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Mathematical physicist doubts we’ll ever figure out consciousness

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At Ash Jogalekar’s “Curious Wavefunction,” we hear from physicist Ed Witten:

Many people regard consciousness as the last nut to crack at the frontier of science. If we crack that nut it would open the way to an unprecedented understanding of humanity that may in part explain why mankind produces thinkers like Ed Witten that allow us to understand the deep secrets of the universe.

But Witten is not too optimistic about it. And he seems to have fairly clear reasons for believing that consciousness will always remain a mystery. Here’s what he has to say (italics mine). More.

Note: Readers may remember Jogalekar from a flap some years back involving Scientific American: Scientific American may be owned by Nature but it is now run by Twitter

See also: Yet another origin of consciousness book. Which does get something right


Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away

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"But the new mysterianism is a postmodern position designed to drive a railroad spike through the heart of scientism” Flanagan, O.J. (1992). Consciousness Reconsidered. Bradford Books. MIT Press. pp. 10,131. ISBN 978-0-262-56077-1. LCCN lc92010057. ppolish
From SciAm blog... "Recently, physicist Edward Witten came out as a mysterian. Witten is regarded with awe by his fellow physicists, some of whom have compared him to Einstein and Newton. He is largely responsible for the popularity of string theory over the past several decades." "Some mind-ponderers, notably philosopher Colin McGinn, argue that consciousness is unsolvable. Philosopher Owen Flanagan calls these pessimists “mysterians,” after the 60’s-era rock group “Question Mark and the Mysterians.”" http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/world-s-smartest-physicist-thinks-science-can-t-crack-consciousness/ ppolish
Witten is a New Mysterian. Not really that new, have been around awhile: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_mysterianism Philosopher Colin McGinn, wrote a very interesting book (The Mysterious Flame) Great read if you're interested in consciousness... https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/mcginn-flame.html "Consciousness is so familiar that it is hard to appreciate what an odd phenomenon it is. We tend to take our consciousness for granted and not wonder about its origins and grounds. Let us then try to step back from our consciousness and defamiliarize it. In particular, let us try to develop a sense of the oddity of the mind-brain link. We can start with an extract from a clever science fiction story by the writer Terry Bisson. (The link between mind and brain can seem like pure science fiction.) It takes the form of a conversation between an alien explorer who has visited earth and his commander: "They're made out of meat." "Meat?" ... "There's no doubt about it. We picked several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, probed them all the way through. They're completely meat." "That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?" "They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines." "So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact." "They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines." "That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat." "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they're made out of meat." "Maybe they're like the Orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage." "Nope. They're born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their lifespans, which didn't take too long. Do you have any idea of the life span of meat?" "Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part meat. You know, like the Weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside." "Nope, we thought of that, since they do have meat heads like the Weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through." "No brain?" "Oh, there is a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat!" "So.... what does the thinking?" "You're not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat." "Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!" "Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?" ppolish

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