Will it ever be possible to measure subjective experience?

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Will it ever be possible to measure subjective experience?

A animated journey into the questions of consciousness posed by Christof Koch and David Chalmers

We sat down to talk about consciousness and the measurement of subjective experience with Christof Koch, President and Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and David Chalmers, Professor of Philosophy at NYU.

In this striking animation of their questions by animator Emma Ehrling, we’re forced to imagine subjective experience as a scientific paradox. How can we measure what is experienced by our own selves, internally, in a scientific way?

Emma spoke to us about the process of visualizing the very abstract questions that Chalmers and Koch posed:

“What stood out to me was that this is a piece that leaves you with questions rather than provide answers. It talks about consciousness as something we can’t explain, and I wanted to to portray that sense of mystery through the animation. I wanted to portray consciousness as something that’s alive in an otherwise cold and controlled environment, and I wanted it to leave the viewer curious to know more, just as I was.”

Listen to longer excerpts from our audio series Condensed Matters

“Finally the question of our ages…can the Siri or Cortana or Alexa that you can talk to…just like in the movie "Her", can they ever feel like something? Or are they condemned to be zombies with possibly very sophisticated behaviors…without having any experience of the world…[These] are all questions that a theory of consciousness has to address.”

– Christof Koch

“Brain processes might help us with some of what I call the easy problems of consciousness-- problems of behavior, how it is we respond to a stimulus, how we can walk and talk and get around-- but the hard problem of consciousness is the problem of subjective experience. Why does it feel like something, from the inside? And my own view is to explain that we need to go beyond the standard methods of neuroscience.”

– David Chalmers

The video was produced with Science at Pioneer Works for the Scientific Controversies series. Koch and Chalmers will be discussing consciousness with Janna Levin, Director of Science at Pioneer Works on Friday, May 26. If you're in New York, RSVP for the event here.