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Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness Paperback – February 2, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Noë turns Descartes's famous statement on its head: I am, therefore I think, says Noë. The author, a philosopher at UC-Berkeley, challenges the assumptions underlying neuroscientific studies of consciousness, rejecting popular mechanistic theories that our experience of the world stems from the firing of the neurons in our brains. Noë (Action in Perception) argues that we are not our brains, that consciousness arises from interactions with our surroundings: Consciousness is not something that happens inside us. It is something we do or make. Noë points out that many of our habits, like language, are foundational aspects of our mental experience, but at the same time many, if not most, habits are environmental in nature—we behave a particular way in a particular situation. He goes on to challenge popular theories of perception, in particular the claim that the world is just a grand illusion conjured up by the brain. Readers interested in how science can intersect with and profit from philosophy will find much food for thought in Noë's groundbreaking study. (Feb. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The notion that consciousness is confined to the brain, like software in a computer, has dominated science and philosophy for close to two centuries. Yet, according to this incisive review of contemporary neuroscience from Berkeley philosopher Nöe, the analogy is deeply flawed. In eight illuminating, mercifully jargon-free chapters, he defines what scientists really know about consciousness and makes a strong case that mind and awareness are processes that arise during a dynamic dance with the observer’s surroundings. Nöe begins with a sharp critique of scientists, such as DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick, who insist that nothing but neurons determines our daily perceptions and sense of self. He then examines studies of human and animal behavior that demonstrate an inextricable link between identity and environment. Nöe regrettably limits his treatise by ignoring considerable research from transpersonal psychology suggesting that consciousness transcends physicality altogether. Still, the resulting book is an invaluable contribution to cognitive science and the branch of self-reflective philosophy extending back to Descartes’ famous maxim, “I think, therefore I am.” --Carl Hays --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Alva Noe has been mentored by some finest intellects, & deals with scientific realities, still unrealized my most researchers. Despite its 2005 first publication, its been released at least twice, latest 2010. A book for all thinking people to bettered understand the mind-Body meld.
All told, this is a very worthwhile read. Its prime weakness is yet in its main thesis. The character of our experience (visual, or auditory, or kinaesthetic...) it is argued (and strongly so), is not a function of the intrinsic character of the sensory stimulation (i.e., of the specific kinds of neurons stimulated) but in the way stimulation varies as a function of movement in relation to the environment. As I move around the table, the table transforms (in perspective) in a lawful way - the way an object in vision (not hearing) should. Implication 1: Connect up your neural net such that it responds lawfully to these transforms - you have vision of the external world. Note that in this conception there is nothing happening in the brain, obviously, that looks like the external world - the kitchen table, the coffee cup, the spoon stirring. Implication 2: We just need to be in relation to this external world, and miraculously, we get an image of it.
One sees pretty much the same theme in expositors of Gibson (with whom Noë is aligned), e.g., Barret (Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds), Chemero (Radical Embodied Cognitive Science). The first question which begs to be asked: why is this not a specification for a seeing robot? I doubt there is an answer against this. The fact is, the thesis cries for some mechanism, some physical principle which explains this: why, given this action relationship to the environment, is there now an image of the external world? To make this problem concretely clear quickly, I'm just going straight to this: Embed Noë (and Gibson for that matter) in Bergson. Bergson (Matter and Memory, 1896) presciently saw the universal field as a holographic field and the brain as effectively being a modulated reconstructive wave passing through (or resonating within) this field, and thus "specific to" a subset of the field, now, by this selective specification, an "image" of a (past) portion of the ever transforming field. This image is at a scale of time imposed by the brain's underlying dynamics - the fly in Noë's "environment" could be the "buzzing" being of normal scale, a being flapping its wings like a heron, or a crystalline ensemble of whirling particles. The selection principle for a subset out of the mass of holographic information is the relevance to the body's action, and to Bergson - deeply reflective of Noë's relation to action or Gibson's affordance concept - perception is "virtual action." In this holographic reconstructive wave model, where within the brain there are indeed no representations of the external world and no image being produced by or in the brain, we now have a concrete mechanism for explaining the origin of the image of the environment - not a mere abstraction about an "action relationship with the environment." Noë's notion of the proper relation of the external world to action (or Gibson's notion of the body/brain being directly "specific to" the environment) can only gain its needed coherence within some such framework.
To make Bergson's model coherent, one needs at least this: a model of time and motion different from that of the current, classic metaphysic of space and time, a different concept of the relation of mind to time, a different notion of memory (where experience is not stored in the brain), consideration of possible scales of time in perception - subjects to which Noë gives virtually no consideration. With these, we would indeed understand why Noë's specification per se could not produce a seeing robot. So, all in all, a great book, but this "active relationship with the world" conception, of which Noë is one of several proponents, struggles with these crying-to-be-answered gaps. It could be so much more powerful would these theorists pay attention to a thinker who was way ahead of them in 1896.
Most recent customer reviews
Second only to William James.
and its relation with consciousness.Read more
My friend already read it, but I am still In beginning few chapters.