ina Suzuki exited the Downtown Berkeley BART on Shattuck Avenue. While she waited for the light to cross the street, she checked her watch: just over half an hourprecisely thirty-two minutesbefore her class would start. Enough time for a coffee, she calculated. Not wanting to be late for her first class as a graduate student, she had taken the 10:13 Richmond train from San Francisco instead of the 10:33, just in case there was a delay, as had been happening frequently on the rail system that was brittle with age.
When the light changed, she started across the street with the rest of the crowd, most of them studentstheir backpacks giving them away. Many of them were Asian American; nearly every other undergraduate student at Cal, she heard, was Chinese American. Many were from San Francisco's Chinatown, which was only three blocks from where she grew up.
With a few quick steps, she broke away from the crowd, turned onto a side street then another, and found the Half Note Coffee House. She bought a large coffeethe house blend, "for here"and took the heavy mug to a tiny round table, not much bigger than a large ashtray. The size of the tables seemed designed to discourage students from spreading out texts and notebooks to study for hours, nursing a single cup of coffee. Only a few tables, about a third, were occupied, mostly by professors, or older graduate students, reading or chatting with colleagues. A foursome was listening intently to the classical music playing over the Half Note's sound system, nodding appreciatively or wincing in response to the peculiarities of a passage.
Looking out of the coffee shop window that was opened to the warm daywarm for the Bay areaand across the expanse of grass of People's Park, she could see the Berkeley Institute for Brain and Behavior Studies. Two large homes clad in stained cedar shingles had been connected with a glass-and-aluminum wing of offices and classrooms. It vaguely reminded her of the two hemispheres of the brain connected by the corpus callosum.
She took a sip of coffee and noted with satisfaction that the caffeine was already dutifully blocking her brain's neuronal receptors for adenosine, allowing the excitatory glutamate to flow more freely. With her attention-focusing mechanism sharpened and her basal ganglia-frontal lobe pathway wide open, she glanced at the clock on the wall, downed the rest of her house blend, and reached for her backpack.
She walked across the park and into the Institute. At the T intersection of the two corridors she looked left then right. The rooms weren't numbered, and she didn't see a sign for the conference room. She glanced back, checking to see if she had missed it.
A woman with a healthy-looking tan and a mop of rusty-blond dreadlocks, toting an overloaded backpack slung over one shoulder, turned the corner. She was holding a paper cup topped with a plastic lid and wrapped with a puffy, insulated sleeve. The aroma was latte-ish from steamed milk.
She smiled and asked Tina, "Looking for Hebb?"
"That's the conference room? Yes."
"Thought so. That's where I'm headed." With a toss of her hip to adjust her backpack, she took off. When Tina caught up, she said, "I'm Gillian Rock, by the way. You must be a first-year? I mean I haven't seen you around."
"Tina Suzuki. Nice to meet you," she said. "Yeah, I'm first year. And you?"
"Third year, sort of. I switched from IGB last year." Gillian took a sip of the drink without slowing her pace. After swallowing she added, "Integrative Biology."
"Oh. Right. IGB."
They turned down another corridor, then into a roomthe sign on the door said: "Donald O. Hebb Conference Room." Tina and Gillian took the last chairs at the far end of the long conference table. Tina fished out a notebook and pen from her backpack.
Except for the seminar professorobviously so, as he was the oldest and the only one wearing a button shirt, and he was staring intently at a legal pad of handwritten notesthe other students were mostly under twenty-five, as was Tina, although a couple were older, mid-thirties perhaps. Most of them had a plastic bottle of waterCalistoga, Napa, Arrowheadin front of them. Other students hurried into the room and, seeing there were no seats, dropped their backpacks and leaned against the walls.
Gillian asked Tina, "Are you one of Professor Alamo's students?"
Tina shook her head. "No. Professor Porter's. How about you?"
"Greenwald's. What's Porter into? Something to do with language, right?"
"Yes." Tina noticed the professor had looked up from his notes. He checked his watch, then spoke sharply. Even though Tina was looking at him, his voice startled her.
"We will start on time. Today as everyday." He paused very briefly, waiting for the room to quiet as the students shifted their attention. "I am Alonzo Alamo. As you can tell, we have more people than seats. That situation will be remedied by our next meeting in a week as there will be twelve students allowed in the course."
One of the older-looking male students seated on the other side of Gillian, leaned toward her and whispered something that Tina couldn't hear. Gillian grinned. After a moment, Gillian leaned toward Tina and whispered, "Like Christ and the twelve apostles."
Tina gave her a wry smile and glanced at the student next to Gillian. He was a good-looking guy, dark hair, Latino. He smiled at her.
The professor was reading from his legal pad: "This seminar is the Neural Theory of Consciousness. That means, in other words, what is it about our bodies, in particular, the neurons, that provide us with our consciousness? Our awareness, our phenomenological feelings. In other words, why a red object appears red to us, or salt tastes salty, or fear feels like fear."
He looked up from his notes, glanced around the room, and turned back to his notes. "First, some ground rules. The most important is that this is a neuroscience seminar, not a philosophy seminar."
Gillian whispered to the Latino guy next to her, just loud enough for Tina to hear, "In other words ... "
"In other words," the professor continued reading, "we will be studying this topic from a purely scientific point of view, in particular, from a neuroscience perspective, although we will include some neuropsychology in the mixreluctantly. One thing we will not include is philosophy. We will not be debating the Descartes' dualism, or the merits of functionalism over, say, extreme materialism, or any other 'ism,' no matter how well thought out or how deeply applicable. So, if there are any philosophers in the room who do not have a strong grounding in neuroscience or at least functional neuroanatomy, or who are here to engage in philosophical debates, then I might as well tell you now that you will not be in the final group of twelve. You may as well leave now and not waste anymore of your time."
He looked up and down the rows of students. One, with a thin goatee and wearing a black knit cap, stuffed his notepad into his backpack and shoved his chair backwards. He gave the professor a glare as he swung his backpack to his shoulder and left the room. One of the standing students immediately took his chair.
After sniffing nonchalantly, as if testing the atmosphere of the room after the philosophy student left, the professor said, "Anyone else?" He waited a moment then returned to his notes. "Another rule is that we won't discuss consciousness through metaphor. In other words, we won't be saying 'The brain is like a computer,' especially that. Or 'Consciousness is like a theater production, with front stage and back stage,' or 'The mind is like a cloud, coalescing from drops of neuronal activity'." He paused, glanced up, then returned to his notes.
"This is an intense, one-semester course. Those who will be attending are required to attend every session, no exceptions. I will be here for every session, so why shouldn't you? You are the reason I am here. If you know now that you cannot make even a single session, then I will have to ask you to join our philosopher friend."
No one stood up.
"All right. The first three weeks we will be doing a lot of reading, from a variety of sources, some more related to a theory of human consciousness than others, at least at first blush. Those who survive and prosper during this first barrage of information will be able to integrate the material at a deep level. In other words, they will be the ones who get it."
He turned the page of his notes. "Of course, there is no general theory of consciousness. None that is widely accepted, very few accepted by anyone at all. The objective of this class is to move toward such a theory. If you cannot contribute to the building of this theory, then your time, my time, and the time of your fellow students will be wasted. By contribution I primarily mean being prepared for each class.
"The main portion of your course evaluation will be leading one of the seminars. Each of you, the twelve selected that is, will take a turn facilitating the discussion after giving a presentation that integrates scientific evidence from the readings into a coherent aspect of a theory. In other words, you will need to provide a claim, a warrant, and a backing."
He looked up. "And if you don't know what those words mean, then I suggest you acquaint yourselves with them."
One of the students raised his hand and asked, "Sorry to interrupt, but what were the second two again? After claim?" The student had his pen poised above his notepad.
"Warrant and backing."
"Thank you," the student said as he hurriedly wrote down the words.
Professor Alamo returned to reading his notes. "Today, I want you to take out two or three sheets of paper. You will write down your name, e-mail address, and the answers to two questions, which I will give to you shortly. I will read your responses today and select the twelve students. You will be informed either way by e-mail by 10 p.m. this evening. For those of you who are the successful candidates, you may pick up the semester reader at the copy center of the Institute. Please have the first week's papers read and most importantly comprehended by the next class meeting."
He looked up and asked, "Need I clarify anything before I give you the questions? ... No? Good. Question number one is: What can you contribute to this course, and in particular to the development of a theory of consciousness?" He waited until they had jotted it down. "Question number two: Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Camilo Golgi shared the Nobel Prize in 1906 for their pioneering work on neurons. They violently disagreed, however, on a fundamental aspect of neurons. What was that aspect, and what were their differing opinions?" When no one asked for clarification, Alamo turned to a blank page in his notepad and began writing.
Tina stared at her page, blank except for her name and e-mail address. She listened to the others with their pens already scratching across paper, the sound of crawling insects.
Excerpted from The Fourth Treasure by Todd Shimoda. Copyright © 2002 by Todd Shimoda. Excerpted by permission of Dial Books, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.