Custom Search

Monday, September 26, 2005

Conundrum of human consciousness

Neuroscientist Christof Koch thinks that maybe consciousness will be explained in our lifetimes:

These are heady times for neuroscientists. Our growing ability to monitor the brain's activity at the cellular level with unprecedented precision and breadth, and precisely manipulate these networks opens the stunning possibility that the quest to understand the oldest of all epistemological problems will come to an end in our lifetime.

If you read the article, "The Inchoate Science of Consciousness" (September 12, 2005) carefully, it doesn't look as though they are getting very far, despite the hype.

For example, Koch writes, regarding an animal experiment,

Strikingly, the reintroduction of one specie of molecule into a single brain region rescued certain complex exploratory and social behaviors. While the β2 knockout animals move rapidly through a novel terrain with little exploration, animals in which nicotinic transmission has been restored in the VTA show more adaptive behavior that, if observed in humans, would be associated with planning and consciousness.

Well, sure, but we associate human behaviour with planning and consciousness because we know that humans plan and are conscious. We know that mice plan to some extent, though it is not clear whether they are conscious in the sense that humans are. And no one doubts that certain chemicals and brain regions are associated with consciousness, such that interference with them can cause its loss.

The real problem, it seems to me, is that there is only so far one can get with studying something like consciousness for the purpose of explaining it away as random actions within the brain. My guess is that one learns a lot of interesting, even useful stuff about mice, and then confronts once again, the huge gap between mouse consciousness and human consciousness.

Announcement: O’Leary to speak at blogging conference

On October 14, at 10:30 a.m. at Biola University in Los Angeles, I will be leading a
breakout session at Godblogcon05, on blogging on the intelligent design controversy. If you’re there, do drop by and say hello.

According to the program, here is what I am doing,

The session will focus on intelligent design theory. What is ID, and what is it not, and how are blogs and the blogosphere helping a small group of ID advocates circumvent and frustrate a formidable intellectual orthodoxy?

One of my great regrets is that Canadian media prophet Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) never lived to see the blogosphere. McLuhan was considered obscure and cranky in the Sixties, largely for predicting the Internet:

Marshall McLuhan was the first person to popularize the concept of a global village and to consider its social effects. His insights were revolutionary at the time, and fundamentally changed how everyone has thought about media, technology, and communications ever since. McLuhan chose the insightful phrase "global village" to highlight his observation that an electronic nervous system (the media) was rapidly integrating the planet -- events in one part of the world could be experienced from other parts in real-time, which is what human experience was like when we lived in small villages.

The blogging conference goes on to say about me,
Canadian freelance journalist Denyse O’Leary ( is the author of By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy, which won two Canadian Christian Writing Awards. She was named Recommended Canadian Author of the Year by Christian Booksellers Association Canada (2005).

O’Leary had predicted years ago that the intelligent design controversy would explode, and it did. She felt frustrated by the fact that she could not update her book until a second edition was arranged. To cover breaking news in the meantime and provide archives, in April 2005, she started a blog, The Post-Darwinist.

She promptly scooped the New York Times on the showing of ID-friendly film, The Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian in Washington. The Times made a mess of the coverage, but hey, getting stuff right that the legacy media get wrong is why blogs exist. O’Leary also contributes to group blogs, including the Canadian Christianity site, the site for Christian science magazine Crux, and the ID Report.

One thing I should stress is that, unlike some attendees at that conference, I don’t see my blog as an exercise in Christian apologetics. Indeed, if my purpose were Christian apologetics, I would not pick the intelligent design controversy to cover. I am fascinated by the decline of materialism, typefied by widespread public scoffing at its creation story, Darwinism. Had I been born twenty years earlier, I might have covered the decline of Marxism in the same intrigued way, but that show was largely over by the mid-Eighties.

Blog service announcement: Shazzam!! Slam!! Spam!! Begone!!

A kind Commenter has informed me that switching a setting will get rid of the spammers who pretend to just love this blog, and proceed to flog mortgages, tennis shoes, hot dates, or whatever. Thanks much, and we’ll see if the new setting does the trick. When I catch ‘em, I borf ‘em! ... but the manual method is time-consuming, and I can’t always do it right away.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
Blog policy note: This blog does not intentionally accept fully anonymous Comments, Comments with language unsuited to an intellectual discussion, URLs posted without comment, or defamatory statements. Defamatory statement: A statement that would be actionable if anyone took the author seriously. For example, someone may say "O’Leary is a crummy journalist"; that’s a matter of opinion and I don’t know who would care. But if they say, "O’Leary was convicted of grand theft auto in 1983," well that’s just plain false, and probably actionable, if the author were taken seriously. Also, due to time constraints, the moderator rarely responds to comments, and usually only about blog service issues.

Who links to me?