How is consciousness physically constructed in our brains? © Getty Images

How is consciousness physically constructed in our brains?

Consciousness is one of the most fundamental aspects of being human, yet we know so little about it.

Asked by: Stuart Laws, Norwich

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It isn’t. At least, if you are thinking of consciousness as a product that’s made by the brain then you fall straight into ‘dualism’ and the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness.

Consciousness is our private subjective experience or ‘what it’s like’ to be me (or you). So the hard problem is how subjective experience arises from an objective body and brain. This is hard because mind and brain, or subjective and objective, seem so irreducibly different that nearly all scientists and philosophers agree that dualism cannot work.

So somehow we have to understand consciousness as an aspect of what brains do, perhaps a consequence of self-modeling or an inevitable result of our interactions with the world around us. If consciousness really is something ‘constructed in our brains’ no one has worked out how that would happen or indeed what it would mean.

Consciousness, even in the 21st century, remains a fascinating mystery.


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