If neuroscientists want to understand the mystery of consciousness, they'll need new methods.
By Jonah Lehrer LAT Home > Op-Ed: Sunday Current January 20, 2008
- After all, the real paradox of the brain is why it feels like more than the sum of its parts.
- How does our pale gray matter become the Technicolor cinema of consciousness?
- What transforms the water of the brain into the wine of the mind?
- Where does the self come from?
Reductionism can't answer these questions. According to the facts of neuroscience, your head contains 100 billion electrical cells, but not one of them is you, or knows you or cares about you. In fact, you don't even exist. You are simply an elaborate cognitive illusion, an "epiphenomenon" of the cortex. Our mystery is denied. Obviously, this scientific solution isn't very satisfying. It confines neuroscience to an immaculate abstraction, unable to reduce the only reality we will ever know. Unless our science moves beyond reductionism and grapples instead with the messiness of subjective experience -- what James called a "science of the soul" -- its facts will grow increasingly remote. The wonder of the brain is that it can be described in so many ways: We are such stuff as dreams are made on, but we are also just stuff. What we need is a science that can encompass both sides of our being. Jonah Lehrer, an editor at large for Seed magazine, is the author of "Proust Was a Neuroscientist."