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Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 26 Apr 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 287 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (26 April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140281479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140281477
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 202,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Amazon Review

Emily Dickinson wrote "The Brain--is wider than the Sky", and who can argue with that? Quoted by Nobel-prize-winning scientist Gerald M Edelman and his Neurosciences Institute colleague Giulio Tononi in Consciousness, Dickinson neatly explains the problem of conscious awareness, then ducks out of the way as the two scientists get to work solving it. Testable theories of consciousness are mighty lonely, as even the soberest mind can be driven to tears of madness pondering its own activity. Centuries of work by philosophers and psychologists like James and Freud have made little progress by starting with awareness and working backward to the brain; these days we have a secure enough base to try looking in the other direction and building a theory of the mind out of neurons.

Though Edelman and Tononi do make a good effort to help out the lay reader, ultimately Consciousness is aimed at the interdisciplinary gang of scientists and academics trying to understand our shared but invisible experience. The first sections of the book cover the basic philosophical, psychological, and biological elements essential to their theory. Swiftly the authors proceed to define terms and concepts (even the long-abused term "complexity" gets a reappraisal) and elaborate these to create a robust, testable theory of the neural basis of consciousness. Following this hard work, they consider some ramifications of the theory and take a close look at language and thinking. This much-needed jumpstart is sure to provoke a flurry of experimental and theoretical response;Consciousness might just help us answer some of the greatest questions of science, philosophy, and even poetry. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Praise for Gerald Edelman: "The new Darwin...His theory is an enrichment of life itself" - Oliver Sacks, The Times"

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Within a single human brain the number of connections are far greater than the number of stars in the Universe. And from this chaotic complexity emerges an experience most of us are aware of but are hardly able to put to words: Consciousness. From philosophers and psychologists to engineers and physicists everyone seems to have some idea on how to approach this elusive subject. However, since this is a brain-based activity, it is the neurobiological approach that, in the end, is more luckily to bear tangible fruits.

As above, so below. This seems to be the key to unlocking Edelman's approach. Evolution and natural selection seems to apply not only to the level of organisms but also to memory systems. Edelman shared a Nobel prize in 1972 for his work on the evolving immune system. He then used a similar approach to tackle the mystery of our minds.

This book is not an easy one. It is dense with concepts and it will require the reader's full attention and dedication. Edelman's older theories (Neuronal Darwinism and Biological Consciousness) are presented in brief but not explained in depth - for that I would recommend his older book The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness. On the other hand, this book is not limited to specialists; dedicated enthusiasts can still get the most out of it. Its 274 pages are organized in seventeen chapters with full bibliography and index.

As memory and consciousness are also my foci of study (and research papers alone rarely offer the big picture!
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Some of the reviewers here seem not to have read a great deal else in this field and I strongly recommend that anyone reading this book does not take what is written here as all there is to say.

It is a good book on the workings of the brain with an interesting bundle of hypotheses on how these working may generate conscious thought processes amongst other things. It is well worth reading so please don't take my criticisms as implying in any way that it is a bad book or poorly written. However, like all specialists writing partly outside their field it has limitations. They even acknowledge these limitations on occasion but there is a kind of magician's "sleight of hand" as there so often is with scientists working on brain functioning since they categorically state that dualism is false whilst refusing to go into the debate on qualia to any depth.

What it comes down to is that there is actually no explanation for consciousness here, just a possible direction for establishing a workable NCC framework. Even a fully explicit NCC framework would probably still not properly explain consciousness. At best it would explain it away and that explaining away may fall very short of a proper explanation for what is, after all, the only thing a sentient creature is really certain of - being conscious.

This is a very complex issue (or it has been made into one) and I recommend reading David Chalmer's 'Character of Consciousness' before you make up your mind on this book's more categoric statements about dualism and other philosophical issues (they are not philosophers and they wrote this book prior to Chalmer's book so let's be fair to them on that).
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This is an excellent review of consciousness from the neurobiological point of view. Consciousness has been an interesting topic for study not only for neurobiologists but also for philosophers and physicists. Although consciousness is a highly debated topic because of its close interaction with matter in space and time, it is certainly least understood subject as it is at the borderline of physics, philosophy and neurobiology. Some quantum physicists argue that it is a universal field like space, time or energy, but consciousness does not figure in equations or any mathematical calculations. Secondly consciousness is found only in living beings and not in inanimate objects: Particularly animals that have brain and central nervous system. The book is summarized as follows:

Three working assumptions are made as methodological platform; 1) the physics assumption; conventional physical processes are required to explain consciousness or the conscious experience, 2) the evolutionary assumption; consciousness is evolved by natural selection in the animal systems, and 3) qualia assumption; the subjective, qualitative aspects of consciousness, being private, cannot be communicated directly through a scientific theory. The authors do not attempt to explain many forms of perception, imagery, thought, emo¬tion, mood, attention, will, or self-consciousness. Instead, they concentrate on certain fundamental properties of consciousness that are shared by every conscious states, such as the unity of a conscious state experienced as a whole and cannot be subdivided into independent components, and the infor¬mativeness, i.e., where a conscious state is selected from a repertoire of billions of possible conscious states, each with different behavioral consequences within a fraction of a second.
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1 Comment 14 of 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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