Live from World Sci Fest: “The Whispering Mind” (8:00-9:30pm EDT, Thursday 5/30)

It’s an old question:  what is consciousness?  Today, sophisticated brain imaging technologies, clinical studies, as well as the newfound ability to listen to the whisper of even an individual nerve cell, are bringing scientists closer than ever to the neurobiological basis of consciousness.  Join some of the world’s leading researchers who are primed to determine if Homo sapiens are the only conscious species, if consciousness lives only within our brain or also outside of it, and ultimately, the fundamental biochemical processes underlying the life of the mind.


  1. This was fun conversation to watch, and I enjoyed how Colin got Christof to admit that he’s a panpsychist. A couple of things bothered me though.

    Colin’s argument that Newtonian science leaves gravity a mystery seems rebutted by the fact that Einstein gave us a way to make it intelligible, and now with the discovery of the Higgs boson we have a way to understand it in terms of our standard particle physics (never mind how gravity gets incorporated into quantum theory). Besides which even if we can’t understand these issues because of a fundamental cognitive limit, that doesn’t show that some idealized version of creatures like us couldn’t. And with the use of computers it doesn’t seem impossible that we could eventually come to approximate such idealized agents. So I am hopeful that the methods we use (deduction, scientific method, etc) will ultimately give us answers to the mysteries. Or at least I don’t see much reason to despair.

    Also Christof’s “Jennifer Aniston neurons’ have always bothered me. Finding just one neuron that fires to Jennifer Aniston does not show that the single neuron represents Aniston, it may be the case that the neuron is part of an ensemble of neurons that fire whenever her face is presented (that would be just as weird).

  2. Also, it was nice to see Christof defend vegetarianism but I do wonder if there is a tension between his claim that broccoli isn’t sentient and his endorsement of panspyschism. It is true that there is less integrated information in the broccoli but there is some isn’t there? And so there is some kind of consciousness there on that view. Is the idea, then, that there isn’t enough to worry about? I wonder what panpsychists think about this issue in general?

    • I agree with Richard. Christof Koch contradicts himself on the master of broccoli and panpsychism. Also, it seems to me that integrated information theory offers no scientifically useful explanation of consciousness when it claims that everything is conscious.

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