Getting to Yes, And

Patrick House: Consciousness


Patrick House

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Kelly has a wild conversation with neuroscientist Patrick House about his new book "19 Ways of Looking at Consciousness."

The main story in this book is about a young woman who is getting brain surgery for seizures and the doctors accidentally touch a region of the brain that makes her laugh and every time they do that, she provides a new reason for why she laughed. This really hit you.

“The terrifying thing to me is we've laughed our whole lives. It's one of the first things babies do, right? So, laughing is one of the first things you do as a conscious creature in this world. And if the brain is always filling in reasons, or always giving you a kind of after the fact rationale for why you laughed, maybe that means that every time you've ever laughed throughout the course of your entire life - when you give yourself a reason for why you think you laughed - It's different than why you actually laughed. And to me that's existentially terrifying in a way that almost nothing else is in neuroscience, right?”

You write that no one really knows what consciousness is. I guess you're also saying no one knows what laughter really is.

“We know that people laugh. We know how to get people to laugh. We don't really know why that comes with the subjective feeling of joy and mirth, and, you know, what's really going on - whether or not there's the same reasons on the inside of each of our minds.”

This fact from the book just blew me away – that there are no known cases of schizophrenia among individuals who have been blind from birth.

“There was a psychiatrist who went and basically called every single person within psychiatry and asked, ‘I would like to find someone in the history of humanity since we've been documenting things, that has been blind from birth, and had schizophrenic symptoms.’ And they just couldn't find one. And what that has to do with consciousness and what schizophrenia is? It could tell us in some sense how the brain, when it's operating in its non-kind of psychotic modes, works. In the same way that you might study a car as it’s broken down to learn how it works, you know, in its normal operations.”

Photo credit: Tyler MacNiven


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