Winter 2015

Consciousness

Author
Terrence Joseph Sejnowski
Abstract

No one did more to draw neuroscientists' attention to the problem of consciousness in the twentieth century than Francis Crick, who may be better known as the co-discoverer (with James Watson) of the structure of DNA. Crick focused his research on visual awareness and based his analysis on the progress made over the last fifty years in uncovering the neural mechanisms underlying visual perception. Because much of what happens in our brains occurs below the level of consciousness and many of our intuitions about unconscious processing are misleading, consciousness remains an elusive problem. In the end, when all of the brain mechanisms that underlie consciousness have been identified, will we still be asking: “What is consciousness?” Or will the question shift, just as the question “What is life?” is no longer the same as it was before Francis Crick?

TERRENCE J. SEJNOWSKI, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2013, is the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is also Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. His primary research interest is computational neuroscience. He is the author of Liars, Lovers and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Has Revealed About How We Become Who We Are (with Steven R. Quartz, 2002), Thalamocortical Assemblies: How Ion Channels, Single Neurons and Large-Scale Networks Organize Sleep Oscillations (with Alain Destexhe, 2001), and The Computational Brain (with Patricia S. Churchland, 1992).

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