Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Friday, May 24, 2002

I was just surfing my way around the blogosphere, and I came across an interesting article on Consciousness, via Gary Farber that piqued my interest. A new book published by a Harvard professor suggests, in its title, that consciousness is an illusion. On its face, this seems like a useless assertion (if consciousness is an illusion, who exactly is being fooled?), but it lead to the following quotation, regarding the potential "emergent" nature of the conscious mind.

Chalmers believes scientists will eventually conclude that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe -- like space, time or gravity -- and therefore not reducible.

"Why does the law of gravity hold? No one can explain that," Chalmers said.

This may be quoted slightly out of context, because Chalmers seems to have a pretty good grasp of what he is talking about, but Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, and his corresponding model of space-time, do a pretty good job of explaining why the law of gravity holds. For those of us who watched "Cosmos" when we were kids, we can envision a sort of pock-marked plane where each "hole" represents a massive object, and the "force of gravity" is really just the curvature of space-time by the presence of that object. There are some questions left to solve, such as why the gravitational constant is what it is (6.67x10^-11, if I remember right), but it is not really a mystery "why it holds". Consciousness may be (almost certainly is) a much tougher nut to crack, but there is no real reason to think it is uncrackable.