Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Consciousness. Surely it IS the big question?


Neuroscientist Colin Blakemore talks to Jim Al-Khalili about his life and work in ‘The Life Scientific’ on Radio 4 (Link to audio file.)

It focuses a lot on animal experimentation, but I was intrigued by Blakemore suggesting that consciousness may not be the biggest question.

(5:45 minutes in)
Al-Khalili: Would you agree that maybe the biggest question of all is what is consciousness? Is the brain just a complex computer in our heads, can you really say that… the most profound thoughts or feelings are down to biochemistry? 

Blakemore: Mmm, err, well I mean consciousness looks likes, feels like, smells like, something really important and intriguing and interesting… feels as though it must be really important as a phenomenon.  I would say we are not even sure of that.  We don’t know what it is, we don’t know what it does, so we don’t know whether it is a hard problem or an easy problem really to solve, or even a relevant problem. Is it as important as knowing about what nerve cells are connected to what in the brain? Do we really need to know about consciousness in order to explain how brains work, that is a very hot issue. I think probably you are right consciousness is a big question but there isn’t a general agreement on that
Seems a bit evasive to me. Maybe it is not a problem neuroscience can address. Maybe even we don't need to know about consciousness in order to explain how brains work, but surely it is the Big Question (or part of it, anyway), as I suggested before.

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