Monday, June 09, 2008

Horgan, John. "The Consciousness Conundrum." IEEE SPECTRUM (June 2008).

Neuroscience is indeed thriving. Membership in the Society for Neuroscience has surged from 500, when it was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1970, to almost 40 000 today. New brain journals seem to spring up daily, crammed with data from ever-more-powerful brain probes such as magnetic-resonance imaging and transcranial magnetic stimulation. In addition to such noninvasive methods, scientists can stick electrodes in brains to monitor and stimulate individual neurons. Researchers are also devising electrode-based “neural prostheses” to help people with nervous-system disorders such as deafness, blindness, paralysis, and memory loss. In spite of all those advances, neuroscientists still do not understand at all how a brain (the squishy agglomeration of tissue and neurons) makes a conscious mind (the intangible entity that enables you to fall in love, find irony in a novel, and appreciate the elegance of a circuit design). “No one has the foggiest notion,” says the neuroscientist Eric Kandel of Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City. “At the moment all you can get are informed, intelligent opinions.” Neuroscientists lack an overarching, unifying theory to make sense of their sprawling and disjointed findings, such as Kandel's Nobel Prize–winning discovery of the chemical and genetic processes that underpin memory formation in sea slugs. . . . Read the rest here:

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