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The 21 Questions That Will Shape Neuroscience in the 21st Century

Updated on April 13, 2020

Understanding how the human brain works is perhaps one of the most fascinating subjects of psychology, philosophy and the human sciences. It is a subject that has been pursued for centuries. Theories have been formed and dismissed over the ages but perhaps neuroscience forms the zenith of our attempts to unravel the mechanisms of thought; and places the science of the brain on the very boundary of knowledge.

Discovering the most intimate secrets of brain function, using all the tricks of neuroscience, is perhaps the foremost concern of our age. A team absolutely dedicated to the task is The Brain Mind Forum, which is compiling a list that will define some of the most difficult intellectual quests of the 21st century. Inspired by the 23 questions declared by the German mathematician David Hilbert in 1900, the current ambition is to construct the research focus of neuroscience for the remainder of the century and beyond. A starting list of over 200 questions concerning the mind, (broken down into 21 general questions) has already been assembled with the hope that, by asking the right questions, researchers will arrive at some paradigm changing answers. If nothing else, increasing our understanding of neurology and of the thinking process is fundamental if we ever wish to some of the 1000 or so illnesses of the brain.

And so the Brain Mind Forum is engaging with academics, corporations and the public in order to ascertain what are the great neuroscientific questions of the century. A taxonomy of questions will be compiled based upon this consultation process.

The current 21 general areas of interest are examined below, and cover such questions as physiology, attributes and capabilities of the mind, identifying the future beneficiaries of brain science, the pathways to solutions and how success will be measured. The list is not exhaustive and is presently an open document that will be rewritten with public input, however, at the end of the process a definitive set of questions will be formed. So here goes, the current highlights of the list as it stands:

1. Questions about how the Brain works.

2. Questions about the attributes and functions of the Mind.

A selection of the key concerns in this section Includes such questions as:

2.1. How do we learn from experience?

2.4. Which brain processes make something meaningful?

2.5. What are intelligence and thinking?

2.10. What is conscious awareness?

And the parallel questions:

2.12. How does the Brain process time?

2.13. How do we observe, describe, define and measure qualia?

Associated General Questions

3. What makes a Brain Mind normal or abnormal?

4. What is the significance to the Brain Mind of nutrients and energy?

5. What are the definitions of ‘life’ and the relevance to our understanding of the Brain Mind?

The Way Ahead

6. What can Brain science offer society?

7. Who are the beneficiaries?

8.What are the paths to finding solutions? What road maps can we construct? How can we track progress and measure success? To bring the full power of the scientific method to bear do we need to develop definitions, notations and means to measure the features of the brain we observe.

The full unabridged list can be viewed at BrainMindForum.

It will be interesting to see the final list as it emerges and then track the developments in the field. It may just be the case that we witness an intellectual breakthrough this century to match the renaissance and quantum breakthroughs of the past. Whatever happens, it is almost certain that the questions we ask ourselves will be re-framed over the next 100 years, meaning that new answers will be available and new challenges will arise.


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