Francis Crick: The New Materialism

Contrary to the assumptions of cognitive scientists, philosophers, and others, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, believes that one cannot achieve true understanding of consciousness or any other mental phenomenon by treating the brain as a black box. Only by examining neurons and the interactions between them could scientists create truly scientific models of consciousness, models analogous to those that explain transmission of genetic information by DNA.

He writes in his 1994 book The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, Your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more that the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. This is not a new idea, it is materialism. What makes Crick's argument so notable is that advances in neuroscience are showing that it is not too soon to start examining the scientific basis of consciousness. He is the person most responsible for the recent interest in consciousness.

Some philosophers feel that Crick is sidestepping the philosophical aspects of consciousness and the subjective nature of experience. He points out that life once seemed impossibly complex--before the discovery of DNA's structure revealed how information is passed from one generation to another. He believes that much of the mystery veiling the mind will evaporate once scientists learn more about how the brain works.

The Current Status of Philosophy.