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In 1998, two scholars – computational neuroscientist Christof Koch and philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers – got into a pretty involved discussion about human consciousness. They were arguing over how the brain generates subjective conscious states.
It had already been speculated that consciousness is created through brain cells firing together at 40 times per second. But Chalmers believed that the 40-hertz oscillations still couldn’t fully explain why perceptions produce conscious sensations. Chalmers called consciousness “the hard problem.” He proposed that this hard problem might be explained by assuming that “information” is a fundamental property of reality. This idea might explain how consciousness would work in any system, not just in organisms with brains.
According to Scientific American, Koch even told Chalmers, “Why don’t you just say that when you have a brain, the Holy Ghost comes down and makes you conscious?”
So, Koch ended up betting Chalmers a case of wine that the mechanism that sparks a brain’s neurons to produce consciousness would be discovered by 2023. And, at the annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC) in New York City this June, Chalmers was declared the winner. Cheers.
We’re still in the dark about consciousness 25 years later.
“It was always a relatively good bet for me and a bold bet for Christof,” said Chalmers, who now co-directs the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University, to Nature. He did concede that we’ll get an answer eventually. “There’s been a lot of progress in the field.”
In 1998, neurology was advancing really quickly, with new developments and discoveries being made all the time. "I was very taken by all these techniques," Koch told Nature's Mariana Lenharo. "I thought: 25 years from now? No problem."
Today, we have a lot of different perspectives on the question of consciousness. Scientists have been doing research on this subject, conducting more and more experiments on the brain. Some hypotheses say the prefrontal cortex produces consciousness, while others point out activity all over the brain or dealing with specific neurons and neural communication. Looking into the consciousness of different species has also opened up the field.
Far out, man.