Unraveling the Mystery of the Self: From Descartes to the Human Consciousness Project℠

Key Note September 11, 2008

The mystery of the ‘self’ is a subject that has both captivated and eluded artists, philosophers, and scientists alike for centuries. Simply stated, the human mind or self constitutes the inexplicable and intimate entity that makes each and every one of us into the unique beings that we are today. Or to put it in slightly different terms, the self is that entity which endows each of us with our unique personalities, thoughts, traits, and emotions, while also providing us with a level of complexity which transcends that of any other creature on our planet.

Although starting out as an unconventional area of scientific study in the latter part of the 20th century, today the “mind-body problem” or the “problem of consciousness” has evolved into one of the most intriguing and challenging topics of scientific research. The “problem” revolves around understanding how electrochemical brain processes may also generate the mysterious substance and intimate inner world of the complex “self” and our thoughts. Despite increasing interest and extensive research, scientists at the dawn of the 21st century still do not understand how our sense of self arises, nor can they adequately explain the nature of the complex relationship between the mind and the brain.

In this lecture, Dr. Parnia briefly chronicles the major schools of thought set forth throughout history to account for the existence and nature of the self, beginning with ancient thinkers in classical Greece to 17th century philosophers such as Descartes to the latest scientific theories and experiments. The presentation will culminate with the announcement of the establishment of The Human Consciousness Project, a major new scientific initiative between physicians and scientists at universities and medical centers throughout Europe and the United States that aims to scientifically unravel the seemingly unsolvable mystery of the self and the enigmatic relationship between the mind and the brain.


  • Sam Parnia Director of Critical Care & Resuscitation Research, NYU School of Medicine


  • Thursday, September 11, 2008