What Is Consciousness? Scientists Compete to Find Out

Andreas Kluth | Quint

Representation of consciousness from the seventeenth century by Robert Fludd, an English Paracelsian physician

In the world of science, there’s so much to be excited about right now. But I’m especially intrigued by a set of experiments that may, eventually, raise human consciousness. I mean that literally: The goal of this research is to understand what exactly “consciousness” is and how it works. Which animals have it? Why do people sometimes lose it?

Could artificial intelligence ever make our machines self-aware? But I’m also talking about raising consciousness in a meta-sense. The way these studies are being conducted could point us to a better approach for doing research in science and other fields. And, in this seemingly post-truth world, it even hints at a way to settle some of our other conflicts with intellectual integrity.

The method is called adversarial collaboration. In science as in life, people usually have lots of theories about stuff. Logically, those can’t all be true at the same time. And yet many theories live on indefinitely in the safety of their intellectual silos. So the solution is to invite proponents of conflicting narratives to identify some point of contradiction that can be tested.

This notion isn’t totally new. In 1919, Arthur Eddington, a British astronomer, used a solar eclipse to test two conflicting theories — Isaac Newton’s notions about gravity and Albert Einstein’s on general relativity. (Einstein’s won). But there’s been no large-scale research of this kind with the active participation of dueling scientists.

The Templeton World Charity Foundation wants to change that. The nonprofit funds research on some of humanity’s biggest questions, especially those at the intersection of science and spirituality. That includes consciousness.

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Father: "He never amounted to anything". Mother: "Who the hell does he think he is"? Former Teacher: "Smart as a bag of hammers". Former Boss: "Condescending". Brother: "Mom loves me more".
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