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The Crucible of Consciousness: An Integrated Theory of Mind and Brain (MIT Press) Reprint Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262512848
ISBN-10: 026251284X
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The world view of the blind and that of the sighted is likely different, shaped by the distinct perceptual experience and the brain plasticity involved in adaptation to the loss of sight. Zoltan Torey is blind. I cannot but believe that this fact has endowed him with the needed vision to address the complex relation between brain and mind. Zoltan Torey writes with the needed eloquence, freshness, and originality that assures readers will be moved to think, and will understand not only what is being said, but also gain new insights about themselves and others."-Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, and Director, Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center



"Torey's way of putting things sheds new light on just what is going on in the 'computational' brain, since he has to find alternative metaphors to stand in for the now somewhat overworked comparison with computers. Just as poets often find that the constraints of rhyme and meter force them to discover strikingly apt expressions of their thoughts, it turns out that couching a computational theory of the mind in resolutely noncomputational terms pays dividends. There is much to repay readers in this book: to the uninitiated, it is a graceful and wise introduction to many of the central problems and arguments; to the veterans, it is a quite bountiful source of arrestingly different slants on familiar topics."--Daniel C. Dennett, Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University and author of Sweet Dreams

(Daniel C. Dennet)

About the Author

Raul Roman is a doctoral candidate in Communicationand International Development at CornellUniversity, where he is an active member of the DevelopmentCommunication Research Group studyingthe impact of information and communication systemson socioeconomic development in disadvantagedcommunities of the developing world.

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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (April 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026251284X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262512848
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,380,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bernard Sumption on March 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
First the bad: this book is written in a dense academic style, in which the author first defines terms and then uses them heavily in future sentences. This quickly builds up and you get phrases like "the protolinguistic instrument facilitated percept transshipment" (i.e. the precursor to modern language helped our ancestors to convey ideas to each other)

This wouldn't be a problem in itself, but I get the impression that the dense style sometimes hides errors in reasoning. After decoding one paragraph I think that the author was implying that the frustration felt by our ancestors when they had only a limited language ability would create a selection pressure to evolve a better language ability. Of course this is not how natural selection works: natural selection doesn't care about our frustration, only how many offspring we have. Was the author really implying this? I don't know, perhaps his real intention was lost in the decoding process.

Now the good:

Normally I'd give a book two stars for this kind of language, but I'm giving it 4 instead. Why? Because despite its flaws, the fact remains that it presents a fresh view on the brain/mind problem, with many genuinely insightful points that are not available in any other books I've read.

Fans of Pinker, Dennett and Dawkins, to name a few capable science writers who touch on the same topics, will despair at the lack of clear, plain English explanation and reasoning. Fans of the study of the human brain will gladly look past the flaws and enjoy a novel and exciting theory of how the mind works.
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If you are at all curious about how your brain thinks, how it is conscious and self aware, then you should definitely read this book!
Zoltan Torey, though blind, provides keen insight into how the human brain uses language to bind words in our 'left brain' with perceptions in our 'right brain', and how this asymetric functioning of the hemispheres give rise to thought and consciousness.
Without language, no distinction in made, in the nonhuman brain, between the 'real world' and perception. We humans are able to use language (thoughts) to invoke perceptions at will, and this gives us the sensation that we are unique and separate from the world.
Zoltran Torey is the 'left brain' to Douglas Hofstadter's 'right' in articulating the 'strange loop' of consciousness.
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A great deal has been written on the subject of human consciousness. Historically philosophers have debated the question from almost every conceivable perspective. Many philosophers still today refer to issues of consciousness and free will as `the hard problem.' In recent years though more and more substantive and weighty work has been written that supports the growing evidence: "Consciousness is a biological phenomenon. The concept of a dualistic, spiritual, separate plane of reality is a myth." The most successful work on the problem in my own view has been coming from the field of neurology and not from contemporary philosophy (although I do enjoy Dennett's books on the subject). Torey's book, The Crucible of Consciousness, falls into this progressive category alongside the work of scientists such as Damasio and Le Doux.

In this intense and well researched book Torey presents a unique and testable theory of consciousness. His thesis is that consciousness originates in the asymmetry between the right and left hemispheres of the human brain, which is the result of language acquisition. This theory is both interesting and plausible and should help to guide further research. At the same time, as one would expect, it raises a number of observations and questions. Perhaps mentioning just a few here will offer some insight into the challenges that the book raises. First and foremost Torey suggests that language is essential to consciousness. He therefore draws a distinction between animal awareness and conscious thought, but also between problem solving or even primitive tool use and reflective thinking. In some degree this view is consistent with scientific consensus, but not entirely so.
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First, let me say that I am only a layman in the study of cognitive science. I have, however, read several books on this subject and "The Crucible of Consciousness" by Zoltan Torey is the most enlightened and accessible of them all. Being something of a student in Jewish mysticism, I was particularly interested in the allusion by Torey of the creation myth to the development of language and the Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden. Being a layman, I found it somewhat dense in spots; but, the explanations and examples opened up those difficult passages. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in discovering the I who says: "I think or believe..."
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Zoltan Torey offers a simple but profound model to explain how and why consciousness (self-knowledge) is a difference in kind, not degree, between human beings and lower forms of animals.

It is widely recognized that symbolic language is the thing that sets humans apart from other animals. It is a difference in kind, not degree, as Mortimer Adler noted in "How to Speak, How to Listen".

Tory turns this difference in kind on its head to focus entirely on a model of how language and human brain hemispheres most likely developed together. Basically, asymmetrical brain hemispheres emerged with language to support a parallel system of actual perceptual objects (percepts) in the right hemisphere that are pointed to by word-percepts in the language specialized left hemisphere. Seamless attentional shifting between the parallel actual and virtual hemispheric percepts allows inner speech about the stream of contents known by a knower. A word percept "X" points to, but is not identical to, the relatively transient actual percept "x".

His model tells an exciting story, and accounts for many modern puzzles about consciousness that are actually errors in philosophy or psychology. He is able to solve the problem of consciousness with a model that is trivalent: word pointer percepts. percepts themselves, and the subjective feelings of the knower who is also experiencing the real percepts. His model supports biological intentionality which is emphasized by Walter Freeman in "How Brains Make Up Their Minds". Torey focuses on language as the missing link that needs to be explained and he does this very well. As a result, all three philosophical object types are included (real, subjective, and intentional), and we have a model that is "sound" because it does not omit any of the three categories or merge two categories into one.

I enjoyed reading this insightful book.

Walter Geldart, author, "The Epic Roles of Consciousness"
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