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Ron Burnett

President and Vice-Chancellor, Emily Carr University of Art and Design


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Can a map of the Brain really explain the complexities of consciousness?

We have been making extraordinary advances in mapping the brain and at the same time drawing conclusions about consciousness, the ways in which we think and consequently, the ways in which we act as humans.
I consider this approach to be simplistic and reductive. I am worried that we are building "behavioural maps" that cannot account for the complexity of human thought and action. Most of all, these maps cannot account for the unconscious, that part of our brains that cannot be explained by any reference to its parts.


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    Nov 14 2011: i don't believe that mapping the brain has anything to do with out figuring out consciousness. All mapping can do is explain memory, reflex, muscle memory, pathology of disease, and other functional actions. Thoughts might be results of synapses and new connections, but the evaluation of our thoughts and rationalizing them, i feel, is something not residing in the structural components of the brain. Some schizophrenics see things and hear things, but they know and understand that they are part of a physiological disease or miswiring. this awareness is something that isn't observed in the form of matter but possibly a non recognized energy.
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      Nov 14 2011: Chandra....thank-you for your thoughts. Your description of the mapping process is accurate. It can inevitably only describe the surface of interactions and not their depth. As to whether there is another form of energy at work in the brain, that is an issue that both cognitive scientists and psychoanalysts have grappled with over the last century.
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        Nov 15 2011: this type of question is what got me so interested in neuroscience at such a young age.
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        Nov 15 2011: I have to agree with you, Ron. Maybe there is some other form of energy or 'anti-matter' at work here.

        For example, in the universe, in more recent years there is more of a consensus that dark matter is more prevalent than actual matter.

        In other words what we can see out there (ie planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies and gases) is in a much smaller percentage than what we can't see (they call it dark matter because they don't really know what it is, just that it's not the other kind of matter).

        Maybe it's the same thing with the brain but they just haven't been able to figure it out yet.

        In the example of dark matter, they were able to see the affect it had on the 'regular' matter, which is one of the ways they were able to tell that it was there in the first place even though it doesn't 'show up' on xray emission photos.

        Perhaps something similar will happen in neuroscience so that we can get a better picture. I keep reading that despite progress the neuroscience field is still in its infancy, so there is still a lot to learn. I'm excited about the prospects.
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          Nov 15 2011: Thanks Estela, a wonderful post and I agree that the neurosciences are very exciting but in their infancy. My problem is with all the claims that are being made even though we still feeling our way in the dark, no pun intended.

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