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Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts Hardcover – January 30, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0670025435 ISBN-10: 0670025437

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (January 30, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670025437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670025435
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* For 15 years, professor of cognitive psychology and science writer Dehaene (Reading in the Brain, 2009) and his team have been working to identify and understand patterns of brain activity, or “signatures of consciousness.” He now brings us up to speed on the whole of consciousness research in this exciting delineation of the scientific breakthroughs, including the advent of brain-imaging technologies, that have illuminated the brain’s astonishingly complicated anatomy and intensely intricate, lightning-fast processes. Dehaene recounts experiments involving visual illusions and semantic processing that reveal key facts about the brain’s management of the incessant stimuli bombardment and ponders the evolution of our all-important “language of thought.” An excellent teacher with a gift for vivid analogies, Dehaene writes that “consciousness is like the spokesperson in a large institution . . . with a staff of a hundred billion neurons” issuing briefs that tell us what we need to know moment by moment. He then explains his and his colleagues’ groundbreaking theory about the “global neuronal workspace,” where information is made “available to the rest of the brain,” wowing us with descriptions of our pyramidal neurons and their spiny dendrites and the discovery that each neuron “cares” about such specific stimuli as “faces, hands, ­objects.” A stunning examination of the “exquisite biological machinery” that has made us an animal unlike any other. --Donna Seaman

Review

“Ambitious . . . Dehaene offers nothing less than a blueprint for brainsplaining one of the world’s deepest mysteries. . . . [A] fantastic book.”
The Washington Post

“Dehaene is a maestro of the unconscious.”
Scientific American Mind

“Brilliant… Dehaene’s special contribution is his global-workspace theory, the first step in a complete account of why some neural processes lead to conscious experience…. Dehaene’s account is the most sophisticated story about the neural basis of consciousness so far. It is essential reading for those who want to experience the excitement of the search for the mind in the brain.”
--Chris Frith, Nature
 
“In Consciousness and the Brain, [Dehaene] summaries the fruits of two decades of vigorous experimentation and modeling…. The book introduces the methods that acted as midwife at the birth of a science of consciousness…. Postulating that global availability of information is what we subjectively experience as a conscious state begets the question of why…. Answering such questions requires an information-theoretical account of what type of data, communicated within what system, gives rise to conscious experience in biological or artificial organisms. Dehaene’s well-written and well-sourced book avoids this, as this, as he opts to restrict it to behavioral and neuronal observables.”
—Christof Koch, Science
 
“Consciousness tomes have become a dime a dozen over the past decade or so, with every last researcher feeling the need to join the fray. But Stanislas Dehaene is one of the few at the top of the disciplines involved – philosophy, history, cognitive psychology, brain imaging, computer modelling – to add something new.”
New Scientist
 
“An excellent teacher with a gift for vivid analogies, Dehaene writes that ‘consciousness is like the spokesperson in a large institution . . . with a staff of a hundred billion neurons’ issuing briefs that tell us what we need to know moment by moment. He then explains his and his colleagues’ groundbreaking theory about the “global neuronal workspace,” where information is made ‘available to the rest of the brain,’ wowing us with descriptions of our pyramidal neurons and their spiny dendrites and the discovery that each neuron ‘cares’ about such specific stimuli as ‘faces, hands, objects.’ A stunning delineation of the “exquisite biological machinery” that has made us an animal unlike any other.”
Booklist, starred review

“A revealing and definitely not dumbed-down overview of what we know about consciousness.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Stanislas Dehaene’s remarkable book is the best modern treatment of consciousness I have read to date. Dehaene, a world-class scientist, has pioneered the development of a set of experiments for studying consciousness that have revolutionized the field and given us the first direct approach to its biology. Simply stated this book is a tour de force. It opens up a whole new world of intellectual exploration for the general reader.”
—Eric Kandel, author of In Search of Memory and The Age of Insight, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

More About the Author

Stanislas Dehaene is a French psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist. He is currently heading the Cognitive NeuroImaging Unit within the NeuroSpin building of the Commissariat A l'Energie Atomique in Saclay near Paris, France's most advanced brain imaging center. He is also a professor at College de France in Paris, where he holds the newly created chair of Experimental Cognitive Psychology. In 2005, he was elected as the youngest member of the French Academy of Sciences.

Stanislas Dehaene's interests concern the brain mechanisms of specifically human cognitive functions such as language, calculation, and conscious reasoning. His research relies on a variety of experimental methods, including mental chronometry in normal subjects, cognitive analyses of brain-lesioned patients, and brain-imaging studies with positron emission tomography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and high-density recordings of event-related potentials. Formal models of minimal neuronal networks are also devised and simulated in an attempt to throw some links between molecular, physiological, imaging, and behavioral data.

Stanislas Dehaene's main scientific contributions include the study of the organization of the cerebral system for number processing. Using converging evidence from PET, ERPs, fMRI, and brain lesions, Stanislas Dehaene demonstrated the central role played by a region of the intraparietal sulcus in understanding quantities and arithmetic (the "number sense"). He was also the first to demonstrate that subliminal presentations of words can yield detectable cortical activations in fMRI, and has used these data to support an original theory of conscious and nonconscious processing in the human brain. With neurologist Laurent Cohen, he studied the neural networks of reading and demonstrated the crucial role of the left occipito-temporal region in word recognition (the "visual word form area").

Stanislas Dehaene is the author of over 190 scientific publications in major international journals. He has received several international prizes including the McDonnell Centennial Fellowship, the Louis D prize of the French Academy of Sciences (with D. Lebihan), and the Heineken prize in Cognitive Science from the Royal Academy of the Netherlands. He has published an acclaimed book The number sense, which has been translated in eight languages, and is publishing a new book Reading in the brain, to appear in November 2009. He has also edited three books on brain imaging, consciousness, and brain evolution, and has authored two general-audience documentaries on the human brain.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Nevertheless, as noted, an interesting, very informative read.
Stephen E. Robbins
Dehaene, does an excellent job of outlining his research and all of the pertinent questions in consciousness research.
Verified Customer
Now the book is about the relationship between consciousness and the brain.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

103 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Bob Blum on February 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a physician and Stanford researcher (initially in artificial intelligence and currently in cognitive neuroscience), I have been interested in consciousness research for 50 years. How does the brain create consciousness? And, if this is "simply" a story of billions of spiking neurons talking to one another, can it be done in silicon? (If so, this may occasion a profound turning point in human history.)

I have followed Professor Stan Dehaene's prestigious journal publications for a decade as he has amassed a wealth of evidence supporting the view that consciousness is 1) experimentally accessible, 2) has reliable neural correlates (signatures), and 3) is functionally important . Dehaene (a professor at the College de France in Paris and director of the INSERM Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit) is one of the world's leading scholars of consciousness. Fortunately for us, his literary agent, John Brockman (of "Edge" fame) persuaded him to write this popular work.

That Dehaene writes this well in English makes me wonder how spectacularly he must write in his native French. We are not only transported to the cutting edge of research on consciousness, but the voyage is a thrill. As expected, Dehaene is thoroughly steeped in the history of consciousness from Plato, through Descartes, Hume, and the Continental philosophers. His writing is also filled with references to French art, literature, and humanism (like serotonin molecules, that culture seems to have diffused from the Louvre down the Boulevard Saint-Michel and become bound in this book.)

Right from the start (see the beautiful, free Introduction on Amazon) he reminds us that it all began in the caves at Lascaux with the depiction of a dreamer's soul wafting about like a sparrow.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Penman on February 26, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It is wonderful to find a book that has taken consciousness from a philosophical subject, approachable mostly by way of metaphor, to the scientific, experimental level.
Mr. Dehaene begins, as is often necessary in science, by defining the term consciousness in a clear and unambiguous manner that delineates it from other related and often conflated terms such as awareness and attention.
But the majority of this book concerns data taken from nuts-and-bolts experiments in the lab, many using brain-imaging equipment, that give information about actual brain processes that occur during consciousness and how they differ from those of unconscious processing. And sometimes startling insights about the evolution of consciousness and the reasons it may have developed.
Four "signatures" of consciousness were identified from this experimental data, and using these signatures, a theory of consciousness was developed and also a practical method for determining the actual state of animals, babies, or patients who have suffered brain trauma or paralysis and are not able to communicate directly with people.
This is cutting-edge, ground-floor science, and I am thankful to live in an era where I can access this knowledge. It is in the nature of science that new experiments and findings on the nature of consciousness will doubtless now occur rapidly, but this is the finest book on consciousness I have read thus far.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Jon G. Allen on February 16, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dehaene and his colleagues have made enormous contributions to our understanding of conscious and unconscious processes in the brain. This lucid explication provides and up-to-date synthesis of their work with that of others. Cleverly integrating neuroscience with experimental cognitive science, Dehaene has meticulously identified several signatures of consciousness, that is, patterns of brain activity that are distinctive to conscious processing. This differentiation is not graded but rather binary: above a threshold, the brain "ignites" into an "avalanche" of activity. Dehaene has refined and updated Bernard Baars's well-established "global workspace" theory of consciousness, the distinctive feature of which is sharing information widely across the brain. This book also makes the profoundly important clinical contribution of elucidating the complex and varied sequelae of coma and pioneering ways of identifying consciousness in unresponsive patients. Given the book's accessibility to lay readers, family members of patients recovering from comatose states will find it extraordinarily useful and informative. What we are learning about ourselves from burgeoning research on the neurobiological basis of consciousness is truly mind boggling and is likely to change our self-understanding in ways that are challenging to anticipate. We can be grateful that Dahaene was persuaded to put his knowledge into a book.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Daphne on April 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I liked most of the discussion, he covers the ground in detail. It's not for the uninitiated, a lot of material on synapses, interaction of various parts of the brain and endless 'studies.' Apparently college students have little to do but be research subjects.
I dumped a star because of the final chapter. The author can't relinquish the idea of free will. He supports it by suggesting that our 'higher functions' allow us to ponder the input from the brain and cogitate over what to do next. He ignores the role of the unconscious at this point, after going to great lengths earlier to highlight its importance in our actions. Further, he ignores hormones, as if the emotions they generate can somehow be overridden and a form of pure reason take control. That fallacy has been amply explored and demolished. Humans are emotionally driven, even when they believe they are objective and dispassionate.
If there is free will, why are so many people obese, drive too fast, smoke, fail to prepare for tests, in so many ways knowingly act against their own best interest? Why can't they just 'will' themselves out of behavioral error? What we think is free will is a sense of guilt when we reflect on alternatives we believe we could have taken. If we can conjure up alternatives after the fact, it leads us to believe we had a choice when we make the original decision. That, of course, is nonsense, whatever we did when we did it was the only thing we could have done. Guilt and embarrassment are to help us avoid future errors, an evolutionary advantage that requires no add-on like free will to operate. Think Occam's Razor.
He also thinks that, ultimately, we can build a computer that mimics consciousness. He never explains how to stick chemicals, hormones, into the box. Maybe the box can be built, maybe it will have a form of consciousness. It would be like Mr. Spock, self aware and purely rational, but it will never be human.
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