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The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach

  1. Jan 30, 2005 #1
    The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach, by Christof Koch

    "Product Description:
    Consciousness is one of science’s last great unsolved mysteries. How can the salty taste and crunchy texture of potato chips, the unmistakable smell of dogs after they have been in the rain, or the exhilarating feeling of hanging on tiny fingerholds many feet above the last secure foothold on a cliff, emerge from networks of neurons and their associated synaptic and molecular processes? In The Quest for Consciousness, Caltech neuroscientist Christof Koch explores the biological basis of the subjective mind in animals and people. He outlines a framework that he and Francis Crick (of the "double helix") have constructed to come to grips with the ancient mind-body problem. At the heart of their framework is a sustained, empirical approach to discovering and characterizing the neuronal correlates of consciousness – the NCC – the subtle, flickering patterns of brain activity that underlie each and every conscious experience."
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  3. Jan 30, 2005 #2
    Is there a question? If you want comments mine would be that the idea of NCC's is considered incoherent by many philosophers of mind, and that the last half sentence is as yet no more than a convenient assumption.
  4. Jan 30, 2005 #3
    Philosophers of mind are not scientists or empiricists, they are just philosophers: free mental ponderings with no tangible evidence for the most part. On the other hand, this book is highly regarded in the scientific community, not that this automatically means its valid, but rather because the book uses the Scientific Method.
  5. Jan 30, 2005 #4

    Les Sleeth

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    Scientists are not philosophers, they are just scientists free of . . . :uhh: (I won't insult the scientists here by imitating your superficial evaluation).

    Consider that keyboard you write on. Say your key strokes and your computer screen were all an alien in another universe could pick up about us from there. Because he could show a correspondence between the key strokes and the resulting actions on the screen, he concludes the keyboard is the source of the screen materials. In a way he'd be correct because the keys are necessary to what happens on the screen. But he'd be wrong in a bigger sense because he'd overlooked the consciousness choosing the keystrokes.

    The theory Koch and Crick are presenting is nothing new. Everybody knows there is a correlation between conscious activity and the brain. It still doesn't solve the hard problem does it? And you can't prove that consciousness isn't simply associated with and assisted by the brain (i.e., rather than caused by the brain).

    Yes, you can say the brain can be stimulated here or there and it produces corresponding behavior or experience in the human. But I can say, well, what if you were playing several electric instruments at once -- a harmonica, guitar, a bass drum with your foot, and tamborines between your butt cheeks -- and I gave you an electric jolt through each instrument, and as a result you blew the harmonica, or hit the drum, or struck the guitar, etc., would you claim music is being created by those instruments? Yes there is a direct relationship between the instruments and behavior in areas of the body, but that doesn't explain everything that is going on with the creation of music.

    That's what all the mechanistic genuises keep insisting . . . that because you can explain the mechanics or the chemistry, you have explained everything. It almost seems like you don't realize you are the consciousness part of the body, but instead believe you are the computing part of the brain you (consciousness) are using to analyze everything.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2005
  6. Jan 30, 2005 #5
    I am biased towards Occam's razor: I will choose the simplest scientific explanation with the most predictive value, not intricate unprovable philosophical ponderings of why something may happen.
  7. Jan 30, 2005 #6

    Les Sleeth

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    Occam's razor can be a cover for someone's dubious strategy to win a debate. Let's see why someone would want to over-simplify a situation.

    Consider the authoritarian father who insists hard, uncompromising discipline will make a man of his son. The mother tries to get the father to understand that his rigidity is freaking out his son, and that there are sensitive aspects to a child, male or female, worth preserving. The father says, "nonsense, you have to be tough to survive, so there is no room for sensitivy." His Occam's razor is designed to trim anything that doesn't meet his definition of a manly human, and not to get to the truth.

    Similarly, your razor is designed to shave off all non-mechanistic aspects of humanness so you don't have to account for them. Nice try, but too many people have already noticed they exist. :cool:
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2005
  8. Jan 30, 2005 #7
    This is a poor example, too much subjectivity. Instead, provide an example of two explanations for a certain phenomena: one explanation being a scientific theory that was made theory because it adhered to the scientific method, and then another philosophical/supernatural explanation that has no evidence, no predictive value, and basically no scientific backing. Which explanation is then closer to "truth"?

    "non-mechanical aspects," or in other words, the supernatural. So, you believe people should explain the brain not based on mechanical processes, but based on supernatural explanations, like "The Force" from Star Wars or Christian divine intervention. Well, if that is how you choose to live, you do have that legal right. Personally though, superstition does nothing for me, rather, it's the scientific mechanical aspects that makes my life good: cars, planes, computers, medicine, the internet, etc. are all created by scientific/mechanical aspects, not supernatural explanations.

    Yes, many claim to have seen ghosts, UFOs, Big Foot, Chupacabras, Greys, etc. Who knows, I suppose . . .
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2005
  9. Jan 30, 2005 #8

    Les Sleeth

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    I don't know what you talking about. The alternative to mechanistic/physicalistic models doesn't have to be supernaturalism. You might want to study up on the the physicalist-nonphysicalist debate.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2005
  10. Jan 31, 2005 #9
    Whichever of them is more true of course.

    Could you explain why you think a theory that consciousness is not caused by brains is less likely to be correct than the opposite theory? Ockam's razor is no use here since each theory contains the same number of hypothetical entities. Also, as science has no theory of consciousness then as yet there's nothing to which you can apply it.

    What is about those who espouse scientism that leads them to class every other opinion as theism or supernaturalism? It baffles me. Can't you see that there are other options?

    We're not talking about your materialist preferences, but whether physics can explain consciousness. It's no good just saying that it can, or just mischaracterising all other explanations as superstitious or supernatural.

    The discussion will go better if you stop inventing silly objections and make an argument.
  11. Feb 1, 2005 #10


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    Weren't they the first to provide evidence that 40 Hz brain activity is that which is accessible to consciousness. If I recall correctly, I think all they were trying to do was to figure out and describe the mechanisms responsible for making certain information accessible and putting it together to form a coherent conscious moment. I'm pretty sure they acknowledge that they don't even touch on the hard problem. It isn't like their work is of no value here.
  12. Feb 1, 2005 #11
    Keeping an open mind, I will be willing to read whatever proof you have to offer that super-natural forces play a part in the human brain.

    Also, can you please take the time to give a good explanation of what non-physicalist is and what proof or rational arguments exist for this claim.

  13. Feb 1, 2005 #12
    Philosophy in the absence of scientific knowledge is mental masturbation.

    Together with this is a considerable volume of research related to brain damage of specific areas of the brain. There are many examples of very limited damage which yield very specific and bazaar consequences in behavior which, under conventional ideas interpretation of human behavior, could only be described as insane.

    For example, if a patient has damage to his angular gyrus in the left hemisphere, he can no longer do arithmetic though he has no trouble seeing or identifying numbers correctly. He can converse fluently and will appear intelligent in all normal respects; however, he will not be able to add or subtract simple one digit numbers. This is only one of a large number of observable bazaar consequences of specific limited brain damage, many of which are directly related to awareness itself.

    If the philosophers cannot explain these bazaar relations, how can intelligent people take them seriously.

    Have fun – Dick :rofl:
  14. Feb 2, 2005 #13

    I really think you should do some reading on these issues. The relationship between science and philosophy is far more subtle than you seem to think, and in the end they cannot be considered separate modes of enquiry, but interdependent ones.

    On consciousness you're way off. If the issues were as simple as you say they are then there wouldn't be a scientific 'problem of consciousness'. Professional scientists and philosophers are not such fools that they haven't considered the arguments that you're making here. They have considered them thoroughly and they don't work. Certainly you can't just say that doing things to brains affects conscious experience and this proves that consciousness is explicable by neuroscience. Would that it were so simple.

    If you doubt this then try coming up with a means by which a we could demonstrate scientifically that consciousnesas exists, or coming up with a scientific definition of it. You'll find yourself in trouble almost immediately.

    Crick, for instance, finds the definition problem so hard that he proposes that scientists should not try to define it until they know what it is. In the meantime we're stuck with 'what it is like', which is not a scientific definition.

    At this time it is not necessary for anybody to prove that conscious has a non-physicalist explanation. Rather it is up to scientists to prove it possible that it could have a strictly physicalist explanation, whatever the technical details. So far all attempts have failed. They will always fail, because you cannot explain the existence of something using a method that is not capable of showing that the thing exists.
  15. Feb 2, 2005 #14
    And I should take you seriously?

    I am sorry but you people invariably misinterpret what I say. I really wonder if it is real misunderstanding or intentional misrepresentation.
    Just what did you think the import of
    was if it wasn't exactly the importance of interdependence? And where did you get this idea that I have some position on "consciousness". In my head that is an open (and not a very well defined issue) Your comment, "On consciousness you're way off." implies you understand my position and nothing could be further from the truth. And exactly what issues do you think I oversimplify when anything I say seems to be too complex for anyone here to follow?
    No one on earth has made the slightest attempt to understand what I say and they certainly haven't "considered [my ideas] thoroughly"! They haven't considered them at all!
    If you would take the trouble to read what I say, you wouldn't find such a stupid comment anywhere in my work.
    Whose position are you arguing anyway? This forum is just chock full of people who presume the issue is obvious (apparently you included); and that is explicitly not me!
    Then philosophers are not constrained to define what they are talking about? Have you ever heard of Cotard's syndrome? People with it think they are dead. It is very resistant to intellectual correction. All contrary evidence is warped in whatever way is necessary to maintain their belief. Their emotions override their intellect. It very much reminds me of the intellectual level of this forum.
    Then you are specifically saying that it is impossible that consciousness could have a physicalist (whatever that is) explanation. And your support for that position is that it is "up to scientists to prove it possible" or it must be impossible. "So far all attempts have failed", therefore it cannot be done! Boy, is that intellectually deep. :rofl:
    I think you had better define "exists" before you make such a sweeping statement as that! :wink:

    Have fun (as I am sure you are :biggrin: ) -- Dick
  16. Feb 2, 2005 #15

    Les Sleeth

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    I appreciate your openness, but I most definitely am not suggesting that if there is something nonphysical which is significant to consciousness, it is "super" natural. If you follow the debates around here on the "hard problem" of consciousness, you'll get a sense of what isn't currently explained by brain physiology alone. Some of us believe there is "something more" needed to explain consciousness, but what the something more is . . . well, there isn't much consensus about it yet. Personally I am convinced there is "something more" and that it is natural in that it has to work through principles, order, gradual evolution, etc. and cannot circumvent them. So I don't believe supernatural is possible.
  17. Feb 2, 2005 #16
    Can anyone post examples of justifications that there is a non-physical aspect to consciousness?

    A way I think for us to study consiousness is for scientists to stick probes in someone's brain and send shocks and see how the person responds. The human brain is modular, different parts do different things. Consciousness is said to have many different brain modules working together.

    Also, what if consciousness is replicated on a computer and the computer thinks it's alive and is aware of its self-existance? Would you suggest that there is a non-physical aspect to it, instead of just saying that the consciousness is the result of the interaction between the hardware and software?
  18. Feb 2, 2005 #17
    Here is a good book explaining the evolution and biological correlates of consciousness: http://home.comcast.net/~neoeugenics/wit.htm [Broken]

    And here is a book explaining why many philosophers believe that supernatural forces play a part in the human brain: http://home.comcast.net/~neoeugenics/GodGene.htm [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  19. Feb 2, 2005 #18
    When you say "non-physical" does that mean something not bound by physical law? What one generally means by that is there can be an effect without cause. Example: creation of matter or energy, or something which defies known physical laws.

    Some people have suggested quantum phenomena may have something to do with consciousness. Is that "non-physical"? I don't think so, though it may not be strictly computational.

    The thought experiment I posted points to a possibility that consciousness is not strictly computational, but that doesn't mean "non-physical".

    The problem with supernatural forces is that it will never explain anything. And also, throughout history, religious leaders have tried to sell the concept of the supernatural (ex: creationism) and yet we find so much can be explained if we only apply the scientific method. Why stop now? Why stop because we haven't figured out consciousness yet?

    The use of supernatural explanations only puts a roadblock at the end of each path we might otherwise go down in search of the truth.
  20. Feb 4, 2005 #19
    How many do you want? Here's a few.

    1. The existence of qualia
    2. The inability of science to show that C is a purely physical phenomenon
    3. The intractibility of the hard problem
    4. The pain in my foot
    5. The explanatory gaps in the scientific model of the universe
    6. The existence of metaphysics
    7. The ability of sentient beings to know things that cannot be proved
    8. The scientists who argue that consciousness is not a scientific topic
    9. The inability of science to prove that consciousness exists
    10. The many people who argue that C can be reduced to matter
    11. The inability of scientists to reduce consciousness to matter
    11. The unfalsifiability of solipsism
    12. The unfalsifiability of Taoism, Buddhism, Sufism, Advaita, etc.
    13. The fact that I can imagine an elephant without my brain being crushed
    14. And so on ad infinitum
  21. Feb 4, 2005 #20


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    Not demonstrated.

    God of the gaps.

    Only for those who believe there is one.

    I have pain in my foot too, doesn't prove qualia.

    Again god of the gaps, plus I'll bet you think there are more gaps than there are.

    Scuse me? Astrology exists too.

    Penrose? This has been heavily criticised and even he isn't pushing it anymore.

    Some do, some don't. Cherry picking.

    [/quote]9. The inability of science to prove that consciousness exists[/quote]

    Just a rehash of #2. Same reply.

    Sorry? This is what you claim?

    Ah I see. 10 and 11 are one reason. Once more the god of the gaps. The current state of science is a contigent accident and proves nothing (aka god of the gaps).

    Aw come on. This proves it? Why not drag in deja vu as well?

    Or Astrology, Witchcraft, Ritual Magick, and UFOs.

    This is entirely explainable in terms of neuronal representations (except you will say the qualia isn't but that in this case is petitio principi).

    Yes, prating never does cease within the life of the owrld.
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