At the core of humanity is consciousness.
It is everything we experience; the reason we are human beings and not human doings.
The more we understand about consciousness, the more we understand humanity and can make informed decisions regarding ethics and governance.
With an aim to empower community interactions, consciousness research could contribute to more ethical aged care, inform our concerns about human rights and help us understand changing societal behaviours. It will help us deal with the ethical challenges encountered by the introduction of new AI and facilitate greater understanding of those with mental illness and other disabilities affecting the mind.
Research could positively impact:
- Self and sense of agency – an understanding of the way our expectations shape the way we consciously experience the world.
- Behavioural ethics and biases – such as implicit bias (or unconscious bias) by helping us to understand how unconscious attitudes towards others (and associated stereotypes) may run counter to conscious beliefs.
- Our rational decision-making – and how it is related to environmental challenges, social change and population pressures by understanding, improving and forging creative ways to see new solutions. There are many factors that influence our decision making outside our conscious awareness – research into what contributes to better decision making could lead to positive societal change.
- Culture, collective memory and interpretation – how do our individual experiences of sensory data contribute to the process of memory and recollection, how we reflect on our past? How does this shape our cultural narratives and in turn, how does culture influence our decision making?
- Animal ethics – while we know our minds are filled with conscious experiences, we can’t assume that this is true for other animals, particularly those with completely different brains. An octopus for example, while it is impossible to deny their intelligence and impressive cognitive functioning, does that necessarily mean they are conscious? Research on animals as different from us as fruit flies may change the way we measure consciousness and learn about the conscious inner life of other species.
- Those affected by mental illness and other disabilities – as our understanding of hwo affecting the mind by shifting attitudes and changing the conversation.
- The aged care industry and our aging population, as we seek to understand the day to day subjective experience, sense of self and personal autonomy associated with cognitive decline and dementia. This sense of who we are at various times in our life has profound impact on the way we treat the very young, and very late in their lives. Does our conscious experience of the world, and our sense of self-change as we get older?
But we can’t begin to understand these areas within the study of humanity and the arts alone. It is not an island. They are impacted by technological advances, medical and scientific research. We are turning to an interdisciplinary approach for some radical ideas.