The Mystery of Consciousness

2nd International Conference on Music and Consciousness, Oxford April 2015


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 hears and sees 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 phenomena of change blindness and auditory illusions reveal how wrong we can be about our own perceptions. 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.

So who is this conscious self who enjoys the music? Am I too an illusion?