About

These pages are devoted to short discussions of some of the major thinkers and theories about consciousness. The selection of topics is idiosyncratic and there are still some regrettable omissions. The pieces are meant to be brief and lively,and written from a distinct point of view (sometimes more than one point of view), and this naturally makes it difficult at times to do full justice to the views or the people under consideration. But no-one is mentioned here who I do not sincerely respect and admire, however much I may think they are mistaken on some points. Clearly the only way to get a full understanding of what someone is saying is to read their own books or papers, a course I heartily recommend.

One possible source of confusion is that some of the discussions here are presented as dialogues between two different characters. One of these, whom I think of as ‘Blandula’, after the Emperor Hadrian’s verse* addressed to his own soul, is represented by a sort of cherub, and is suspicious of reductive and materialist ideas: the other, (‘Bitbucket’, represented by an abacus) takes the opposite view. I hope this helps both sides to benefit from vigorous advocacy, but the two characters are merely figments of my imagination and I cannot supply email addresses for either of them.

Our sponsor
I hope, in any case, that you find something here interesting or amusing. Criticisms, suggestions, and queries about the site will be attended to as quickly as my amateurism, restricted intelligence, incompetence, sloth, and generally bad attitude to work and customer service permit.

*This is the poem: it’s carved on Hadrian’s tomb.

Animula vagula blandula,
Hospes comesque corporis,
Quae nunc abibis in loca,
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos.

This is my translation – a bit free, obviously..

My little pale and wandering soul
My body’s guest and friend,
Wherever will you go to now,
When we have reached the end?
So white and clenched now you’re outside,
No covering for you;
No body now to share some fun
The way we used to do.

16 Comments

  1. 1. Donna says:

    Peter,
    What a charming translation! Makes me smile. Thank you.
    As a writer, I couldn’t resist tweaking it {occupational hazard~!} before reposting it.
    I’ve linked to RSS, but wish you had a Facebook page!
    Anyway, here’s my version, for what it’s worth:
    My little wandering soul
    My body’s guest and friend,
    However will you go on now,
    That we have reached the end?
    So pale and naked on your own
    No covering for you,
    No body now to share some fun
    The way we used to do.

    I love your last lines best. :)

  2. 2. Peter says:

    Thanks, Donna. I’m looking seriously at Facebook!

  3. 3. Nelson Bridwell says:

    Peter:

    Charming website…Taking the most fundamental questions about life and communicating them in terms that can actually be understood.

  4. 4. Simon Hughes says:

    Hi there guys,
    An amazing website that you have here. I will be sharing with some of my intellectual friends and having many long discussions with so much food for thought.
    I don’t know how I stumbled across this page and I am so happy that I have. Maybe in future add a forum to this site so that people can discuss new threads and topics and share their own interpretation/opinions as thats what we are all so good at aren’t we. I am going to have to put a lot of head miles into some of these topics as some make sense and some need a little more research.
    Personally I would suggest against Facebook as once you post your information on their website somehow they maintain that everything that you post on their belongs to them and this can cause some drama’s for certain individuals and organisations.
    Stay hidden away like an old country town that isn’t on the major Highway and which only the people willing to do a little investigation and searching end up finding the hidden treasure you have to offer …
    That’s my 2 cents… Keep posting new and interesting information

    Regards

    Hectic_Huzee

  5. 5. george says:

    Re: bluebrain project. Computers do what they do because they are jealously protected from noise, chaos, quantum oddities, and the like, the brute facts of physical existence. In a little realm something enough like determinism rules, and algorithms may safely graze. But brains swim naked with those brute facts, which are perforce part of cogitation. How fatuous the Bluebrain project. A simulated brain puts me in mind of… a clockwork orange.

  6. 6. Venus Castina says:

    Let me know if you need a volunteer for consciousness transferal. I’ve always thought I should have been born a girl. And if the technology exists to make that dream a reality: I will happily agree to be your lab rat. Don’t hesitate to Email me and let me know when you’re ready to begin.

  7. 7. I exist, but what is I « What is I says:

    [...] Theories of consciousness abound, and like established movie stars, each has its own legion of fan boys.  One more theory to this line up would do no harm, as to whether the world needs another theory, the answer is moot. [...]

  8. 8. Thomas Cheley says:

    Dear Peter,

    I am writing from the Institute of Art and Ideas in Britain which organises an annual festival of ideas where we film every debate and talk. I just came across your website, consciousentities.com, and thought that you might be interested in a video we’ve released recently.

    Entitled “The Minds Eye: Philosophy of Consciousness and Soul”, it’s a debate discussing whether or not the idea of the soul has made a comeback. Can science explain consciousness without the presence of a soul? Participants include philosopher Galen Strawson, evolutionary psychologist Nicholas Humphrey and award winning documentary maker David Malone.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdtB94DgI7I

    I thought this debate might appeal to you and your readers, and if you think it does it would be fantastic if you could share it with them.

    Best regards,

    Thomas Cheley

  9. 9. Peter says:

    Thanks, Thomas – good stuff.

  10. 10. Preserving the Self for Later Emulation: What Brain Features Do We Need? – Ever Smarter World says:

    [...] neurons, by leading neuroscientists Henry Markram, Christof Koch, and others, and reported by Peter Hankins on his great cognitive science blog, Conscious Entities. Ephaptic coupling is a way for neurons to [...]

  11. 11. Simon International says:

    Dear Peter

    I’ve been following your blog for many years and visit it every couple of days. I always get a giddy little thrill when you’ve posted a new article. I’ve been late for work more than once as a result of checking too early in the day.

    I’ve only a fascination with consciousness and no relevant education. Your extraordinary ability to satisfy both sciolist and scholar* is all that has stopped my fascination dwindling to irritation and indifference.

    I trust that is sufficient sycophantic fawning to allow me to request a big favour: please write a book aimed at the casual enquirer called –

    ‘The State We’re In: Blah Blah Blah Consciousness’

    – Obviously the second half of the title needs some work.

    I note your point above about sloth etc but you’ve already broken the back of the project with your work on this site it just needs to be restructured and largely rewritten (most probably).

    Please let me know when its done and keep is simple and clear. I tried to read Steven Pinker’s ‘How the Mind Works’ and it made me cry.

    – Also when you have written the book please get it made into a TV series ideally fronted by Stephen Fry, and yourself of course.

    Thank you in advance

    Simon
    (not my real name in case my boss reads this post, unlikely but better safe than sorry)

    * My assumption you satisfy the scholar is based on impenetrable intellectualism of the majority of the comments. They could of course all be delusional dilettantes, in which case please let me know and I will stop even trying to understand them. Except, relative newcomer, Philosopher Eric: he seems sweet and makes me laugh.

  12. 12. Peter says:

    Thanks indeed, ‘Simon’!

    I have had it in mind for a while to do a book, either a collection of revised pieces from here – or just a personal view. I was going to call it ‘Consciousness – one and a half answers to three and a half questions’ – I thought it would be a pleasant contrast to the hyperbolic tone of some of the book titles in the field. But I’m not so sure now.

    Give me a year and we’ll see!

  13. 13. Simon International says:

    Dear Peter

    Thank you for your swift response.

    I do hope you write your book and hope you consider my title for 2 reasons.

    Firstly, and most importantly, vanity on my part: I’d really like an acknowledgement. I have already received an acknowledgement in a published work but my name was misspelt. Coincidentally it was a book about non-philosophical zombies. I told the author all about philosophical zombies hoping they would make an appearance in the sequel. He asked me if there was anyway I could tell they hadn’t appeared in the first book. I thought this showed a remarkably grasp of the issues, especially as the first book was written in the first person.

    Secondly, I worry that your title may put of the casual enquirer who hasn’t taken the trouble to read your blog. They may form the opinion that if you can’t be bothered to even finish all the questions and have fallen woefully short with the answers why should they bother reading it (or at least put of their purchase until the 2nd volume has been published.

    Also, on re-reading my original comment I realize my final points about the commentators (commentors?, commentists? commentati?) appear graceless, sneeringly anti-intellectual and slightly patronizing to Philosopher Eric. This wasn’t my intention. They were meant to be a humourous reflection on the breadth of your readership, with me as the butt of the joke. I don’t feel I pulled this off and apologize if any offence was caused.

    Regards

    ‘Simon’

    I like your addition of quotation marks. I will use them always now.

  14. 14. Philosopher Eric says:

    Peter may have been happy to hear from you ‘Simon,’ but I am quite overjoyed! Am I indeed sweet? My wife did not think so this morning as she realized that I had not taken her walk as an opportunity to get her some “Mothers Day stuff” (and also observed my similarities to the central void of the posterior, at which time I certainly did comply!). But maybe this is indeed her point — that I devote too much of my “sweetness” to my own projects. It may have only taken a decade or so for her to fully realize what else she purchased with her green card, and we’ve been married for quite some time now. But if I were ever to become “sweet,” I suspect that it would be one of those “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?!!” scenarios.

    I am quite happy to have stumbled upon this little nugget, and in a reasonably non-tardy fashion. One of my greatest fears here is that I am hurting Peter’s web site. I suppose that people generally comment on these things with the hope of positive “theory of mind” sensations, like “respect.” But if I happen to be depriving many of such an opportunity, as I do suspect, then I should most certainly have detrimental effects upon his viewership. You, however, make me wonder if he also has a significant audience that simply does not comment on his posts. This is certainly my hope! Also I’ve noticed that Peter has reinstituted my “dorky dudeness” comment from his “Experimental Identities” post, which I suppose is a good sign, though I obviously might still be harming his site.

    I once looked on a google site assessment thing that said Peter’s site merits 5 out of 10, with Scott Bakker and Derek Bowden the same, while I think there was a standard site for news that ranked a 7. (My own site had no figure, though at the moment I can assure you that a “ha ha!” classification is quite certain.) But what does a 5 out of 10 effectively mean? In practice, how many people might be considering what I say here? Of course Peter should have a reasonable grasp of this, as well as know the extent to which I’ve been helping/hurting his site, but this is all his domain rather than mine. Regardless it is certainly good to hear from you ‘Simon,’ as you do bring me hope.

    P.S. simply because I can: It has been quite a lovely day for us over here, but my wife was again disturbed when I told her that the name of her new “Epicurious” cooking magazine was inspired by the same ideology associated with her, as she said, “arrogant hedonist husband.”

  15. 15. Abonilox says:

    I have been reading this blog eagerly for a number of years, but never made any attempt to contact you. I just wanted you to know that I am a great admirer of the site. There is nothing else out there that is even close in terms of its scope, depth & timeliness. So this is merely a note of appreciation, admiration and a few kilos of envy. I don’t know how you do it.

  16. 16. Peter says:

    Many thanks indeed.

Leave a Reply