New evidence that the self is a mental construct

What does it say about the reality of the outside world if we can be fooled even about the state and composition of parts of our own bodies? And what does it say about the reality of our sense of self if we can’t trust our senses even when they report our apparent body states?

More evidence that the world, including us, is a construct, a mental representation of an otherwise un-experienced world “out there,” crops up in reports of a new study that fools subjects into believing that they have a phantom limb.
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To understand consciousness, look at a rainbow?

There’s been a lot written here about consciousness lately. And there’s been much, much more in the popular science press.

For example, the April 20th issue of New Scientist contains an article titled “We’re Closing in on Consciousness in the Brain.”

In the article, Christof Koch, a colleague of Francis Crick in devising the idea that there are “neuronal correlates of consciousness” (NCC), claims that NCC are “the minimal neuronal mechanisms – the synapses, neurons and brain regions – that are jointly sufficient for any one conscious percept.”

You’ll notice that this claim makes no reference to the rest of the body, much less to the rest of the world outside the brain. This is the prototypical “the mind is the brain” conception.

And, according to robotics expert Riccardo Manzotti, it’s completely wrong.
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Language v. Science

A reference to Max Bennett and Peter Hacker in one of the articles I reviewed last time prompted me to read more.

Now that I’ve finished Neuroscience and Philosophy, I’m compelled to write just one more article about the assaults on neuroscience mounted by philosophers and the like. This is the last one of these for a while. I promise.

Neuroscience and Philosophy (N&P, hereafter) is the book form of a conference debate between Max Bennett and Peter Hacker, on one side, and Daniel Dennett and John Searle, on the other.

The essence of the dispute: Is it right to say that consciousness happens in the brain, that the brain thinks and feels? For language philosopher Hacker and neuroscientist Bennett, the answer is an unqualified “No.” For Dennett and Searle, it’s a qualified “Yes.”

N&P is not new, having been published in 2003, but it’s new to me, and, like the “brave new world” of Miranda, it’s full of strange creatures. Continue reading

Proposing an extremely embedded mind

A number of recent posts have focused on the origins and nature of consciousness. These articles have more or less favoured or disfavoured various degrees of reductionism.

We’ve seen one extreme, Markram’s proposal to generate a computer model of our entire knowledge of how the human brain functions. It seems only fair to take a look at the other end of the continuum. So today’s piece features a social science view that aims to smash once and for all the world-brain barrier.

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Solos and choruses, swordfights and death scenes

In a recent series of articles, I’ve tried with limited success to explain the conception of consciousness that seems to me to be the most reasonable. Some common metaphors come easily to mind, but they’re not really satisfactory.

The brain may be a processor, but mere processing is not consciousness, or this netbook would be asking for a coffee break about now. And a flowing stream is more unidirectional than it should be.

So I’ve been looking for a different conceptualization. While I was listening to music the other day, a very different metaphor came to mind, one that comes much closer to what all the research suggests is going on. I’m not claiming that it’s a point for point analogy, but even that could maybe be accomplished, with a little fudging and a lot of indulgence. Continue reading