Consciousness & Fiction

with Erik Hoel
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Guest Introduction.

My guest in this episode is (once again!) Erik Hoel: PhD in neuroscience, research assistant professor at Tufts University studying consciousness, and author of the upcoming (phenomenal) novel, The Revelations.

We center the conversation around themes from his novel, which lead us into:

  • How fiction, as a form of “intrinsic media”, offers a unique approach for exploring consciousness that non-fiction and TV can’t
  • The theories and potentialities at the frontiers of consciousness research
  • The relationship between evolution, complexity, consciousness, and emergence
  • Some limits of the scientific study of consciousness
  • Why we’d better hope that if aliens are out there, they’re more like mammals than insects

If you enjoy this episode, check out my previous conversation with Erik, his stupidly-good essay titled ‘Enter the Supersensorium’, or you can preorder his book here.


Time map.

17:10 - Is consciousness a “controlled hallucination”, or a window onto the outside world?

23:12 - What might the future of consciousness be like?

39:25 - What is integrated information theory (IIT), and what can it tell us about consciousness?

48:00 - What if cities have some sort of consciousness?

52:55 - What’s closer to ‘truth’, literature or science?

57:10 - What does it mean to say that there is a “higher volume of consciousness”? Why is our experience of time so dynamic?

1:08:10 - What does it mean to say that Darwinian evolution affords only a single-dimensional slice of a high-dimensional object?

1:14:42 - What is the relationship between evolution, complexity, and consciousness?

1:30:30 - Fiction is the only form of “intrinsic media”

1:45:30 -   Erik responds to the critique of scientific studies of consciousness: “the point isn’t to explain consciousness, but to change it.”

1:55:30 - Can the scientific study of consciousness tell us anything about what a ‘good’ state of consciousness is, or can it only describe and explain states without making an evaluative judgment?

Links from the conversation.
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