World’s Scientists: “Human Consciousness Will Remain a Mystery”

 

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Sir Roger Penrose, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University, has asked “what right do we have to claim, as some might, that human beings are the only inhabitants of our planet blessed with an actual ability to be “aware”? It is hard to see how one could begin to develop a quantum-theoretical description of brain action when one might well have to regard the brain as “observing itself” all the time! Beneath all this technicality is the feeling that it is indeed “obvious” that the conscious mind cannot work like a computer, even though much of what is involved in mental activity might do so.


“What happens to each of our streams of consciousness after we die; where was it before we were born; might we become, or have been, someone else; why do we perceive at all; why are we here; why is there a universe here at all in which we can actually be? These are puzzles that tend to come with the awakenings of awareness in any one of us — and, no doubt, with the awakening of self-awareness, within whichever creature or other entity it first came.”

“I think consciousness will remain a mystery. I have a much easier time imagining how we understand the Big Bang than I have imagining how we can understand consciousness,” said theoretical physicist Edward Wittten of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, who has been compared to Einstein and Newton.

In recent years, human consciousness has emerged as one of the hottest new fields in biology, similar to string theory in physics or the search for extraterrestrial life in astronomy. No longer the purview of philosophers and mystics, consciousness is now attracting the attention of scientists from across a variety of different fields, each, it seems, with their own theories about what consciousness is and how it arises from the brain.

Penrose believes that if a “theory of everything” is ever developed in physics to explain all the known phenomena in the universe, it should at least partially account for consciousness. Penrose believes that quantum mechanics, the rules governing the physical world at the subatomic level, might play an important role in consciousness as shown in the video below.

 

                                        

 

 

Recently, Edward Witten, a theoretical physicist and professor of mathematical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, has joined philosopher Colin McGinn and Penrose who argue that ultimately, consciousness is unsolvable.

“I think consciousness will remain a mystery, says Witten. “Yes, that’s what I tend to believe. I tend to think that the workings of the conscious brain will be elucidated to a large extent. Biologists and perhaps physicists will understand much better how the brain works. But why something that we call consciousness goes with those workings, I think that will remain mysterious. I have a much easier time imagining how we understand the Big Bang than I have imagining how we can understand consciousness.”

In a recent video interview with journalist Wim Kayzer (below), Witten, says he is pessimistic about the prospects for a scientific explanation of consciousness.

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The Daily Galaxy via blogs.scientificamerican.com, Kavli Institute, nytimes.com

Image credit: With thanks to esawdilis.com

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