Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Consciousness Explained (almost)

I'm almost done reading Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett. It's an attempt to tackle the slipperiest of problems, the nature of consciousness (in case you didn't quite get that from the title). Dennett proposes what he calls the Multiple Drafts model, in which many systems in the brain each do their own processing in parallel, and some sort of neurological competition ultimately allows only one process to make it all the way; that's the thought that becomes conscious. He hasn't elaborated on what sort of competition is going on, but I can easily imagine it in a dynamical-systems context.

Of course, it's a purely materialistic theory of consciousness. I agree with that point of view; there is no need to conjure the supernatural.

That said, I can't say I blame people for not accepting the materialistic explanation of consciousness. The feeling that "I am me" is difficult to resolve without leaning on some vital force. Can this feeling of consciousness really have emerged as my brain developed, and will it really just disappear once my brain stops receiving oxygen and sugar?

At any rate, I am enjoying the book. His multiple drafts model reminds me of an explanation I once read about multiple personality disorder; it could be that different brain subsystems become decoupled and partition the "host's" history into separate memory banks. That blew me away!


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