Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Brain Science Podcast, Episode 67: Thomas Metzinger explores Consciousness

I am a fan of Metzinger's work toward fully-embodied consciousness - great interview. He wants to get at the biggest issues in mind science - the meaning and causes of "self." Here is only a brief part of his answer to the question, "What is consciousness?"
So, the answer to your question is it is not one problem, it’s a whole bundle of problems. One is, for instance, what philosophers call the ‘unity of consciousness’—the problem of global integration. If you wake up in the morning and you become conscious, then one single world appears to you.

Why is it one? If the unity of consciousness experience gets lost, you usually have a serious psychiatric illness. It’s an achievement in its own right that we live in one world when we’re conscious—in one unified situation. This problem is so simple that most people overlook it.

Another example is what is a lived moment—this experiential fact that you are now present. There’s not only this multimodal scene—the room you’re in, the sounds you’re listening to—but there is a representation, not only of space and objects, but of time. You are located in a temporal order—there is a past and there is a future—but consciousness is always now. The ‘nowness’ of it all; that’s another problem that needs to be solved.

I’m, of course, as a philosopher, a fan of the biggest of them all. I think the most difficult problem is why is this subjective? What does that mean? It means that, as a target phenomenon for scientific research, consciousness is unique, because it is always tied to an individual first-person perspective. It is you who are experiencing all this. It is tied to a subjective point of view.

Chemical states, physical states, neurobiological states, neurocomputational states in your brain, they don’t have that property. They can be described from the outside—as philosophers say, from the third-person perspective. We can do objective science about neurocomputational properties of the conscious brain, and so forth. That’s not a principal problem.

But then there’s this mystery that they’re always someone’s experiences. And in the moment you say that, you flip from the third-person perspective into the first person perspective. We want to know what my experience actually is. And that is something we haven’t properly understood.

Science always deals with publically observable objects. But my very own sensation of brain, or my very own feeling of happiness and relaxation, is not a public object. It is, in a sense which we haven’t fully understood, subjective. That’s the problem I’m interested in.
His more basic answer, from his book, The Ego Tunnel, is: “consciousness is the appearance of a world.” You can read the transcript by clicking the link if you prefer reading to listening.

Thomas Metzinger explores Consciousness on BSP 67

The free podcast version of Brain Science Podcast 67 is now available. It is an interview with German philosopher Thomas Metzinger, author of The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self and Being No One. Dr. Metzinger argues that any credible model for how the brain generates the mind must incorporate unusual human experiences, such as so-called out of body experiences (OBE), and psychiatric conditions. In this interview we explore how OBE and virtual reality experiments shed light on how the brain generates the sense of self that characterizes normal human experience.

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Episode Transcript (Download PDF)

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