Discover’s got a very nice article about 10 unsolved mysteries of the brain. They’re actually careful not to call these the “top 10” — after all, who’s to say that these are the 10 most important? Nonetheless, it’s an impressive list:
1. How is information coded in neural activity?
2. How are memories stored and retrieved?
3. What does the baseline activity in the brain represent?
4. How do brains simulate the future?
5. What are emotions?
6. What is intelligence?
7. How is time represented in the brain?
8. Why do brains sleep and dream?
9. How do the specialized systems of the brain integrate with one another?
10. What is consciousness?
It’s hard to argue that these are important questions, but are they the most important questions?
Mind Hacks discusses the article too, and Vaughan is impressed:
It’s an interesting list, not least because you’ll notice that several of the problems are conceptual rather than empirical.
For example, the list includes ‘What are emotions?’, ‘What is intelligence?’ and ‘What is consciousness?’ that depend on a good philosophical analysis rather than just more data gathering.
In contrast, some of the other mysteries include things such as ‘How is information coded in neural activity?’ which is a problem of dealing with the complexity of the signals and their effect, rather than us having problems with defining any of the problem.
It is a nice variety of problems, but why is “what is intelligence?” a mystery of the brain? Doesn’t that imply that the question of intelligence is only for neuroscientists? Vaughan likes the idea that these questions involve philosophical problems, but what about psychology? Don’t psychologists have a role in all this? Do intelligence, time, emotion, and consciousness really all come down to neuronal activity?
Furthermore, while these certainly are sexy problems, what makes them so special? We could also ask “what is seeing?” or “how do we learn language?” or “what are the components of personality?” Are there any other obvious questions the Discover article missed? Is there any point to top-ten lists such as this? Let us know in the comments.