Can We Measure Consciousness?

Carl Zimmer has a nice piece in the New York Times on Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi’s quest to “quantify” consciousness. Zimmer writes,

Consciousness, Dr. Tononi says, is nothing more than integrated information. Information theorists measure the amount of information in a computer file or a cellphone call in bits, and Dr. Tononi argues that we could, in theory, measure consciousness in bits as well. When we are wide awake, our consciousness contains more bits than when we are asleep.


[I look forward to buying a “Consciometer” in 2050 – Imagine…when you’re sharp you measure 9.5 consciousness-units. When you space out and grab a hot pan on the stove you’re floating around 4.8 units.  Sleep is zero, and daydreaming is 3].


About the author

Sam McDougle

SAM MCDOUGLE is a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology and Neuroscience at Princeton University. His writing has appeared in Vice and The Atlantic.

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  • Consciousness arose in creatures that evolved to predict (or imagine) what may be in store for them, so that they can take action for their best survival or reward.
    Conscious creatures already have a biological (subjective) “consciometer” that others can view depending on the clarity of the meter’s “lens.”
    Example: an artist can construct a “lens” by their painting, music or acting. Viewing a part of another’s conscious is intriguing. A flock of birds that fly in unison have found a way to share consciousness of movement. Love is a form of “lensing” consciousness that gives reward to the evolution of consciousness itself.
    Using a mechanical “consciometer” for a complex biological creature may be possible, but knowledge of the process that the brain gives feedback to project consciousness for oneself has not developed. The myriad of subtle, fleeting hormones that are secreted as a result of certain thought may be difficult to measure, since everyone’s “mixture” may cause a wide difference in effect of according to DNA.
    If one craves a measurement, (or conscious life after death), visit an art museum. Who knows, future technology may be able capture, measure or replicate consciousness but to merely say the measure would be quantitative (a meter) and not qualitative might miss the point of it.

  • If consciousness is merely intergraded information does that mean computers are also conscious? We could encode all the worlds data/information into a super computer but that would not give it self-awareness or choice. A bear has one of the best smelling abilities of all animals- it processes and stores way more information/data regarding smell than humans possibly could. If we measured consciousness simply by the amt of information stored /integrated we might conclude that animals are more conscious then humans simply by the amt of data they process-like the bear being able to process more smells than humans. I think there would have to be some way to measure the complexity of data in measuring consciousness, IE although the bear can have more information on smells then I, it can’t understand how a car works like I can.

  • Hi ,conciousness is not limited to mind or ones own head . Once active and awake and depending on the subjects love of truth and current mental state they may wish to go beyond govern -mental and the material plane of “reality” and just Be . Measure that .truth is we have trusted science democracy and Nasa to an exhausted end .the tide is turning toward the “being of light ” and in that state we will have achieved enlightenment .what more do we need ?

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