the redness of red


Consciousness is an aspect of brain function, and the cat’s brain looks rather like a scaled-down version of mine. That doesn’t apply to the insects. A cicada’s tiny brain is nothing like a human’s. I doubt they can “hear” the racket they make, even though it triggers impulses to act in certain ways. Consciousness must have emerged somewhere on the evolutionary ladder, somewhere between the cicada and the cat, perhaps. But that’s a guess. Nor can I be sure of the origins of my own consciousness. I started out as a brainless clump of cells, a fertilised egg, cognitively more primitive than that orange microbeast traversing the page, let alone the cicadas. As an adult, I carry the same genetic material as the egg, but otherwise we have nothing in common. The egg wasn’t conscious. Consciousness has happened on the journey from egghood to personhood. But how and why?

Such questions lead us to the great enigma, the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness: how does the objective, physical activity of the brain create the private, subjective qualities of experience? For some philosophers the question is unfathomably deeper than that; not so much how does the brain produce consciousness, but how can it? How can three pounds or so of jellified fats, proteins and sugars possibly be identified with the ineffable “raw feels” of awareness: the taste of beer, the sound of cicadas, the redness of red?

more from Prospect Magazine here.