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Technology

Explanatory Gaps and Scientific Theories of Consciousness

Reality BaseBy Adam FrankApril 7, 2008 9:32 PM
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Is there a gap which reductionist models of consciousness cannot cross? Lots of people find the idea that we are "nothing but" biological computers to be distasteful. How can all these profound feelings and experiences be just an epiphenomena (love that word) of goopy nerves as such? Distasteful as it sounds to some, this explanation may, however, still be true. Or it may be that other levels of explanation are required. These explanations can be scientific and empirical and don't ask for the "immortal soul" of traditional religions, yet aren't quite as stridently minimalist as classic reduction. This is a new domain for me and I knew, when I started writing my book, that I would eventually have to look into the emerging field of "consciousness studies." My friend in the philosophy department here, Brad Weslake, teaches a course on philosophy of mind, and recommended the now-famous paper by Joseph Levine on explanatory gaps in explanations of consciousness. I provide the link here for others to peruse and think about, too. So what are you: a computer, a receiver, or an emergent set of dynamical processes that cannot be predicted by just your atoms? What else did I leave out?

Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester who studies star formation and stellar death using supercomputers. His new book, “The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate,” has just been published. He will be joining Reality Base to post an ongoing discussion of science and religion—you can read his previous posts here, and find more of his thoughts on science and the human prospect at the Constant Fire blog.

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