Three Useless Theories of Consciousness

By Ross Pomeroy - RCP Staff
March 10, 2020
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Consciousness is the awareness of existence. While most would agree that we have it, nobody really knows how it arises. And we may never know. That doesn't stop academics from endlessly debating it, however.

From these esoteric debates, a lot of useless theories arise. Note: they're not useless because they're uninteresting. They're useless because they provide no meaningful mechanisms for consciousness to emerge and don't even elaborate on how these mechanisms could be uncovered. Back in 2016, Michael Graziano, a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Princeton University, took aim at three of them.

Oscillation Theory states that consciousness arises from fluctuations in neuronal activity. That's basically it.

"It appeals to intuition and explains nothing," Graziano wrote.

How could the ups and downs of neuronal activity conceivably yield conscious experience? The architects of the idea provide no reasoning, just a lot of jargon.

Another theory in a similar situation is Pansychism, the notion that everything is conscious in some fashion, making consciousness itself a basic property of matter. The idea is mystical, seductive, and completely useless. If consciousness is just there, can we measure it? Nope, all we can do is accept it.

A third idea of consciousness is integrated information theory. Bring enough information into one spot and link it together, and consciousness arises, the theory states. It's almost like a technological singularity. Again, this notion sounds futuristic and makes for a mind-bending – and maybe even best-selling – book, but it doesn't provide an explanation for how consciousness springs up.

In many ways, formulating theories of consciousness provides an outlet for brilliant individuals to build vast, dazzling fortresses made of sand. Their works are impressive, yes, but there's not much holding them together.

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