The idea that human behavior, albeit complex and mysterious, is nothing more than the result of biochemical reactions is as old as the emergence of western medicine. Hippocrates laid the foundations of medical science by trying to unravel the biological mechanisms underlying health and disease. He was the first to describe the four humours- phlegm, blood, black and yellow bile- and define health as the ideal balance between them.
Recent advances in molecular biology and neuroscience have given us insight into complex mental functions traditionally considered products of the psyche, including consciousness, morality and emotions. Modern research has already managed to describe in biological terms and provide solid scientific evidence for a number of otherwise controversial behavioral phenomena such as repression, dissociation, psychopathy, sexual attraction and emotional bonding. Interestingly, that emerging clarification of brain biology shed a new light in the mysteries of the human existence.
Genes, neurons, neurotransmitters and neuronal pathways are now the building blocks of a novel, more elaborate theory of existence, compared to religious, spiritual and philosophical systems of beliefs. However, in the study of consciousness, cognitive neuroscience is still far from providing definite answers. Alva Noe makes clear distinctions between mind and brain and suggests that consciousness does not reside in the brain, instead it is part of the living experience, a manifestation of the mind 1. To my opinion, his thesis lays the practical limitations in the field.
In other words, the quest for the origins of consciousness is bound to fail given that the subject and the object of this investigation coincide. It is the human mind that attempts to explain its own essence. For that reason, each answer will generate more questions, and the true nature of human consciousness will probably remain the Holy Grail of modern science. References 1 Noe, A. (2009). Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness. NY: Farrar, Straus and GirouxSample Essay of PaperDon.com