Questions for Susan Greenfield, Baroness Greenfield

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Capo Famiglia
Full Member
May 19, 2014
We’re recording a LAD with Baroness Susan Greenfield this Thursday. Very excited to have her on – she’s both a very distinguished scientist and someone who is not afraid to court controversy.

If you have any questions for her, please let me have them here in the next 24 hours.
Will consciousness spontaneously arise in any neural tissue which is sufficiently complex (i.e., composed of sufficient numbers of tandem and parallel connections)? In other words, is consciousness a metaproperty of electrically excitable tissue which is unavoidable over periods of evolutionary time? And if so, is it limited to neural tissue, or could something analogous occur in computers, at some point? (She may wish to first define 'consciousness'....)
(By way of explanation, I have written a number of short stories exploring this and closely related topics, and I have a background in biomedical research during which I have pondered these types of question).
In 2011 Bad Science author Ben Goldacre raised a serious point in the Guardian. In response to Baroness Greenfield reportedly announcing that computer games could cause dementia, and (on another occasion) linking the use of the internet to the rise in autism, Goldacre asked 'Why, in over five years of appearing in the media raising these grave worries, has Professor Greenfield of Oxford University never simply published the claims in an academic paper?'

As he pointed out 'A scientist with enduring concerns about a serious widespread risk would normally set out their concerns clearly, to other scientists, in a scientific paper, and for one simple reason. Science has authority, not because of white coats, or titles, but because of precision and transparency: you explain your theory, set out your evidence, and reference the studies that support your case. Other scientists can then read it, see if you've fairly represented the evidence, and decide whether the methods of the papers you've cited really do produce results that meaningfully support your hypothesis.'

As far as I am aware this question has never been answered, and it would be fascinating to hear her reply.
Excellent, thank you very much :)
Great stuff, thanks for that. I've heard Baroness Greenfield's tetchy response to the peer-reviewed papers question on the, um-- dangerous internets!-- but we'll no doubt touch upon it as the accusation of scaremongering seems to follow her everywhere, fairly or no. Whatever the case a fascinating person.
Just recorded the show. I was far more impressed with Susan G than I expected to be. She’s a very remarkable woman. And yes, we did ask both questions above. Will try to get it posted asap.
Intense interview w/ Baroness Greenfield last night. Feel a bit intellectually battered, like I brought a knife to an even-bigger-knife fight. Smart, savvy and *feisty* -- as one might expect from a renown neuroscientist-- Lady G cuts quite the controversial figure, has an (often pretty darn good) answer for everything. Even Agent Pete was nodding his head impressed. Thanks to Brian and Marc for their questions which provide a welcome chance for me adjust my collar!
Side note: Is it gauche to say I'm chuffed she signed my kindle? (answer: yes. but still...)
I listened to the Greenfield interview this morning - entertaining stuff, thanks for making it available. I thought Mr Winn acquitted himself well - a weaker personality would have been crushed, and then eviscerated. One thing she said in particular resonated with me: when talking about shaping the future, she asserted "you have to know what you want - and lots of people don't." I have been saying much the same to my kids for years - there are three things you need to do in life, I tell them - work out what will make you happy, make a plan to get what will make you happy, and execute the plan; but most people don't even do the first of these, or if they do it, they get an incorrect answer. So decide where true happiness lies, kids. Copyright Marc Joan/ Cod philosophy/ 2014. Anyway, digressions aside, I liked the show; & I wish I was as articulate as Dr. Greenfield.
:) The history of science and of medicine show that Science is only as good as its questions. It's a facer, Marc. The ones that know from the 'off' what they want are quicker out of the gate, others people don't know yet what they 'are' so can't decide what they want. And it can't be forced when that's the case, it doesn't make for good rhubarb. What one can do is try lots of things and at least find out what one doesn't want, and in the process find out what one is like. Maybe they used to know. Looking back, the clues were right there in early childhood, then they got lost from view. Then by the time those people wake up to their natures, major choices have already been made, and the choice is then to branch out in a new direction or make peace with the bargain already made. The single minded, who succeed on this basis because focus and persistence is what counts for material success, talent alone does not cut it, are are greatly admired for what might also be considered a limitation of outlook. Alexander the Great's no hero of mine, but who applauds the happy potterers, the gentle folk who leave few footprints and likewise do little harm. Maybe too, we just don't live long enough to find out what other paths we could have taken that would also have suited us. 'In our father's house are many mansions.' The house is us.
All true; what I said was an oversimplification, especially as the answers may change over time.
I have a lot of time for happy potterers, by the way. And good rhubarb.
Thanks for that, Marc. Definitely came away feeling battered but glad not to have been eviscerated (deep fat fried, served with chips, salt and vinegar in the wounds, metaphor dead). One of the things my wife pointed out after listening to the interview (which I would have loved to have come off the ropes and put to Susan) is that: not everyone has, or approaches the world, with such a towering intellect. Hell I'm not half as brainy as a brainy neuroscientist and many people don't have the capacity to "get" Tolstoy, let alone the complexities involved in evolutionary brain plasticity. Um, theory. Whatevs. Which doesn't make her arguments any less compelling or even true it's just... it's all about perspective, and understanding the perspective of others, innit? She seemed completely baffled (tho not-quite-nonplused) that people don't understand/take issue with her arguments, esp as she's so bloody sharp n' all...

Also: take your points on happiness. It's the new money. Look at Robin Williams. Even doing what he loved couldn't quite square the circle. Which goes back to Susan's point of videogames and social networks providing a false, fleeting 2D dopamine version of the real deal. Good stuff.
The launching of the kids thing has been exercising me, and no doubt you and everyone in that situation for years...this fledging business is a long one, innit? :)

Add: really good interview. No-one was eviscerated. The pacing was tremendous, not a beat missed. She's right about the idea and value of empty space, empty time, right about lost attention spans, wrong I think to diss the cultural value of fairy tales, which were originally written for adults and which deal in enduring archetypes.

I agree with her about on-going value and applications of classics. I did thicko Latin at O level (my comp offered it in sixth form) Thicko because I only had to translate one way, Latin into English, even so, it's been useful.

I wasn't too great at science at school; the experience of immune illness and the reading this motivated got me really interested in biological science.

I don't even know how to play these games but I did see this and think, oh of only they could bring something like this into the moderated doses of course. What is dull about history, for instance? It's only bad presentation that could make it dull, or Geography or ..

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Better not share with her my strangest ever experience; encountering a disembodied consciousness, a ghost, for want of another word, in the middle of the day, smack in the middle of Leicester city centre. The physical repository with its central nervous system was in location A, my perception of it at location B. No line of sight in between.
We have another eminent Susan –Susan Blackmore –on the show soon. She used to be a paranormalist, since recanted. Keen on memes now.
What's a paranormalist....hehe. If people didn't take up labels and positions on such unanswerables, they wouldn't need to recant. Will look her up.;..
AgentPete: that's right, she did, good point. Dem Susans be comin' by like buses, yo! :rolleyes:
Yes, nice pic, and brilliantly spotted, K-E!
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