Anil Seth, a cognitive neuroscientist from the University of Sussex, describes consciousness as a controlled hallucination. The way we perceive the world is the result of a negotiation between our senses and our expectations. Our consciousness and sense of self emerge from this reconstructed experience, which is also influenced by those around us and the society we live in. In his latest book, The Creation of the Self, Seth guides readers through his extensive experience studying consciousness, which is one of the most fascinating scientific pursuits of our time. He suggests that the challenge of understanding consciousness, which may seem impossible now, will likely become achievable soon, just as other seemingly unattainable peaks of human knowledge were reached in the past.
Seth believes that the notion of the soul may no longer be useful and that concepts such as free will are losing their mystery. Free will is not a supernatural force that changes the course of the universe but a particular type of experience related to actions that come from within. Seth suggests that the idea of consciousness as something mysterious and different from the rest of the universe may soon disappear, but we do not yet have a complete alternative answer. He explains that progress in science sometimes occurs when we change the questions we ask rather than answering the questions we had previously asked.
When asked whether the science of consciousness can help in the search for meaning, Seth explains that while it may not be the role of science to provide meaning, it is the responsibility of scientists to understand this. Some of the great mysteries of science also have an existential dimension, and the discovery of the vastness of the universe, for example, can be both daunting and empowering.
Similarly, understanding that life is a natural phenomenon can give us a sense of connection to nature or make us feel threatened because we are no longer special. Seth suggests that the difference with other mysteries is that consciousness is personal and combines the scientific and philosophical challenge with a central characteristic of our individual lives. Understanding that consciousness is not something given by a supernatural being that sets us apart from the rest of nature but rather a part of nature can be existentially comforting.
Seth believes that the neuroscience of consciousness can help us answer personal questions about our place in the universe and our emotions, and that understanding consciousness can help us find meaning in our lives. He explains that his research has helped him understand that his experience of the world is not necessarily the same as others’ and that there is no objective reality. Rather, our experiences are constructed by our brains, and we can change our experiences by changing our brains.
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