Neurobiology posits that all mental phenomena we experience ourselves and see in others are the result and not the origin of neuronal processes. These phenomena include our cognition, emotions, thoughts, decisions and our consciousness. For almost three decades, an increasing number of brain researchers has been trying to find the neuronal correlatives to our consciousness. The research field is quite diverse: Some are interested in finding the required conditions for a brain to be ‘conscious’, to perform in a way that can be called ‘conscious’. This usually points to a distinction between unconscious and conscious processes. Others focus on the ‘hard problem’ of how immaterial connotations of the content of consciousness, which can only be determined subjectively, can be related to material neuronal processes, which can be viewed from the outside perspective of the involved scientist.
This lecture will discuss the findings of both research approaches to point out the limitations of the neuroscientific explanation attempts. The presentation will suggest that these limitations are the products of a naturalist approach that we need to overcome by thinking of mental phenomena as social realities that require further interpretation in the context of cultural evolution and epigenetic self-modification.
Wolf Singer was born in Munich in 1943 and studied medicine in Munich and Paris, completed his PhD at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and habilitated at TU Munich. He was director of the Department of Neurophysiology at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt and founding director of the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) as well as the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience (ESI). He was also head of the Ernst Strüngmann Science Forum in Frankfurt. His research focuses on the neuronal processes of cognitive performance and is primarily concerned with the binding problem, which poses the question of how sensory processes in different brain regions are combined into a single coherent cognition.