The Problem of Consciousness; Mysteries of the Mind; Scientific American Presents; by Francis Crick and Christof Koch; 9 Page(s)
The overwhelming question in neurobiology today is the relation between the mind and the brain. Everyone agrees that what we know as mind is closely related to certain aspects of the behavior of the brain, not to the heart, as Aristotle thought. Its most mysterious aspect is consciousness or awareness, which can take many forms, from the experience of pain to self-consciousness. In the past the mind (or soul) was often regarded, as it was by Descartes, as something immaterial, separate from the brain but interacting with it in some way. A few neuroscientists, such as Sir John Eccles, still assert that the soul is distinct from the body. But most neuroscientists now believe that all aspects of mind, including its most puzzling attribute-consciousness or awareness-are likely to be explainable in a more materialistic way as the behavior of large sets of interacting neurons. As William James, the father of American psychology, said a century ago, consciousness is not a thing but a process.
Exactly what the process is, however, has yet to be discovered. For many years after James penned The Principles of Psychology, consciousness was a taboo concept in American psychology because of the dominance of the behaviorist movement. With the advent of cognitive science in the mid-1950s, it became possible once more for psychologists to consider mental processes as opposed to merely observing behavior. In spite of these changes, until recently most cognitive scientists ignored consciousness, as did almost all neuroscientists. The problem was felt to be either purely "philosophical" or too elusive to study experimentally. It would not have been easy for a neuroscientist to get a grant just to study consciousness.