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Machines Like Us

Machines Like Us interviews: Susan Pockett

Monday, 20 June 2011

Could consciousness be an electromagnetic field? Is our sense of free will merely an illusion? Neuroscientist Susan Pockett answers these questions—and more—in this lively interview.

Susan Pockett is Honorary Research Fellow in the Psychology Department at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her work is currently involved in testing the hypothesis that conscious sensations (aka qualia) are brain-generated, roughly brain-sized, spatiotemporal electromagnetic patterns (a theory developed independently but concurrent with Johnjoe McFadden's Cemi field theory). This hypothesis, together with a considerable amount of empirical evidence which already exists to support it, answers to some commonly advanced objections to its plausibility and some material on its implications, and is laid out in her book published in 2000, called "The Nature of Consciousness: A Hypothesis." Pockett has also published articles in The Journal of Consciousness Studies, including one detailing Difficulties with the Electromagnetic Field Theory of Consciousness. In another book, "Does Consciousness Cause Behavior?," Pockett argues for the plausibility of considering consciousness as an epiphenomenon of neural activity.

Interview conducted by Norm Nason.

MLU: Thank you for joining me, Susan. Your fascinating work was one of the reasons this website was begun nearly six years ago, so I'm especially pleased to be chatting with you today.

SP: Well, that's very gratifying Norm. Your website has clearly evolved into a seriously useful record of some of the most interesting developments in this exponentially faster-changing era of science, so I'm honoured to be invited as an interviewee, let alone credited with helping to inspire the whole thing.

MLU: You have a remarkable job: thinking about thinking! What is your background; how did you become interested in studying human cognition?

SP: Actually I'm interested less in cognition or thinking than in the even more difficult question of the nature of conscious experience. What IS the experience of red? What is the feeling of silk on your skin? What is the sound of middle C? Such experiences all seem to be somehow different from matter, but ... what are they? This is basically what philosophers have always called the mind-body problem and Dave Chalmers now calls the hard problem. It's actually one of the most basic questions of human existence -- what is consciousness? The distinction between this and the question "what is cognition?" is that clearly a lot of cognition goes on unconsciously.