What Does It Mean to Be You? A Podcast Explores Consciousness

This 40-minute podcast offers a tour through the state of research into consciousness, including the study of meta-cognition, or studying how people and their brains function when they reflect on their own consciousness.

The hosts of the show are guided by cognitive neuroscientist Anil Seth. They visit Professor Christof Koch of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, as part of their journey. Koch is pursuing integrated information theory, which posits that a system that can integrate information and cause changes in itself is conscious. This means that consciousness extends not just to mammals but to all multi-cellular life, so, for example, a bee has some modicum of experience of being a bee. This raises questions of degree – at what point does consciousness not exist? This shares some elements with pan-psychism, which argues that consciousness exists in everything.

Koch says we have to realize that science comes up with theories that seem counterintuitive but can turn out to be true. Such was the case with many major advances, such as the theory that the earth is round, which was initially rejected because it would seem that everyone would fall off a round world.

Dr. Steve Fleming at University College of London discusses how important the study of consciousness is. We don’t understand it, so understanding it would be a huge scientific success. But we also have a practical need to understand it, Flemin said, so we can address what happens with mental illness or patients who appear to be unaware but might have an interior mental life.