Scientists Closing in on Theory of Consciousness
Probably for as long as humans have been able to grasp the concept of consciousness, they have sought to understand the phenomenon.
Studying the mind was once the province of philosophers, some of whom still believe the subject is inherently unknowable. But neuroscientists are making strides in developing a true science of the self.
Here are some of the best contenders for a theory of consciousness.
Cogito ergo sum
Not an easy concept to define, consciousness has been described as the state of being awake and aware of what is happening around you, and of having a sense of self. [Top 10 Mysteries of the Mind]
The 17th century French philosopher René Descartes proposed the notion of “cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am“), the idea that the mere act of thinking about one’s existence proves there is someone there to do the thinking.
Descartes also believed the mind was separate from the material body — a concept known as mind-body duality — and that these realms interact in the brain’s pineal gland. Scientists now reject the latter idea, but some thinkers still support the notion that the mind is somehow removed from the physical world.
But while philosophical approaches can be useful, they do not constitute testable theories of consciousness, scientists say.
“The only thing you know is, ‘I am conscious.’ Any theory has to start with that,” said Christof Koch, a neuroscientist and the chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Neuroscience in Seattle.