Ingenious: Christof Koch – Issue 19: Illusions

Consciousness may be the greatest illusion of all. Or at least the greatest mystery. “It is in the brain that the poppy is red, that the apple is odorous, that the skylark sings,” wrote Oscar Wilde. But how does the brain construct conscious experience? For the past 25 years, Christof Koch has been trying to provide an answer. At the Allen Institute for the Brain, where he is chief scientific officer, Koch is steering an ambitious project to map the complex networks of the brain. The goal is nothing short of understanding how we function in the world—how we see, fall in love, feel pain, marvel at a night sky full of stars.

In his most recent book, Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic ReductionistKoch writes that “consciousness is a fundamental, an elemental, property of living matter.” He puts forth an “integrated information theory” that he believes provides the first rigorous scientific theory to explain consciousness. On a recent afternoon at the Allen Institute in Seattle, Koch took time to explain the captivating, if not entirely clear, theory. Koch, formerly a professor of cognitive and behavioral biology at the California Institute of Technology, has a capacious mind and a piercing intensity.…
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