Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Excerpt

In the spring of 2000 I was preparing for a trip to Tucson, Arizona, for a conference called 'Toward a Science of Consciousness'. The first of these nowfamous conferences had been held in 1996—and Stuart Hameroff and Dave Chalmers both tell stories about it. 'Tucson II', in 1998, had been bigger and already begun attracting a lot of attention, and I had been invited to take part in a plenary session on parapsychology. I had much enjoyed the whole event with its eclectic mix of neuroscientists, philosophers, and spiritual seekers. So I was now looking forward to the third, 'Tucson 2000'.

And I had an idea. I do a fair bit of work for BBC radio and television, and specially enjoy making radio programmes because of the freedom you get to express difficult ideas in depth. As the old joke goes: the pictures are better on the radio. So I contacted John Byrne, a producer I knew at BBC Bristol, and asked whether we might be able to make a programme for Radio 4 about consciousness. As it happened, our proposal never made it through the final stages of the complicated BBC selection process, but never mind. John lent me some broadcast quality recording equipment and I set off to Tucson to see if I could interview some of the great experts on consciousness that I knew would be there.

The process was great fun. It gave me a way of introducing myself properly to people I hardly knew, and an excuse for having in-depth conversations with old friends. I squeezed the interviews into gaps between the presentations, early in the morning, late at night, or during the one free afternoon; we did them in hotel rooms, in the plaza outside the conference hall, or out in the desert nearby. As we talked I came more and more to appreciate why the conference can only be called Toward a Science of Consciousness. There is so little agreement. And I learned such a lot—how feeble was my understanding of many of the theories I knew about; how different were some of the people when you got to ask them face-to-face what they really meant; how utterly confusing the whole field is. When the radio plan fell through I just wanted to keep going, and keep going I did. John kindly lent me the equipment again and I did the same at other conferences; at both the following Tucson events, and at two conferences of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, in Brussels and in Antwerp.

Eventually the idea of this book took shape. I realized that throughout the conversations I had been asking the same key questions, and there was . . .

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