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on 29 August 2012
The book would be ideal for someone looking for a light, up to date introduction to one the most intriguing and fascinating mysteries that remains unsolved. He is quite honest and frank at times as he discusses his personal life. Koch takes a strong scientific approach to the problem of consciousness and it's clear he doesn't have much time for philosophers with their millennia of armchair arguments. Despite that he discusses the important philosophical issues with a refreshing directness. The book discusses several contemporary experimental advances on the cutting edge of brain research.
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on 9 February 2013
Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist is a well written and accessible presentation of the cutting edge of neuroscience in the context of the challenges of consciousness studies and philosophy of mind. It's an engaging mix of rigorous science and personal overview (I think that the criticisms of the autobiographical content are misplaced - this content is actually quite small and yet helpful in pushing the narrative along in an informative and accessible manner.)

My only niggles are as follows: In a superb chapter about free will and the brain, Koch appears to demonstrate how the universe is ultimately unpredictable (indeterminate.) At the same time he shows us that independent conscious agency is just about incomprehensible. Action, we are shown, precedes conscious decision. We are informed that "the feeling of agency is no more responsible for the actual decision than thunder is for the lightening stroke." Yet in the closing paragraphs of this chapter Koch mysteriously announces that he has adopted a compatibilist conception of free will - free will and determinism are compatible - the inverse of what he actually seems to have demonstrated; the compatibility of indeterminism and the absence of free will.

Another point concerns the fabled 'hard problem of consciousness'. Koch warns us to not be "taken in" by philosophical claims that the hard problem may remain with us. Yet there is nothing here that brings us closer to resolving the explanatory gap. Even if it can be demonstrated that consciousness arises from integrated systems that employ a large repertoire of highly differentiated states (for instance), we are no closer to understanding how/why raw subjective feels (qualia) fit into the picture.

Don't let these niggles put you off, this is a wise and informative addition to consciousness literature.
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on 21 February 2014
"Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist" by Christof Kock reviews current research and philosophy on the neural basis of consciousness from a personal perspective. The book covers a wide variety of topics in a slim volume and avoids technical debate about the scientific and philosophical issues surrounding the subject of consciousness. So, it does not get bogged down in technical points. It also interweaves personal details from the author's life into the narrative, which adds a personal touch to the debate and adds to the overall legibility of the book.

This book, like most of Dr. Kock's previous work, is superbly written and highly readable for those with a basic undergraduate knowledge of neuroscience. It is directed at a larger audience than the professional neuroscience community but it is certainly more meaningful to readers with a basic knowledge of the field. It is not meant as academic review but, as a neuroscience professional myself, I found it to be useful guide to current thinking in the field. I think the book is accessible to a wider audience than the neuroscience community but it is impossible to explain every detail of this complex topic in a limited space. So, general readers might want to consult Wikipedia or some other basic test for any unfamiliar concepts.

I know Dr. Kock personally and have enormous respect for his work and scientific writing. When I was a psychology undergraduate at McGill University, my instructor for Introductory Psychology, Donald Hebb (as in Hebbian synapse) proclaimed in his first lecture that consciousness was interesting but much too complex a subject for experimental psychologists and, therefore, was best avoided. This attitude persisted in the field until relativel recently. Dr. Kock was one of the recent pioneers that decided to ignore the advice of previous experimental psychologists and tackle the subject of consciousness head on. He, and others, in the field have still not devised an adequate empirical test to determine whether an animal or machine is "conscious" and there is still no adequate conceptual or operational definition of consciousness. Nevertheless, progress has been made and is documented in the book. Dr. Kock's account of recent progress in this field is fascinating, if at times difficult to fully grasp. I was particularly taken by chapter on free will. Those seeking definitive answers to the question of consciousness and its neural basis will be disappointed. As in most scientific texts, there are still lot's of unanswered questions and ambiguously defined concepts regarding consciousness. However, most of us still want to know "how the brain works" and this book raises lots of though-provoking discussion regarding this topic.

Overall, I rate the book highly and recommend it for general readers with some basic scientific and philosophical background. It is not meant to be an elementary neuroscience text but it should be accessible to most readers. Reading the book inspired me to read Dr. Kock's previous and more technical book on the subject of consciousness, and I highly recommend that book (Search for Consciousness) for those who want to know about the subject in more depth.
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on 12 October 2013
Dear Mr Koch
I have just this moment finished your book and wanted to convey to you my deep gratitude for the considerable effort and courage it must have taken to write. We will never meet but you have moved me. I suspect that from now on I will also describe myself as a romantic reductionist. I also suspect that there are many, many others out there who will come to do the same. We believe in the power and majesty of objective science, but we also live in a subjective realm that is equally majestic, equally powerful and equally wonderful. As 'the arc of your life traces its inevitable decline' (p9) you have tried to bring these two realms together and to do justice to each. And you have succeeded. Thank you.
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on 12 September 2013
Despite writing a lot about how successful he is, even proclaiming himself to be Francis Crick's 'intellectual son', Koch offers very little in terms of original thought. The new developments in neuroscience he presents are relatively uninspiring and his contribution to the free will debate is immature and thus irrelevant.

Near the end of the book he admits that he has become a panpsychist, but says it in a way that betrays shame. He does not expand on the subject and quickly changes the subject to some banal mouse gadgetry in the ensuing penultimate chapter.

Here is a scientist who has been led to Philosophy, commendably, but is out of his depth in these deeper metaphysical fields.
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on 17 June 2014
Intellectual, but accessible. Some plausible explanations of what it is to be conscious. Spends a lot of ink playing up the Crick connection, although perhaps in the interest of giving credit.
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on 13 July 2012
Excellent review of recent findings in neuro science with a personal touch and a homage to his dear friend Fracis Crick
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on 17 January 2015
Excellent kindle book. Up to date treatment of consciousness.
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