I don’t agree per se that there’s no evidence that conscience exists but he’s just proposing another angle to why we think there’s a conscience and such.
Was the ego check because he wasn’t directly asked? I don’t know the rules or manners in which to act in that stage setting but he felt genuinely enthused to share his opinion.
I understand that Bill and Neil may have a joking relationship and I appreciate Bill’s humor but I did NOT like that. It felt undermining and that act encouraged others to laugh at Neil rather then listen. I think if anyone needs an ego check there it should be Bill.
I’m disappointed in many up there and disappointed in these comments.
Very interesting, Neil is saying we might be off on what consciousness is. Personally I don’t think it really matters, the purpose of the term consciousness is to describe the unique (on Earth) characteristic of the human brain, the ability to be aware. So whether we are slightly off on exactly what the definition of consciousness, at the end of the day it is describing an extremely unique and powerful function of the human brain we as humans seem to understand but fail to perfectly explain and map out. Just my 2 cents, would be interested to hear Neil expand on this theory.
What he’s actually saying (somewhat poorly because he was put on the spot) is that our basic idea of what consciousness is might be wrong.
But not just that. He’s saying that what we think about what we think (yeah, hard to follow, I know) could be completely and totally wrong. That introspection could be completely off base. Perhaps even that consciousness might be an illusion or at least very different from what we “feel” it is as we experience it.
It’s not just that the theories we use to understand conscious could be wrong, it’s that our own experience of consciousness could be flawed, illusionary, or otherwise off base.
To change his metaphor slightly for clarity, it’s like the progression from Newtonian physics to Quantum physics. Newtonian physics is like what many people who study consciousness are trying to codify into a set theory. For hundreds of years, people went about their daily lives, understanding Newtonian physics on an instinctual level. Then Newton came along and codified it into law. Done.
All of this is to say, most of Newtonian physics is common sense. And what isn’t common sense is pretty easy to grasp once you understand the how and why. Newtonian physics is part of our everyday experience and so it instantly strikes us as true–it agrees with what we feel.
Then along comes Quantum physics and pretty much everything physicists have been working on for most of the last century. That shit goes deeper than Newtonian physics… and it is often completely counter-intuitive. It doesn’t “feel” right. It doesn’t make sense.
Yet the math works and the experiments we’ve been able to run check out.
Physics for almost the last hundred years has been a continually narrative of “Everything you think you know is wrong. Your everyday understanding of the universe is a lie.”
It’s not that Newtonian physics is right or wrong (after all, it got us to the Moon, how could it be wrong?), it’s that Newtonian physics is really a common-sense grasp of something much much deeper and much much stranger. Newtonian physics is a mask, a “good enough” approximation of the output that really doesn’t provide any insight into what is really happening. Put simply, Newtonian physics doesn’t exist, in the same way any lie or approximation doesn’t exist.
Tyson is taking what we’ve learned about the universe around us and applying it to ourselves. He’s saying what if, just maybe “Everything you THINK is wrong. Your everyday understanding of YOURSELF is a lie.”
Not just “you haven’t figured it out and codified it into a formal theory” or “you might be off about some of the details,” but actually: “You’re just completely wrong about everything.”
Maybe you (as “you” understand the concept) don’t even exist. On the surface it’s a completely absurd and ridiculous idea–hence the joke about smoking pot–the one thing we know is what we think. That’s the core of everything. It’s too fundamental to be wrong.
…it leads to immediate metaphorical objections such as “If consciousness is a lie, what is being lied to?” that seem to prove it is a silly idea.
But then again, more and more evidence is stacking in up in neuroscience that what we think of as “free will” and “making a choice” is actually an illusion. The choice often seems to be made before we’re aware we made it. And if that’s the case… it’s scary stuff.
The one lesson science has been teaching us for the past hundred years is that the real world doesn’t respect common sense or feeling. If everything around you can be a lie, maybe you can be one too.
Ultimately, maybe, just maybe, in some counter-intuitive way we haven’t yet grasped, “I think, therefore I am,” is a false statement.
That said, I doubt Tyson would go THAT far, but that’s the general direction he’s heading: maybe our own perception of our consciousness is wrong. Maybe when we think about what we’re thinking, we’re looking in a fun house mirror.