The Secrets of Consciousness by the Editors of Scientific American
Consciousness is an enigmatic beast. It's more than mere awareness – it's how we experience the world, how our subjective experience relates to the objective universe around us. And therein lies the rub, in that tiny little word "how." These kinds of questions were once the province of philosophy, religion or perhaps fantasy, but within the last few decades, neuroscientists have added a scientific voice to the discussion, using available medical technology to explore just what separates so-called "mind" from brain. How do the neural and chemical workings of our brains create our minds, our total experience of the world, our thoughts and feelings, and that sense of self that distinguishes the individual from everyone else? In this eBook, The Secrets of Consciousness, we look at what science has to say about one of humankind's most fundamental, existential mysteries. We begin at the beginning, as they say, with Section 1 on the very nature of consciousness and move on to discuss theories of neural development. In one article, author David Chalmers calls this the "hard problem," requiring an entirely new theory that places consciousness itself as a fundamental component akin to the forces of physics. In another, leading neuroscientists Christof Koch and Susan Greenfield debate exactly how the neurons and circuits in the brain create conscious awareness. Later sections go deeper into the rabbit hole and examine what we can learn from altered states such as hypnosis or anesthesia as well as the use of formerly blacklisted hallucinogens such as LSD as healing drugs. Gary Stix discusses one study on the possible therapeutic effects of LSD on the intense anxiety experienced by patients with life-threatening disease, such as cancer. Finally, Section 6 explores "The Enigma of Spirituality." David Biello takes on the search in his article, "God in the Brain," highlighting studies searching for specific neurological centers of spirituality. It's been said before, but the brain is the final frontier. Just how that brain creates not only awareness, but also integrates that awareness into creating experiences, memories, and an enduring sense of self—well, it might take overhauling not only how we study ourselves, but how we define our reality in the process of looking.