Groupthink

One of the topics in which there is keen interest around these parts is the infinitely perplexing question of consciousness – what it is, whence it arises, and just where it fits into the Big Picture.

The hallmark of consciousness is subjectivity; the existence of an awareness that experiences are happening to. Many belive that this subjectivity is ontologically irreducible; that there is an unbridgeable gulf between the objective phenomenological world we all share and our individual conscious experiences of it. The only consciousness we can know confidently to exist is our own; we assume that others are conscious as well (if nothing else, it seems unsociable not to), but we have no way to be sure. Is there, in fact, any objective way to detect consciousness? At Princeton University there is a group who are investigating this question from a new angle.

The program is called the Global Consciousness Project, and it looks for statistical variations in randomly generated data at moments when much of the conscious attention of the world’s population can be assumed to be directed in a more coherent way than usual (the turn of the millennium, the death of Princess Diana, the 9/11 attack, etc.). The group says that they have observed results that differ greatly from what mere chance would predict.

Implicit in this experiment seems to be the assumption that consciousnesses can join, that there is some sense in which individual consciousnesses can measurably interact with each other and the material world. I have not yet found, however, in the summary of this work, where consciousness an sich is shown to be the agent that is causing the observed results, as opposed to other possible culprits, like “mere” brain activity. I am curious to browse the site in more depth (there is a lot to read there), and invite readers to look and comment as well.

[As readers will recall, waka waka waka is on a reduced schedule for August, and while we will try to keep the number of two-day outages, such as the one just gone by, to a minimum, there may well be one or two more, I’m afraid.]

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