Monday, January 24, 2011

The C Word and Emergence: Absent-minded Science, Part IV

At a recent talk I attended at UC Santa Barbara, Professor Marcus Raichle, one of the pioneers of brain imaging, jokingly referred to consciousness as the “C word.”

His little joke highlighted the fact that for many working neuroscientists and others who think about the brain, trying to explain what consciousness actually is – as opposed to explaining the various functions of brains – is still a bit frowned upon. It also seems that many neuroscientists who do think about the “hard problem” of consciousness – the mind/body problem by a different name – believe that once we explain the functions of brains there’s really not much, if anything, left to explain about consciousness itself.

I find in my discussions on consciousness that arguments about “emergence,” well, emerge as a response from critics time and time again. Consciousness is, in this view, simply an emergent property of complex biological structures like brains.

I’ve written a number of essays (and an unpublished book) defending the alternative panpsychist view of consciousness. The type of panpsychism I find compelling is that developed into a comprehensive system by Alfred North Whitehead, Henri Bergson, Charles Hartshorne, David Ray Griffin, and many others during the 20th Century. It is growing in popularity, but still a minority view.

Read the rest at the Independent.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your guest post, "Absent-Minded Science: Part V: Sex, Psyche and Evolution," at John Wilken's blog. As Jake at Wilken's blog says, it is "Well worth the read!"
    Many years ago I took a general science course for a`literature degree and wrote an essay on Lamarck, so I was happy to see your parenthetical comment, "(Darwin was a Lamarckian in many ways, but this is not commonly known)."

    I am very taken by Lamarck's theory of acquired characteristics, but I am constantly told that Darwin and his sucessors proved that Lamrack was wrong.

    Thank you for including notes at the bottom of your article; I intend to read Steele's book, Lamark's Signature, as soon as possible.

  2. Thanks Veronica! Let me know what you think of Steele's work. My view is that the "Central Dogma" of modern evolutionary theory (it's literally called that), that genes lead to proteins and never the other way around, was a simplifying postulate that is in the process of being disproven. There is increasing evidence that various processes are Lamarckian, though certainly not all.