Neuroscience, its incompleteness and consciousness. Looking at the hard problem of consciousness through the lens of self-reference

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I’m sorry, but the key premise of this entire article, that self-referential systems must result in paradox, is simply unsupported. The author gives two examples, one of the barber, and one of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, and handwaves away the precise way in which self-reference leads to paradox, and expects us to apply this to neuroscience with basically nothing more than his word. (Side note: Gödel’s incompleteness theorems apply to formal logical systems. No one has shown the brain to be one.) Not to mention, even if one accepts that, the whole field of neuroscience is not made of one brain investigating itself. Firstly, the field is composed of a bunch of people investigating brains. Second, I don’t think they are seeking to fully represent a brain, because each brain is necessary different when you get down to its specific connectome, but rather results that generalize. EDIT: Almost forgot. This is basically someone’s blog post. Medium is a blog hosting site, everyone.


Is the author not employing magical thinking? They seem to base their entire argument on the assumption that not only is neuroscience currently incapable of demonstrating physical causality of “consciousness” (this part is fine), but also that reaching a fully causal understanding of the brain with relation to consciousness is impossible (this is where I have an issue). The author appears to be choosing the results of a hypothetical thought experiment rather than drawing the conclusion that requires the least variables from what information we DO have. Certainly the author could be correct, since his position is not *disproven*, but that’s getting awfully close to the magical thinking required for most ontological arguments (can’t prove me wrong, therefore I’m right). Neuroscience has made an awful lot of advances in correlative studies to be so easily and casually dismissed on the grounds of “this must be a paradox”.


From the article: “The fact that the neuroscience is ultimately an exercise in self-reference raises the issue of related paradoxes. The paradoxes of self-reference are well known in the fields of logic and mathematics but have not been discussed with respect to neuroscience. The interesting feature of such paradoxes is that they tend to uncover limitations within the systems in which they arise. One famous illustration of this is the so called barber paradox, which is about a barber who shaves everybody on an island who does not shave themselves. The paradox emerges when we ask the question does this barber shave himself or not? If he does not, then he does and if he does, then he does not. We simply cannot reason our way out of this paradox and in a sense it confronts us with a limit in what conventional logic can resolve. In view of this, is it possible that the self-referential nature of cognitive neuroscience likewise uncovers an inherent limitation lurking within it?”


” In other words, if we hold the view that the brain is that which can be scientifically studied and nothing more we also hold the view that its complete representation is possible and vice versa. I think that very few neuroscientists would be comfortable publicly stating that we inherently cannot fully understand the brain or that the brain is more than what we can study scientifically. ” The first sentence is logically flawed, and the second apparently restricts itself wholly to the state of his own mind. It’s hard to devote too much consideration to something that starts off on such a thin foundation.


Imagine that if in engineering, serious scientists (physicists, practical engineers, materials designers, inventors) were still trying establish a perpetual motion machine as the flagship “hard problem” of engineering. Imagine if someone announced that today. They’d be laughed out of the room. If Chalmers was right about consciousness in 1996, this is not really a “problem” to be solved. If you really understood Chalmers in 1996 (and he inaugurated the “hard” problem), then you understand that *if his definition and justification of it is sensible,* attempts to resolve it are on a par with attempting to create perpetual motion. Like alleged libertarian solutions to the free will problem, “hard problem” arguments all seem to wind up missing the target, creating the illusion of progress through the strategic deployment of vocabulary, but leaving us with the frog staring up at us from the bottom of the mug.