2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Positive, informative and very readable., 15 Nov 2005
So many books in the field of neuroscience or cognitive science are just a list of mental deficiences - they harp on about false memory syndrome etc. But Baars' masterpiece usually emphasises the positive aspects of the remarkable brain/mind system. Thus on memory he describes our amazing capacity to instantly recall images of films we saw 20 years ago, though usually in a passive way - i.e. shown the image we corectly verify it as having been in the film. Also, what I like about the theatre analogy is that it accurately captures the data from brain studies - i.e. there are many sub-conscious modules working back-stage to provide the scene depicted on the stage of consciousness. He makes a very convincing case for this, in a very readable way. I also like the implication that this model supports the idea of the homunculus - though he wouldn't say so himself perhaps. Yet the implication is there - some audience has to be watching the scene on the stage - who is looking at the television image constructed in our visual systems courtesy of myriad specialised sub-conscious modules.
Another interesting theme running through the book is the contrast of conscious limitation (only 3 or 4 things in consciousness at a a time) versus unconscious vastness. I also liked how he described what happens when anything new is presented to our brains - be it a shift of visual scene or an unexpected sound: a wave of processing sweeps across the entire brain. Such images drive home what a truly global phenomenon consciousness is. The implication is also that a binding across all brain regions must occur before consciousness is presented with the big picture - the so-called binding problem: one of the most delightfully sweet mysteries in consciousness studies. "One brain/mind to bring them all and in the brightness bind them!"
So before going for a negative view of the reality and utility of consciousness like that of Dennett, leaf through this handy little volume. Baars also says that consciousness is indeed effective and a central adaptation in evolution that allowed creatures to react to their environment in a coordinated way.