People who are into physics and follow blogs actively have surely ran into MIT physicist Scott Aaronson, probably most well known for his critiques of the alleged D-Wave quantum computer. More recently, Scott has been writing a lot about consciousness, but his latest post – prepared talk notes from the Quantum Foundations of a Classical Universe meeting – is a real doozy. It's a long read but well worth the trouble.Read More
Two viewpoints on the recent Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness at the Cosmic Variance and the Conscious entities blogs. I'm personally sympathetic to the idea of a continuum of consciousness between humans and animals; that is, that no demarcation line can be drawn between conscious and non-conscious beings.
The concept of a connectome has been often featured in the media during the past year. The idea is that rather than looking at our genome as determining who we are, what we actually should be looking is our connectome – the totality of all the connections between all the neurons in our brain. Sebastian Seung has been particularly visible in promoting the idea and research into figuring out how we could map the whole connectome (listen to the Science Weekly podcast, and see his TED talk). Although everyone agrees that the connections in the brain are a crucial piece of the puzzle of how our minds work, this vision has been criticized as too simplistic:
A human brain connectome would undoubtedly be useful. Given the staggering complexity of the human brain, however, it would arguably teach us even less about ourselves than the nematode connectome has about its behaviour. What's more, we now know that the brain continuously "rewires" itself in response to experience, by altering its connections, and perhaps making news ones and breaking older ones, countless times every second. A static connectivity map would, therefore, tell us nothing about these organizational changes. We would, therefore, need multiple connectomes for each individual to take these changes into account.
If this were the case, and just mapping the connections gives as practically nothing, it clearly has implications for transhumanist ideas of creating artificial minds and uploading our consciousness to artifical systems. These of course have long been Ray Kurzweil's forte, and he happens to have a new book on this topic just coming out, succintly named "How to create a mind". No reviews out yet, but I'd definitely keep an eye out for the more critical voices just to proof oneself against confirmation bias.