In the 1980s and 1990s, scientists around the world raced to answer a simple question: is life capable of chaos? Mathematically, chaos means extreme sensitivity to small changes (Figure 1). This is sometimes referred to as the “butterfly effect”: in a chaotic system, it is as if something as small as the flapping of a […]Read More Can Life Produce Chaos?
Despite our best intentions, scientists sometimes make a very basic mistake: we look for what makes humans unique. Certainly, humans are not just unique, but extraordinary. Nothing else in the known universe has produced art, science, technology, or civilization. But, our history of searching for how, precisely, we came to be exceptional has often led to […]Read More You Don’t Have a Lizard Brain
Consciousness is an ambiguous concept. It can mean a lot of different things, depending on the context. For example, I can say that I am conscious of something, as in, “I am conscious of the fact that I am currently writing about consciousness.” It can also mean self-consciousness or self-awareness: the notion that you know […]Read More Measuring Consciousness in Bits
A philosopher of science once told me, “Science is like a big, ornate building. Unless you’re an Einstein or a Newton, all you can do is etch away at a little flourish on the building’s facade – and then you die.” Though bleak, his thought did speak to a curious truth about the lives of […]Read More Science is a Collective Human Endeavor – And That’s Beautiful
The following post is from my new article for Knowing Neurons, an online publication about neuroscience and the mind. The Matrix made all of us ask the same disturbing questions: How do I know that the world I see, hear, and touch is real? Can I prove that I’m not actually in a pod created by machines […]Read More We Are All Brains In Vats
As long as the nature of consciousness will remain a mystery, we will be in the grip of anxiety. And that is because we are, all of us, haunted by that uniquely human question: what awaits us after death? Although the vast majority of Americans believe in some sort of afterlife, such beliefs are starkly at odds […]Read More There Is No Ghost In The Brain
Below is the text of my newest article for the Berkeley Science Review: The brain does many things. It makes decisions, it remembers facts, it moves our muscles, it can do math, and it can communicate with other brains. Each of these abilities are active subjects of neuroscience research. But the brain does something else, which […]Read More Consciousness Is A Scientific Problem
I recently had a brief back-and-forth with Bobby Azarian about his new article on Raw Story. Azarian, a neuroscientist at George Mason University, argued that artificial intelligence (AI) could never be conscious. I highly recommend reading Azarian’s article: it’s a great distillation of some key concepts in the philosophy of mind, and he makes an […]Read More Why Machines Could Be – But Aren’t – Conscious
The threads that weave the cloth of our mentality are soulless. Our experience of the most beautiful sunset, our most fervent desires, our loftiest thoughts, and our most expansive feelings of love are storms of neural activity, nothing more. Science – and neuroscience in particular – has stripped our mental lives of a soul. But […]Read More Love In A World Of Atoms
I recently had the pleasure of talking to Mark Baxter, Ph.D. about the status of neuroscience as a field. Mark is a neuroscientist who studies the molecular mechanisms of learning and memory. This is my second conversation with Mark. Several months ago, we discussed a controversial paper on the effects of marijuana consumption on the […]Read More Is Neuroscience a Mature Science?