Many thanks to the packed audience of over 400 people at the consciousness event at the RI last night. At the risk of channelling the Monty Python team — when we asked ‘what has consciousness ever done for us?’ — we got lots of answers. Surprisingly, none of the speakers, nor those asking questions, pursued the common responses: ‘everything’ or ‘nothing’. Instead we had a few suggestions that chart a middle course, accepting that consciousness is less involved in behavioural control than we might think, but still identifying functions that it does have that are crucial to the human way of life.
There were some great questions from a whole spectrum of perspectives. Some were interested in how we could best deploy and even improve our capacity for conscious thought. Another questioner, whose day job is at IBM, sounded as if she was thinking of going back to build our ideas into a computer the next day. There were also some very mature interventions from school and university students, both during the question session and afterwards. It was heartening to see the researchers of the future so interested and engaged.
(Photo credits: Barry Smith, Anna Ciaunica)