Can (Theoretical Computer) Science Get a Grip on Consciousness?

Saturday, October 24, 2009 - 5:00pm
LeCraw Auditorium, College of Management
Manuel Blum, Professor of Computer Science
Carnegie Mellon University

To come to grips with consciousness, I postulate that living entities in general, and human beings in particular, are mechanisms... marvelous mechanisms to be sure but not magical ones... just mechanisms. On this basis, I look to explain some of the paradoxes of consciousness such as Samuel Johnson's "All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience is for it."

I will explain concepts of self-awareness and free will from a mechanistic view. My explanations make use of computer science and suggest why these phenomena would exist even in a completely deterministic world. This is particularly striking for free will.

The impressions of our senses, like the sense of the color blue, the sound of a tone, etc. are to be expected of a mechanism with enormously many inputs categorized into similarity classes of sight, sound, etc. Other phenomena such as the "bite" of pain are works in progress. I show the direction that my thinking takes and say something about what I've found and what I'm still looking for. Fortunately, the sciences are discovering a great deal about the brain, and their discoveries help enormously in guiding and verifying the results of this work.

Reception at 4:10 in LeCraw Atrium