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The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning [Hardcover]

by Daniel Bor
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 28, 2012 046502047X 978-0465020478 1ST
Consciousness is our gateway to experience: it enables us to recognize Van Gogh’s starry skies, be enraptured by Beethoven’s Fifth, and stand in awe of a snowcapped mountain. Yet consciousness is subjective, personal, and famously difficult to examine: philosophers have for centuries declared this mental entity so mysterious as to be impenetrable to science.
In The Ravenous Brain, neuroscientist Daniel Bor departs sharply from this historical view, and builds on the latest research to propose a new model for how consciousness works. Bor argues that this brain-based faculty evolved as an accelerated knowledge gathering tool. Consciousness is effectively an idea factory—that choice mental space dedicated to innovation, a key component of which is the discovery of deep structures within the contents of our awareness.
This model explains our brains’ ravenous appetite for information—and in particular, its constant search for patterns. Why, for instance, after all our physical needs have been met, do we recreationally solve crossword or Sudoku puzzles? Such behavior may appear biologically wasteful, but, according to Bor, this search for structure can yield immense evolutionary benefits—it led our ancestors to discover fire and farming, pushed modern society to forge ahead in science and technology, and guides each one of us to understand and control the world around us. But the sheer innovative power of human consciousness carries with it the heavy cost of mental fragility. Bor discusses the medical implications of his theory of consciousness, and what it means for the origins and treatment of psychiatric ailments, including attention-deficit disorder, schizophrenia, manic depression, and autism. All mental illnesses, he argues, can be reformulated as disorders of consciousness—a perspective that opens up new avenues of treatment for alleviating mental suffering.
A controversial view of consciousness, The Ravenous Brain links cognition to creativity in an ingenious solution to one of science’s biggest mysteries.

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Editorial Reviews


Sam Kean, author of The Violinist’s Thumb, Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Bor takes on the oldest, thorniest question in neuroscience—what is consciousness?—and delivers a masterly overview of everything scientists think they think right now.”

New Scientist
“In The Ravenous Brain, Bor takes us on a tour of the fascinating world of consciousness research. . . . Bor’s engaging and knowledgeable prose, liberally sprinkled with personal vignettes and coupled with a knack for explaining complex concepts in everyday language, make this a book well worth reading.”

Scientific American Mind
“Bor manages to pack a great deal of information… into a small book. He presents a sweeping overview of how the brain evolved, from the primordial soup to present day, and argues that consciousness could actually be generated in nonbiological substrates such as computers. . . . [An] intriguing perspective to our growing understanding of how the human mind works."

“As scientific enterprises go, cracking consciousness is up there with deciphering dark matter. Neuroscientist Daniel Bor dives into the conundrum with relish. . . . Intriguing arguments abound.”

Science News
“Bor’s knack for bolstering personal examples with laboratory studies makes this a thought-provoking read. His ideas are tantalizing.”

Times Higher Education Supplement
The Ravenous Brain … offers a meaningful explanation of what we do in trying to find meaning in everything. And what we do mentally (in other words, cerebrally) is what we are: conscious – too conscious – beings…. The Ravenous Brain’s theoretical claims have the potential to escape the popular science box and enter the real world of wet cognitive neuroscience. I hope it happens, and I hope Bor writes more books.”

Kirkus Reviews
“[A] lively look at what research is revealing about consciousness and a view of some of the ethical implications of recent findings about the brain’s ‘ravenous appetite for wisdom.’ . . . Bor keeps general readers in mind, making challenging subject matter entertaining by peppering his narrative with personal anecdotes, imaginative thought experiments and probing research studies. . . . An enthusiastic report from the front lines of cognitive science designed to pique the interest of nonscientists.”

Publishers Weekly
“Though others have capably presented the relationship between brain and mind, and the functions of various portions of the brain, Bor does it so effectively that the material remains fresh. . . . Bor balances neuroscience with comparative biology, and philosophy with psychology while writing in a fully engaging conversational style.”

John Duncan, Medical Research Council, Cambridge, and author of How Intelligence Happens
“In his presentation of the modern science of consciousness, Daniel Bor is luminous, charming and at the same time deep and original.  He is that rare combination—a genuine scientist who knows his stuff and a writer in love with words.”

Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, University of Cambridge, and author of The Science of Evil
“Daniel Bor takes on the most challenging of topics, the nature of conscious experience, bringing to bear his unique combination of personal motivation (from having witnessed the psychologically disabling effects of his father’s stroke), his deep knowledge of philosophy, and his everyday experience as a cognitive neuroscientist. In so doing, he brings consciousness down to earth, taking it apart to make it scientifically tractable. He has provided a valuable service to those in the separate fields of philosophy and neuroscience by his highly readable integration of these fields.”

Chris Frith, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology, Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, and author of Making up the Mind
“Reading books about the science of consciousness I am often left with the feeling that our mental life is some kind of unnecessary froth that arises by magic. This book is refreshingly different. Here, at last, consciousness is seen in the light of evolution and is treated as something that is intensely practical and useful.”

Elaine Fox, Professor of Psychology, University of Essex, and author of Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain
“Weaving the personal and the scientific, The Ravenous Brain is a wonderful exposé of the science behind our consciousness.”

Adrian Owen, Professor, The Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario
“Bor serves up the real science as effortlessly as he describes his own experiences and thoughts. If you’ve ever thought about consciousness, then you’ll love this account of the ‘hard problem’ in all its guises. And if you’ve never thought about consciousness, then this is where you should start.”

About the Author

Daniel Bor is a research fellow at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science and the Department of Informatics at the University of Sussex. Previously he spent more than a decade working as a cognitive neuroscientist in the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge. Bor lives in Cambridge, England.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1ST edition (August 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046502047X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465020478
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #490,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neuroscience 101 January 1, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There are neuroscience books of carefully cited studies and case histories, like V. S. Ramachandran's The Tell-Tale Brain. And there are more speculative and controversial books like David Eagleman's Incognito. This book leans more towards the speculative, as a kind of Neuroscience 101. There is one chapter on the philosophy of consciousness, one chapter on the evolution of life on earth, etc. The writing style is meant to be popular, not scientific.
Those qualities might turn some readers away, while attracting others. I thought the ideas explored were fun and intriguing, and always entertaining. But it might be too light and fanciful for some more serious students of the topic.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books in Neuroscience. September 24, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
With the release of so many books on the brain, consciousness, and neuroscience these days, it is a bit difficult to decide which one to choose. That said, this is definitely one of my top picks; there are three main reasons why I would recommend this book by Daniel Bor. First, the writing is superb. Secondly, Bor did an excellent job of hitting the high points in the long history of Philosophy of Mind. Thirdly, I really admired the due regard Bor has given to Evolution and the critical role that evolution has played in shaping the way our brain really works. I believe this book is surely an all-around top pick when contrasted with several books on the brain, such as: Thinking, Fast and Slow, The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, or Your Brain Is (Almost) Perfect: How We Make Decisions.

Below are some of my favorite quotes:
"This book is shamelessly about the science of consciousness. Every chapter except this one [Chapter 1] will explore the evolutionary background and psychological and neural mechanisms of our own experiences. But questions about the relationship between the mind and body have been fiercely debated in philosophical circles for well over two thousand years.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Incredibly Good Book September 28, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you are even remotely interested in the human brain and what makes us conscious creatures, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It really is outstanding.

This book has Amazon's "Search Inside" feature and many pages of this book are available for preview. Please take advantage of this and review the table of contents and browse through the available pages.

I have read a lot of books on human psychology, the brain, and neuroscience, and without question this is one of my favorites. The writing is excellent and the author provides a good overview of how science has begun to identify the way brains produce consciousness. The ideas within are well supported and the author builds a fairly compelling argument. You simply will not go wrong with this book.

Very highly recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neuroscience at its best! February 1, 2013
Daniel Bor's "The Ravenous Brain" is an excellent book that explains various processes within neuroscience in a clear, imaginative and humorous manner. Bor explains the emergence and existence of consciousness by looking at various backgrounds and sources, including evolution theory and the current groundbreaking research within the field of neuroscience. Along the way, he covers everything from subliminal messages and concussions to sleep, mental illness and even meditation. This book is not only ambitious, but also daring; yet most of all, it is absorbing and thoroughly entertaining.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is written by lucid scientist who proposes an important relationship between the Darwinian Evolutionary paradigm and the importance of acquiring a faithful conception of the objective world. At all levels of observation, from molecules to Homo Sapiens, the self-organizing entities attempt to get a picture of their environment in order to survive. In human brains, this same principle translates into the pursuits of knowledge and in particular in the scientific method. Individuals who have a ravenous hunger for information and understanding are a representative example.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great book September 18, 2012
By Ninakix
I adored this book: a really clever, insightful exploration of consciousness. You can tell that the book was written not just be a science journalist, but actually a practitioner, and the quality of that thinking was reflected in the way that the book wasn't shy about jumping into a range of sticky issues (What is consciousness? Are other animals conscious? Can computers become conscious? Is there such a thing as free will? Are our brains separate from our bodies?), and to side with one particular theory of consciousness above and beyond other options. The book is dense, but not in the writing as much as the way that really thinking about this topic requires a kind of mental gymnastics. Still, it was captivating and insightful the whole way through, and never boring.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read book
This is a very fine book. I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot in the process. The author presents a way of looking at your brain that few have ever thought of.
Published 24 days ago by Richard C Evans
4.0 out of 5 stars Reviewing The Ravenous Brain
This book is well written , easy to understand and let me see into my own brain. I learned so much about how my brain works and what scientists are learning about consciousness. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Bonnie Jane hall
1.0 out of 5 stars He should have avoided philosophizing
Bor thinks that neuroscience has succeeded in chasing away the logical problems in seeing consciousness as the product of computation, or in seeing the brain as a computer... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Bradley Metzner
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly enjoyable tour through consciousness research
I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the modern research into consciousness. It provides a pleasurable synthesis of the advances that have occurred in this area in... Read more
Published 5 months ago by C. Long
3.0 out of 5 stars it's okay
A little tedious at times. I haven't finished the book as of yet because it is rather slow. But if you are more into this type of book then you might find it easier to read.
Published 11 months ago by Picky
4.0 out of 5 stars chalk full fo knowledge and data
A bit difficulty to follow but that's just me and not the author's fault. I recommend this book.
Great read!
Published 13 months ago by JULIO C PEREZ
2.0 out of 5 stars Much Muddle, Little Substance
In a previous negative review of Douglas Hofstadter's "I am a Strange Loop", I elaborated upon each of that author's mistakes and examples of poor science writing. Read more
Published 15 months ago by HH, author
5.0 out of 5 stars What it means to be aware
This is probably the best book I've read this year. Bor's writing style is effortless and draws you in. There were moments when I couldn't put the book down. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Tim K
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ravenous Brain," by Daniel Bor, will leave you ravenous for more.
"The Ravenous Brain," by Daniel Bor, will leave you ravenous for more.
By Ryan

One of the most fascinating concepts I believe we as humans can... Read more
Published 16 months ago by RYan
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy for the ravenously curious
The Ravenous Brain is pure joy for someone like me with an insatiable curiosity about how the brain functions and some years working in the field. Read more
Published 17 months ago by HilaryCustanceGreen
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