Are you sure you’re conscious now?

Café Scientific, Bristol, April 2004

What is consciousness? At once the most obvious, and the most difficult thing we can investigate, consciousness remains undefined. It is a real mystery for science and the more we learn about how the brain works, the less we seem able to answer the really difficult question – why should the activity of millions of brain cells ever produce subjective experience? How can a physical lump of flesh be responsible for my sense of being alive here now? I shall describe some of the recent evidence on consciousness, self and voluntary action, as well as discussing ways in which we can investigate our own experience directly. Happily both just make the problem seem worse. So I am hoping you will end the evening with a pain in your head and a growing doubt as to whether you really are conscious now.