Courtesy of Christof Koch

Scaling what climbers call "big wall," Yosemite's Half Dome appears impossible at the start: A rock face nearly 500 times taller than a person offers only shard-like holds and fingernail-thin cracks for support. But with talent, experience, and enormous focus and discipline, the big wall becomes a series of small, concentrated moves. The climber keeps focused, while the gawkers below admire his courage and question his sanity. California Institute of Technology professor Christof Koch, researcher into the neurobiology of consciousness is an accomplished rock climber.

Koch has ascended the wall of neurobiology for more than a decade. In 1990, he and Nobel laureate Francis Crick challenged biologists' skepticism about studying consciousness. In their 1990 Seminars in Neuroscience paper,1 Crick and Koch swept away centuries of philosophical speculation about the so-called mind/body problem in one stroke of scientific pragmatism: Forget trying to define consciousness, just go...

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