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Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist Hardcover – March 9, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0262017497 ISBN-10: 0262017490 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


With this masterful narrative of his life and science, Christof Koch has done for neuroscience what James D. Watson did for biology in his classic work The Double Helix. At once engaging, informing, and enlightening, Consciousness should be read by every student and scientist of the mind, along with general readers who would like to know how science really works and how scientists really think -- and feel -- when they engage the world with their experimental tools. Destined to takes its place as a timeless masterpiece in the history of science.

(Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine; author of The Believing Brain)

This is a strikingly charming and enlightening -- and even moving -- report from the front lines of the neurobiology of consciousness from one of our foremost authorities. It is a lucid account of the latest ideas about consciousness science together with their philosophical underpinnings, all in the context of a highly personal, emotional and intellectual autobiography that features to an extent that surprised me, Christof Koch's journey of rejection of religion and discovery of meaning in the universe.

(Ned Block, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, New York University)

This is the book Christof Koch was born to write. An exuberant blend of science, wit, wisdom and autobiography, it brings the subject to life and shows why Koch has had such a profound influence on this exciting area of neuroscience.

(Geraint Rees, Director, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London)

Koch weaves a vivid and poignant story, punctuated by fascinating characters and compelling science. The book will leave you with a small piece of Koch's own consciousness, plucked from his head and delivered into yours.

(Science News)

... [D]efinitely worth reading.... I argued with Koch all the way through this book. And I loved every minute of it.

(Robert Stickgold Nature)

Pioneering consciousness studies requires a nimbly multiprocessing mind. That Koch possesses one is apparent.

(Chronicle of Higher Education)

Among the plethora of books on consciousness, this engaging blend of science, autobiography and honest self-reflection stands out. It combines a lucid description of the leading edge of consciousness science with a surprisingly personal and philosophical reflection of the author's life as one of its foremost authorities, shedding light on how scientists really think. Science writing at its best.

(Anil Seth Times Higher Education)

... [T]he book offers good rides through the wild forest of the neuroscience of consciousness. Koch is fearless, and does not shrink from talking about phenomenology and qualia; he includes them and tries to formalise consciousness by linking it to direct brain signals or well-defined psychological constructs.

(Tristan Bekinschtein Times Higher Education)

This new volume is attractive not only for the breadth and depth that is typical of Koch's writing, but also for its highly accessible nature.... This important book serves as a subtle introduction to many of the driving questions of the discipline that may well significantly change people's understanding of human nature.


About the Author

Christof Koch is Professor of Biology and of Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. He is the author of The Quest for Consciousness and other books.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (March 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262017490
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262017497
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christof Koch was born in the American Midwest, grew up in Holland, Germany, Canada, and Morocco. He studied Physics and Philosophy at the University of Tübingen in Germany and was awarded his Ph.D. in Biophysics in 1982. After 4 years at MIT, he joined the California Institute of Technology, where he is the Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology. In 2011, he became the Chief Scientific Officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, planning for a ten year, large-scale, high through-put effort to understand the visual system of the mouse, with a focus on untangling the circuitry of it's cerebral cortex. He loves dogs, Apple Computers, rock and mountain climbing, biking and long-distance running.

His laboratory studies the biophysics of nerve cells, and the neuronal and computational basis of visual perception, attention, and consciousness and machine vision. Together with his long-time collaborator, Francis Crick, Koch pioneered the scientific study of consciousness. His latest book, Consciousness - Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist deals with the philosophical, religious, scientific, technological and personal questions relating to his research.

Customer Reviews

He argues that consciousness is a fundamental property of complex things - mind expanding!
Jan Hardenbergh
Excellent and very readable overview of Koch's seminal work on making the study of consciousness more scientific, with the help of Francis Crick.
Steve Potter
I found this book to be very rewarding and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.
Stephen B. Gray

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Sam Johnson on May 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is really more an attempt at memoir than about consciousness as you might have surmised by its subtitle, "Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist." But that is how the book fails. It's hard to tell what the author intended here (although I have a notion). There are really three intertwined threads. One focuses on the study of consciousness and in this regard it's worth reading for the general reader or philosopher. It provides a generally interesting account of research and thought of what's been happening in the field over the last 30 years or so. The problem is that these nuggets are buried within a narrative of the author's life and also secondly the author's relationship with Francis Crick. The result is a very chatty book that is not necessarily very interesting. The parts on Francis Crick are fulsome references (the author is quite rightly enamored of his friendship with but annoyingly refers to him as Francis) to various ideas that they cogitated together. Now mind you Francis Crick would seem to be a fascinating figure well worth the subject of a book in its own right but Koch is no Boswell nor should you expect a research scientist to be one. So unfortunately the parts on Francis Crick are not fascinating anecdotes that bring him back to life as one would have liked but just serve to get in the way of what you're trying to read which is about the new breakthroughs in Consciousness. Here Koch does a pretty good job of summarizing. I read the book for Kochs one tantalizing hypothesis that consciousness does not arise out of or ride on top of matter as an epiphenomenom, but is part of the very fabric of reality itself. It is omnipresent in all matter down to the tiniest particles. Right on I thought, I've got to read this book.Read more ›
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Kim M. Clark OD on June 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A brilliant, intelligent book tainted, perhaps, by a tenebrous soliloquy better suited for an autobiography. That said, Koch's background in philosophy, physics, and biology (a PhD in biophysics), and his command of the neurosciences, makes Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist an informative and rewarding study.

Consciousness is among the top two or three books I've read in the last year (and I choose my books and authors carefully). His skill as a writer and his ability to tease from the evidence the salient particulars is laudable. Christof is to be credited for articulating the reasons why physicists are eminently qualified to lead the discussion on brain states and brain activities which help explain the neural correlates and integrating circuits responsible for consciousness. His rhetorical and reasoning abilities are on par with Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens. Koch is not just another intellectual.

With relative ease, he dismantles Descartes' substance dualism, reminding us that "If the mind is truly ephemeral, ineffable, like a ghost or a spirit, it can't interact with the physical universe. It can't be seen, heard, or felt. And it certainly can't make your brain do anything." Other insightful pearls include, but are not limited to:

* "Every phenomenal, subjective state is caused by a particular physical mechanism in the brain."
* Why it is we "look, but don't see."
* How afferent data and sensory referrals are "heavily edited before they become part of the neural correlates of consciousness."
* "Consciousness does not arise from regions but from highly networked neurons within and across regions.... It is critical to understand how this tremendous diversity of actors ...
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By O. R. Pagan on July 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Koch is a biophysicist by training who works primarily in computational neuroscience, with special interest in consciousness; he is also well-published, papers- and book-wise. Not surprisingly, he is one of the more recognizable names in consciousness research. For that reason, I had really high hopes for this book.

In all honesty, I really liked the book, even though I was often frustrated while reading it. At times, I felt like going "Right on!!!!!" and yet at some other times, I was wondering "What the **** is he talking about?"

Briefly, this book is essentially three books in one: (1) An overview of the actual scientific quest to understand consciousness through his own research and the research of others, (2) A series of candid personal memories and (3) A series of "educated speculations" on the nature of things and how it all began. When reading the book, it became very distracting to go from one frame of mind to the other. I often asked myself, "Ok, which book am I reading now?"

Nonetheless, his style is fluid and witty; he was also able to explain complex ideas in simple terms, which is the mark of someone who actually knows what he is talking about. That is why it was so puzzling to me when I read things like the following (his words are between brackets, followed by my comments; these are only representative examples):

*Page 19: "...evolutionary theory is open-ended and not predictive." What? No!

*Page 43 (referring to cerebellar damage): "...your perceptions and memories are not affected much, if at all." Nope! It is well-established that the cerebellum possesses cognitive and perceptual roles.
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