A brain scientist and a philosopher have resolved a 25-year-old wager on consciousness

A case of wine was put on the line.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of the conscious brain.jpg
Representational image of the conscious brain.


A 25-year-old wager on the source of consciousness between German-American computational neuroscientist Christof Koch and Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers has come to a close with the first one admitting defeat.

This is according to a report by Science Alert published on Tuesday.

In 1998, Koch ventured a guess that the neurological underpinnings of the brain's experience of the Universe would be understood within 25 years by putting a case of wine on the line. 

Both scientists were part of a project run by the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) tasked with finding ways to bring researchers together to better test models of consciousness.

At the time, neurology was seeing the advent of some pretty impressive advances in imaging and probing, promising new ways to map and monitor brain activity on a detailed level.

No problem

"I was very taken by all these techniques," Koch told Nature's Mariana Lenharo, according to Science Alert.

"I thought: 25 years from now? No problem."

The story, according to Scientific American, goes that Koch confronted Chalmers at a cocktail reception asking the question: “Why don’t you just say that when you have a brain, the Holy Ghost comes down and makes you conscious?” 

It was reported that Chalmers then replied calmly that the Holy Ghost hypothesis conflicted with his own subjective experience. “But how do I know that your subjective experience is the same as mine?” Koch then responded. “How do I even know you’re conscious?” 

Indeed, consciousness was a whole other issue that Chalmers famously divided into "easy problems" and "hard problems".

Examples of easy problems are straight-forward to define such as integrating information into cognitive systems, or working out how we focus attention. Hard problems refer to more philosophical questions  such as how does our brain turn wavelengths of electromagnetism triggering reactions in our eyes into a clear image?

Koch on the other hand theorized that consciousness emerges from a posterior cortical hot zone. His position, referred to as Integrated Information Theory (IIT), delineates the encoding of objects we experience as key features of conscious activity.

Based on a recent study, judges gave more points to IIT but Koch still lost the bet as a conclusive answer on consciousness has yet to be found.

Being a good sport, he paid up on his bet with Chalmers agreeing that there is much to be discovered over how the brain builds a universe inside our mind, concluded Science Alert.

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