Walter Freeman packs a lot of his experience and knowledge of how the brain works in this fascinating little book.
Freeman's emphasis is a bit unique in that he focuses on the dynamics of how neurons communicate rather than on either the anatomy of the brain, or on either mental states or behavior.
By adopting this focus on neural dynamics, the author accomplishes some interesting things that other authors haven't been quite able to accomplish. He comes up with a multi-step mathematical model of how neurons organize themselves in order to function as a mind. His model is far more specific than most (such as the vague model in Susan Greenfield's "Private Life of the Brain" for example) and he links his model clearly and consistently to the pragmatist philosophy of mind.
The key to Freeman's unique approach is that he addresses from the outset the critical observation that makes hte "mind-brain problem" difficult. He recognizes that most models of brain function fail to address how top-down function in the brain could possibly work. How, in the classical model of brain function, can we have an expectancy that reliably alters basic perception, such as in hypnotic anesthesia and hallucinations ?
Materialist and cognitivist models of mind (in terms of simple flows of neural energy or information between neurons) simply have no way to explain why some behaviors should be "voluntary" and others "involuntary," or how meaning is somehow created from symbol processing. Representational models (which consider the brain to store "images" in some sense) still have some serious explanatory gaps.
If the brain simply links together sensory stimuli from the senses, and then somehow "taps into memory" to help interpret what we perceive, why should our initial perceptual gestalts themselves be altered by what we expect to perceive ?
The way attention and expectancy work - requires a different way to look at the brain, such as providing a continual staging process for awareness. The point is made succinctly and eloquently by Freeman, although readers interested in mroe of the background to this will find John McCrone's "Going Inside" a great read as well. Rather than discussing the background of this modern view of conscious awareness, Freeman links it to his own model of complex dynamics among populations of neurons and discusses various implications for philosophy of mind and brain.
Freeman's view is that consciousness is not itself a "cause" of neural effects, but a global linkage for smoothing chaotic fluctuations through interactions. The author borrows from a definition by Thomas Aquinas to make a point of defining intentionality in biological terms as a frame for problem solving rather than the weaker sense of "aboutness" used by analytic philosophers. He then builds a model of mind that uses chaotic attractor patterns to explain how we create meaning in individual brains by interacting usefully with the environment.
Walter Freeman is one of the scientists seriously trying to address such puzzling matters as _choice_, and how others can sometimes become aware of our own choices before we are, in both daily life and careful experiments. A lot of Freud's speculations in his theory of the Unconscious mind were intended to address this, but theorists today are in a better position to do it more scientifically. How can choice seemingly be "unconscious" and yet we have a very real sense of free will ? Is it an illusion ? Freeman makes a strong entry in the race to explain this in a way that works scientifically and yet explains what we actually experience. I read this at about the same time as John Taylor's "The Race for Consciousness," and found that it covers a lot of very similar ground, and often more elegantly.
While this book is surprisingly readable for having so much relevant technical detail in neuroscience and complexity maths, it will often frustrate readers who want to follow it in great detail unless they have some background in both neuroscience and nonlinear dynamics. In spite of this, I give it my highest recommendation because I think anyone who reads it will learn something interesting about the brain and its relationship to the mind.