Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Problem of Consciousness

O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim

For preacher and monk the honored name!

For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.

Such folk see only one side of a thing


Neuroscience is still in its infancy. It is still doing the meticulous, thorough and painstaking work that is required to explain the small stuff before any integrated explanation of consciousness is possible.

It was so in the natural world. And so it shall be in the science and study of the mind.

But science may never explain consciousness, nor (neuro) philosophy, nor religion, nor any other method. At least not on their own. Views outside of neuroscience may lack ‘neuro cred’ but they hold part of the answer to the deep puzzle of consciousness. While knowledge is growing about the details of the workings of cells, and networks and systems the concept of consciousness keeps shifting. It keeps changing. Therefore the conversations around this topic need to be wide open.

There are people on all sides who are committed to nourishing a collaborative and constructive view of the brain and mind.

I like Dennet’s view of consciousness as something that wins and takes control. His view explains how pain can ‘disappear’ when we are distracted by something else.

Or how things that are relevant to us have a big say in what we notice in our world.

And how awareness gives us some control over these things.

Patricia Churchland is also studying the interface between neuroscience and philosophy and writes informative articles that integrate disparate views like this one .

It was her writing on this issue that inspired this post.

I am also a big fan of the work being done in the field of the neuropsychology of emotion and cognitive neuroscience which links research findings back to the people who need help now.

The problem of consciousness is one of the deep puzzles that many humans are motivated to solve.

Many a problem is solved by sharing it, so it makes sense to work together on this one.