Thursday, March 10, 2016

most theories of consciousness are worse than wrong..,

theatlantic |  According to medieval medicine, laziness is caused by a build-up of phlegm in the body. The reason? Phlegm is a viscous substance. Its oozing motion is analogous to a sluggish disposition.

The phlegm theory has more problems than just a few factual errors. After all, suppose you had a beaker of phlegm and injected it into a person. What exactly is the mechanism that leads to a lazy personality? The proposal resonates seductively with our intuitions and biases, but it doesn’t explain anything.

In the modern age we can chuckle over medieval naiveté, but we often suffer from similar conceptual confusions. We have our share of phlegm theories, which flatter our intuitions while explaining nothing. They’re compelling, they often convince, but at a deeper level they’re empty.

One corner of science where phlegm theories proliferate is the cognitive neuroscience of consciousness. The brain is a machine that processes information, yet somehow we also have a conscious experience of at least some of that information. How is that possible? What is subjective experience? It’s one of the most important questions in science, possibly the most important, the deepest way of asking: What are we? Yet many of the current proposals, even some that are deep and subtle, are phlegm theories.