Akhandadhi das

Publication Info:

This paper is derived from a talk presented at the Consciousness in Science Conference in Gainesville, Florida (January 2019) and published in the ICJ in 2021.


Philosophers and scientists don’t always have a comfortable relationship. I have heard scientists say, “At best, you can go to philosophers for questions, but don’t ever rely on them for answers.” Perhaps that is disingenuous, as scientists usually don’t like even the questions philosophers raise. And philosophers become frustrated that scientists prefer to answer questions other than the ones philosophers pose. There is an old joke that much scientific research can be likened to a drunk man who stumbles up the path to his front door, drops his keys there, but then goes back out to the street to search for them under a streetlamp, where the light is better. My role as a philosopher is to raise uncomfortable questions and ask scientists to search for the answers not in places they are habituated to — where they feel comfortable looking — but rather where they have a better chance of finding answers. Nowhere is this more vital than in the study of consciousness.

What is consciousness? At a seminar in 2016, Anil Seth, a British neuroscientist, referred to it as a mystery in our face at every moment. He said that consciousness is “at once the most familiar and the most mysterious feature of our existence.” However, there is still no broadly accepted definition of what we mean by consciousness. Mostly, Seth said, we have only “folk intuitions.” In that spirit, one of my favourite definitions is: “Consciousness — that annoying period between naps.” Yes, it is that weird phenomenon that bothers us from morning to night.