The Meaning of Life: It Could Be Just a Quirk—or Quark—of Consciousness

Is science destined to crack the code of consciousness—and how would we even go about it?

In the centuries since Galileo proved heliocentrism, science has gradually come to understand more and more of our universe's natural phenomena: gravity, quantum mechanics, even ripples in space-time. But the final frontier of science isn't out there, says cosmologist and MIT professor Max Tegmark, it's the world inside our heads: consciousness. It's a highly divisive issue—some scientists think it's unimportant or a question for philosophers, while others like Tegmark think that the human experience and the meaning and purpose of life would disappear if the lights of our consciousness were to go out. Ultimately, Tegmark thinks we can understand consciousness scientifically by finding the pattern of matter from which consciousness springs. What is the difference between your brain and the food you feed it? It's all quarks, says Tegmark, the difference is the pattern they're arranged into. So how can we develop a theory of consciousness? Can we build a consciousness detector? And can we really understand what we are without unlocking humanity's greatest mystery? Tegmark muses on all of this above. Max's latest book is Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Mind & Brain

On the Origins of Genius: How Human Consciousness Evolved

The human mind is like a Turing machine, says Daniel Dennett. It's made up of unthinking cogs – but when combined in the right order, their motion gives rise to consciousness.

Daniel Dennett has been mulling consciousness over for the last 50 years, and he’s ended up where we began: evolution. When this theory was proposed by Darwin, it inverted everything people at the time held to be true – it revealed that we were not created by intelligent design, but rather we evolved into intelligent designers ourselves. The process of evolution worked mindlessly, producing better and better human prototypes, crafting ever-more complex brains until that rhythmic, algorithmic, repetition birthed consciousness. This is what Dennett refers to as ‘competence without comprehension’. Daniel Dennett's most recent book is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds.

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