The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

An Impossible Science?

It was the US psychologist Karl Lashley who first warned that… the mind is never conscious. The mind can never perceive the processing that goes on in the brain when the mind is thinking something. When I think about myself, I am not conscious of what my brain is doing. Whatever it is that I am feeling, it is not what the brain is doing. I am not aware of the billions of electrochemical processes switching neurons on and off.

One can even suspect that it is simply impossible for a conscious being to understand what consciousness is. The US philosopher Thomas Nagel pointed out that one is only capable of conceiving things as they appear to her, but never as they are in themselves. We can only experience how it feels to be ourselves. We can never experience how it feels to be something else, for the simple reason that we are not something else. As Nagel wrote (“What is it like to be a bat”, 1974), we can learn all about the brain mechanisms of a bat's sonar system but we will never have the slightest idea of what it is like to have the sonar experiences of a bat.  Likewise, understanding how the human brain works may not be enough to understand human consciousness.

The Australian philosopher Frank Jackson ("Epiphenomenal Qualia", 1982) used the example of a color-blind neuroscientist who can only see black and white and, no matter how much she knows about the neurophysiology of colors, will never experience what red feels like.


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