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Brain, Mind, and the Structure of Reality Hardcover – 29 Apr 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA; 1 edition (29 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019534071X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195340716
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.8 x 16 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,129,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review


"Brain, Mind and the Structure of Reality is a worthwhile read for scientists as well as
nonscientists interested in the origins of consciousness. The author presents many thought-provoking observations and hypotheses and in many cases demonstrates his ability to present complex physical and mathematical phenomena in a way that will be readily understood by readers without substantial training in either discipline." --JAMA


About the Author

Paul L. Nunez is Emeritus Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Tulane University in New Orleans and runs a small consulting firm, Cognitive Dissonance, LLC, that works on electroencephalography (EEG), mostly with the University of California at Irvine. Dr Nunez received a Masters Degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Florida, Gainesville in 1963 and a PhD in engineering physics from the University of California at San Diego in 1969. After several years of scientific work in private industry, Dr Nunez opted for a major career change, accepting a grant from the National Institutes of Health for post-doctoral training at the UCSD Medical School, where he remained in a research position until 1980. From 1981-1985 he was Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at San Diego State University. He became Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Tulane University in 1985 and enjoyed a sabbatical at the Brain Sciences Institute in Melbourne, Australia from 1998 - 2000. Dr Nunez has authored over 100 scientific publications and 4 books, including Electric Fields of the Brain: The Neurophysics of EEG in 2006 (Oxford University Press).

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Format: Hardcover
I shall admit to being new to the works of Professor Nunez. So I have learned a lot from this book. The author was originally a NASA physicist in the 1960s but changed career to become distinguished in the field of neuroscience, especially EEG research. The first 8 or so chapters of this book summarize his background and work on EEG and neuroscience.

However the core question for this book is about the scientific status of consciousness itself. Chapter 9 - its title "Modern Physics, Cosmology, and Consciousness" -- begins a deep discussion of the author's view on Consciousness and physics formulating a general conjecture - the RTQC Conjecture - that Relativity, Thermodynamics and/or Quantum Mechanics may well be related to Consciousness. It is admitted that this idea may be controversial to some and indeed the author admits to have gradually convinced himself of the plausibility of this conjecture from an initial position of skepticism. So anyone who wonders why there might be such a connection can study the discussion in this book.

His discussions of the Physics examples and theories is excellent and well referenced. There are further maths notes in the Endnotes which identify some of the equations and the physics involved.

In the final chapter the author gives us some definitions within which he would frame this discussion further: Ultra-Information, Ultra-computation. There is a fairly serious discussion of ideas that "Mind" is not necessarily localized in the usually understood sense. Models in which consciousness is a correlate of sub-quantum matter or perhaps is non-local are given some airing too. Some quantum reasons (like Bell's ERP Theorem) are given for why this might work.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very good, easy readable book about brain and other
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars 12 reviews
98 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than your typical mind/brain book 13 April 2010
By Edward F., Kelly - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most contemporary scientists and philosophers take it as axiomatic that mind and consciousness are entirely products of physiological processes occurring in brains. In stark contrast, others have argued that consciousness is beyond the reach of serious scientific study. Nunez takes a plausible middle ground, calling on his physics and neuroscience education and his extensive experience in brain imaging research. Aimed at a general audience, this book addresses both the "easy" problem (finding neural correlates of consciousness) and the "hard" problem (explaining its qualitative properties), repeatedly coming back to the question of balance between knowledge and ignorance: What do we really know about ourselves and our universe and how do we know it?, he asks. Using personal stories, fanciful metaphors, and humor to convey profound ideas in an engaging manner, Nunez makes even his most technical material accessible to nearly any interested reader. The first few chapters introduce important concepts like complementarity, intuition versus logic, and religious beliefs, with insightful and amusing references to subjects as diverse as crooked investment bankers, philosophical zombies, conscious computers, unconscious brain processes, abortion, first life controversies, plug-pulling on terminal patients, ideas from science fiction, poker, encounter groups, extended consciousness, and religion. The "easy" problem of consciousness is considered in the context of EEG "brain waves" regarded as the shadows of thought associated with our constantly varying mental states. Brain physiology and anatomy are outlined in an engaging chapter called Why hearts don't love and brains don't pump. It is suggested that healthy brains maintain a delicate balance between functional isolation and functional integration, explained by an analogy to human cultures with embedded social networks. A nice overview of modern ideas from many interrelated scientific areas is presented, mercifully limiting heavy technical details to Endnotes. Some of the material in later chapters on cosmology and quantum mechanics is challenging, but even readers with minimal scientific background will come away with a better feeling for the deep issues involved. The final chapter gets down to the book's central question: Does the brain create the mind, as most contemporary scientists and philosophers unquestioningly presume, or is Mind in some sense already "out there"? Taking great pains to distinguish fact from speculation, and readily admitting that current science has only small parts of the picture, Nunez makes a surprisingly strong case for taking the latter possibility seriously. In the opinion of this reviewer, Brain, Mind, and the Structure of Reality is more than merely engaging and informative in the conventional manner; rather, it takes another significant step toward the enlargement of conventional mind/brain theory that will be necessary before we can fully understand many still-mysterious properties of human mind and consciousness.
51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book on the Brain/Mind I've Read Yet! 23 Dec. 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is truly the best book on consciousness I have read to date (and I have read quite a few). Dr. Nunez states in the Preface, "Three central ideas permeate our discussions. First, consciousness is closely associated with the brain's nested hierarchical structure, also the hallmark of complex physical and social systems...Second, I suggest that any serious scientific study of consciousness must be carried out in the context of a more general study of reality. Thus, the original title Brain, Mind, and the Emergence of Consciousness was changed to Brain, Mind, and the Structure of Reality. This change led directly to the third idea - more emphasis must be placed on modern physics in consciousness study...I propose a tentative postulate labeled RQTC, the conjecture that relativity, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics may somehow play an essential role in the theater of consciousness."

Because of the sheer breadth of subjects that Nunez covers in this book, I cannot give adequate treatment, or do justice, to the entire book in this review; however, I can say that Nunez has pulled off something very remarkable - every major topic related to consciousness is synthesized and laid out in a system that makes complete sense, even to the lay reader. This is something that others, whom Dr. Nunez quotes (Roger Penrose: The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe and Henry Stapp: Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics (The Frontiers Collection), et. al.), were never able to do! Don't get me wrong though, there is enough math in this book to choke a donkey! It's just that Dr. Nunez has struck the right balance by not dumbing-down the issues just to sell more copies of his book, nor made it so difficult that you end up drooling in a dark corner; I definitely appreciate this fact.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend this book enough. Dr. Nunez seamlessly incorporates many themes (Complexity: Simply Complexity: A Clear Guide to Complexity Theory; Neuroscience: Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain; Philosophy: Brainstorming: Views and Interviews on the Mind; Physics: The Life of the Cosmos) into a wonderful book that, for my money, is the best book on the issue of Consciousness ever written to date. I would also recommend another book that is similar in nature, but not nearly as in-depth: Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness. Lastly, I would like to say that above all, I admired Dr. Nunez's tone throughout the entire book, which is that of a skeptic's skeptic. Dr. Nunez neither advocates for nor against some of the strange, weird, and far-out theories that arise from the study of quantum mechanics and consciousness. In a word, this book is brilliant.
47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Consciousness Theory meets modern Physics 27 Sept. 2010
By Dr. Roy Simpson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I shall admit to being new to the works of Professor Nunez. So I have learned a lot from this book. The author was originally a NASA physicist in the 1960s but changed career to become distinguished in the field of neuroscience, especially EEG research. The first 8 or so chapters of this book summarize his background and work on EEG and neuroscience.

However the core question for this book is about the scientific status of consciousness itself. Chapter 9 - its title "Modern Physics, Cosmology, and Consciousness" -- begins a deep discussion of the author's view on Consciousness and physics formulating a general conjecture - the RTQC Conjecture - that Relativity, Thermodynamics and/or Quantum Mechanics may well be related to Consciousness. It is admitted that this idea may be controversial to some and indeed the author admits to have gradually convinced himself of the plausibility of this conjecture from an initial position of skepticism. So anyone who wonders why there might be such a connection can study the discussion in this book.

His discussions of the Physics examples and theories is excellent and well referenced. There are indeed some maths notes in the Endnotes which identify some of the equations and the physics involved.

In the final chapter the author gives us some definitions within which he would frame this discussion further: Ultra-Information, Ultra-computation. There is a fairly serious discussion of ideas that "Mind" is not necessarily localized in the usually understood sense. Models in which consciousness is a correlate of sub-quantum matter or perhaps is non-local are given some airing too. Some quantum reasons (like Bell's ERP Theorem) are given for why this might work.

Readers familiar with Professor Penrose's popular book "The Emperor's New Mind" might be familiar with some similar ideas (although expressed from a physics perspective). Indeed Professor Nunez quotes from Penrose in the last section of this book so there may be a convergence to be found between these ideas of a leading Neuroscientist and of a leading Quantum Physicist. So this has to be interesting too!
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Right Book At The Right Time 8 May 2010
By L. Ingber - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In the past decade, there has been a flurry of research on the brain, physics, consciousness, and their possible connections. Some researchers who have published in technical journals as well as some authors of books for the general public have done pretty well at explaining some current issues within some areas within their expertise. Nunez's book achieves a good balance of clear writing, sprinkled with his own human takes on life -- the book is about life -- while conveying authoritative information for novice lay readers as well as for non-expert scientists, across important fields like brain imaging and deep theoretical physics. Using these details of specific research across several disciplines, he ultimately addresses core issues commensurate with the title of the book, emphasizing what we know as well as what we do not know as well as what we might never know. At no point does he lose his audience in jargon.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative honest attempt to bridge the gap 19 Mar. 2011
By E. Rodin MD - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The relationship of the brain to the mind and how we perceive reality has vexed humankind for most of recorded history. In olden times the word soul was used for what we now refer to as mind. But since soul had taken on religious significance in terms of survival after physical death the word was dropped in scientific circles and we now talk about the mind which frequently is equated with intellect and reason, thereby neglecting the essential emotional component of our being which governs our lives. The current consensus in the scientific community is that the mind cannot be separated from the brain, but there is no agreement among scientists and/or philosophers how a lump of brain tissue can create not only a thought directed towards its well-being but devises rules of ethical conduct and the urge to explore not only the universe but its own functions. The question is: are our thoughts simply a product of the brain in the manner the kidney produces urine, and the liver bile, or is mind a separate entity which somehow interacts with the brain? The latter idea stems from Descartes and is referred to as dualism while the former was championed by Vogt in the 1850s and is still the dominant one among today's scientifically-materialistically oriented Americans.
The challenge to determine the relative merits of these opposing viewpoints was taken up by Professor Nunez who is eminently qualified to do so. He has not only been trained in bio-engineering as well clinical neurophysiology but also reveals himself in this book as a person of resilience with a sense of humor. In addition he is not afraid to tell us how little we actually know about the things we profess to know. Although others have already favorably commented on the book I am adding a few thoughts because of our common professional interest in clinical neurophysiology and mind-brain interaction. The book can be regarded as dealing with two separate aspects namely a) brain function as revealed by electroencephalography (EEG) and b) what quantum physics tells us about "Reality." These are cautiously interwoven throughout the book and culminate in chapter 12 with an attempt at synthesis. But since Dr.Nunez is a scientist rather than philosopher, he refuses to go beyond existing data and leaves the final conclusions up to the individual reader.
Although the topic is challenging the data are presented in terms which educated laypersons can understand and the illustrations are also helpful. As a professional electroencephalographer I have some questions in regard to a few statements in that field, but the book is written for the general public and they do not invalidate the overall thesis. In regard to Quantum Physics we are being informed about the experiments which have been undertaken and how they profoundly alter our view of "Reality." Although even physicists have not been able to come up with a commonly agreed conclusion about what their results really mean one aspect is abundantly clear. At the quantum level the notion of "either-or," by which we make distinctions between the various aspects nature provides us with, does not apply. Instead one finds that "as well as" is the rule. This is exemplified by the observation that a particle may have the property of a particle or of a wave, depending on circumstances and observation type. This is the first fundamental point; the other is that once a particle has interacted with another one the two exhibit identical behavior even if separated by vast distances. Schroedinger has called this phenomenon "Verschränkung" and it has been translated as "entanglement." Personally I would have preferred with today's hindsight a German term of "Verflechtung," becoming enmeshed. Verschränkung implies a limit, setting a boundary, while Verflechtung would denote integration into a larger whole, which may be closer to the truth we are all seeking. I am mentioning this only so that others who read this review may form their own thoughts on this fundamental property of matter which we, as yet, have failed to integrate into our everyday socio-political conduct.
There is one other foreign language word which showed up in a different context in the book and which we would be well advised to consider in its implication: mokita. Nunez referred to it in relation to an encounter group he had first attended and subsequently led. The word comes from New Guinea and means "that which we all know to be true, but agree not to discuss [italics in the original]." With other words it's the proverbial "elephant in the living room." Nunez mentioned its protective necessity in interpersonal relationships and one might also regard it as our mental immune system to preserve personal integrity. Nevertheless, for truth to emerge we need to shed this fear of revealing ourselves because otherwise hypocrisy flourishes. I have discussed this aspect in my book The Jesus Conundrum - Searching for Truth beyond Dogma, where I have also dealt with the topic at hand in the Chapter: What is Truth?
I was, therefore pleasantly surprised that in the last chapter Nunez discussed implicitly some of the thoughts I had expressed explicitly in my book. The key aspect is that, apart from serving everyday consciousness, the brain may in addition function, in Nunez words, as an "antenna". I I have used the analogy to a TV studio which produces its own shows but also receives some from other sources which have traversed the ether. What Nunez called "Ultra-Information" seems to be what Bucke had called "Cosmic Consciousness" about one hundred years ago. Interestingly enough Sir John Eccles, one of the most illustrious pioneers in the field of brain electrophysiology, had also used the term "antenna" as a potential function of the brain about 30 years ago, but Nunez had arrived at it independently. Since I had neither read Nunez' book nor Sir John's until this month the convergence of ideas on this topic by neuroscientists is encouraging.
Inasmuch as the book deals with fundamental aspects which govern our behavior on the personal, interpersonal and societal level it deserves wide readership and its lessons taken to heart.
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