Friday, November 14, 2008

With Apologies to Pete Townsend

You know, we're not on the cutting edge any more with this whole value-of-consciousness riff. Just a couple of years ago, the idea that sentience isn't worth the trouble seemed a pretty radical proposition. But in the years since Blindsight came out1 we've seen top-flight journals publishing research showing that consciousness impedes complex problem-solving; we've seen review papers suggesting that self-awareness is a mere side-effect of brain function, serving no real purpose.

And sometime between then and now the whole thing went from heresy to mainstream. In fact, we're so mainstream that there's actually a Value-of-consciousness backlash brewing. According to Discover magazine a couple of months back2, "A small but growing number of researchers are challenging some of the more extreme arguments supporting the primacy of the inner zombie."

"A small but growing number." Right. A plucky band of free-thinking rebels, taking on the fossilized Establishment dogma that Consciousness Is Irrelevant. You know, back in the old days, the Old Boss would have ruled at least long enough to move his things into the Palace before the New Boss threw him out.

I'm just glad that Thomas Kuhn didn't live to see this day.


1Or maybe before; I only started following the arguments when I started researching the book)
2 And thanks to Nas Hedron, or whatever he's calling himself these days, for the link.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

While fixing the footnote you deleted the label...

November 14, 2008 at 6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought you weren't a fan of Kuhn.

November 14, 2008 at 6:31 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

That's why I'm glad he's dead.

November 14, 2008 at 6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad he's dead

anon2:

Blasphemer! You mock what you do not understand!

The High Priests of the Temple of Science are not Amused.

November 14, 2008 at 6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bec_87rb says:

Hey, a review article! Yay! I will give it a read. I feel better armed (since Mr. Watts provided links in previous posts to individual articles on the topic) to read it with a critical eye. I'll be interested to see which of those ideas made it into the review.

November 15, 2008 at 9:14 AM  
Anonymous rayp said...

Epiphenomenalism goes back a-ways and I think Freud had something to say about the relative position of the Unconscious and the Conscious aspects of human beings.

November 15, 2008 at 6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

people are pretty precious about their oh-so thoughty thoughts, i'm not surprised the suggestion that they're pointless would set off an immediate backlash. out in the normal world, it's a terrifying revelation to think that our own brains are undermining us, nevermind that they'd do a much better job of running things. very few people see that as evolution- more like a bigger surrender of power than we ever feared or imagined.
~erin

November 16, 2008 at 4:09 PM  

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