From an interview with Ralph Adolphs (Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Caltech), in Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 21, R874-R875, 8 November 2011:
What are the major unsolved questions in cognitive neuroscience?
To my mind there’s one that stands above all else: how is the biology of the brain related to the psychology of the mind? In short, the problem of consciousness — which is actually several problems. There are still many people who find it silly to investigate this, or who honestly don’t seem to understand what the puzzlement is all about. Well, I think there’s a very deep puzzle there, and one we are unlikely to solve soon, and maybe will never solve — but that’s an empirical question. Throughout my career I think I’ve been fascinated by thinking about the conscious experiences of the research participants with whom I worked. When I worked with Damasio in Iowa, I asked myself that about the lesion patients whom I was working with (and concluded that I was incapable of ever knowing what it would be like to be most of them). In my lab at Caltech, we work with fascinating populations like high-functioning autism and agenesis of the corpus callosum. What is it like to be them, what is their experience of the world? I am fascinated by this question.
The handy term for the “problem” he is describing is qualia, which just means that we can’t know what it feels like to be you, thinking about – say – your home town. No way of approaching the problem is likely to work, because there is no objective way of being subjective.
That’s why we’re not sure it should be called a problem at all. It’s like dividing by zero. It doesn’t work, but that doesn’t change anything for the multitudes of math concepts that do work.
By the way, re corpus callosum, better read this.
Hat tip Creation-Evolution Headlines.