Are we close to solving the puzzle of consciousness?
Giulio Tononi’s “integrated information theory” might solve neuroscience’s biggest puzzle
- By David Robson published in the BBC
27 March 2019
Can a lobster feel pain in the same way as you or I?
We know that they have the same sensors – called nociceptors – that cause us to flinch or cry when we are hurt. And they certainly behave like they are sensing something unpleasant. When a chef places them in boiling water, for instance, they twitch their tails as if they are in agony.
But are they actually “aware” of the sensation? Or is that response merely a reflex?
When you or I perform an action, our minds are filled with a complex conscious experience. We can’t just assume that this is also true for other animals, however – particularly ones with such different brains from our own. It’s perfectly feasible – some scientists would even argue that it’s likely – that a creature like a lobster lacks any kind of internal experience, compared to the rich world inside our head.
“With a dog, who behaves quite a lot like us, who is in a body which is not too different from ours, and who has a brain that is not too different from ours, it’s much more plausible that it sees things and hears things very much like we do, than to say that it is completely ‘dark inside’, so to speak,” says Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But when it comes down to a lobster, all bets are off.”
The question of whether other brains – quite alien to our own – are capable of awareness, is just one of the many conundrums