Please Explain: The Science of Consciousness

Friday, December 14, 2007

When you see a blue flower, do you see the same blue flower that I do? When you feel cold is it the same sensation I feel? On Please Explain we look at the biology of consciousness...and what brain science reveals about who we are and how we experience the world around us.

Gerald Edelman is a Nobel Laureate, Director of The Neurosciences Institute, and author of many books about the neurobiology of consciousness including Wider Than the Sky. Christof Koch is Professor of Biology and Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and author of The Quest for Consciousness.

Call us at 212-433-9692 with your questions.

Wider Than the Sky is available for purchase at

The Quest for Consciousness is available for purchase at

Weigh in: What would you like to know about consciousness?


Gerald Edelman and Christof Koch

Comments [6]

Elaine Bearer from Brown University, Providence, RI

It was a pleasure to listen to Christof and Gerry discuss their struggles to define and explain consciousness. My own neuroscience research studies the process of neuronal connections using the giant axon of the squid.

Squid have two large eyes and no brain, only an optic lobe like a ganglion. Squid also control color patterns on their skin. These patterns communicate to preditors, prey, and each other, as described by Roger Hanlon at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory.

Is this dynamic coloration a visual language system?

Might squid therefore be conscious beings?

The octopus, with a similar neural system, is quite intelligent, and can learn. As can the sea slug, Aplysia, of Nobel fame.

Where do these marine species fit into the construct and explanation of conscious-ness?

Dec. 16 2007 10:27 PM
Ed Helmrich from Larchmont, NY

Your guests were excellent, of course, but they overstated their findings a little. They said that 'without the brain, there is no thinking' and 'Descartes [in speaking of a non-extensible thinking substance] was just wrong'. God is a Spirit, and thinks, as God, without need of a brain. And the angels think but have no bodies. Hmmm. They can say that consciousness and thinking leave footprints in the brain, that's about it, since consciousness, will and intellect are attributes of the soul. They have to stick to the physical world, which is the domain of the physical sciences, and not veer into philosophy. And yes, there is free will.

Dec. 16 2007 10:05 AM
Gordon Tully from Norwalk, CT

Your show was terrific - you chose the top people to interview. You should pursue this fascinating subject again, maybe by inviting Daniel Dennett, who wrote "Consciousness Explained." I tuned in after the discussion of Qualia, so didn't hear Edelman's and Koch's opinion of the idea, but I am persuaded by Dennett's argument that they are an illusion.

Dec. 14 2007 01:51 PM
Joe from Englewood, nj

I wonder if consciousness could be likened to an emergent property of a complex system.
I sit in a room with air and water vapor, yet nothing extraordinary occurs compared to the larger "room" of the Earth's atmosphere.
As brains evolved to have greater numbers of neurons, consciousness may be a similar emergent property.

Dec. 14 2007 01:47 PM
Heidi Upton

Isaac Bashevis Singer was asked if he believed in free will. He replied: Yes, I really have no choice!

Dec. 14 2007 01:36 PM
Howard Isaacs from Brooklyn

The notion that my thought is all dependent on and controlled by antecendent physical events, is that notion itself determined by antecedent physical events?

Dec. 14 2007 01:31 PM

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