(Roughly) Daily

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”*…

Christof Koch settles his bet with David Chalmers (with a case of wine)

… perhaps especially not the problem of consciousness itself. At least for now…

A 25-year science wager has come to an end. In 1998, neuroscientist Christof Koch bet philosopher David Chalmers that the mechanism by which the brain’s neurons produce consciousness would be discovered by 2023. Both scientists agreed publicly on 23 June, at the annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC) in New York City, that it is still an ongoing quest — and declared Chalmers the winner.

What ultimately helped to settle the bet was a key study testing two leading hypotheses about the neural basis of consciousness, whose findings were unveiled at the conference.

“It was always a relatively good bet for me and a bold bet for Christof,” says Chalmers, who is now co-director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University. But he also says this isn’t the end of the story, and that an answer will come eventually: “There’s been a lot of progress in the field.”

Consciousness is everything a person experiences — what they taste, hear, feel and more. It is what gives meaning and value to our lives, Chalmers says.

Despite a vast effort — and a 25-year bet — researchers still don’t understand how our brains produce it, however. “It started off as a very big philosophical mystery,” Chalmers adds. “But over the years, it’s gradually been transmuting into, if not a ‘scientific’ mystery, at least one that we can get a partial grip on scientifically.”…

Neuroscientist Christof Koch wagered philosopher David Chalmers 25 years ago that researchers would learn how the brain achieves consciousness by now. But the quest continues: “Decades-long bet on consciousness ends — and it’s philosopher 1, neuroscientist 0,” from @Nature. Eminently worth reading in full for background and state-of-play.

* Albert Einstein


As we ponder pondering, we might spare a thought for Vannevar Bush; he died on this date in 1974. An engineer, inventor, and science administrator, he headed the World War II U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), through which almost all wartime military R&D was carried out, including important developments in radar and the initiation and early administration of the Manhattan Project. He emphasized the importance of scientific research to national security and economic well-being, and was chiefly responsible for the movement that led to the creation of the National Science Foundation.

Bush also did his own work. Before the war, in 1925, at age 35, he developed the differential analyzer, the world’s first analog computer, capable of solving differential equations. It put into productive form, the mechanical concept left incomplete by Charles Babbage, 50 years earlier; and theoretical work by Lord Kelvin. The machine filled a 20×30 ft room. He seeded ideas later adopted as internet hypertext links.


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