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Seminars on Medicine - Expand Your Mind: Getting a Grasp on Consciousness - Dec 2005

Seminar 4 - Expand Your Mind: Getting a Grasp on Consciousness - Dec 2005

The three speakers are Alexander Shulgin who is a Pharmacologist and Chemist, Christof Koch who is Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology in CalTech and Patricia Churchland who is Professor of Philosophy in University of California, San Diego.

At some point, these panelists suggest, the issue of defining consciousness may just disappear. Suggests Christof Koch: "Let’s treat consciousness as an empirical problem to be tackled by the biological sciences." Koch makes distinctions between different kinds of consciousness: sleep and its varied stages; awareness of sounds, sights and smells; levels of arousal. All these different states are properties "of complex adaptive networks with massive feedback shaped by natural selection." And there are many behaviors that occur without consciousness.

Mental phenomena are nothing but phenomena of the physical brain, says Patricia Churchland. It’s "an illusion of the brain" to think that we have a "nonphysical soul that does our feeling." But how the brain creates constructs of itself and things in the world remains a major puzzle. For instance, how does a brain "habitually represent goals, plans and projects -- things that don’t yet exist?" And what about the huge amount of spontaneous activity in the brain that occurs while we’re resting?

In his day, Alexander Shulgin explored consciousness through "the art of chemistry." He synthesized a version of mescaline and invented other psychedelic drugs, experimenting on himself, before the era of government and university regulations.

Alexander Shulgin is a Pharmacologist and Chemist.

Christof Koch is Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology in California Institute of Technology.

Patricia Churchland is Professor of Philosophy in University of California, San Diego.

Alexander Shulgin, Christof Koch, Patricia Churchland
Expand Your Mind: Getting a Grasp on Consciousness
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT World)
http://mitworld.mit.edu
Date accessed: 2009-02-24
License: Not applicable

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