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Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul Hardcover – August 7, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Both playful and philosophical, this extravagant book addresses questions about the root of consciousness in a unique way...The book is a visual delight as well as an impressive read, its lavish artwork and literary references demonstrating just how fully complementary art and science can be.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Giulio Tononi is a man of bold and original mind who has developed a fundamental new theory of consciousness. In Phi, he calls on all the resources of drama, metaphor, and the visual arts to present his scientific insights, in the form of imaginary dialogues in which Galileo meets Francis Crick, Alan Turing, and other major thinkers of the twentieth century. This is an astonishing (and risky) literary device, but Tononi pulls it off triumphantly. He makes the deepest neuroscientific insights come alive.”
—Oliver Sacks, author of Musicophilia
“You may or may not endorse Giulio Tononi’s views on how the brain generates consciousness, but you can certainly agree that his book is a garden of intellectual delights.”
—Antonio Damasio, author of Self Comes to Mind and Descartes’ Error
“This wonderful book reads like a popcorn novel but informs like a primer on consciousness and where it comes from. By turns exciting, challenging, and thought provoking, Giulio Tononi’s marvelous imagination explores the origin of thought, sensation, and feeling. Learning about the difference between the cerebrum and the cerebellum doesn’t sound like fun, but here you encounter them amidst fat friars shouting in vulgar Latin, nymphs of radiant beauty, and a mysterious juggler on a unicycle. I’ve always taken pride in being a conscious, sentient being; after reading Phi, I’m beginning to understand what it means when I say that!”
—Leonard Mlodinow, author of Subliminal

“An original, provocative tale of a scientist’s quest to understand how the brain generates consciousness…A challenging, rewarding read that will undoubtedly alter your consciousness.” –Kirkus  

“Charming.” –CultureLab   
“Tononi has pushed the study of consciousness forward…the book is lavishly illustrated with paintings and scientific images, poetically written, and unashamedly speculative, weighing some of the ‘meaning of life’ questions Tononi has been thinking about during his long career as a consciousness researcher. It’s a fascinating celebration of the complexity of the brain and mind.” –Boston Globe   

About the Author

Giulio Tononi is a professor of psychiatry, the David P. White Professor of Sleep Medicine, and the Distinguished Chair in Consciousness Science at the University of Wisconsin. In addition to the major scientific journals, his work has appeared in New Scientist, Science Daily, and Scientific American. His research has been the subject of articles in The New York Times and The Economist. He is the coauthor, with Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman, of A Universe of Consciousness.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030790721X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307907219
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #260,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gazi M. Rashid on October 10, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
==== Context ====
For the sake of context, I am a student in the biomedical sciences. I have taken a few psychology and neuroscience classes. I wanted to read this book because I am interested in learning more about the human consciousness and how it is related to the biological brain. However, I have never had any formal introduction to it and none of my classes have focused very much on this topic.

==== Overall ====
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was an unique reading experience, but it was definitely not what I expected. This book has a lot to offer beyond just the biological connection to consciousness (which was my expectation). However, there are sections where the author tends to get bogged down in discussion and musings, and to me, this detracts from the overall experience. Not everyone will enjoy this type of book, but the ideas and theories offered by Dr. Tononi on this field are fascinating to think and debate about.

=== Synopsis ===
"Phi" is a story about the famed astronomer and scientist, Galileo. Similar to "guided enlightenment" theme of "A Christmas Carol", Galileo is helped by three scientists on his journey to understand our consciousness. In the first third of the book, Frick (based on Francis Crick, the geneticist who also spent a great deal of time studying the consciousness) takes our protagonist on a series of encounters to help him answer Galileo's original question: "How could mere matter generate mind?" Once Galileo is convinced of the soul-brain connection, he faces more difficult questions regarding consciousness - questions that can't be explained by simply looking at research and clinical findings.
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Format: Hardcover
I want to start by saying that PHI is the book that all of us wanted to write, but never did it: Fantasy, visual art, literature, mathematics, science, physics and music are fused by expert hands (and brain) to achieve a masterpiece that, no doubt, will become a classic reading. It is beautifully written with a rhythm that changes going through stories where pleasure, sorrow, beauty, pain, despair, love, all fused together. It is a pleasure to read this voyage through our brain, history, and soul with the help of Galileo, who is called upon discovering the answer to the greatest question: what make us human? I learned a lot without struggle, as the author is able to simplify difficult concepts. This is especially true for the notes: there, the author further explains small and big points made by each chapter either with a smirk or making fun of him self. At the end of the book, he leaves us with an answered question: what is the meaning of the last mysterious symbol in his book, that seems to have an important meaning and value for the author? I hope he will answer soon. I loved the book in its entirety and I strongly recommend it to everybody who wants to know more about what make us human.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book came along a week after a hike with a friend during which we discussed consciousness and how it occured, and its implications for a non-physical, spiritual existence. As a physician, my friend argued that consciousness was merely electrochemical. But what does that mean for physical theories like quantum mechanics, especially string theory that requires multiple universes? Then I hear Dr Tononi interviewed on NPR, thought he might have some answers in this book and ordered the it the next day.

Dr Tononi has made the journey from basic neuroscience to spiritual implications fascinating at many levels.
From the first chapter, you have the feeling that your experience transcends the written text; you are exposed to the material at many levels simultaneously. Consequently, the information is reinforced and learning enhanced.

The author revisits complex concepts several times, linking it to the subject of the chapter at hand, further enhancing learning of sometimes difficult concepts. Even the art used to complement the text is adapted to further explanation of the concept under discussion, sometimes to the point of modifying the art! You find yourself thinking at several levels at the end of every chapter.

This is a book that continues to provoke thinking about the material long after you've completed it. It neither supports nor undermines belief systems, but offers a recasting of what "eternal life" might mean. It refreshingly avoids specific conclusions that are beyond scientific observation, leaving any spiritual conclusions to be filtered through one's personal belief system. Dr Tononi does not prescribe, only informs from his experience and intellectual curiosity.

I am recommending this book to my friend and I can't wait for the next hiking discussion!
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Quite frankly, Tononi seems to have come up with an idea for presenting Phi and "integrated information" that he was unable to make work but, unfortunately, was also unwilling to set aside. The vast majority of the book, perhaps as much as 90%, ends up being about that idea -- Galileo in dialogue with various people and in various situations -- rather than the subject the idea was intended to present. So what you get is page upon page of mediocre descriptive text about fictional places and contrived conversations between fictional people (with some really not-so-clever names) much of which has little to do with anything other than itself. As for what is said about Phi and "integrated information," it probably doesn't take up more than 10 to 20 pages and by the end of the book was not compelling enough to have justified the whole experience.
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