Francis Crick and Christof Koch’s Consciousness Model

Francis Crick, the renown molecular biologist and biophysicist is best known for having discovered the structure of DNA, a crowning achievement for which he and James Watson were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize. Less well known, is that after 1979 he concentrated his efforts on solving something equally enigmatic and important: understanding consciousness.

It was for this reason that in 2002, I sent him a copy of my paper on human sexuality (True Nature – A Theory Of Human Sexual Evolution – published in 2000 in the JGLMA) in which I proposed a robust neurological model of consciousness and used it to show that increased human intelligence eventually reached a threshold that culminated in the loss of all instincts, including the sexual instinct. I was quite familiar with Crick’s papers on consciousness up to that point, and knew that my neurological model was a dynamic and testable model – unlike anything
Crick had ever put forth. I was eager for a response. A few weeks after mailing the paper to him, I received an email reply not from him directly, but from a post-doc research student in his neuroscience lab informing me that Dr. Crick had received the paper but found that it was not relevant to his research interests. This could hardly be true I thought, and instead surmised that Dr. Crick had likely found the paper too provocative to comment on.

Francis Crick passed away in July 2004 of cancer, but not before publishing a series of papers in 2003 (‘What Are The Neural Correlates Of Consciousness?’) and 2004 (A Framework For Consciousness) with his long time collaborator Christof Koch, in which they outlined their own ‘Neural Correlates Of Consciousness model’ (NCC). To my astonishment, I learned through an internet search in 2014 that Crick’s final papers closely mirrored the salient features of my own consciousness model. I cannot know to what extent my paper influenced Crick and Koch’s formulation of their NCC model, or whether it did so at all, for they may have independently conceived their model at about the same time that Crick received my mailing. If this was indeed the case, it was a remarkable coincidence – but one that surely could not have escaped his attention, because when sending him the paper I included a cover letter in which I outlined my proposed neurological model in detail. Whatever the case may be, my paper – published in 2000 – has precedence with respect to the most important elements of their consciousness model outlined in their 2003/2004 papers. I will forego the exercise of juxtaposing our 2 NCC models, and will leave it to the interested reader to compare my model to Crick and Koch’s given above. I will however, state the important elements of my consciousness model, which are basically re-stated in their own consciousness model in 2003/2004 – and for which they are currently given attribution:

1. Neurons form transient assemblies (viz. temporary groups) based on relevant associations relating to past experience, current goals/motivations and/or sensory data, considered options, and projected consequences.
2. These transient neural assemblies are not necessarily localized, but may involve neurons broadly distributed in different regions of the brain.
3. These temporary groups of neurons are self-promoting and are involved in consciousness.
4. They compete against each other for dominance, suppressing rival neural groups with a strength proportional to their own summed neural activity strength.
5. This competition between rival neural assemblies of neurons is necessary because each group may be trying to prescribe a different movement response/option, and therefore some discrimination must exist to prevent possible conflicts of movement.
6. The dominant neural assembly/group – the victor – represents consciousness at any instant in time and determines what we do, think, or are conscious of.
7. Due to a refractory period (viz. rest period) that ensues after neurons fire, the dominant neural group’s control of consciousness is transitory, allowing for a new set of competing neural assemblies to engage in another battle of attrition to determine the next dominant neural group.
8. This process continually repeats, resulting in what we perceive as the stream of consciousness as different groups of neurons successively become dominant and occupy the seat of consciousness for short instants of time.

Francis Crick was not the only researcher to whom I sent copies of my paper. Scores of other researchers in diverse fields were sent copies of the final draft of my paper beginning in the fall of 1997, several years before it was published in the JGLMA in 2000. Through internet searches I had identified a few hundred prominent figures in their respective fields: a LARGE number of brain researchers and cognitive scientists (including professors at leading universities, some Nobel Laureates, and distinguished authors), numerous psychologists and psychiatrists that were part of national boards and associations, dozens of sex researchers in Europe and America, anthropologists worldwide, eminent educators, and evolutionary biologists.

These recipients of my finished draft in 1997-1998 were given to believe that I was someone else – Dr. Richard Rembrandt – an alias I created in order to add some measure of credibility to the paper and motivate a serious reading by professionals. Some recipients were sent hard copies by regular mail, while others were sent emailed copies. I heard back from only a handful, who were mostly dismissive and incredulous, with one notable exception – the director of a sex research institute in Europe who encouraged me to get it published because while not perfect, he recognized its importance and felt the paper deserved a broad discussion. In retrospect my paper might well have elicited a lively professional and public discourse, but its publication in a rather fledgling journal, and my decision to retract my pseudo credentials prior to publication likely both contributed to it not reaching a wider and more receptive audience.

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