Science And The Mystery Of The Human Mind

November 29 2017 | By Marcelo Gleiser for NPR
Opinion Piece: Science And The Mystery Of The Mind

(Above image: DrAfter123/Getty Images)

The mind is a challenge because it works more like a city than a household, with several networked links resonating at different times and with different subgroups of nodes, such that understanding the behavior of individuals or even of smaller groups won’t tell the whole story of what’s going on. No approach can capture the whole of what goes on over time in a large city like New York or Rio, even if a city is made of small neighborhoods — and those neighborhoods, of a few individuals. One may capture certain mass events, like rush hour traffic or festivals, parades or open-air concerts, but not the global behavior of the city. You can describe a city, its neighborhoods and museums, its history, but not explain it, at least not in some clear deterministic way. As Nobel Prize physicist Phil Anderson once remarked: “More is different.”

In the case of the human mind, it’s different in ways that are extremely hard to qualify, at least for now. We may make some progress if we are ever able to create machines that are somehow capable of some kind of rudimentary self-awareness and not just of following complex program instructions. Catching the emergence of such minds in the act, so to speak, may teach us how to begin to make sense of our own, at least partially.

But we remain far from such machinery, and are still as ignorant about the “passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness” as Tyndall and his Victorian colleagues were.

Read more about it on NPR

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