TED Conversations

Ron Burnett

President and Vice-Chancellor, Emily Carr University of Art and Design


This conversation is closed.

Can a map of the Brain really explain the complexities of consciousness?

We have been making extraordinary advances in mapping the brain and at the same time drawing conclusions about consciousness, the ways in which we think and consequently, the ways in which we act as humans.
I consider this approach to be simplistic and reductive. I am worried that we are building "behavioural maps" that cannot account for the complexity of human thought and action. Most of all, these maps cannot account for the unconscious, that part of our brains that cannot be explained by any reference to its parts.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Nov 14 2011: Define the term "prove." If you wish for a deductive proof, that is impossible. What I argue for is deduction itself and any deductive proof of deduction would be circular. I can, however, give a probabilistic argument supported by the exponential increase in scientific publications correlated with the exponential increase of humanity's computational ability.
    • thumb
      Nov 15 2011: Neither an increase in publications nor an increase in computational power suggests that we will understand complex systems in a more profound way.
      • thumb
        Nov 15 2011: At any time our body has a limited number of elements that can be scanned and mapped if the right technology is available. Having consecutive images of the same process and the available computational power one can foresee the systems next movement/decision. This we have seen we can see by simple observation of any mechanical system, having understanding of what are the full range of laws governing the system. Knowing that apples will fall from trees is a common knowledge that humanity posses long before we were able to have a deeper understanding of the process, and there are still debates about that, BUT that did not stop us to have applications of the observable laws.

        people may be afraid that having their brain mapped will make them predictable, and they should be because that will be true for short time that particular structure of the brain will be stable. But the brain itself is a dynamic system that is changing both as hardware (the food consumed that will become it's physical structure) and software (that are information both conceptual but also sensations experienced).

        the most important question on long term is not how will the brain behave but why has it evolved into the present state and where is going ? any biologist will tell you that the body, the sum of all organs in animals are an extension of the nervous system, it's the nervous system that is triggering change and evolution. What but is the force that creates the brain ? for sure it is a physical force that we have little understanding at this point, that is consciousness and it governs not only individuals but the society as a whole.
        • thumb
          Nov 15 2011: Hulea...I really appreciate the depth of your thinking here. The history of the evolution of the brain may hold the key as to how we explore it in the present.
      • Nov 15 2011: Absolutely.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.