As I write this, a group of neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers located at far-flung corners of the world have been meeting online in a workshop devoted to solving what is arguably the fundamental problem in science — the mystery of human consciousness. The Internet has given me and the other participants in this effort the opportunity to ask each other probing questions, to engage in civil argument, specify areas of agreement, clarify points of disagreement, and to suggest what we should do next to advance our scientific understanding of consciousness. All of this discussion is taking place in near real-time, and all of our comments are preserved and archived for publication.
The usual scientific conferences did provide the opportunity to meet colleagues with common interests, present papers, and discuss them within very limited time frames. But this is nothing like what the Internet now makes possible. In online workshops of the kind in which I am now engaged, serious issues can be explored among key investigators, in depth, over many months; challenges can be posed and answered, and the current landscape of a deep scientific problem can be more sharply exposed. I believe that the Internet, used this way, will play a revolutionary role in promoting our understanding of the fundamental problems at the frontiers of science.