For years consciousness was not researched in the scientific community. The scientific community is very objective and saw the internal mental processes of consciousness as being too subjective to study. Just recently, scientists, philosophers, and psychologists have been rejecting the idea than consciousness is too hard to study and have been attempting to try to understand its true meaning. Consciousness is one of many mysteries in the scientific world that social scientists and neuroscientists presently can’t agree on. Consciousness has been at the center of many discussions in articles and books involving neuroscientists and psychologists. They have been debating over what field will constitute consciousness, psychology or neuroscience.
Neuroscience is considered a “hard science” and Psychology is considered a “social science.” What do I mean by “hard science” and “social science?” A hard science is a science that is completely objective in its research and doesn’t speculate or determine the subjectivity of the area in which it is studying. A social science is a science that deals with the subjectivity of an area of study. Psychology is the science of the human soul. It is the scientific knowledge of the activities and functions of the human soul relating to the brain and consciousness experience. It is concerned with the facts and is objective to a point, but tends to speculate more than a hard science and also develops theories that are not necessarily able to be proven true. Because Psychology uses theories to tie the physical aspects to the psychological ones, it will have a greater role in the near future in explaining the mysteries of consciousness.
What is consciousness? Many have tried to define consciousness but none presently have developed a definition that is acceptable to all scientists. Francis Crick, a Professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, defines consciousness as, “attention and short term memory” (99). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines consciousness as “immediate knowledge or perception of the presence of any object, state, or sensation or a special awareness or sensitivity.” (174). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language has a more vivid definition of consciousness but neither fully explain all the elements involved in consciousness. Supporters of neuroscience believe that the mystery of consciousness can be solved using technology, and there is no need for social scientists to speculate over why the brain functions in the way it does. They believe in the future they will have the technology to understand all the functions of the brain.
Psychologists on the other hand believe that technology can’t possibly answer the questions concerning how the brain interprets the things we perceive and what gives rise to subjective experience. David J. Chalmers, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, categorizes the questions in consciousness into two types of categories. The “hard problems” and the “easy problems” (98). The “easy problems” are concerned with interpreting how the brain’s functions work. They are very objective questions and will probably be answered by neuroscience in the future. An example of an “easy problem” would be, how do different neurons in different sectors come together at a precise moment and form a picture in our brain? The “hard problems” deal with the “why” questions. They ask how the brain’s processes work to bring us a subjective experience. An example of a hard problem would be, why do we become sad when a certain song is played? Other hard problems are how our eyes perceive things and why these neural pathways are connected to the brain. These questions are all questions that cannot possibly be explained by neuroscience, they may however be able to be explained by theories developed by psychologists. So far only the “easy questions” about consciousness have been addressed by scientists and neuroscientists, and there hasn’t been a theory devised by either neuroscientists or psychologists completely explaining what consciousness is. David J. Chalmers classifies the views of consciousness into two groups, mysterianism and reductionism (97).
The reductionists believe that one day consciousness will be fully explained by the methods used only by the hard sciences. There are two key figures in the area of neuroscience that are considered reductionists. Francis Crick of the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in San Diego and Christof Koch of the California Institute of Technology, propose that “consciousness comes from certain oscillations in the cerebral cortex that fire neurons that are precisely synchronized with different parts of the brain” (99). In this way two pieces of information in the brain come together to make a whole picture. This hypothesis might in time answer one of the easy questions of consciousness but it doesn’t answer the hard question of why these oscillations give us a conscious experience. This explanation of consciousness and many others like it explain how the functions of the brain carry out functions but don’t touch on why the performance of these functions accompany a conscious experience.
David J. Chalmers describes mysterians as “believing that consciousness will never be explained by either psychology or neuroscience” (97). He believes consciousness is very difficult to understand fully, but in time may be resolved by a new theory from the Psychological world. Such a theory would have to envelop physical laws that tell us about behavior in the physical systems of the brain. The new theory would also have to encompass psychological laws that tell us how those systems are associated with conscious experiences. If these two components are combined they will explain all there is to know about consciousness. This theory will not be conclusively testable because there will be a lot of speculation involved, but if the theory coincides with the data gathered from the physical research in experiments done, then it will be considered a good theory.
Consciousness will always be a mystery to the “hard sciences“ and the “social sciences.” Technology will not advance enough to fully explain consciousness in the near future. It will take a huge breakthrough in neuroscience to even begin to explain all the elements that give rise to a conscious experience. The only way consciousness will be explained presently is by a psychological theory that can tie physical aspects into psychological aspects. To accomplish this, one must do some speculation, and if one has to speculate, his theory will not be acceptable to the hard sciences because it isn’t backed by hard facts. There is no plausible way neuroscience can explain all the elements related to consciousness because its technological resources are so limited. Psychology can theorize about why the brain’s functions operate the way they do, but they will ultimately have no way of proving their theories. Both areas of science have their weaknesses, but psychology is much closer to explaining the “why” questions about consciousness than is neuroscience. Neither Neuroscience nor psychology may ever understand consciousness, but psychology is our best bet in our quest to understand the functions of the brain that make us aware, or conscious.