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Academic Studies of Human Consciousness

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The Scientists - Introduction

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The Astonishing Hypothesis is that "You," your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. ... This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people alive today that it can be called astonishing.

Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994)

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My experiences at major universities indicates that there is a definite hierarchy or "pecking order" among the various university disciplines.  At the top are the "hard sciences" including pure mathematics, theoretical physics, then experimental physics, etc. down through the various other hard sciences.  At the bottom of this prestige ladder are the social sciences with the lowest-of-the-low being sociology and education.

The disciplines at the bottom of the ladder tend to be influenced by the paradigms in effect among the higher order disciplines.  However, there is usually a time-lag involved so the social sciences tend to be influenced by hard science paradigms of earlier generations.  Several years ago, the great M.I.T. economist, Paul Samuelson, observed that the thinking of many economists of his time tended to be influenced by the ideas of an earlier generation of scientists and philosophers.

In the fields of genetics and consciousness studies, some of the greatest 20th Century thinkers were people who crossed over from the physical sciences, e.g., Nobel Prize winners Erwin Schrödinger, Francis Crick, Gerald Edelman and Roger Sperry.  Conversely, many consciousness researchers who trained in the social sciences have been influenced by long established paradigms of the physical sciences.  Unfortunately, sometimes such paradigms are in the process of being replaced and use of the older paradigms undermines the credibility of the new consciousness theories being proposed.    A specific example of this phenomenon involves the so-called "quantum consciousness" theories that are currently being widely promulgated. 

Currently, the physics world is experiencing a new revolution, a paradigm shift of monumental proportions.  The Relativity Theory of Einstein and the Quantum Theory of Heisenberg are in the process of being transcended by a new world view - that of M Theory, also called Superstring Theory.  The M Theory version of Superstring Theory was first proposed in 1995 by the great mathematician and physicist, Edward Witten; it provides, for the first time. a consistent "theory of everything."  The contradictions between Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are reconciled in the sublime mathematical equations of M Theory.  Ultimate reality is explained by incredibly small membranes of energy which posses the ability to vibrate in an eleven dimensional space-time universe!  Thus, our long held idea of a material universe which contains both matter and energy is false.  Matter is an illusion; everything is energy and vibrations! 

Edward Witten (born 1951) of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University has said that:

String Theory is 21st Century physics that fell accidentally into the 20th Century.

I believe that, well before the end of the 21st Century, the Superstring Theory/M Theory paradigm will force a massive revision to our understanding of both human and machine consciousness.

The scientists selected for review at this web site are intended to provide a reasonable sampling of leaders in the consciousness field since the 1980's.  Individuals discussed are the physicist Baum; biologist Varela; and two researchers from the field of medicine:  Damasio and Edelman.

My short essays concerning some of the ideas described in the writings of these individuals may be accessed by clicking on the hyperlink buttons shown below.

Home Antonio Damasio Eric Baum Gerald Edelman Francisco Varela

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