SUNDAY TIMES - MARCH 9, 2003
Jonathan Leake - Science Editor
The joint discoverer of DNAs double helix has published
research that explains away the soul and attributes human consciousness
to a set of neurones in the brain.
Crick claims he and his co-researchers have found the group
of cells responsible for generating consciousness and an individuals
sense of self.
announcement, in the science journal Nature Neuroscience, comes
amid the build-up to next months 50th anniversary celebrations
of the discovery of the double helix by Crick and James Watson,
for which they won a Nobel prize.
discovery, that the blueprint for life and evolution lay in
a simple molecule, is still seen as a threat to religion by
groups such as creationists.
proven, Cricks new claim would represent another big triumph
for science over religion. The apparent inability of science
to explain where humans get their sense of self-awareness has
long been used by religious leaders as evidence of an eternal
Crick it would also represent the culmination of years of research
into consciousness, much of which has been targeted on disproving
the notion of the soul. In earlier research he once said: The
scientific belief is that our minds - the behaviour of our brains
- can be explained entirely by the interactions of nerve cells.
new research indicates he has proved his case. The paper is
based on years of experimentation including studies, tests on
animals and psychological research. Some of the most valuable
data came from the therapeutic use of tiny probes put into the
rains of people suffering from epilepsy to assess their seizures.
paper describes how different parts of th brain mesh together
to generate consciousness. It adds: For the first time
we have a coherent scheme for the neural correlates of consciousness
in philosophical, psychological and neural terms.
consciousness may be expressed by only a small set of neurons,
in particular those that protect from the back of the cortex
to parts of the frontal cortex.
Koch, professor of neuroscience at California Institute of Technology,
who co-authored Cricks latest research, said: It
is clear that consciousness arises from biochemical reactions
within the brain.
see Cricks attack on the soul as part of a wider attempt
by scientists to undermine the fundamental beliefs of major
Rev Michael Reiss, professor of science education at the University
of London, who is both priest and scientist, said Crick had
only discovered the neuronal components of consciousness.
is like saying that the cathedral is a pile of stones and glass
he said. It is true, but too simplistic and it misses
Colin Blackmore, professor of neuroscience of Oxford University,
supported Cricks belief that consciousness arises from
sid: Science and religion conflict because they both try
to explain physical world, but most religions suggest there
is some grand intention - and there is no evidence for that.
Religion is an untestable hypothesis.
Susan Greenfield, a pharmacology professor who is director of
the Royal Institution of Great Britain, said it was important
for scientists to show respect for other beliefs even when they
disagreed with them. Among some researchers science is
becoming the new religion, she said. That is a silly
who at 86 will discover the truth of his theories sooner than
most other scientists, has said that one day all humanity will
come to accept that the concept of souls and the promise of
eternal life were a deception - just as they now accept that
the Earth is not flat.