Jul 5, 2020
The smell of coffee, the taste of asparagus, the warmth of a hug, and the agony of death: conscious experience makes up the fabric of our world, yet many consider it to be the most intractable mystery in philosophy and science. What is it like to undergo experience? What is the function of consciousness? Where does consciousness occur? What are the contents of this experience? Is our stream of consciousness unified?
The hardest problem of all, might be the origin of consciousness itself: how, why, or are we, subjects of experience? In one sense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise - after all, in the words of physicist Michio Kaku, ‘Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe; 100 billion neurons, each connected to 10,000 others’. However, for many, the brain doesn’t seem like the right type of thing to give rise to consciousness. How can soggy grey matter feel like anything? As McGinn put it, you might as well believe that numbers emerge from biscuits or ethics from rhubarb!
Challenging our understanding of consciousness and reframing the mystery is psychologist and author, Visiting Professor at Plymouth University, Dr Susan Blackmore. Best known for her books The Meme Machine, Zen and the Art of Consciousness, Consciousness: An Introduction, and Seeing Myself, Susan’s work spans across hundreds of publications in over 20 different languages, making huge contributions in the fields of psychology, memetics, religion, philosophy of mind, supernatural experience, and many other areas. It is no surprise to find her ranked amongst 2013’s 30 Most Influential Psychologists Working Today and 2015’s Top 100 Global Minds.
It’s time to smell the coffee, and reflect on your experience, to see the dark with the light on: what is the nature of consciousness?
Part I. Mystery and Illusion
Part II. Further Analysis and Discussion