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What does science think about consciousness?

  1. Sep 10, 2013 #1
    I have the be careful because I don't want this topic to be about philosophy. I want to know what science thinks about consciousness. Is there a global agreement on what it might be? A physical thing like a gene or is it linked in with dna?

    There must be some kind of scientific view on what it could or is likely to be. Please only reply if you're professionally qualified to do so. I don't want philosophical answers that will get the thread closed.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2013 #2

    jim mcnamara

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    This is/was a "fringe" refereed paper:
    This area of Neuroscience is not hard science. IMO, I liken it to the way Psychology was a long while back. It is hard to get a lot of rigor in the subject.

    If you take a class on the history of science, you will encounter something like the following model:
    Alpha science - purely descriptive ---> Omega science is highly predictive, has theories and models that are proven to work in the real world and in applied science, and predicts relations between disparate fields that were not previously recognized. Obviously there are beta, gamma steps and so on down the spectrum.

    The best I can give Consciousness studies is that it is a beginning alpha science: Like Linnaeus was doing, in the early 1700's, putting things into cubby holes so they have a common reference - basic descriptive science.

    You can google for 'neuroscience consciousness' and look around. The JCS is now defunct.

    I am not a psychologist, surely some will not have a view like mine. I was trained as a biologist. So I'm a "harder" science guy looking at a "softer" science.

    If you don't know Linnaeus, you should:
  4. Sep 10, 2013 #3

    Jano L.

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    Exact sciences are largely about mechanisms and their mathematical analysis. When applied to human, science traditionally views it as a machine, so there is no obvious place or meaning for "consciousness". Most scientists do not think about this concept in terms of science.

    There may be some attempts to model thinking process in scientific way, perhaps similar to what is studied in the subject "artificial intelligence".

    Meanwhile, "consciousness" is a difficult matter that can be perhaps better studied by other disciplines, perhaps psychology or philosophy.
  5. Sep 11, 2013 #4


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  6. Sep 11, 2013 #5
    Actually, consciousness is studied quite a lot in mainstream neuroscience, and it does get published in high impact journals. It has also been subject to a fair amount of mathematical analysis (http://www.biolbull.org/content/215/3/216.abstract, http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1952/3748.abstract). Look up people like Giulio Tononi, Christoph Koch and Anil Seth for examples of people doing mainstream work on the neuroscience of consciousness at a fundamental level.
  7. Sep 11, 2013 #6


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    No. There's no global agreement. There's not even really conclusive evidence to agree on. There are some frameworks being developed, though:

    Varela's "brainweb":

    Christof Koch's "framework for consciousness"

    Friston's "free energy principle":

    The real test would be able to alter the conscious experience in a reliable way. Currently, we can alter consciousness with drugs, but they're not reliable. They affect the system in unpredictable ways and affect different people differently.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  8. Aug 31, 2015 #7
    I thought to resurrect this old thread briefly as it seems the only PF thread that touches in any contextual manner upon the work by Professor Michael Graziano of Princeton. I came across his work while reviewing a bunch of papers and studies addressing Libet's earlier experimental data and how that kind of experience is viewed today.

    So far in my reading I've barely scratched the surface of modern neuroscience and its explanatory power for the experience of 'consciousness', but Graziano's "Attention Schema Theory" has a certain intuitive ring of authenticity.

    I wonder if anyone has read his work and can offer an opinion? I have bought his book and am halfway through it, plus I've read several of his articles and papers and to me it has some nice features, not the least of which is a simplicity of concept. My own thoughts on the matter are that as consciousness must arise from the evolution of the processing capabilities of the brain then the underlying process must be relatively simple (and in fact present from the earliest organisms in form if not function).

    This Frontiers in Psychology paper has a useful overview plus some comparison with other research.

  9. Aug 31, 2015 #8


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    Necropost closed for Moderation...

    This old thread is too philosophical for the new PF rules, so it will stay closed.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2015
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