The leading theory of consciousness was just called “pseudoscience” by 100 neuroscientists

Gerald R. Baron
6 min readSep 20
Giulio Tononi (left) and Christof Koch share more than their appearance. Tononi is the creator of the Integrated Information Theory and Koch a contributor and likely the most prominent promoter. IIT is often referred to as the most likely candidate to explain how matter produces consciousness. Claims of IIT researchers at a June conference served as the basis for 100 neuroscientist to call the idea “pseudoscience.”

Claims of experimental validation of Integrated Information Theory (IIT) were rejected in a letter signed by 100 neuroscientists.

One scientist calling another’s findings “pseudoscience” is almost the ultimate insult. It surpasses even Wolfgang Pauli’s acerbic dismissal of ideas he rejected. He said they were “not even wrong.” But when 100 prominent neuroscientists declare the most popular theory of consciousness pseudoscience, you know something is up in the air. It seems Giulio Tononi and Christof Koch just got the big middle finger wave.

The story came out on September 20 in this New Scientist post. It seems that a presentation on IIT at the June meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness triggered a rather vigorous response. According to the post:

“IIT predicts that it is theoretically possible to calculate a value for the level of consciousness, termed phi, of any network with known structure and functioning. But as the number of nodes within a network grows, the sums involved get exponentially bigger, meaning that it is practically impossible to calculate phi for the human brain — or indeed any information-processing network with more than about 10 nodes.”

One thing that always struck me about explanations of this theory, including from Christof Koch of the Allen Brain Institute in Seattle, was the claim that by mathematically calculating connections in complex networks one could conclude that the network was generating consciousness. As David Chalmers pointed out about Koch’s work, there seems to be the assumption that finding the neural correlates of consciousness proves the brain produces consciousness. This confuses correlation with causation.

Koch, as discussed in a recent post here, was forced to pay up on a 25 year bet with consciousness philosopher Chalmers in a meeting earlier this year. A nice case of wine was presented to the winner. The bet was whether the brain’s production of consciousness would be firmly established in that 25 years. Koch’s exuberance or confidence continues as the bet was extended another 25 years.

One of the main problems of IIT is that it requires panpsychism, something that both…

Gerald R. Baron

Dawdling at the intersection of faith, science, philosophy and theology.