Science

All of science revolves around three fundamental questions:

1. What is the nature of matter and energy?

2. What is the nature of life?

3. What is the nature of mind?

Over the past 300 years, research in the physical sciences has produced a wealth of knowledge about the nature of matter and energy, both on our own planet and in the distant galaxies. We have developed mathematical models that enable us to understand at a very deep level what matter is, what holds it together, and what gives it its properties. Our models of physics and chemistry can predict with incredible precision how matter and energy will interact under an enormous range of conditions. We have a deep understanding of what makes the physical universe behave as it does. Our knowledge includes precise mathematical models that stretch over time and space from the scale of quarks to the scale of galaxies.

Over the past half-century, the biological sciences have produced a revolution in knowledge about the nature of life. We have developed a wonderfully powerful model of the molecular mechanisms of life. The first draft of the human genome has been published. We may soon understand how to cure cancer and prevent AIDS. We are witnessing an explosion in the development of new drugs and new sources of food. Within the next century, biological sciences may eliminate hunger, eradicate most diseases, and discover how to slow or even reverse the aging process.

Yet, of the three fundamental questions of science, the most profound may be, "What is mind?" Certainly this is the question that is most relevant to understanding the fundamental nature of human beings. We share most of our body chemistry with all living mammals. Our DNA differs from that of chimpanzees by only a tiny percentage of the words in the genetic code. Even the human brain is similar in many respects to the brains of apes. Who we are, what makes us unique, and what distinguishes us from the rest of creation lies not in our physical elements, or even in our biological make up, but in our minds.

It is only the mind that sharply distinguishes the human race from all the other species. It is the mind that enables humans to understand and use language, to manufacture and use tools, to tell stories, to compute with numbers, and reason with rules of logic. It is the mind that enables us to compose music and poetry, to worship, to develop technology, and organize political and religious institutions. It is the mind that enabled humans to discover how to make fire, to build a wheel, to navigate a ship, to smelt copper, refine steel, split the atom, and travel to the moon.

The mind is a process that emerges from neuronal activity within the brain. The human brain is arguably the most complex structure in the known universe. Compared to the brain, the atom is an uncomplicated bundle of mass and energy that is easily studied and well understood. Compared to the brain, the genetic code embedded in the double helix of DNA is relatively straightforward. Compared to the brain, the molecular mechanisms that replicate and retrieve information stored in the genes are quite primitive. One of the greatest mysteries in science is how the computational mechanisms in the brain generate and coordinate images, feelings, memories, urges, desires, conceits, loves, hatreds, beliefs, pleasures, disappointment, and pain that make up human experience. The really great scientific question is "What causes us to think, imagine, hope, fear, dream, and act like we do?" Understanding the nature of mind may be the most interesting and challenging problem in all of science.

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