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.
PAUL RATJE / Contributor
- This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
- UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
- TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.