Francis Crick's Astonishing Hypothesis
"If a term has to be used for the whole set of ideas I would suggest Neural Edelmanism."
--Francis Crick (referring to Edelman's theory, Neural Darwinism)
Crick, though sharing many of the same reductionist views of neural functioning as does Edelman, ironically holds Edelman's theory in some degree of contempt. In his book, The Astonishing Hypothesis, Crick examines the understanding of consciousness. Just as Edelman, he claims that comprehension of the behavior of humans hinges on the understanding of the behavior of neurons, both individually and in groups.
Crick claims that the best way to begin our exploration of consciousness is first to understand how we interpret visual information. This process is, in itself, fairly complicated, however, and will demand much research before knowledge of the matter will in any way be definitive.
First, to understand consciousness (either visual or general), we must determine where the cells responsible for determining consciousness are located. While the idea that consciouness may be clustered within either one or multiple areas of the brain may seem preposterous, this conjecture is certainly much more efficient than each cell carrying within itself the instructions for consciousness.
Once we have determined the location of those cells dictating consciousness, we can then determine how the decisions on what objects (or thoughts) we are aware of at any point and which are relegated to the subconscious. It seems almost impossible, though, to know either one without first understanding the other.
Deeper than knowing how we determine of which object we are conscious at any period of time is understanding how we can determine what the object to which we are attending actually is. Clearly, one cell can not be responsible for recognizing one object; there are far more objects possible in the world than there are cells in the human brain.
Therefore, the cells must work in combination to recognize objects; the possible combinations of cells in your brain are nearly infinite and certainly sufficient for perceiving any object that one could ever encounter. The question is what cells are working together to identify an object and how do they know they are working together, a dilemma known as the binding problem.
Mike Akins '99.
May 25, 1996.