Francis Crick has left the building

roses.jpgThe final paper of the late DNA pioneer and consciousness researcher Francis Crick has been published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Written with his collaborator Christof Koch, it concerns a little known part of the brain called the claustrum. The claustrum is a thin sheet of grey matter that is parallel to and below part of the cortex, as illustrated by images from Crick’s paper here.

Crick and Koch argue that the claustrum is probably connected to all of the cortex, and has a significant role in emotion, suggesting it may be involved in the ‘binding’ of emotion and the senses into a single conscious experience.

They give the example of holding a rose, smelling its fragrance, seeing its red petals and feeling the texture of its stem, now made more poignant by Crick’s passing.

How the brain achieves this (known as the binding problem) is one of the great problems of consciousness research.

Several researchers have argued, most notably biologist Gerald Edelman, that consciousness arises from ‘maps’ of neural activity distributed across the brain.

The co-ordination of this distributed neural activity is something that Crick and Koch aim to explain in their paper, proposing that the claustrum may be the mesh that connects disparate brain areas.

PDF of paper ‘What is the function of the claustrum?’ by Crick and Koch.
Link to summary from The Economist.
Link to press-release from the Royal Society.

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