On Consciousness & the Brain with Bernard Baars
Ep 21: The Duet of Physics & Psychology with Psychophysicist, Stanley Klein
"Subjectivity and consciousness are the two main mysteries that science is still faced with. I'm an optimist. I believe that in the next half a century we might make progress on understanding consciousness."
- Stanley A. Klein, psychophysicist, professor of Vision Science and Optometry at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the Berkeley Visual Processing Laboratory.
Episode 21: The Duet of Physics & Psychology with Psychophysicist, Stanley Klein
In episode 21 of our podcast “On Consciousness” we welcome psychophysicist Stanley Klein, Professor of Vision Science and Optometry at the University of California, Berkeley. Stan’s major area of research is neuropsychology and neurotechnology, a field of science that studies the body and mind through the nervous system by electronics and mechanisms. Stan was a Consulting Editor for Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, a publication of the Psychonomic Society. In this conversation Bernie and Stanley discuss the links between physics & psychology, Galileo’s contributions, and how science grows.
Summary How do you think about subjectivity?
This friendly conversation is opened by Nat Geld, our podcast producer. She asks Stan how he thinks about subjectivity. Stan’s optimistic view is that within the next 40 years or so, science might be able to understand subjectivity and consciousness.
Bernie and Stan start a dialogue about his professional journey. As a physics undergraduate at Cal Tech, Stan had the honor of publishing a paper with Richard Feynman, the great physicist. After earning his PhD from Brandeis University in 1967, Stan taught at Claremont Colleges and finally arrived at the School of Optometry at UC Berkeley, where he has been since 1987.
Consciousness and the Brain
Stan asks, "Is consciousness located exclusively in the brain?"
Bernie says, “Consciousness emerges in an enormous universe of nature, but only in a very small part of that universe. All the conscious species we know are animals living in the outer crust of planet earth. Empirically, we know nothing else. These days, this brutal fact tends to be forgotten because we have so many speculative ideas that tend to confuse us about the basics. But in science, we always need to start from what we know for sure.
To the best of our knowledge today, the animal brain is the home of the conscious mind.”
Scientific definitions change over time.
For Galileo, gravity meant the speed of wooden blocks sliding down angled planes. For Newton, gravity meant the attractive force of planets in orbit around the sun. Finally, for Einstein, gravity meant the influence of time and space on the apparent acceleration of objects in space.
There is both great continuity between Galileo, Newton and Einstein, and at the same time, there is a constantly evolving concept of gravity.
The concept of consciousness is also evolving with every new discovery.
Stan suggests that the big revolution in physics occurred in the 1920s with the discovery that a photon can be a wave or a particle. Einstein passionately opposed this idea, and tried to disprove it for the rest of his life. That debate still continues today.
Bernie then mentions that new ideas and discoveries are always hard to accept, and they usually require a period of debate and adaptation. The idea of the conscious brain is now going through just such a period. But of course both sides tell stories from their own points of view. One side explains how the Vatican unreasonably refused to accept Galileo, and the other side explains how Galileo unreasonably refused to accept the Vatican. This is a perfectly normal debate in the history of science. There are two sides, not just one.
In the episode's final moments, Ilian talks with Stan about what he believes to be the future of science. "Science needs to focus on climate change," says Stan. "I believe that in the next half a century we might make progress on understanding consciousness."
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Stanley A. Klein is an American psychophysicist. He is a Professor of Vision Science and Optometry at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the Berkeley Visual Processing Laboratory. He was a consulting editor for Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, a publication of the Psychosomatic Society which promotes the communication of scientific research in psychology and allied sciences. His major area of research has been neurotechnology, a field of science that studies the body and mind through the nervous system by electronics and mechanisms. He was the co-chair for the SPIE (an international society of the science and application of light) meetings on human vision. Klein has authored and co-authored numerous papers on visual perception in the human brain.
Ilian Daskalov is a senior undergraduate student at University of California, Irvine where he studies Cognitive Science. He holds an associate degree with honors from San Diego Mesa College. His research interests include sleep, psychedelics, and artificial intelligence. He is passionate about communicating science and promoting critical thinking.
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