The Essential Properties Of Consciousness

2122 Words9 Pages
Every morning when we wake up, an entire world of images, textures, sounds, and smells emerges around us. We smell coffee, hear a chorus of birds at the windowsill, and squint at the sun filtering through the curtains. We also experience a series of internal sensations: a stream of jumbled thoughts, awareness of ourselves, hunger, pain, happiness. All of this perceptual experience isn’t the natural world; it’s our subjective representation of it. This is the mysterious, impalpable quality we call consciousness. The essential properties of consciousness have been matters of philosophical debate since the 1600s, when Descartes proclaimed that mind and brain were separate substances. But recently, scientists and doctors have started asking…show more content…
A brief history of anesthesia and consciousness At the cornerstone of scientific investigations of consciousness is the field of anesthesiology. Intuitively, this makes sense: Every day, approximately 60,000 patients in the United States are shuttled in and out of unconsciousness under the watchful eyes of anesthesiologists. The first anesthetics were gases like nitrous oxide and chloroform, which extinguished memory and produced an unconscious state. Upon waking, patients would describe feelings of painlessness and euphoria. But for a long time, physicians didn’t understand how these anesthetics worked or what, exactly, “consciousness” was. Research focused more on how to administer drugs safely than on their exact mechanism on the brain. The tide shifted in 1994, when Francis Crick, who co-discovered the structure of DNA, published a brief, searing manifesto called “The Astonishing Hypothesis.” In it, he urged scientists to address a topic seemingly more suited to philosophical round tables: human consciousness. “Now is the time to think scientifically about consciousness (and its relationship, if any, to the hypothetical immortal soul),” Crick wrote. “To understand ourselves we must understand how nerve cells behave and how they interact.” Suddenly, symposia centered on discovering the mechanism of human consciousness sprang up across the country. A topic
Open Document