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Questions, Questions Everywhere and not one on the Shroud of Turin

An old friend who thinks I’m absolutely nuts to imagine that the shroud could be real just sent me a link to the July 1, 2005 Special Edition of Science . To celebrate the journal’s 125th anniversary, Science explored 125 big questions that face scientific inquiry over the next quarter-century. The journal welcomed reader suggestions for additional questions. (And the good news is that there is no pay wall for this special edition, which I don’t even remember seeing.)

My friend wanted me to know, in particular, that the list does not include any questions about the Shroud of Turin and its mysterious images. Nor was the shroud suggested by readers. Given that those extra questions are buried in among 1390 comments, I’ll take his word for it.

To chide me a bit more, he points out that the second item on the editors’ list of 125 is What Is the Biological Basis of Consciousness? It is his favorite topic.

“Scientists,” he tells me, “are finally getting into the big C act. And they should for it is no longer the soul (sic or pun) domain of philosophers and theologians. Thankfully, that should leave you ponderers with the time needed to recognize that the shroud is not real.”

I clicked in to the link. This caught my attention: 

Ultimately, scientists would like to understand not just the biological basis of consciousness but also why it exists. What selection pressure led to its development, and how many of our fellow creatures share it? Some researchers suspect that consciousness is not unique to humans, but of course much depends on how the term is defined. Biological markers for consciousness might help settle the matter and shed light on how consciousness develops early in life. Such markers could also inform medical decisions about loved ones who are in an unresponsive state.

Until fairly recently, tackling the subject of consciousness was a dubious career move for any scientist without tenure (and perhaps a Nobel Prize already in the bag). Fortunately, more young researchers are now joining the fray. The unanswered questions should keep them—and the printing presses—busy for many years to come.

My response to my friend:

Why limit the basis of consciousness to biological? What if it isn’t biological at all? What if, as some say, all is deterministic, there is no free will and consciousness is but an illusion? Would that make the shroud an illusion?

If you want to consider dubious career moves, take up the shroud as a scientist.

And why did it take you eight years to send this article to me? But thanks, there is a lot of good fun reading in there.

A few favorites:

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