Neural Correlates of Consciousness

With improvements in brain imaging technologies during the 1980s and 1990s, scientific interest in the brain reached unprecedented levels. Francis Crick (1916- 2004)—who, together with James Watson (1928-), received the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA—took on the problem of consciousness. Crick died in 2004, but his long-time research colleague Christof Koch (1956-) carries on the mission.

Crick and Koch shared a vision of how to approach the problem of consciousness. They sought the brain structures that are for conscious perception to occur. This approach, known as the search for neural correlates of consciousness (NCC), has been adopted by many researchers. Typically, researchers rely on imaging techniques, such as fMRI, to reveal active structures correlated with conscious experi?ences. Crick and Koch decided to work on neural correlates of conscious visual perception. Koch believes an understanding of how the brain produces conscious visual percepts could help explain how the brain produces conscious percepts for other senses. He maintains that it would be inefficient if evolution gave us different solutions for each sense—there should be one shared approach reused by all senses. This reasoning about a common solution appears sound. However, as Searle maintains, consciousness is experienced as a field in which flashes of light and other percepts appear. Thus, it appears that we need to explain our experience of the field rather than percepts.

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