What is the nature of consciousness?
What makes us different from animals? What are we aware of uniquely as humans?
Can we ever truly understand the subjective experience of consciousness, or is it beyond our comprehension?
Anil Seth is a professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex. He’s also co-Director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Program on Brain, Mind, and Consciousness, a European Research Council advanced Investigator, and editor in Chief of the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness.
He holds degrees in natural science, computer science, and artificial intelligence. He has published more than 180 papers, which places him in the top 1% of researchers in his field worldwide. He appears regularly in several podcasts and publishes articles regularly.
The first question Kristina asks is… what is consciousness?
According to Anil Seth, consciousness refers to any kind of experience, whether it be the experience of seeing a color, feeling joy, or any other conscious experience. It is the feeling that there is something to be “me” or “you.”
Then, just seeing something can be considered conscious? Recognizing that we have a body makes us conscious, Anil says.
In this case… do animals have consciousness? and how? Because Kristina says her cat didn’t appreciate it when she tried to put a coat on it! So it must have some kind of consciousness, right?
Anil says that animals perceive things in a really different way, and they are also experiences.
Something that came to his research was that some animals could actually recognize themselves in the mirror, but very few! A few primates, elephants, and dolphins!
But does that mean that they don’t perceive the world consciously in other ways?
So, where does consciousness begin, and where does it end?
Also, what happens with children?
William James, one of the fathers of psychology, said that the world of an infant feels like a blooming confusion because we learn to separate our senses as we develop.
There is something important: our bodies! The self is not this thing inside the skull that is blossoming our perception. Our bodies are really important and they are often overlooked!
Body perception and the experiences we can have with our bodies are very important because they define much of our subjective experience.
However, if we only consider our biological processes, as Kristina says,… aren’t we missing something?
Stephen Hawking was straightforward about consciousness, stating that there are laws of nature and everything else is just what we wish. However, religion shows us things about humans that are worth learning about and cannot be fully explained.
There are also the experiences of different types of humans that, for example, enter in a comma and return! Kristina mentions that a friend of hers went through it, and she doesn’t remember anything from when she was in a comma, but she is the same person!
Anil says that illnesses can change you, and your perception of change or time might be “not conscious.” Sometimes, we think of time as a linear path! We think that even after anesthesia! Anesthesia has contributed to the research of human consciousness because it disappears when you are in it!
So, Kristina brings a very important question to the table:
Why is it important to study human consciousness?
Anil goes over the main applications of it in clinical psychology, accident recovery, or even criminology!
But the main reason is that it is useful to know why we are the way we are!
Knowing that can prevent us from living on autopilot and doing things without awareness. Mindfulness could be a tool to enhance our consciousness, but knowing why can take us to other levels.
Or to connect with others. For example, we know that music is a way to connect with others, and it is a distinctively human trait, except maybe for some birds that can sing!
For example, Anil mentions Ani Petals’ research on the interaction between music and language! It turns out both are interconnected.
How? Well, it can be understood by an easier example: the colors! Kristina raises awareness of the fact that in Russian, there are two words for the color blue! That expands the awareness of your color perception.
Cezanne said that color is where the brain and the universe meet!
Another really interesting topic and question that Kristina asks towards the end is about Artificial Intelligence and robotics possibilities.
Can we build conscious machines, and what ethical implications would arise if we were successful?
Anil answers that in AI, it’s all blurry. “I have a sense that we cannot program consciousness into a computer.”- he states.
But as AI technology continues to advance, it is important to consider the ethical implications of creating machines that could potentially become conscious.
Besides that idea, he argues that it would be a really bad idea to build a conscious computer because we would have a responsibility to it! Maybe it would suffer! It sounds cool, but we should be very careful!
One of the major concerns with creating conscious machines is the possibility that they could suffer. If a machine were to become conscious, it would presumably have thoughts, feelings, and subjective experiences, as humans do!
This raises the question of whether we have a moral obligation to ensure that conscious machines are not subjected to unnecessary harm or suffering. It also raises questions about the legal and ethical status of conscious machines and whether they should be afforded the same rights and protections as humans.
There are also questions about the implications of consciousness on values, what they bring to the table in education, and how we perceive education!
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I have been a personal growth enthusiast since I can remember! Mindvalley follower since 2015 and practitioner, I support with my writing female entrepreneurs and brands in the personal growth industry; I am a proud editor of this blog!