Francis CrickFrancis Crick famously worked with James Watson to elaborate the double helix structure of DNA, the genetic basis of heredity. In his later years he worked on the "mind-body problem" and what David Chalmers called the "hard problem" of consciousness. He collaborated with neuroscientist Christoph Koch between 1990 and his death to develop a scientific theory of neurons that could describe the "neural correlates of consciousness." They proposed that consciousness involves very short-term memory processes that were as yet poorly understood. How can the brain become aware of the significance of a sensation within a few hundred milliseconds of an experience? He called this a "perceptual moment." Crick was skeptical of "computational models" of the brain. He wrote...
What Christof Koch and I are trying to do is to persuade people, and especially those scientists intimately involved with the brain, that now is the time to take the problem of consciousness seriously... Philosophers are right in trying to discover better ways of looking at the problem and in suggesting fallacies in our present thinking. That they have made so little real progress is because they are looking at the system from outside. This makes them use the wrong idiom. It is essential to think in terms of neurons, both their internal components and the intricate and unexpected ways they interact together. Eventually, when we truly understand how the brain works, we may be able to give approximate high-level accounts of our perceptions, our thinking, and our behavior. This will help us to grasp the overall performance of our brains in a more correct and more compact manner, and will replace the fuzzy folk notions we have today. Many philosophers and psychologists believe it is premature to think about neurons now. But just the contrary is the case. It is premature to try to describe how the brain really works using just a black-box approach, especially when it is couched in the language of common words or the language of a digital programmable computer. The language of the brain is based on neurons. To understand the brain you must understand neurons and especially how vast numbers of them act together in parallel. The reader might accept all this but could well complain that I have talked all around the topic of consciousness, with more speculation than hard facts, and have avoided what, in the long run, is the most puzzling problem of all. I have said almost nothing about qualia—the redness of red—except to brush it to one side and hope for the best. In short, why is the Astonishing Hypothesis so astonishing? Is there some aspect of the brain’s structure and behavior that might suggest why it is so difficult for people to conceive of awareness in neural terms? I think there is. I have described the general workings of an intricate machine—the brain—that handles an immense amount of information all at once, in one perceptual moment. Much of the content of this rich body of coherent information is constantly changing, yet the machine manages to keep various running records of what it has just been doing. We have no experience (apart from the very limited view provided by our own introspection) of any machine with all these properties, so it is not surprising that the results of that introspection appear so odd.The brain indeed has "stored" a vast amount of information, namely, all of its past experiences. But it does not "handle" all that stored information. In particular, it does nothing like "information processing" to "recall" information related to its current "experience," which is to say its immediate bundle of raw sensations. Crick's qualia (plural of quale) are what Thomas Nagel described in his famous essay "What is it like to be a bat?," namely to experience "redness" or what Koch called "the feeling of life itself," namely having an emotional reaction to sensations. Antonio Damasio calls this "the feeling of what happens." How sensations immediately give rise to "awareness," "significance," and "meaning," including our emotional reactions to an experience, is explained by our Experience Recorder and Reproducer.
Crick on Free Will
My first assumption was that part of one’s brain is concerned with making plans for future actions, without necessarily carrying them out. I also assumed that one can be conscious of such plans—that is, that they are subject at least to immediate recall. My second assumption was that one is not conscious of the “computations” done by this part of the brain but only of the “decisions” it makes—that is, its plans. Of course, these computations will depend on the structure of that part of the brain (derived partly epigenetically and partly from past experience) and on its current inputs from other parts of the brain. My third assumption was that the decision to act on one plan or another is also subject to the same limitations. In other words, one has immediate recall of what is decided but not of the computations that went into the decision, even though one may be aware of a plan to move. Then, such a machine (this was the word I used in my letter) will appear to itself to have Free Will, provided it can personify its behavior—that is, it has an image of “itself.” The actual cause of the decision may be clear cut (Pat [Churchland]’s addition), or it may be deterministic but chaotic—that is, a very small perturbation may make a big difference to the end result. This would give the appearance of the Will being “free” since it would make the outcome essentially unpredictable. Of course, conscious activities may also influence the decision mechanism (Pat's addition). Such a machine can attempt to explain to itself why it made a certain choice (by using introspection). Sometimes it may reach the correct conclusion. At other times it will either not know or, more likelv will confabulate, because it has no conscious knowledge of the “reason” for the choice. This implies that there must be a mechanism for confabulation, meaning that given a certain amount of evidence, which may or may not be misleading, part of the brain will jump to the simplest conclusion. As we have seen, this can happen all too easily. This concluded my Theory of Free Will. It obviously depends upon understanding what consciousness is about (the main topic of this book [The Astonishing Hypothesis]), how the brain plans (and carries out) actions, how we confabulate, and so on. I doubt if there is anything really novel in all this although some of the details may not have been included in previous explanations.Normal | Teacher | Scholar