comment by NxGenSentience ·
2014-09-26T01:34:42.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I love this question. As it happens, I wrote my honors thesis on the mind-body problem (while I was a philosophy and math double-major at UC Berkeley), and have been passionately interested in consciousness, brains (and also AI) ever since (a couple decades.)
I will try to be self-disciplined and remain as agnostic as I can – by not steering you only toward the people I think are more right (or “less wrong”.) Also, I will resist the tendency to write 10 thousand word answers to questions like this (which in any case would still barely scratch the surface of the body of material and spectrum of theory and informed opinion.)
I have skimmed the answers already given, and I think the ones I have read on this page are very good, and also, as intellectually honest and agnostic, as one would expect of the high caliber folks on this site.
Perhaps I should just give a somewhat meta-data answer to your question, and maybe I will add something specific later on, after I have a chance to look up some links and bookmarks I have in mind (which are distributed among several laptops, cloud drives, desktop machines, my smartphone and my Ipad, plus the stacks of research paper hardcopies I have all over my living space.)
The “meta-data”, or, strategic and supportive advice, would include the following.
1) Congratulations on your interest in the most fascinating, central, interdisciplinary, intellectually rich and fertile, and copiously addressed scientific, philosophical, and human nature question, of all.
2) Be aware that you are jumping into a very, very big intellectual ocean. You could fill a decent sized library with books and journals, or a terabyte hard drive with electronic copies of the same sources, and it is now more popular then ever in more disciplines than formerly would take up the question.
(For example of the latter, hard-core neurologists – clinical and research – and bench-level working lab neurobiologists, are publishing routinely some amazing papers seeking to pin down, or theorize, or otherwise shed light on “the issue of consciousness.”
3) Give yourself a year (or 10) -- but it will be an enjoyable year (or 10) -- to read widely, think hard, and keep looking around at new theories, authors, papers. I think it is fair to say that no one has “the answer” yet, but there are excellent and amazingly imaginative proposed answers, and some of them are likely to be significantly close to being at least on the right track. After a year or more, you will begin to develop a sense of the kinds of answer that have more or less merit, as your intuitions will sharpen, and you build up new layers of understanding.
4) Be intellectually "mobile." Look everywhere… Amazon, the journals, PubMed, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (just Google them, they have great summaries) and various cognitive science sub collections.
The good news is nearly everything you need to conduct any level of research, is online for free -- in case you don’t have a fortune to spend on books.
Lastly, as it happens, something for down the road a couple months, I am in the process of setting up a couple of YouTube channels, which will have mini-courses of lectures on certain special application areas, like AI, as well as general introductions to the mind-body problem, and its different guises. It will take me a couple months to go live with the videos, but they should be helpful as well. I intend to have something for all levels of expertise. But that is in the future. (Not a commercial announcement at all... it will be a free and open presentation of ideas -- a vlog, but done a bit more rigorously.)
It is my view that most introductory and some sophisticated aspects of the “mind-body problem” -- at least: why there is one and what forms it takes and which different, unavoidable lines of thought land us there -- can be explained by a good tutor, to any intelligent layperson. (I think there is room to improve on the job of posing the problem and explaining its ins and outs, over ways it is done by many philosophy and cognitive science instructors, which is why I will be creating the video sequences.)
But, in general, you are in for quite an adventure. Keep reading, keep Googling. The resources available are almost boundless, and growing rapidly.
We are in the best time so far, in all of human history, for someone to be interested in this question. And it touches on almost every branch of human knowledge or thought, in some way… from ethics, to interpretations of quantum mechanics.
Maybe you, or one of us in here, will be the “clerk working in a patent office” that connects the right combination of puzzle pieces, and adds a crucial insight, that dramatically advances our understanding of consciousness, in a definitive way.
Enjoy the voyage…
Replies from: mgg
↑ comment by mgg ·
2014-10-01T00:35:42.049Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
That sort of confirms my suspicion - that it's a very active topic. And it's not necessarily easy to break into. I was hoping there was a good pop-sci summary book that laid things out real nicely. Like what The Selfish Gene does for evolution. But I read the book Blindsight, and am now reading Metzinger's The Ego Tunnel, just because it seemed incredibly interesting. So who knows how deep this will go for me :)