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Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On The Matter Of The Mind Paperback – June 16, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0465007646 ISBN-10: 0465007643 Edition: Reprint

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Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On The Matter Of The Mind + A Universe Of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination + Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (June 16, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465007643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465007646
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #476,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this challenging, exhilarating leap by a disciplined and original mind, Nobel Prize-winner Edelman (medicine, 1972) throws a neurobiological line between two ships--mind and matter--in the stormiest of scientific seas. In his defense of the biological component of mind, Edelman ( The Remembered Pres ent ) disposes of cognitive and behavioral theories of consciousness. To take up the slack, he extends current developments in brain neuroscience well into speculation. He is far too modest in stating that his goal is "to dispel the notion that the mind can be understood in the absence of biology," for the book is a near-kinetic series of critiques and proposals to connect physics and psychology. The "Harmonies" section draws on other disciplines--philosophy, linguistics and psychiatry, among others--to entwine these tendrils of thought into a "unified theory" of mind. Illustrations not seen by PW . Natural Science Book Club selection.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Edelman, Nobel laureate and director of the Neurosciences Institute, is the author of three previous books on the biology of the brain. His latest book advances the theory that the mind has arisen through evolutionary morphology. According to Edelman, the mind is not a kind of computer but a product of the biological forms that have developed through natural selection. To support his theory, Edelman offers a mini-course in modern molecular biology and development. By the author's own admission, this is "strenuous" reading, complete with "strange vocabulary." Nevertheless, Edelman presents his theory with enthusiasm and a genuine desire to discover the origins of the mind. Readers well-grounded in physics, biology, and philosophy will find his ideas extremely challenging. Primarily for academic libraries.
- Laurie Bartolini, Lincoln Lib., Springfield, Ill.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Edelman is clear, concise, and informative (and I like his wry humor).
Davidicus
These procedures have much in common with Darwins process of evolution by way of natural selection.
R. W. Holsbergen
Edelman has an answer, but not ALL of the answer and his one-sidedness puts me off I guess.
Sara Seavey-kitchens

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By John Schmidt schmidt@wsuhub.uc.twsu.edu on October 14, 1998
Format: Paperback
Although Edelman tried to make "Bright Air, Brilliant Fire : On the Matter of the Mind" a self-contained story, it really is based on his trilogy of books "Topobiology : An Introduction to Molecular Embryology", "Neural Darwinism; The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection", and "The Remembered Present : A Biological Theory of Consciousness". I am not sure that any mortal can read only "Bright Air" and really understand what Edelman is talking about.
The claim that Edelman's Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (TNGS) "does not appear to have the potential to really crack the problem" of how a brain makes a mind is a claim that is often made without any suggestion of exactly what Edelman might have missed. These claims are like people in the 1940's saying, "a rocket does not have what it takes to get to the moon." Certainly a 1940's rocket could not reach the moon, and certainly Edelman's TNGS is not a complete theory of mind, but Edelman, like von Braun, was visionary in being able to see that with future improvements, the path to the desired future was in sight. The claim that no correct materialistic theory of mind will ever be found is now nearly as impossible to defend as the claim that "men will never walk on the moon" would have been in 1965.
Speculation about why Edelman's books so annoy and infuriate his critics: 1) Edelman has constructed an new language which he uses to describe his theory mind. He provides no glossary with definitions of his terms. This alone is a horrible tactical error that can only alienate his readers. 2) Edelman builds his theory from a foundation that is unfamiliar to most of his critics.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
In Bright Air, Brilliant Fire, Gerald M. Edelman accomplishes what seems to be an almost impossible task: He helps the non-scientist to understand the connections between what is known about the mind with what is beginning to be known about the brain. For Edelman, this subject "is the most important one imaginable" because it is charged "with the excitement of being on the threshold of knowing how we know." At the outset, he poses "some commonsense notions":
1. Things do not have minds.
2. Normal humans have minds; some animals act as if they do.
3. Beings with minds can refer to other beings or things; things without minds do not refer to beings or things.
The book is divided into four main parts (Problems, Origins, Proposals, and Harmonies), concluding with "Mind Without Biology: A Critical Postscript" in which Edelman dispels the notion that the mind can be understood in the absence of biology. Stated another way (in Chapter 2), "There must be ways to put the mind back into nature that are concordant with how it got there in the first place."
Obviously, this is not a book for browsers, for grasshoppers, or for dilettantes. It makes great demands on the mind (and patience) of its reader. But consider Edelman's original objective: to explore the connections between what is known about the mind with what is beginning to be known about the brain. For him, this subject is (to reiterate) "the most important one imaginable" because it is charged "with the excitement of being on the threshold of knowing how we know."
Is there any other knowledge of greater importance?
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
Dr. Edelman has many critics, who all sound the same in their attacks on his work. First, a sly remark about his personality, his egomania, his obsession with grandeur. Then they claim that he cannot write clearly, that he obscures with his highly technical language. And then you get the usual complaint about the lack of empirical evidence, etc., etc. finally, they claim that they, even being the experts that they are, cannot understand Edelman at all. All these critisms seem convincing enough until one reads Edelman's recent book. Yes, he is highly ambitious, attempting to construct a complex theory of consciousness. But he is a clear and direct writer, who exposes the problems at every step instead of hiding them; he is modest, generously acknowledging his debts to earlier work, providing a helpful bibliography for the interested reader. As to his theory, I find it more convincing than all the theories offered by his critics. That is not to say that it's flawless. Edelman himself, in fact, explicitly says that many aspects of the theory are in need of further revision based on empirical evidence. But his work, clearly the product of a powerful and erudite mind, seems to me the best there is in this immature theoretical field. It needs criticism, but not stupid cricism, as offered by his current critics (e.g. Crick, Dennett, Johnson, etc.), who are obviously off the mark. It would be interesting to speculate why Edelman's books so annoy and infuriate them; after all, it is just another theory, why all the sound and fury when most people in the neuroscience community haven't even read the new book, or any of the previous ones. Is it dangerous--to certain people, for certain unknown reason? Now I hope that Dr. Edelman will continue his line of work, writing more enlightening books that will gradually engage the specific problems he mentioned in his previous work.
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