January 18, 2011

Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits

From: NYTimes.com

One day in 2007, Dr. Giulio Tononi lay on a hospital stretcher as an anesthesiologist prepared him for surgery. For Dr. Tononi, it was a moment of intellectual exhilaration. He is a distinguished chair in consciousness science at the University of Wisconsin, and for much of his life he has been developing a theory of consciousness. Lying in the hospital, Dr. Tononi finally had a chance to become his own experiment.

The anesthesiologist was preparing to give Dr. Tononi one drug to render him unconscious, and another one to block muscle movements. Dr. Tononi suggested the anesthesiologist first tie a band around his arm to keep out the muscle-blocking drug. The anesthesiologist could then ask Dr. Tononi to lift his finger from time to time, so they could mark the moment he lost awareness.
The anesthesiologist did not share Dr. Tononi’s excitement. “He could not have been less interested,” Dr. Tononi recalled. “He just said, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and put me to sleep. He was thinking, ‘This guy must be out of his mind.’ ”

Dr. Tononi was not offended. Consciousness has long been the province of philosophers, and most doctors steer clear of their abstract speculations. After all, debating the finer points of what it is like to be a brain floating in a vat does not tell you how much anesthetic to give a patient.

But Dr. Tononi’s theory is, potentially, very different. He and his colleagues are translating the poetry of our conscious experiences into the precise language of mathematics.

To do so, they are adapting information theory, a branch of science originally applied to computers and telecommunications. If Dr. Tononi is right, he and his colleagues may be able to build a “consciousness meter” that doctors can use to measure consciousness as easily as they measure blood pressure and body temperature. Perhaps then his anesthesiologist will become interested.

“I love his ideas,” said Christof Koch, an expert on consciousness at Caltech. “It’s the only really promising fundamental theory of consciousness.”

Sizing Up Consciousness by its Bits: Read the entire article

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May 22, 2007

Minds, brains and programs — Searle BBS draft

An unedited penultimate draft of a BBS target article by John Searle is now available. It has been accepted for publication (Copyright 1980: Cambridge University Press U.K./U.S. — publication date provisional) and is currently being circulated for Open Peer Commentary. This preprint is for inspection only, to help prospective commentators decide whether or not they wish to prepare a formal commentary. Please do not prepare a commentary unless you have received the hard copy, invitation, instructions and deadline information.

For information on becoming a commentator on this or other BBS target articles, write to: bbs@soton.ac.uk

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April 6, 2007

Film – Victim of the Brain

Victim of the Brain is a 1988 docudrama by Dutch director Piet Hoenderdos about “the ideas of Douglas Hofstadter”. It features interviews with Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett. It has never been online before, but is now available on Google Video.

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December 29, 2002

IDA on Will: It’s no Illusion

franklinidaimage.gifThe issue of free will is perhaps the most oft debated single issue in the history of philosophy (For annotated bibliographies see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwIntroIndex.htm.). Whether philosophers or scientists, most modern materialists, believe the universe, at scales beyond the quantum, is deterministic. This leads them to class free will with magic. It’s only an illusion.

But it seems abundantly clear from introspection, even to us materialistic scientists, that we do exercise will, even if it’s not free, that is, not magical. We make choices, even if they are deterministic, at least in principle. Sloman has made this distinction between will and free will quite convincingly (1992/3, see also Franklin 1995 pp. 35-40).

However, scientists have also learned not to be too trusting of introspection. There are too many examples of beliefs that are introspectively “abundantly clear” and, at the same time, just plain wrong. In the case of will, this is precisely the contention of D. M. Wegner’s “The Illusion of Conscious Will” (2002). The context of this essay is Thomas W. Clark’s review of Wegner’s book, which recently appeared on SCR.

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