Michael Graziano at the IAI:
The scientific work that I do on the brain basis of consciousness is sometimes misunderstood – a misunderstanding which I think comes mainly from the political divide between mystics and materialists. I am a materialist, and reactions to my work tend to follow along the lines of: ‘keep your scientific hands off my consciousness mystery’.
This kind of argument often devolves into distortions and phrases examined out of context – in short, the wooly thinking of philosophy that’s lost its integrity. Among the most common and puzzling reaction I get goes something like this: ‘Graziano says that consciousness does not exist; that we lack an inner dialogue; that getting stuck by a pin, or walking into a wall, is ethereal’. None of these statements are true, of course, but I do often hear them coming from the nonscientific, or often pseudoscientific, political side.
As an attempt to get across the reality of what I work on, I’ll start with a simple example: suppose you’re looking at something obvious, like a chair. There it is, in front of you. The truth is that the chair you think is there is not exactly the same as the chair that is actually there – a strange thought for most people, but a very familiar one to neuroscientists.