For thousands of years, humankind has been plagued by to two essential questions:
Why do I have this unique voice inside my head? And am I in control of it or am I simply a passenger?
The concepts of consciousness and free will are fundamental to the human condition—perhaps the two most crucial operating principles of our lives. And yet, after millennia of philosophical inquiry and scientific progress, we are still confounded by these notions, unable to make many great claims with high certainty.
In the latest episode of Singularity University Radio’s the Feedback Loop, we sat down with one of our species’ latest champions fighting to unravel the enigmatic puzzle that is the human mind.
Annaka Harris is an author, editor, and consultant for science writers, including her husband and world-renowned author, podcaster, and neuroscientist, Sam Harris. Over the years, she’s honed her thoughts about consciousness and free will, two of her favorite topics.
The result? Her new book, Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind, a wonderfully concise and well-organized exploration of the mind’s greatest mysteries backed by numerous case studies and examples outlining our latest understanding of consciousness.
In the book, Annaka explains how easy it is to take our everyday experience for granted. But the moment we stop to consider what’s really happening—our perception, our thoughts, our choices, our experiences—we are forced to reckon with one of the most profound mysteries that exists: How could any collection of matter become self-aware?
Her stated goal is to shatter the intuitions and biases that can lead us into inaccurate assumptions and direct us instead into a state of awe and openness to new ideas.
One such idea is the controversial concept of panpsychism, the idea that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of matter, much like gravity or electromagnetism. It’s a bold idea that was explored by thinkers as early as Plato, but which lost favor through the years (especially with the rise of logical positivism). However, with science still struggling to find a solution for the “hard problem” of consciousness—which is the question of how and why organisms have subjective experience—there has been a resurgence in exploration of panpsychism as a possibility.
On Episode 6 of the Feedback Loop , we explore the notions of shattered intuitions and panpsychism, the implications of consciousness studies for AI and free will, and the lessons we can learn from altered states like meditation and psychedelics.