Friday, November 07, 2014

Consciousness

On Wednesday evening between work and choir practice I decided to stop at the Boston Public Library, a place I haven't visited in ages.  They are currently renovating, but luckily I immediately strolled right into the stacks of non-fiction, which is where I longed to be.  Not surprisingly, I was like a kid in a candy store and after well over an hour left with six books after putting back another ten.  My favorite selection is a book called *A Universe of Consciousness* (Edelman/Tononi).  Though it was published in 2000, my knowledge of current research is nil, so the questions seem quite relevant and fascinating.  I'll leave you with a quote from the beginning of the book which illustrates how the current controversial questions differ from the questions scientists and philosophers had before we had such an intricate knowledge of the brain.  What fascinates me most and was provoked by the partial reading of Tufts Professor Daniel Dennett's book *Consciousness Explained* (1992) is the idea that we really have no scientific way as of yet to explain conscious experience, that it is the result of the whole brain functioning and not a specific function of one part.

"Does the primary visual cortex contribute to conscious experience or not? Are areas of the brain that project directly to the prefrontal cortex more relevant than those that do not? Does only a particular subset of cortical neurons play a role? If so, are these neurons characterized by a special property or location? Do cortical neurons need to oscillate at 40 Hz or fire in bursts to contribute to conscious experience? Do different areas of the brain or groups of neurons generate different conscious fragments - a kind of microconsciousness? ... By what mysterious transformation would the firing of neurons located in a particular place in the brain or endowed with a particular biochemical property become subjective experience, while the firing of other neurons would not?"

Such wonderful mysteries to behold!

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