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7/29/10

V.S. Ramachandran: Consciousness, Qualia, & Self

Ramachandran has an ability to open up access to difficult subjects--not that he explains them away, but that he, well, he makes them more accessible to understanding. He has great stories about some of his patients, one being the son who, after an auto accident, called his mother an imposter when he saw her, but immediately warmed to her when he talked to her on the phone. (That is not part of this video. It is called the Capgras Delusion and can be watched here.)

Some of his talking points:
  • What is consciousness? He and his colleagues want to understand the logic of consciousness. There are two important problems regarding it:
  • One is qualia. Francis Crick and Kristof Koch championed the view that it is sensations you're conscious of. (My opinion: this seems tautological. The hard problem of consciousness is to explain in the third person what we all experience in the first person.)
  • The qualia problem: You cannot communicate your experience of green to anybody else.
  • The second problem is that of self. Not only do you experience qualia but you know that you experience qualia and you know that you know that you experience qualia.
  • There is no such thing as a free-floating qualia without a self and there is no such thing as a self without a qualia.
  • Ramachandran: The two co-evolved in evolution and are intimately linked to language. Self and qualia are two sides of a Möbius strip.


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