Good morning everyone,
In our recent chapters, we have been considering aspects of nervous system structure and function. During our discussions, we noted that the cerebral cortex of the forebrain is responsible for our "higher" functions, including emotion, reasoning, and planning. Many would argue that these are uniquely human, or at least developed to a higher degree in humans than in any other animal.
Chief among these "higher" functions is that of consciousness. Consciousness has been described as a form of "meta-awareness" (literally, being aware that we are aware). While there are many aspects of neural function that we still do not understand, the neural basis for consciousness is generally agreed to be the most challenging. In fact, consciousness is often described as "the hard problem" of neuroscience, which is a way of saying that it is so poorly understood that we do not really know even how to begin study of it, let alone explanation of it.
As our tools and our thinking are refined, however, more and more investigators are willing to study consciousness. In doing so, they often invoke aid from philosophers and psychologists, for not only is consciousness the ultimate emergent property, it cannot be isolated from itself - we are consciously trying to study consciousness, and that has significant implications for our approaches and our interpretations.
I'm passing along here a link to a recent news article describing (perhaps) a new way of thinking about consciousness, and the study of it. It describes the work of a number of the most prominent neuroscientists working today (including Giulio Tononi, Cristof Koch, and Stanislas Dehaene). This article describes some of the modern techniques used to study consciousness, and also presents some specific models for how consciousness may occur. In doing so, it also offers some specific predictions that might be tested, which will allow us to evaluate which models may, or may not, be plausible.
If you are interested in the "brain-mind" problem, as it is called, you might enjoy this article.
Hope that your Break is a good one!