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The Grand Challenge of Consciousness

Frontiers in Psychology
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00005
  • Psychology
  • Opinion Article
  • Biology
  • Computer Science
  • Linguistics
  • Medicine
  • Philosophy


2C_fpsyg-01-00005.indd March 2010 | Volume 1 | Article 5 | 1 OPINION ARTICLE published: 10 March 2010 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00005 The grand challenge of consciousness Anil K. Seth* Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, School of Informatics, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK *Correspondence: [email protected] Consciousness is at once the most famil- iar and the most mysterious aspect of our existence. Conscious experiences defi ne our lives, but the subjective, private, and quali- tative nature of these experiences seems to resist scientifi c inquiry. For much of the twentieth century, consciousness research remained the exclusive preserve of philoso- phy, whose practitioners continue to grap- ple with the so-called ‘hard problem’ of why physical or physiological processes should give rise to conscious experiences at all. Yet people have wondered about consciousness since they wondered about anything, and advances in our comprehension have been slow in coming. Over the last two decades much has changed (Baars et al., 2003; Metzinger, 2003; Banks, 2009; Bayne et al., 2009). Alongside philosophical discourse a new science of con- sciousness has taken shape which integrates experimental and theoretical work across many fi elds including neuroscience, psychol- ogy, cognitive science, artifi cial intelligence, computer science, neurology, and psychiatry. Developing a naturalized account of the rich experiential tapestry of consciousness is now recognized as a major objective for twenty- fi rst century science. Perhaps the key factor in the transition to scientifi c legitimacy was the realization that it may not be necessary to explain why consciousness exists in order to begin to unravel the physical and biological mechanisms that underlie its various proper- ties. After all, physicists have laid bare many mysteries of the universe without accounting for the brute fact of its existence. As this realization has taken hold,

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