Consciousness: How we’re solving a mystery bigger than our minds | Tech News
What is being in love, feeling pain or seeing colour made of? How our brains make conscious experience has long been a riddle – but we’re uncovering clues
TWENTY years ago this week, two young men sat in a smoky bar in Bremen, northern Germany. Neuroscientist Christof Koch and philosopher David Chalmers had spent the day lecturing at a conference about consciousness, and they still had more to say. After a few drinks, Koch suggested a wager. He bet a case of fine wine that within the next 25 years someone would discover a specific signature of consciousness in the brain. Chalmers said it wouldn’t happen, and bet against.
It was a bit of fun, but also an audacious gamble. Consciousness is truly mysterious. It is the essence of you – the redness of red, the feeling of being in love, the sensation of pain and all the rest of your subjective experiences, conjured up somehow by your brain. Back then, its illusive nature meant that many believed it wasn’t even a valid subject for scientific investigation.
Read more: What is consciousness?
How your brain creates the feeling of being is the biggest problem in neuroscience. But we are coming closer to cracking it
Today, consciousness is a hot research area, and Koch and Chalmers are two of its most influential figures. Koch is head of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. Chalmers is a professor at New York University and famous for coining the phrase the “hard problem” to distinguish the difficulty of understanding consciousness from that of grasping other mental phenomena. Much progress has been made, but how close are we to solving the mystery? To find out, I decided to ask Chalmers and Koch how their bet was going. But there was …