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4 talks on a strange phenomenon we all experience: consciousness

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

John Searle shares why it is possible to study consciousness in today’s talk, from TEDxCERN.

John Searle studies consciousness — which, as he points out in today’s talk, is a “curiously neglected subject in our scientific and philosophical culture.” Curiously — because it is, after all, a pre-condition for anything else we think about. And yet neglected — because consciousness is a subject that makes scientists huffy (they see it as something subjective) and that makes philosophers uncomfortable (since it speaks to the mind and body being of different realms).

In this talk, Searle lays out a simple way to understand this complex phenomenon: as a condition of our biology. As he puts it, all states of consciousness are the result of neurobiological processes in the brain. “Consciousness is a biological phenomenon like photosynthesis, digestion or mitosis,” he says. “Once you accept that, most though not all of the hard problems about consciousness evaporate.”

Watch this fast-paced talk from TEDxCERN as Searle debunks some commonly held ideas about consciousness — like that it is an illusion, that it is a computer program running in the brain, that you can’t make objective claims about something that is subjective. And once you’ve checked out this romp through the experience of experiencing, watch these other talks that deal with the tricky issue of consciousness.

Dan Dennett: The illusion of consciousnessDan Dennett: The illusion of consciousness
Dan Dennett: The illusion of consciousness
Philosopher Dan Dennett agrees that there is a strange bias against studying consciousness—he says his colleague’s lips snarl upon hearing his field of interest. But after this point, Dennett diverges a bit from Searle. In this talk from TED2003, Dennett shares why every single person thinks they’re an expert in consciousness — and why each of us might be wrong. It’s a fascinating look at the tricks of the brain that are a result of biology.
Antonio Damasio: The quest to understand consciousnessAntonio Damasio: The quest to understand consciousness
Antonio Damasio: The quest to understand consciousness
In this talk from TED2011, Antonio Damasio points out an amazing fact — that every morning, we wake up and are conscious once again. Showing stunning images of a living brain, Damasio takes a closer look at the things we take for granted — a flow of mental images, an experience of a self, and ownership of a subjective perspective.
Simon Lewis: Don't take consciousness for grantedSimon Lewis: Don't take consciousness for granted
Simon Lewis: Don’t take consciousness for granted
Simon Lewis has experienced “the full consciousness of inner space” — after a devastating car accident, he was in a coma for a month. In this talk, from the INK Conference, he outlines some of the ways that consciousness is under threat all around the world — from head injuries, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, depression and drug addiction as well as some surprising other factors.