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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TOUCHING THE LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING, 21 July 2010
By 
NeuroSplicer (Freeside, in geosynchronous orbit) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (Penguin Press Science) (Paperback)
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!), I have read most of the books on the subject, from DENNET's Consciousness Explained to PENROSE's The Emperor's New Mind. I find the biological approach the most promising.
After all, any physicist or philosopher still has to use his brain to comprehend his mind.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book but a limited perspective, 6 Aug 2013
This review is from: Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (Penguin Press Science) (Paperback)
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). Dualism may not ultimately be valid, certainly Cartesian dualism has few adherents nowadays outside of those who don't think much about it at all, but dualism has NOT been disproved and David Chalmers will show you why in clear precise logical terms. Also bear in mind that Edelman and co are amongst those criticised by Bennett and Hacker for using psychological predicates inappropriately and that debate is well worth looking at too.

I'd also recommend reading anything by Antonio Damasio, Peter Carruthers and Andy Clarke as well as Jesse Prinz (Gut Reactions)and Nicholas Humphrey (Seeing Red). The Philosophy of Mind collection of papers edited by David Chalmers is also excellent and contains Nagel's famous 'What it is like to be a bat'.

I know that even great scientists like Stephen Hawking like to say that science rules and philosophy is dead. Please don't be fooled by this arrogant stupidity as it certainly is not true in the field of philosophy of mind. Even if the only role of the philosopher was to insist on a proper and full explanation for consciousness as opposed to an incomplete reductionism that would be a very important contribution. As far as I can see, David Chalmers is prepared to go on pressing that sore spot in the explanatory gap for as long as it takes. Scientists can either pretend he doesn't exist or respond intelligently to the challenge he is making. Let's hope they go for the latter and ideas such as those in this book come to be framed in a way that takes account of both the scientific evidence and the philosophical requirement of a complete explanation that includes the how and why of the arising of subjectivity.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neurobiology of consciousness, 7 Oct 2009
By 
Rama Rao "Rama" (Annandale, VA, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (Penguin Press Science) (Paperback)
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, emoŽtion, 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 inforŽmativeness, 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. The basic assumption in all this is that consciousness is a process that is private, selective, and continually changing. It is strictly a process, and not belonging to a particular section of brain. This means that consciousness is associated with biological structures that produce dynamic processes. Thus both morphology and consciousness are the products of evolutionary selection (natural selection). This assumption about the evolutionary origin of consciousness avoids fruitless efforts to relate consciousness to computer logic or the effect of quantum gravity on neurons or a pure quantum physical process while diminishing the role of brain.

Neural substrates of consciousness involve large populations of neurons and no single area of brain is responsible for conscious experience. As the task to be learned is practiced and its performance becomes more and more mechanical then the learning task fades from the memory and the regions for this task becomes smaller. Conscious experience is associated with changes of activity patterns occurring simultaneously in many regions of brain (i.e., activation and inactivation of a population of neurons). It is not how many neurons are active but it is the distribution of groups of neurons that can engage in strong and rapid re-entrant interactions. Further more, the activity patterns of rapidly interacting groups must be constantly changing and sufficiently differentiated from each other: This is called Dynamic Core Hypothesis. Consciousness is an extraordinarily differentiated. At any given time, we experience a particular conscious state selected out of billions of possible states, each of which can lead to different behavioral consequences. The occurrence of a particular conscious state is therefore highly informative in the specific sense that information is the reduction of uncertainty among a number of alternatives. If this is the case the neural processes underlying the conscious experience must also be highly differentiated and informative.

Memory is a central brain mechanism that leads to consciousness. Memory does not store inscription or information in any format. In higher organisms it is an act of creation for every act of perception, and every act of memory is an act of imagination. The primary consciousness has the ability to construct an integrated mental scene in the present that does not require language or true sense of self. The integrated neural scene depends on both perceptual categorization of incoming sensor stimuli (the present) and its interaction with categorical memories (the past). The neural mechanisms distinguish primary consciousness and higher order consciousness. Primary consciousness is found in human as well as some higher order animals, but these lack language, analytical skill, and limited symbolic (semantic) capabilities. Still they are capable of constructing a mental scene. The higher-order consciousness found in humans has semantic capability and linguistic capability in most advanced form which provides a sense of self and the ability to construct past and future. The author' main contention is that the consciousness arose from evolutionary innovations in the morphology of the brain and body. The mind arises from the body and its development. Much of the discussion by the authors are theoretical in nature and needs extensive experimental evidences to support this theory.

1. The Creative Cosmos: Towards a Unified Science of Matter, Life and Mind
2. Languages of the Brain: Experimental Paradoxes and Principles of Neuropsychology (Prentice-Hall series in experimental psychology)
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neural Darwinism reaches out to the mind., 5 Sep 2000
By 
Anthony R. Dickinson (WashU Med School, USA) - See all my reviews
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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.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars neurology of the soul, 29 Dec 2009
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This review is from: Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (Penguin Press Science) (Paperback)
A careful exposition of the results of research into the anatomy and physiology of the intricate neural pathways leads to insights into the nature of human consciousness. The narration is simple, erudite and absorbing.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, interesting and absorbing., 4 Aug 2010
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This review is from: Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (Penguin Press Science) (Paperback)
The 'Product Description' is ideal and I have little to add but my own reflection on the contents of this book...

I have only recently started to study consciousness and this book provided me with an excellent insight into the terms and concepts used by researchers and philosphers. Part of the book is very useful as an introduction to consciousness and could be read with ease by anyone with a solid education. The other parts provide an insight into the 'serious' issues of consciousness. While I do not profess to truly appreciate everything in the book, I am certainly glad that I read it as the ideas raised by the authors will be present in my mind as I deepen my appreciation of consciousness.

I have no doubt that I'll return to this book many times and will appreciate more of its content as my knowledge deepens.
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