Science's Genuine Controversies
What Is Consciousness?

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A typical human brain contains about 86 billion neurons, joined through quadrillions of weaving and winding connections. It's the most intensely tangled web that you can imagine. Somewhere, within that jumble, is you, your "self," otherwise known as consciousness.

That's about all scientists know for sure.

For the longest time, the debate over consciousness revolved around whether or not science should study it at all. Objectors decreed that the topic was too subjective and difficult to quantify, more under the purview of philosophy. But other scientists shirked off such criticisms and studied it anyway. After all, how could science not take on one of the greatest mysteries in the universe?

In many decades of studying consciousness, scientists have made some progress, but not much. Brain scanners have been indispensable tools. By comparing the brain activity of normal persons and those in vegetative states, neuroscientists have localized areas of the brain stem potentially tied to consciousness. But they still can't delve into any more detail. They can't, for example, look at a neuron firing and decree that a conscious thought has been produced.

The two big questions tied to understanding consciousness, according to neuroscientist Antionio Damasio, are monumental in and of themselves: How are minds put together? How is the self constructed? They remain unsatisfactorily answered.

Moreover, there are myriad controversies directly tied to the consciousness conundrum: Do we have free will? Do other animals have consciousness? (Do other animals have free will?) Can computers attain it?

It's enough to make your consciousness spin.

(Image: Public Domain)


‹‹ What Is Life? Where Did It Come From? Is Evolutionary Psychology Legitimate? ››

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