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Machines Like Us

Machines Like Us interviews: Johnjoe McFadden

Monday, 26 November 2007

Johnjoe McFadden is Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, and has published more than 100 articles in scientific journals on subjects as wide-ranging as bacterial genetics, tuberculosis, idiopathic diseases and computer modeling of evolution. He lectured extensively in the UK, Europe, the USA and Japan and his work has been featured in radio, television and national newspaper articles. He wrote the popular science book, Quantum Evolution, which examines the role of quantum mechanics in life, evolution and consciousness.

He also writes articles regularly for the Guardian newspaper in the UK on topics as varied as quantum mechanics, evolution and genetically modified crops. Most controversial were two papers published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, in which McFadden proposed that the brain's em information field is the physical substrate of conscious awareness: Synchronous Firing and its Influence on the Brain's Electromagnetic Field: Evidence for an Electromagnetic Field Theory of Consciousness, and The Conscious Electromagnetic Information (CEMI) Field Theory: The Hard Problem Made Easy?

Interview conducted by Norm Nason.

MLU: Welcome, Johnjoe. It's a pleasure having you here.

JM: And its always a pleasure to chat with you, Norm.

MLU: I want to ask you about the particulars of your work, but before I do, perhaps we should first touch on some of the problems cognitive scientists face when trying to construct a viable theory of consciousness. The so called "binding problem," for instance, refers to how neurons associated with different aspects of perception are able to combine to form a united perceptual experience. The "mind-body problem" deals with the question of how the mind is able to move our physical bodies. Please tell us more about the difficulties one faces when trying to construct a cohesive model of consciousness.

JM: The basic problem is that our subjective experience of consciousness does not correspond to the neurophysiology of our brain. When we see an object, such as a tree, the image that is received by our eyes is processed, in parallel, in millions of widely separated brain neurons. Some neurons process the colour information, some process aspects of movement, some process texture elements of the image. But there is nowhere in the brain where all these disparate elements are brought together. That doesn’t correspond to the subjective experience of seeing a whole tree where all the leaves and swaying branches are seen as an integrated whole. The problem is understanding how all the physically distinct information in our brain is somehow bound together to the subjective image: the binding problem.