The mystery of consciousness

Ratio Conference, Sofia, Bulgaria, 27 April 2013.


Everyone thinks they know what consciousness is. It is a stream of ideas and perceptions that pass through the mind, experienced by a conscious self who watches them come and go. The trouble is, this cannot be true. There is no room in the brain for a conscious observer, not enough time for us to act on our conscious impressions, and no way of explaining why some brain activity should be conscious while most is not. So perhaps consciousness is an illusion.

With demonstrations and help from the audience I shall explore some of the ways in which we misunderstand our own minds. The phenomenon of change blindness shows that the richness of our visual world must be an illusion. Inattentional blindness shows that we can look right at something and not see it at all, and experiments on voluntary action cast doubt on the existence of free will.

Perhaps if we could see through the illusion science might make more progress on this “greatest mystery”.

Watch the whole lecture on YouTube here