What Is Consciousness?

Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery. ...Consciousness stands alone today as a topic that often leaves even the most sophisticated thinkers tongue-tied and confused. And, as with all earlier mysteries, there are many who insist—and hope—that there will never be a demystification of consciousness.

- Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the problems of consciousness, one of the greatest mysteries facing science and philosophy today. The frustrations, the stubborn facts and the curiosities of today’s thinkers, philosophers, physicists and psychologists, demonstrate the elusiveness, and the utter impenetrability of consciousness. Can we explain our perception of colour, smell or what it is like to be in love in purely physical terms? Can memory, conviction and reason be explained primarily in terms of neural firing sequences in the brain? Three centuries ago Descartes famously believed that the problem was best solved by being ignored. Was he right? Could it be that the human mind is just not built to understand its own basis?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Consciousness on the In Our Time podcast

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

...We know that our experiences—of seeing red, feeling pain, falling in love and so forth—depend on physical systems like the brain that science can, in principle, exhaustively explain. But it’s hard to make sense of the idea that experiences themselves could be physical. No doubt experiences correlate with objective physical facts, but, as subjective phenomena, how could they be such facts? When I feel intense pain, scientists may be able to observe brain-events that cause my pain, but they cannot observe the very pain that I feel. What science can observe is public and objective; what I feel is private and subjective...

Continue reading Gary Gutting's article: Mary and the Zombies: Can Science Explain Consciousness?

Further Reading

Perhaps no aspect of mind is more familiar or more puzzling than consciousness and our conscious experience of self and world. The problem of consciousness is arguably the central issue in current theorizing about the mind. Despite the lack of any agreed upon theory of consciousness, there is a widespread, if less than universal, consensus that an adequate account of mind requires a clear understanding of it and its place in nature. We need to understand both what consciousness is and how it relates to other, nonconscious, aspects of reality...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Consciousness by Robert Van Gulick

Related Topics

 Cognition | Metaphysics

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.