Friday, April 16, 2010

David Carmel on consciousness

Quotation from

by David Carmel
Published on April 8, 2010
on Five Books

David Carmel, a research scientist at the Carrasco Lab, part of New York University’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science, recognizes the importance of philosophical conceptualization of consciousness.

Below is his response in the interview.

Whereas you would say there is actually more to the science than that [=philosophy] ?

Not necessarily. I’m a scientist, and my own approach to these questions is scientific. But I got interested in consciousness because of the philosophical issues. What is consciousness? How can we possibly understand it? One of the frustrating things for scientists who deal with consciousness is that nowadays we have lots of great methodologies to look at the brain and at complex forms of behaviour. But we still lack a conceptual framework with which we could recognise an answer if it came along. The answer might be all around us: we may just not see it yet.


Do you think you’ll find the answer in your lifetime?

Well I, personally, won’t! Others might…When I got into this originally, when I started graduate school, I thought: ‘Yes! Here’s an interesting question, give me a few years and I’ll solve it.’ I no longer think that. Science works incrementally; we will know a lot more than we know now by the end of my lifetime ? we already know a lot more than we knew when I started graduate school in 2002. But all we know are details, we’re still looking for that conceptual framework ? and that would require a revolution in thinking, and there’s no way of knowing when those might occur.

For the topic of "selective attention" that he introduces, just see the video below and follow the instruction without any prior knowledge!

He has also chosen 'Failure to Detect Mismatches between Intention and Outcome', that argued that "normal participants may produce confabulatory reports when asked to describe the reasons behind their choices. (p. 119)"

So now on to ‘Failure to Detect Mismatches between Intention and Outcome’. Why have you chosen this?
Another aspect of consciousness is the consciousness of self. And this is what this particular article sheds an interesting light on. We each walk around the world, constantly telling ourselves a story. The narrative of our lives is the narrative we use to construct our sense of self, who we are, why we do what we do, why we choose what we choose ? everything we do, we justify to ourselves. And we have this illusion of stability. We think we know why we did what we did, why we chose what we chose. And what this article does really well is to show that, actually, that sense of self, that narrative, is a lot more fragile than we might normally think. We’re probably updating it on-line all the time. We probably know why we did something because we see what we did ? rather than the other way around.

When we think about consciousness, let's not forget that our consciousness is easily deceived and that our narratives may contain confabulations. In the first place, we even do not have a good conceptual framework for it.


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