Who looks inside, awakens.
Badly Sleep Is the Interest We Have to Pay on the Capital Which is Called In at Death Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death; and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.
So wrote Arthur Schopenhauer, comparing life to finance in a universe that must keep its books balanced. At birth you receive a loan, consciousness and light borrowed from the void, leaving a hole in the emptiness.
The hole will grow bigger each day. Nightly, by yielding temporarily to the darkness of sleep, you restore some of the emptiness and keep the hole from growing limitlessly. In the end you must pay back the principal, complete the void, and return the life originally lent you.
By focusing on the common periodic nature of sleep and interest payments, Schopenhauer extends the metaphor of borrowing to life itself. Life and consciousness are the principal, death is the final repayment, and sleep is la petite mort, the periodic little death that renews.
The ability to grasp analogies, and seeing the difference between deep and superficial ones, is a hallmark of many great scientists; Francis Crick and James Watson were no exception.
Will a solution of similar elegance emerge for the problem of consciousness? Less well known is the chain of events culminating in this discovery.
Then Thomas Morgan showed that fruit flies zapped with x-rays became mutants with punctate changes in their chromosomes, yielding the clear conclusion that the chromosomes are where the action is.
Chromosomes are composed of histones and DNA; as early asthe British bacteriologist Fred Griffith showed that a harmless species of bacterium, upon incubation with a heat-killed virulent species, actually changes into the virulent species!
This was almost as startling as a pig walking into a room with a sheep and two sheep emerging. In biology, knowledge of structure often leads to knowledge of function—one need look no further than the whole of medical history. Localization was critical, as, indeed, it may prove to be for brain function.
They saw the analogy between the complementarity of molecular strands and the complementarity of parent and offspring—why pigs beget pigs and not sheep.
At that moment modern biology was born. I believe there are similar correlations between brain structure and mind function, between neurons and consciousness.
I am stating the obvious here only because there are some philosophers, called "new mysterians," who believe the opposite. The erudite Colin McGinn has written, for instance, "The brain is only tangentially relevant to consciousness. Churchland, Dennett, and Searle. After his triumph with heredity, Crick turned to what he called the "second great riddle" in biology—consciousness.
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There were many skeptics. We leave matters of semantic hygiene to you philosophers. Nonetheless, I believe he was headed in the right direction. He had been richly rewarded earlier in his career for grasping the analogy between biological complementarities, the notion that the structural logic of the molecule dictates the functional logic of heredity.
Given his phenomenal success using the strategy of structure-function analogy, it is hardly surprising that he imported the same style of thinking to study consciousness. He and his colleague Christoff Koch did so by focusing on a relatively obscure structure called the claustrum.
The claustrum is a thin sheet of cells underlying the insular cortex of the brain, one on each hemisphere. It is histologically more homogeneous than most brain structures, and intriguingly, unlike most brain structures which send and receive signals to and from a small subset of other structuresthe claustrum is reciprocally connected with almost every cortical region.
The structural and functional streamlining might ensure that, when waves of information come through the claustrum, its neurons will be exquisitely sensitive to the timing of the inputs.
What does this have to do with consciousness? But one attribute that stands out is subjective unity: So a central feature of consciousness is its unity—and here is a brain structure that sends and receives signals to and from practically all other brain structures, including the right parietal involved in polysensory convergence and embodiment and anterior cingulate involved in the experience of "free will".
Thus the claustrum seems to unify everything anatomically, and consciousness does so mentally. Crick and Koch recognized that this may not be a coincidence: This is this kind of childlike reasoning that often leads to great discoveries. Crick and Koch may be right or wrong, but their idea is elegant.
Crick has been right too often to ignore. I visited him at his home in La Jolla in July of He saw me to the door as I was leaving and as we parted, gave me a sly, conspiratorial wink: Throughout history we have told stories to each other and ourselves as one of the ways to understand the world around us.
Every culture has its creation myth for how the universe came to be, but the stories do not stop at the big picture view; other stories discuss every aspect of the world around us. However compelling and entertaining these stories may be, they fall short of being explanations because in the end all they are is stories.Xero connects you to all things business.
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