Two month old cerebral organoid
Jun 28, 2024

Can We Measure Consciousness? with Tim Bayne (podcast)

A discussion about tests for consciousness in humans and beyond.

By Templeton Staff

Dr. Tim Bayne is Professor of Philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia whose current research concerns the measurement of consciousness, and whether it is possible to build a "consciousness meter."

For this Many Minds Podcast, Dr. Bayne discusses if a universal test that tells us whether or to what degree an entity is conscious is possible. Listen in to hear insights on what this kind of measurement could mean for the way we think about this field of study and the nature of consciousness.

Listen with the below player.

“The holy grail of consciousness test research would be to have something like a thermometer that you could point at any substance, and it would tell you how hot it was.”

Dr. Tim Bayne, Professor of Philosophy, Monash University 


Many Minds podcast host, cognitive scientist, and writer Kensy Cooperrider introduces the episode:

"A cluster of brain cells in a dish, pulsing with electrical activity. A bee buzzing its way through a garden in bloom. A newborn baby staring up into his mother’s eyes. What all these entities have in common is that we don’t quite know what it’s like to be them — or, really, whether it’s like anything at all. We don’t really know, in other words, whether they’re conscious. But maybe we could know — if only we developed the right test.

Along with a large team of co-authors, Tim recently published an article titled ‘Tests for consciousness in humans and beyond.’ In it, they review the current landscape of consciousness tests —  or “C-tests”, as they call them — and outline strategies for building more and better tests down the road. 

Here, Tim and I discuss what consciousness is and why theories of it seem to be proliferating. We consider several of the boundary cases that are most hotly debated right now in the field — cases like brain organoids, neonates, and split-brain patients. We sketch a few of the most prominent current consciousness tests: the command following test, the sniff test, the unlimited associative learning test, and the test for AI consciousness. We talk about how we might be able to inch our way, slowly, toward something like a thermometer for consciousness: a universal test that tells us whether an entity is conscious, or to what degree, or even what kind of conscious it is.

Along the way, we talk about zombies, chatbots, brains in vats, and islands of awareness. And we muse about how, in certain respects, consciousness is like temperature, or perhaps more like happiness or wealth or intelligence, and maybe even a bit like fire."

Play the episode to hear about:


Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences is a multiyear, global effort to understand a world alive with brilliance in many forms. Its mission is to promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts and emerging scholars from around the globe, developing high-caliber projects that advance our comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.

Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI), made possible through a grant from TWCF to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Many Minds podcast is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from Assistant Producer Urte Laukaityte. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Artwork featured as the podcast badge is by Ben Oldroyd.


Image: NASA via Wikimedia Commons | Cross-section of a two-month old cerebral organoid observed under a fluorescence microscope. | Credit: Institut Pasteur-SupBiotech.