X-Message-Number: 23884
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: Francis Crick on consciousness and personhood
Date: Tue, 13 Apr 2004 15:48:47 -0700




April 13, 2004
After the Double Helix: Unraveling the Mysteries of the State of Being

Dr. Crick says he is convinced that the origin of consciousness is a 
solvable problem, albeit complex.

He drew an analogy with another phenomenon once attributed to transcendent 
powers: "People think the brain is mysterious but not the weather. Why is 
that?" In some ways, he suggested, the brain may be less enigmatic than the 
weather, because "we don't yet have a clear understanding of how raindrops 
form but we do know how individual neurons and synapses work."

The elucidation of the double helix ushered in the age of molecular 
genetics, which has now given rise to the vast applications of genetic 
engineering. Elucidating consciousness could have similarly portentous 
results, Dr. Koch suggests.

One potential application, he says, is some kind of instrument for measuring 
its intensity, perhaps a "consciousometer." Anesthesiologists might use it 
to determine when a patient under sedation is truly out. But in his book, 
Dr. Koch also raises the possibility of more troubling uses, including 
measuring the awareness levels of severely retarded children and elderly 
patients with dementia.

Or, he asks, "How do we know that a newborn baby is conscious?" Perhaps 
consciousness is something that doesn't begin at birth, he said, but 
gradually emerges.

"This research is going to pose enormous legal and ethical questions," Dr. 
Koch acknowledged in the recent interview.

"I'm not convinced that people want to know how consciousness works," he 
said. "They feel cast out of the world of meaning."

Having solved one of the basic mysteries of life here on Earth, Dr. Crick 
seems happy to skewer any notions of a life beyond. For him, the most 
profound implication of an operational understanding of consciousness is 
that "it will lead to the death of the soul."

"The view of ourselves as `persons' is just as erroneous as the view that 
the Sun goes around the Earth," he said. He predicted that "this sort of 
language will disappear in a few hundred years."

"In the fullness of time," he continued, "educated people will believe there 
is no soul independent of the body, and hence no life after death."

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