This is because the same technologies that restore consciousness when there is a deficit or disorder can be pressed into service to enhance or augment healthy, functioning consciousness. Using tools devised from an array of disciplines, including robotics, optogenetics and virtual reality, it has been possible to augment missing or damaged sensory inputs to consciousness — or add entirely new ones. Similarly, research can pinpoint specific aspects of healthy consciousness that we might wish to enhance beyond current limits, for example attention, empathy and memory. Such insights will fundamentally change current approaches to education but also will have consequences in the workplace and in military contexts. Eventually, they may also yield a way to define the presence and quality of consciousness across different species, and this could have radical consequences for how we understand the other animals with which we share the planet. It would also make it much easier to set boundaries on how we allow ourselves to treat either the creatures we create the creatures we use in labs, or the creatures that simply suffer because of the way we treat the world.
Selection of GESDA best reads and further key reports
In 2019, Michel et al published “Opportunities and Challenges for a Maturing Science of Consciousness”, which closely examined the field’s potential.1 Tononi and Koch’s “Consciousness: Here, There and Everywhere?” provides an overview of the issues involved in developing a theory of consciousness, as well as the authors’ take on what such a theory might look like.2 Dresler et al’s “Hacking the Brain: Dimensions of Cognitive Enhancement” explores the various approaches to augmenting our natural cognitive abilities.3