Are We Really Conscious? Asks Michael Graziano.


"OF the three most fundamental scientific questions about the human condition, two have been answered.

First, what is our relationship to the rest of the universe? Copernicus answered that one. We’re not at the center. We’re a speck in a large place.

Second, what is our relationship to the diversity of life? Darwin answered that one. Biologically speaking, we’re not a special act of creation. We’re a twig on the tree of evolution.

Third, what is the relationship between our minds and the physical world? Here, we don’t have a settled answer. We know something about the body and brain, but what about the subjective life inside? Consider that a computer, if hooked up to a camera, can process information about the wavelength of light and determine that grass is green. But we humans also experience the greenness. We have anawareness of information we process. What is this mysterious aspect of ourselves?"
Oh my! :D Talk about going for three strikes.

Question 1 - incorrect "answer."
Question 2 - glaringly incorrect "answer."
Question 3 - ?

Then again he got lost on the way to the ballpark. One and two are not among the most fundamental questions. Three is. Beyond that the role of science isn't to "answer" fundamental questions, although with the plague of post QM hubris many who work in those fields seem to think that is the function of science. However the current scientific method, especially the version advocated by people like Graziano, does not have the tools or the concepts to do that accurately.


If he's wrong about 3, the answers to 1 & 2 might change. As Nagel noted in Mind & Cosmos, if qualia are a fundamental this could tear down naturalism. For example pople like Meyers and Aurobindo would suggest evolution is Mind waking up

Beyond that, I don't he understood what the Hard Problem actually is, or why Chalmers underestimated the actual problem. The neuroscientist-philosopher Tallis goes into this in What Consciousness is Not.

One might be surprised to learn that anything involving “information” could literally be located outside of experiential consciousness. (The use of the word to refer to the contents of computers, books, and so forth is a matter of proxy: these objects store the products of a conscious person or persons, and only become “information” when they are translated back into the mind of another conscious person or persons. But as long as it is being stored in or shuffled between them, the content of computers remains “information” only in this indirect, honorary, or metaphorical sense.) Far from being eccentric, however, the view that stuff outside of consciousness is “information” is entirely orthodox. The use of the terms “information” and “information processing” to refer to events taking place in the brain is the mainstay of much cognitive science; the soundness of this idea is the central assumption of the Computational Theory of Mind that dominated cognitive science for nearly half a century. “Information” is used not in the sense in which you and I use it, to mean something that is conveyed to me by someone or something, and of which I am conscious; rather, it is merely about the relationship between inputs and outputs in any system.
Various alternative theories appeal to neurobiological properties that are less anatomically localized. These include “systems,” such as the one emphasized most recently by Gerald Edelman, in which consciousness arises from “loops” of activity between the thalamus and the cortex. Similarly, Francis Crick and Christian Koch speculated that consciousness might involve a particular sort of cell throughout the cerebral cortex, which has “a unique combination of molecular, biophysical, pharmacological and anatomical properties.” Other approaches focus more on what the neurons are up to than where they are — their patterns, their intensity, their frequency, the extent to which they are synchronous, and so on.

But none of these characteristics seems likely to deliver the difference between neural activity that is and is not associated with consciousness, not the least because they all aim to narrow down a phenomenon that is inherently multifaceted. And the approach faces other inherent limitations. For a start, as Chalmers points out, correlation is not causation: even if one identifies some neural feature correlated with consciousness (say, by stimulating a part of the brain and having the subject report being aware of some mental state), it does not follow that this neural feature is solely or mainly dedicated to consciousness. More to the point, even if some of these phenomena do turn out to be truly and uniquely causative of consciousness, none of them would enable us to get a handle on the “hard” questions. As Chalmers candidly points out, “why should [some particular neural feature] give rise to conscious experience? As always, this bridging question is unanswered.”
One problem I have with his take, is that certain consciously directed mental processes can have physiological effects on the body. Take for instance meditation. There is now an abundance of mainstream neuroscience literature and other medical papers that indicate that the practice of meditation can change gene expression, prolong life, increase powers of concentration, increase thickness of cortical matter, i.e. change brain structure, lower blood pressure, improved memory, slowing the development of cancers and so on. There's also the study of psychosomatic medicine whereby people's emotions can actually cause negative effects to their health. I don't think that we could call consciousness purely mechanistic. This doesn't mean the brain isn't a producer of it. But for downwards causation to occur like this, to say it doesn't exist is rather odd.


I'd echo Tallis and say the fact we have thoughts about things at all is where neuroplasticity gets interesting:

...If you really must be neuroscientific about it and talk about “neuroplasticity” (the research showing that there are changes in the brain when one acquires a skill), then you should be reminded that neuroplasticity is often self-driven, and that the self that does the driving cannot be understood without invoking the collective and individual transcendence that is the intentional world greatly expanded through language and culture. And we could extend the application of the term “plasticity” far beyond neuroplasticity: there is also bodily plasticity, plasticity of consciousness (including increased confidence in my abilities, which can be self-fulfilling), plasticity of the self, and plasticity of the world of selves (as when I decide to cooperate with others to ensure that one of us makes that so-important catch). It is a mistake to try to stuff all of that back into the brain and see it solely in terms of changes in synaptic connections at the microscopic level, or alterations in cortical maps at the comparatively macroscopic level. Stuffing it back in the brain, of course, is the first step to handing it all over to the no-person material world, and then tiptoeing back to determinism...