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A Universe Of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination Paperback – March 6, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (March 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465013775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465013777
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Emily Dickinson wrote "The Brain--is wider than the Sky," and who can argue with that? Quoted by Nobel-winning scientist Gerald M. Edelman and his Neurosciences Institute colleague Giulio Tononi in A Universe of Consciousness, Miss Emily neatly explains the problem of conscious awareness, then ducks out of the way as the two scientists get to work solving it. Testable theories of consciousness are mighty lonely, as even the soberest mind can be driven to tears of madness pondering its own activity. Centuries of work by philosophers and psychologists like James and Freud have made little progress by starting with awareness and working backward to the brain; these days we have a secure enough base to try looking in the other direction and building a theory of the mind out of neurons.

Though Edelman and Tononi do make a good effort to help out the lay reader, ultimately A Universe of Consciousness is aimed at the interdisciplinary gang of scientists and academics trying to understand our shared but invisible experience. The first sections of the book cover the basic philosophical, psychological, and biological elements essential to their theory. Swiftly the authors proceed to define terms and concepts (even the long-abused term complexity gets a reappraisal) and elaborate on these to create a robust, testable theory of the neural basis of consciousness. Following this hard work, they consider some ramifications of the theory and take a close look at language and thinking. This much-needed jump-start is sure to provoke a flurry of experimental and theoretical responses; A Universe of Consciousness might just help us answer some of the greatest questions of science, philosophy, and even poetry. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

A woman senses that a room is light or dark and is aware that she has done so. A photocell senses the same thing without awareness. The difference is consciousness--something everyone recognizes but no one can fully explain. Edelman (director of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego) and Tononi (a senior fellow there) propose what they call the dynamic core hypothesis to explain the neural basis of conscious experience. "This hypothesis states that the activity of a group of neurons can contribute directly to conscious experience if it is part of a functional cluster, characterized by strong mutual interactions among a set of neuronal groups over a period of hundreds of milliseconds." They call such a cluster the dynamic core because of "its ever-changing composition yet ongoing integration." In telling their tale, the authors describe brain structure and function, review earlier efforts to explain consciousness and come to a discussion of higher-order consciousness--the kind that humans have. "Our position has been that higher-order consciousness, which includes the ability to be conscious of being conscious, is dependent on the emergence of semantic capabilities and, ultimately, of language. Concomitant with these traits is the emergence of a true self, born of social interactions, along with concepts of the past and future."

EDITORS OF SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Customer Reviews

If this is the case the neural processes underlying the conscious experience must also be highly differentiated and informative.
Rama Rao
Although the authors recognize that there is still awfully much tot do, their analyses and hypotheses are a big step forward in our understanding of consciousness.
Luc REYNAERT
This book has a broad appeal not only to those interested in neuroscience but also to those interested in philosophy, history, and art.
melanie m holzman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

123 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Malloy on June 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is worthwhile mostly for the wealth of experimental data provided. Unfortunately, I think the authors often jump to conclusions that their evidence neither precludes nor proves. The most pervasive example of faulty logic is the central theme of the book. The authors provide evidence that consciousness is *associated* with vast, interconnected regions of the brain. When a person is aware of a stimulus, more neural areas are active than when he/she is not. From this, they conclude that consciousness *arises* from diverse neural areas in the brain. This is the key fault of the book--the authors do not differentiate between *association* and *origin*. Perhaps conscious activity that occurs in a small area of the brain promotes extracurricular activities elsewhere. Just because two events occur simultaneously does not mean one caused the other!
The authors describe their work as a "theory of consciousness"--completely misleading in another sense. Even if we were able to precisely understand what neural processes lead to consciousness, which neurons were involved, etc., the consciousness mystery still would not be solved. The most fascinating and mysterious question is "HOW do the neural processes lead to consciousness?" Uncovering the neural processes associated with consciousness is a great way to begin, perhaps the only way. However, to call the authors' work a "theory of consciousness" is absurd. Imagine a 18th century person able to view the modern automobile through timetravel. Suppose here were able to deduce that turning a key started the automobile, pushing the right pedal made it accelerate, etc. before he was forced to return to his time. Would his knowledge be a "theory of the automobile"?
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79 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Anthony R. Dickinson on September 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This new volume provides a biologically-based perspective on consciousness. Although Edelman & Tononi may often appear to lead the reader into believing that a `selector' is needed in order for one to choose between the many alternative possible behaviours that one might act out, there is no room for a Humunculus (the little man inside the man `seeing' solutions) of any sort here. For those unfamiliar with Edelman's previous writings (all of which I would recommend) there are plenty quotes from his earlier self, the principle idea here being a logical extension of his thesis developed over the last 20 yrs. Coming clean right from the start, the data acquired from introspection is rejected as a technique to be subjected to any robust empirical analysis, but consciousness is here identified not solely with brain states/activity (there is a clear need for interactions with others and the world `out there') - the authors putting forward a model of consciousness as being a `particular kind of brain process'; unified/integrated, yet complex/differentiated.
The early parts of the book discuss the `impasse' reached by many philosophers in their attempts to explain the `mind-body' problem whilst rejecting both strong dualist and reductionist positions: "..consciousness requires the activity of specific neuronal substrates .......... but is itself a process, not an object". There is a clear appeal to holistic thinking here (`the whole is greater than the sum of its parts') - but the message is more subtle. What Edelman & Tononi are pointing out is that, still in need of explanation is the fact that although the contents of consciousness change continually, its possessor remains continuous.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on May 12, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very important book. Although the authors recognize that there is still awfully much tot do, their analyses and hypotheses are a big step forward in our understanding of consciousness.
It is certainly not an easy book. One should have a basic knowledge of the constitution and the working of the brain.
I, personally, would have liked more concrete examples, like those for instance in the book of C.J. Lumsden and E.O. Wilson 'Promethean Fire'.
This book doesn't explain how consciousness arises, but what it is (properties) and how it works.
Consciousness is not a thing or a property, but a process (of neural interactions).
One of the reviewers here compares consciousness to a car. But a car is a thing, not a process.
Consciousness is a private, integrated, coherent, differentiated, informative, continually changing process.
The authors make also the opportune distinction between primary (animal, unconscious) and higher-order consciousness (the ability to be conscious of being conscious).
Crucial for the authors are re-entrant interactions, degeneracy (recategorical memory), and a part of the brain 'the dynamic core' (a subset of neuronal groups responsible for consciousness).
The dynamic core provides then a rationale for distinguishing conscious processes from unconscious ones (e.g. the circuits that regulate blood pressure).
This book shows clearly that the brain is not a computer and that it doesn't work as a computer program or algorithm.
It has also very important philisophical consequences, which the authors summarize as follows: being is prior to describing, selection is prior to logic and doing is prior to understanding.
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