PerspectiveHypothesis

Making the hard problem of consciousness easier

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Science  28 May 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6545, pp. 911-912
DOI: 10.1126/science.abj3259

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Summary

The history of science includes numerous challenging problems, including the “hard problem” (1) of consciousness: Why does an assembly of neurons—no matter how complex, such as the human brain—give rise to perceptions and feelings that are consciously experienced, such as the sweetness of chocolate or the tenderness of a loving caress on one's cheek? Beyond satisfying this millennia-old existential curiosity, understanding consciousness bears substantial medical and ethical implications, from evaluating whether someone is conscious after brain injury to determining whether nonhuman animals, fetuses, cell organoids, or even advanced machines (2) are conscious. A comprehensive and agreed-upon theory of consciousness is necessary to answer the question of which systems—biologically evolved or artificially designed—experience anything and to define the ethical boundaries of our actions toward them. The research projects described here will hopefully point the way and indicate whether some of today's major theories hold water or not.

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