the problem of consciousness.

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  • Author(s): Crick, Francis; Koch, Christof
  • Source:
    Scientific American Special Edition. Aug2002 Special Edition, Vol. 12 Issue 1, p11-17. 8p. 4 Color Photographs.
  • Additional Information
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    • Abstract:
      The overwhelming question in neurobiology in 2002 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. Its most mysterious aspect is consciousness or awareness, which can take many forms, from the experience of pain to self-consciousness. For many years after William James penned "The Principles of Psychology," consciousness was a taboo concept in U.S. psychology because of the dominance of the behaviorist movement. There are many possible approaches to the problem of consciousness. This article focuses on the mammalian visual system. James thought that consciousness involved both attention and short-term memory. Most psychologists today would agree with this view. If visual awareness at any moment corresponds to sets of neurons firing, then the obvious question is: Where are these neurons located in the brain, and in what way are they firing? It is difficult to determine just how much time is needed for an episode of visual awareness, but one aspect of the problem that can be demonstrated experimentally is that signals that are received close together in time are treated by the brain as simultaneous.