The Problem of Consciousness and the Value of the Humanities


24/10/2019 (Thursday)

8.00 - 9.30 pm

The Adelaide

Presented by Jim Grant

Attempts to justify study in the Humanities – in, say, History, or Philosophy, or Literature – face the question: – What use does such inquiry serve? How does it benefit us? The natural sciences enable us to understand things by coming to know the laws which govern them, and this enables us to predict and control the behaviour of those things for our own benefit. What comparable benefit flows from the kinds of understanding sought in the humanities? What does such inquiry enable us to do, which we could not do otherwise?

However, it’s interesting to note that similar kinds of question are now asked about consciousness itself. The traditional problem of consciousness is: how can blooming, buzzing conscious experience arise from electro-chemical processes in the porridge-like grey matter of the brain? But, in view of our increasing success in simulating the cognitive achievements of the human mind in artificial systems which no-one supposes possess subjective consciousness, another question is coming to prominence: what essential role does consciousness play in our intelligent activity? What does it achieve, which can’t be achieved just as well without it?

The aim of my talk will be to relate questions about the ‘use’ or ‘function’ of the kinds of understanding pursued within the humanities, to this general question of the function of consciousness.