June 5, 2008

Are There Neural Correlates of Consciousness?

By Alva Noë and Evan Thompson

In the past decade, the notion of a neural correlate of consciousness (or NCC) has become a focal point for scientific research on consciousness. A growing number of investigators believe that the first step toward a science of consciousness is to discover the neural correlates of consciousness.

Indeed, Francis Crick has gone so far as to proclaim that ‘we…need to discover the neural correlates of consciousness.… For this task the primate visual system seems especially attractive.… No longer need one spend time attempting … to endure the tedium of philosophers perpetually disagreeing with each other. Consciousness is now largely a scientific problem’.

Yet the question of what it means to be a neural correlate of consciousness is actually far from straightforward, for it involves fundamental empirical, methodological, and philosophical issues about the nature of consciousness and its relationship to the brain. Even if one assumes, as we do, that states of consciousness causally depend on states of the brain, one can nevertheless wonder in what sense there is, or could be, such a thing as a neural correlate of consciousness.

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