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Consciousness and the Social Brain Paperback – 14 Sep 2015
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Graziano's work is in important step in bridging a persistent gap between mind and brain in interdisciplinary research, notably because he attempts to answer the questions that require asking, and he does so with a remarkable level of humility. (Jean-Paul Orgeron, PhD, Department of Philosophy, State University of New York at Oneonta; Metapsychology, Online Reviews)
The author offers an engaging and accessible explanation of his theory. Rather than merely touting its merits, he aims to show how it is compatible with other popular theories. Avoiding technical details, he uses anecdotes, drawings, and metaphors to convey an understanding of the important concepts. [This book] turns the field's contemporary wisdom on its head, and from its new vantage point one has the sense that an answer to the problem of consciousness might be in sight. Graziano's attention schema theory marks a milestone by offering a plausible, mechanistic answer to the hard problem." (Aaron Schurger, Science Magazine)
Graziano proposes a new and intriguing theory of consciousness... [He] guides readers step-by-step through his captivating and convincing theory of consciousness, explaining how the theory accounts for many oddities in human perception. This book is an essential read for anyone interested in consciousness from either a scientific or philosophical perspective." (Library Journal)
In most scientific theories, awareness emerges from the physical functioning of the brain, almost like heat rising from circuits. Laid out in his recent book...Graziano's theory takes a completely different approach to explaining consciousness. 'In this theory, the brain is an information-processing device. It doesn't produce non-physical essences (it computes information,' Graziano said. Graziano has given consciousness a more solid footing in the real, tangible world even if it remains a creation of the brain, Schurger said. 'If anything, his theory stands to demystify consciousness, in the same way that our understanding of genetics and self-organizing systems has begun to demystify 'life,' which was once thought to depend on an unseen force.'")
About the Author
Michael S. A. Graziano, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Princeton University, is an internationally renowned scientist and an award-winning novelist. His books include the popular science title God, Soul, Mind, Brain and the short novels The Divine Farce, The Love Song of Monkey, and Death My Own Way.
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A pleasure to read, this is a book that I plan to return to.
The book has two aims: exposing a theory and convincing you of its validity. It manages its first goal brilliantly. I have no formal training in neuroscience or psychology but the author starts from first principles and sticks with them. A good analogy to the experience of reading this was reading the proof of Godel's theorem. Starting from scratch I still got access to a hugely important idea.
As to the second goal, in order to be fully convinced I will need to read criticism of the theory. So far I haven't found much on the web, and all I read was either circular ("I take such preconceived idea as obviously true, the book contradicts it, so the book must be wrong"), or objections that had been thoroughly addressed in the book.
The book has important applications, notably on areas of exploration for neuropsychology (obviously) but also AI and ethics.
One thing left me a bit disappointed. The author courageously addresses the impact of his theory on the divine. He less courageously leaves aside the full consequences of the difference between what he terms Type B Awareness (our brain models attention in others) and Type A (our brain models our own attention). Surely to be conscious, an entity must exhibit Type A (being able to model attention), and not simply be attributed Type B (being the subject of an attention model)? It did feel easy to just say the difference cannot be tested, compared with the very high level of rigour the rest of the book reaches.