I haven’t had time to read everything yet, but I have been anxiously awaiting this research’s release date ever since a friend at Weill Cornell tipped me off to the project. Here is the essence, and then a link that will take you to several different Nature pieces, depending on how deep you want to get in to it, from a news piece to the actual paper:
In the latest case study, neuroscientists describe how they implanted electrodes in the brain of a 38-year-old man who had been in a minimally conscious state for more than six years following a serious assault. By electrically stimulating a brain region called the central thalamus, they were able to help him name objects on request, make precise hand gestures, and chew food without the aid of a feeding tube. The thalamus is involved in motor control, arousal and in relaying sensory signals — from the visual systems, for example — to the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain involved in consciousness.
In 1959, CP Snow, a scientist and fiction writer, published a book called The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, in which he argued that science and the humanities were no longer communicating, and that such a failure of communication also represented the breakdown of our educational system. He posited, in a later version, the creation of a third culture, one that would synthesize the two existing cultures, allowing science to speak about the humanistic questions dominating intellectual discourse–what is art, what does it mean to be human, etc. Groups such as The Edge (edge.org) have been championing this third culture for quite some time.
I deeply believe in the power of this third culture not only to add to our intellectual understanding of who we are and why we do what we do, but also to reframe what it means to be educated today. As a high school student ten years ago, I chose the humanities over the sciences, because I could be only one. I believe, as Snow wrote, that such a choice is fallacious, a false dilemma, and my educational course has traced a path from the humanities through the social sciences to the admittedly gray area of neurobiology and behavior.
These writings are my contribution to third culture thought. They will deal, for the most part, with the implications of brain/behavior research on our understanding of humanistic concepts such as art, philosophy, and consciousness.