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A Universe Of Consciousness How Matter B Paperback – 7 Feb 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (7 Feb. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465013775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465013777
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 600,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Gerald M. Edelman is director of the Neurosciences Institute and chairman of the Department of Neurobiology at the Scripps Research Institute. He received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1972. He is also the author of Bright Air, Brilliant Fire; Tobiology; and The Remembered Present. Giulio Tononi, M.D., Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow in Theoretical and Experimental Neurobiology at the Neurosciences Institute. He is the editor, with Olaf Sporns, of Selectionism and the Brain. Both authors live in San Diego, California.


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Everyone knows what consciousness is: It is what abandons you every evening when you fall asleep and reappears the next morning when you wake up. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John Ferngrove TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 May 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've come to this book as someone who has been reading about consciousness and the mind-body problem since encountering Descartes and Locke in his university days. Hi-lights along the way have been Dennett's Consciousness Explained (Penguin Science) (not) and Chalmers' The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Philosophy of Mind Series). After reading several recent philosophy titles, including Kim's The Philosophy of Mind (Dimensions of Philosophy), I was getting the strong impression that the Philosopher's were getting bogged down, with no real progress to show for quite some time now.

Edelman and Tononi are writing from the leading edge of neuroanatomy, and present a fascinating and extremely readable account of the architecture of the human brain and indeed monkey and cat brains, which are now being mapped out in very great detail. For this account alone the book gets its five stars. The bulk of the book then builds on this to present a theory of what consciousness, considered as a process, is from a neurological perspective. In brief, the brains of higher mammals who enjoy primary consciousness, that is the conscious experience of their sensory modalities and a range of emotional states, are mostly made up of the cortex and the thalamus. These areas implement hundreds or thousands of tiny modules, all with very specific functions like, identifying colours and lines, orientations and so on.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. Ruth Murray on 28 July 2012
Format: Paperback
Excellent but you'll get so much more out of it of you put it in context. So read Finnega's 'communicating' study. How did writing start? What are the limits of verbal connunicating? Can body language explain telepathy? Read this to get the answers, you'll be amazed!
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By whisper on 25 Nov. 2014
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8 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Walker on 21 May 2005
Format: Paperback
Having been pretty much a devotee of "airy-fairy" philosophical explanations of memory, learning, consciousness and psychopathology, I picked up this book with some hesitation. However, it seems that Edelman and Tonio are really onto something. Something so profound that it may be that all future mental health and education theories use it as the new paradigm that unites or dismisses previous explanations.
However, it does open the way for more airy fairy philosophical debates about, if forward movement is merely a concept made of linked neuronal maps, what the external world is really like. Or if it is at all. Anyway, great thought provoking and very satisfying book.
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Amazon.com: 32 reviews
127 of 142 people found the following review helpful
Extremely interesting data, dubious conclusions 20 Jun. 2000
By Ryan Malloy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is worthwhile mostly for the wealth of experimental data provided. Unfortunately, I think the authors often jump to conclusions that their evidence neither precludes nor proves. The most pervasive example of faulty logic is the central theme of the book. The authors provide evidence that consciousness is *associated* with vast, interconnected regions of the brain. When a person is aware of a stimulus, more neural areas are active than when he/she is not. From this, they conclude that consciousness *arises* from diverse neural areas in the brain. This is the key fault of the book--the authors do not differentiate between *association* and *origin*. Perhaps conscious activity that occurs in a small area of the brain promotes extracurricular activities elsewhere. Just because two events occur simultaneously does not mean one caused the other!
The authors describe their work as a "theory of consciousness"--completely misleading in another sense. Even if we were able to precisely understand what neural processes lead to consciousness, which neurons were involved, etc., the consciousness mystery still would not be solved. The most fascinating and mysterious question is "HOW do the neural processes lead to consciousness?" Uncovering the neural processes associated with consciousness is a great way to begin, perhaps the only way. However, to call the authors' work a "theory of consciousness" is absurd. Imagine a 18th century person able to view the modern automobile through timetravel. Suppose here were able to deduce that turning a key started the automobile, pushing the right pedal made it accelerate, etc. before he was forced to return to his time. Would his knowledge be a "theory of the automobile"? Only in an extremely superficial sense. He would know how the automobile worked, but would have no idea as to the physical mechanisms (e.g. electromagnetism) at play.
I DO recommend this book but I strongly suggest that you pay close attention to the *data* and consider it yourself.
80 of 89 people found the following review helpful
Neural Darwinism reaching out to the mind. 5 Sept. 2000
By Anthony R. Dickinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This new volume provides a biologically-based perspective on consciousness. Although Edelman & Tononi may often appear to lead the reader into believing that a `selector' is needed in order for one to choose between the many alternative possible behaviours that one might act out, there is no room for a Humunculus (the little man inside the man `seeing' solutions) of any sort here. For those unfamiliar with Edelman's previous writings (all of which I would recommend) there are plenty quotes from his earlier self, the principle idea here being a logical extension of his thesis developed over the last 20 yrs. Coming clean right from the start, the data acquired from introspection is rejected as a technique to be subjected to any robust empirical analysis, but consciousness is here identified not solely with brain states/activity (there is a clear need for interactions with others and the world `out there') - the authors putting forward a model of consciousness as being a `particular kind of brain process'; unified/integrated, yet complex/differentiated.
The early parts of the book discuss the `impasse' reached by many philosophers in their attempts to explain the `mind-body' problem whilst rejecting both strong dualist and reductionist positions: "..consciousness requires the activity of specific neuronal substrates .......... but is itself a process, not an object". There is a clear appeal to holistic thinking here (`the whole is greater than the sum of its parts') - but the message is more subtle. What Edelman & Tononi are pointing out is that, still in need of explanation is the fact that although the contents of consciousness change continually, its possessor remains continuous. The problem of how one discriminates between our vast repertoire of conscious states (and how one is `selected' for experience in real time from this pool) is the main evolutionary question being addressed. Assumptions are not ignored (reflexes are allowed to operate in certain circumstances), but emphasis is placed upon the integration function of the human brain, rather than the clearly identified anatomical segregations long known to exist. For example, there have been at least 36 different visual areas reported in primate brain, each linked by more than 300 connection/projection pathways, 80% of which have recurrent-colateral or re-entrant connections. These latter findings are the focus of Edelman's developing theory of consciousness. For a long time now, many researchers have come to believe that distinct, distributed patterns of neuronal firing give rise to the integration of perceptual and motor processes - but how such patterns are strengthened to provide routinised behaviour and expertise remains unclear. The data presented with respect to the detailed nerve receptor-level changes re growth and the known pharmacological effects of certain natural transmitter substances and drugs are welcome and well written for the lay person to follow (often lacking in the specialist journals of the field!). However this debate may resolve, Edelman & Tononi are here suggesting that in like process, co-ordinated behaviour (including consciousness) derive from the detailed brain connectivities together with their variability and plasticity over time - especially in relation to the (highly flexible?) dynamics of reentrant connections. How such distributed neuronal firing patterns are `selected' for as `the brain interacts with the body' requires better evidence, but with our current state of knowledge, this is definitely a step in the right direction.
From an evolutionary perspective, this is Neural Darwinism writ large, proposing a research agenda entirely consistent with that thesis. For those in the know, there are also (uncited) tributes to Waddington (as in `Epigenetic Landscapes') and support for those working on behavioural robotics and the emergent properties of dynamic systems. The details of the text I will leave to the reader to enjoy - clinical data, normal and abnormal brain architecture, even systems theory - all accessible and clearly phrased for the non-expert reader. As with his previous writings in evolutionary neuroscience his work `feels right' and if successful (and hope that they are) Edelman could follow in the footsteps of Marie Curie in claiming a second Nobel Prize.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A scientific explanation of consciousness and its properties 12 May 2003
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very important book. Although the authors recognize that there is still awfully much tot do, their analyses and hypotheses are a big step forward in our understanding of consciousness.
It is certainly not an easy book. One should have a basic knowledge of the constitution and the working of the brain.
I, personally, would have liked more concrete examples, like those for instance in the book of C.J. Lumsden and E.O. Wilson 'Promethean Fire'.
This book doesn't explain how consciousness arises, but what it is (properties) and how it works.
Consciousness is not a thing or a property, but a process (of neural interactions).
One of the reviewers here compares consciousness to a car. But a car is a thing, not a process.
Consciousness is a private, integrated, coherent, differentiated, informative, continually changing process.
The authors make also the opportune distinction between primary (animal, unconscious) and higher-order consciousness (the ability to be conscious of being conscious).
Crucial for the authors are re-entrant interactions, degeneracy (recategorical memory), and a part of the brain 'the dynamic core' (a subset of neuronal groups responsible for consciousness).
The dynamic core provides then a rationale for distinguishing conscious processes from unconscious ones (e.g. the circuits that regulate blood pressure).
This book shows clearly that the brain is not a computer and that it doesn't work as a computer program or algorithm.
It has also very important philisophical consequences, which the authors summarize as follows: being is prior to describing, selection is prior to logic and doing is prior to understanding.
I also fully agree with the authors that Darwin's theory is the most ideologically significant scientific theory ever written.
Although this book is rather technical, it should not be missed by those interested in the real nature of the conscious process.
I should also recommend the work of V. Ramachandran 'Ghosts in the Brain', for its multiple examples of (un)conscious behaviour and its philosphical implications (the body/mind problem).
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Interesting, intelligent work that aims a bit too high 10 Sept. 2003
By The trebuchet - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There is no doubt in my mind, after reading this book, that the authors have done excellent scientific work and made very interesting discoveries. On the other hand, it has certain problems.
To start with, it seems clear that they do not have a full grasp of the philosophical problems they are attempting to resolve - or if they do, they avoid going into the stickier points. This is not necessarily a reason to condemn the book; there are huge volumes of philosophy on this subject, and it would be futile to try and fit a quick resolution into one small volume already full of other facts. Nonetheless, they probably should have avoided the philosophical aspect entirely if all they were going to do is attack the mind/body problem in a way that arguably does nothing but shift the terms around a bit to produce the appearance of a resolution. There is essentially nothing new here, philosophically, and they certainly had more than enough interesting material for a book without attempting this.
A second thing that disappointed me is the lack of contrasting points of view. It seems unfair to ask an author to present a summary of theories which argue against his own, but in fact it's in the best interest of an author/scientist. What are the points of contention between theories, and what are the alternate explanations? This gives the author an ideal chance to explain why their theory is superior, what it has that the others lack... and in turn it gives the reader the chance to be convinced (or not) by the force of the argument, which is always more intellectually satisfying than being led by the nose.
Stylistically, also, it could have used a bit of revision. Long, complex sentences are fine (great, even) for something like Proust. When you populate those sentences - even if they're perfect grammatically - with large and generally unfamiliar scientific terms, it can be quite awkward. This happened just frequently enough to be a nuisance, as far as I was concerned.
So, apart from these criticisms, the subject material is still interesting. I would be inclined, however, to look for a more recent title by these authors (or others) on the subject. A lot can be discovered in a few years, and hopefully the experience they gained in writing this book will help them produce a work with a bit more polish.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
The BEST Book on Consciousness -- By Far 7 Aug. 2005
By D. S. Heersink - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a most exciting and most challenging read on consciousness. Finally, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neurochemistry return as the hallmarks of the theory, bolstered by a high amount of "Neural Darwinism," in order, "to formulate a specific hypothesis about the kinds of neural processes that can account for the fundamental integrative and informative properties of conscious experience." The theory, known as "neuronal group selection" is a completely naturalist, wholly scientific, empirically-sated theory of consciousness. (Some knowledge of statistics will help, but is not necessary, for some middle chapters.)

Rejected is Pinker's computational model of the brain ("How the Mind Words"). Gone are Damasio's dysfunctional subjects as counter-illustrations of the normative ("Descartes' Error" et alia). Gone too is Johnston's entirely solipsistic theory of mind ("Why We Feel"). Also ignored are the philosophical speculation and armchair conjectures one encounters in Chalmer's "The Conscious Mind," Dennett's "Consciousness Explained," and Penrose's "Shadows of the Mind."

Instead, Edleman and Tononi in "The Universe of Consciousness" respond to philosopher John Searle's demand for a strictly functional and biological account of consciousness (see, Searle's "Rediscovery of Mind" and "Mystery of Consciousness"). Among the some of the enigmas rejected is the representational theory of memory; in its stead is an associative and creative replicational theory of memory, which is dynamic and reacting to its environment always anew. If one learns anything from this book, it is that consciousness is not a state(s) of mind, but a complex, dynamic, and integrative neural process.

This fascinating, detective-like examination of consciousness is not for the casual reader; this is a demanding and rigorous read: Concepts like perceptual categorization, memory reactivation, concepts, values, etc. that depend on a wholly Darwinian sense of developmental selection, experimental selection, and "reentry" ("the process of ongoing and recursive signaling between separate brain maps along massively parallel anatomical connections"), all combine with detailed neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neurochemistry in order to substantiate the theory. The theory requires one's complete, but undivided, attention. It's a difficult subject, but masterful job.

While the book is both exciting and a challenge, I admire the authors' ability to tackle a difficult task without complicating it with arcane, elliptic, or meandering conversation (cf., Pinker). This is an exciting, engaging, but very serious, book on a theory of consciousness. Where difficult concepts and biologies require, analogies are provided. Indubitably, "Universe of Consciousness" is the best written, empirical, biological, and conceptual account of consciousness I've read, and I've read more than a few. My only criticism, since it's warranted, is stylistic: The dense content could be helped by less-dense sentential structures. Otherwise, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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