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The Puzzle of Consciousness

Saturday, February 6, 2016 5:19
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by Steve Taylor, Ph.D.
Psychology Today

Consciousness may be more than just brain activity

Over the latest 20 years ago, the field of consciousness studies has become increasingly popular, partly because some scientists believe that consciousness is one of the last remaining mysteries. According to this narrative, we have now reached the point where we largely understand problems like evolution, the nature of life and the origins of the universe, so now it’s time for us to turn our attention inside and solve the problem of consciousness.

Consciousness is difficult to define, partly because it’s us. But most definitions of consciousness include two elements: our subjective experience (that is our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations – or qualia as they are sometimes collectively called), and our awareness of the world around us and the phenomena and processes which take place in it. When scientists began to investigate consciousness, most were confident that it wouldn’t be too long before the mystery would be solved. They believed that brain-scanning technologies would enable us to see how billions of the brain’s neurons work together to produce our subjective experience. However, despite more than two decades of intensive research and theorising, very title (if any) progress has been made. Originally neuroscientists thought that consciousness would be located in a specific area of the brain, then tentatively suggested that in some way it seems to emanate from the brain as a whole. However, no one has any idea how this might occur.


It might seem natural to assume that consciousness is produced by the brain – as a scientist once said to me, ‘We don’t have anywhere else to look. If consciousness doesn’t come from the brain, where else could it possibly come from?’ However, this argument is strikingly similar to the arguments which were once commonly used to support the existence of God – “There’s no other way of explaining it, so it must be God!”
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