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HOME > ON THE BOOKSHELF > May-June 1998 > Bookshelf Detail


Thinking Ahead

C. Robin Timmons, Craig Hogan

Mind and Brain Sciences in the 21st Century. Robert L. Solso, ed. xix + 354 pp. The MIT Press, 1997. $35.

This is an intriguing collection of prognostic essays about American psychology. Although these distinguished scholars recognize that specific predictions about the 21st century are likely to be wrong, they courageously share their thoughts about their science's future.

They begin with consciousness, which has always been a contentious topic for psychologists. For some, consciousness is not amenable to psychological inquiry; for others, consciousness is the topic. Bernard Baars, Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, Richard Thompson and Endel Tulving envision a future for consciousness in psychology but don't agree on a definition or on who or what has consciousness. For example, is consciousness solely a human characteristic, or is it part of an evolutionary continuum? Can machines be conscious, or is consciousness a property of only living things? The history of philosophical thought on this issue from Descartes to modern ideas expressed in these chapters suggests that the issue of consciousness has yet to be settled and will continue to occupy our consciousness well into the 21st century.

The authors also explore brain imaging and other neuroscience techniques for studying cognitive function, tools that psychologists recently have come to appreciate. They engagingly discuss their rationale for this approach and predict findings and applications. The central question, however, remains unanswered: As the links between brain-activity patterns and behavior become understood, will concepts of mind and consciousness disappear? I think not.

Most of the authors see a rosy future for psychology. The two authors who foresee the few dark clouds, Tulving and Snodgrass, write science fiction. Tulving envisions a future of science-by-lay-committee because science is too important to be left up to scientists. Snodgrass predicts the end of basic research funding and psychological assessment to aid suicide decisions in our increasingly aged population. The volume's editor, Robert Solso, warns against complacency. He envisions a cataclysmic shift in how scholarship is performed and in its application.

Solso has done a great service by gathering these eminent thinkers to prod us into pondering the future. Scientists need to be better about planning for the future for, as Solso says in the preface, "futures are created, not preordained."—C. Robin Timmons, Psychobiology, Drew University


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