The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach

The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach

Monday, February 28, 2005

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

Presented by the Readers & Writers Program



Read Excerpt: Chapter 1
(PDF 1.43MB)

Speaker: Christof Koch, California Institute of Technology
Discussant: Oliver Sacks, author

Consciousness is one of science’s last great unsolved mysteries. How do the elemental feelings and sensations making up conscious experience, the redness of red and painfulness of pain, arise from the concerted actions of nerve cells and their associated synaptic and molecular processes? Can such feelings be explained by modern science, or is some quite different kind of explanation needed? And how can this seemingly intractable problem be approached experimentally?

In The Quest for Consciousness, Christof Koch explores the biological basis of the subjective mind in animals and people. He outlines a framework that he and Francis Crick (of the "double helix") have constructed to come to grips with the ancient mind–body problem. At the heart of their framework is a sustained, empirical approach to discovering and characterizing the neuronal correlates of consciousness—the NCC—the subtle, flickering patterns of brain activity that underlie each and every conscious experience.

Christof Koch joined the faculty at the California Institute of Technology in 1986, where he is now the Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology. The author of many scientific papers and journal articles, and several books, Dr. Koch studies the biophysics of computation, and the neuronal basis of visual perception, attention, and consciousness. Together with his long-time collaborator, Francis Crick, he has pioneered the scientific study of consciousness.

As a physician and a writer, Oliver Sacks is concerned above all with the ways in which individuals survive and adapt to different neurological diseases and conditions, and what this experience can tell us about the human brain and mind. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, as well as various medical journals. His books, which include, Awakenings (1973), A Leg to Stand On (1984), and Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001), have received numerous awards and sold millions of copies around the world.