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No. 128: MAR-APR 2000

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The Consciousness Gene

We humans assume that our consciousness is something more than just the sum total of all our senses, as integrated by our brains. In other words, consciousness is something "special" that makes us more than automatons. Other animals may be automatons, but not us!

D. Jones speculates in Nature that if consciousness is a definite, inheritable characteristic, it must have had survival value for it to have evolved. It then follows that consciousness must be en-coded somewhere in our genes. Only a single gene may be enough, for consciousness seems to be an uncomplicated phenomenon. Why? Because just a few simple molecules, such as those found in anesthetics, can disable it completely without affecting other bodily functions.

Eventually, Jones continues, the gene (or small number of genes) responsible for consciousness will be identified. Then, we can determine for certain if any of the lower animals are also conscious. We think chimps and dolphins might be, but we're not really sure until we see if they have the necessary genes. In fact, the old-time behaviorists could be right, and all the other animals really are merely automatons. That would definitely make us "special"!

Once we have the consciousness genes in our labs, we can introduce them into those other species, such as Rover and Kitty, upon whom we would like to confer the boon of consciousness. Many interesting experiments could be per-formed, including, of course, the elimination of consciousness genes in certain selected human subjects!

(Jones, David; "States of Non-Mind," Nature, 403:263, 2000.)

From Science Frontiers #128, MAR-APR 2000. � 1997 William R. Corliss

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