Nov 14, 2012
No one really knows, to be honest. Scientists are making remarkable discoveries about the brain, and with brain imaging techniques, they’re often able to find correlations between particular brain activities and certain mental experiences. Some intrepid scientists are now trying to map the neural circuitry of the brain, but the task is far more audacious than the Human Genome Project a decade ago. The complexity of the brain is staggering. The human brain has close to a hundred billion neurons and trillions of synapses, so it will take years even to map small portions of the brain.
But if we do manage to map the brain’s neural circuits some day—to find the neural correlates of consciousness—it’s still not clear that we’ll have a causal explanation for consciousness. The big mystery, of course, is how the physical stuff inside the brain can produce mental experiences, which have no material substance at all. In other words, why does a particular configuration of neural connections give me the dream I had last night, or the sudden spark of inspiration for the short story I’m writing? That’s a conceptual gap that no one knows how to bridge at the moment.