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"The father of cognitive neuroscience" illuminates the past, present, and future of the mind-brain problem How do neurons turn into minds? How does physical "stuff"--atoms, molecules, chemicals, and cells--create the vivid and various worlds inside our heads? The problem of consciousness has gnawed at us for millennia. In the last century there have been massive breakthroug "The father of cognitive neuroscience" illuminates the past, present, and future of the mind-brain problem How do neurons turn into minds? How does physical "stuff"--atoms, molecules, chemicals, and cells--create the vivid and various worlds inside our heads? The problem of consciousness has gnawed at us for millennia. In the last century there have been massive breakthroughs that have rewritten the science of the brain, and yet the puzzles faced by the ancient Greeks are still present. In The Consciousness Instinct, the neuroscience pioneer Michael S. Gazzaniga puts the latest research in conversation with the history of human thinking about the mind, giving a big-picture view of what science has revealed about consciousness. The idea of the brain as a machine, first proposed centuries ago, has led to assumptions about the relationship between mind and brain that dog scientists and philosophers to this day. Gazzaniga asserts that this model has it backward--brains make machines, but they cannot be reduced to one. New research suggests the brain is actually a confederation of independent modules working together. Understanding how consciousness could emanate from such an organization will help define the future of brain science and artificial intelligence, and close the gap between brain and mind. Captivating and accessible, with insights drawn from a lifetime at the forefront of the field, The Consciousness Instinct sets the course for the neuroscience of tomorrow.


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"The father of cognitive neuroscience" illuminates the past, present, and future of the mind-brain problem How do neurons turn into minds? How does physical "stuff"--atoms, molecules, chemicals, and cells--create the vivid and various worlds inside our heads? The problem of consciousness has gnawed at us for millennia. In the last century there have been massive breakthroug "The father of cognitive neuroscience" illuminates the past, present, and future of the mind-brain problem How do neurons turn into minds? How does physical "stuff"--atoms, molecules, chemicals, and cells--create the vivid and various worlds inside our heads? The problem of consciousness has gnawed at us for millennia. In the last century there have been massive breakthroughs that have rewritten the science of the brain, and yet the puzzles faced by the ancient Greeks are still present. In The Consciousness Instinct, the neuroscience pioneer Michael S. Gazzaniga puts the latest research in conversation with the history of human thinking about the mind, giving a big-picture view of what science has revealed about consciousness. The idea of the brain as a machine, first proposed centuries ago, has led to assumptions about the relationship between mind and brain that dog scientists and philosophers to this day. Gazzaniga asserts that this model has it backward--brains make machines, but they cannot be reduced to one. New research suggests the brain is actually a confederation of independent modules working together. Understanding how consciousness could emanate from such an organization will help define the future of brain science and artificial intelligence, and close the gap between brain and mind. Captivating and accessible, with insights drawn from a lifetime at the forefront of the field, The Consciousness Instinct sets the course for the neuroscience of tomorrow.

30 review for The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind

  1. 4 out of 5

    Peter Gelfan

    This surprising book took me places I had not at all expected to go. Our sense of self, life, the world, and their meaning all rely on consciousness. While we all sort of know what we mean by “consciousness” and can talk loosely about it, we cannot precisely define it. This is not just a matter of semantics. We can’t quite wrap our conscious minds around the concept. That alone is pretty weird. Gazzaniga is a brain scientist, and his approach is scientific rather than philosophical. Science’s vie This surprising book took me places I had not at all expected to go. Our sense of self, life, the world, and their meaning all rely on consciousness. While we all sort of know what we mean by “consciousness” and can talk loosely about it, we cannot precisely define it. This is not just a matter of semantics. We can’t quite wrap our conscious minds around the concept. That alone is pretty weird. Gazzaniga is a brain scientist, and his approach is scientific rather than philosophical. Science’s view of the brain sometimes comes down to regarding it as a sort of machine, one of whose byproducts is the evolutionarily useful illusion we call consciousness. Gazzaniga’s decades of work have convinced him that this is too simplistically reductionist a view. He and a number of other scientists began to see things differently. Machines did not spawn brains, evolution did, and then brains invented machines. “Brains aren’t like machines; machines are like brains with something missing.” This led to reexamining more-basic scientific assumptions, such as the idea that biology, the study of life, is simply an offshoot of physics and chemistry. What if instead physics and chemistry are simpler, neater subsets of the larger world of biology? What if life is a different sort of physical substance than inanimate matter? It certainly acts differently, always busy self-organizing, self-transforming, and self-reproducing rather than just sitting there like, well, a rock. Gazzaniga has not embraced dualism, the concept of coexisting material and nonmaterial worlds, brains and spirits. He looks instead to complementarity, the idea that matter can exist in two different states at once, such as light being simultaneously both particles and wave. Perhaps living matter must be in two different states at once. This book too seems to be in two states at once: hard science and the conceptual framework, some of it speculative, needed to make sense of the subject. This complementarity results not in an answer but a far deeper understanding of the question. The quest to explain consciousness may yet transform or crumble all we thought we “knew” about not just ourselves but also the world.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    Good history of consciousnesses studies and introduction to the general scientific perspective on many key topics of Neuroscience. But just like all books in this elusive subject you wont walk away feel any more oriented as to what exactly consciousness is, nevertheless, this was good.

  3. 4 out of 5

    D Reed Whittaker

    This was a hard slog. Not too many take-aways. Consciousness is a mystery - fine. It is ever present and has been since there has been life - interesting, maybe. Not sure if it is confused with 'soul', free-will, human essence, or is all three. You may have better luck. The writing is not bad, it may be my inability to understand the subject. If the subject interests you, it may be worth your time. Nicely noted, so it may lead you to further fruitful reading. Good luck. This was a hard slog. Not too many take-aways. Consciousness is a mystery - fine. It is ever present and has been since there has been life - interesting, maybe. Not sure if it is confused with 'soul', free-will, human essence, or is all three. You may have better luck. The writing is not bad, it may be my inability to understand the subject. If the subject interests you, it may be worth your time. Nicely noted, so it may lead you to further fruitful reading. Good luck.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Edwin Wong

    Contrasting Viewpoints on Consciousness Gazzaniga starts by outlining the major theories on consciousness. There are the reductionists and materialists (e.g. Freud and Galen) that believe that mental states and consciousness arise from material interactions between neurons, atoms, and molecules. The reductionist and materialists are deterministic in outlook. Determinists believe that the future follows rigidly or is “determined” by the past. Behaviorists, such as Skinner, form a subset of this wo Contrasting Viewpoints on Consciousness Gazzaniga starts by outlining the major theories on consciousness. There are the reductionists and materialists (e.g. Freud and Galen) that believe that mental states and consciousness arise from material interactions between neurons, atoms, and molecules. The reductionist and materialists are deterministic in outlook. Determinists believe that the future follows rigidly or is “determined” by the past. Behaviorists, such as Skinner, form a subset of this worldview. Then, thanks to Descartes, there are the dualists. To the dualists, mental states, the mind, and the soul are separate from the material body and brain. Dualism, according to Gazzaniga, set back science two thousand years: Aristotle, while he believed in a soul, also believed that the soul dies with the body. According to Descartes, the soul was immortal and immaterial, and being an “essence,” was not subject to scientific scrutiny. Then, there is a third theory called mentalism. Mentalists such as Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga himself believe that “emergent mental powers must logically exert downward causal control over electrophysiological events in brain activity.” In other words, mental states, the “I,” and consciousness can impact and alter the physical brain. In the 1970s, the mentalist camp was a small minority. Most scientists were materialists. The New Paradigm In The Consciousness Instinct, Gazzaniga offers a new paradigm to break free from the old debate between materialists, dualists, and mentalists. His new paradigm of consciousness is based on the latest breakthroughs in understanding how the brain works and also his observations of how people with broken brains function. According to Gazzaniga: Today we have at our fingertips a vast amount of rapidly accruing new information, and with a little luck, it affords new perspective on how the brain does its magic. The ideas of Descartes and other past thinkers that the mind is somehow floating atop the brain, and the ideas of the new mechanists that consciousness is a monolithic thing generated by a single mechanism or network, are simply wrong. I will argue that consciousness is not a thing. “Consciousness” is the word we use to describe the subjective feeling of a number of instincts and/or memories playing out in time in an organism. That is why “consciousness” is a proxy word for how a complex living organism operates. And, to understand how complex organisms work, we need to know how brains’ parts are organized to deliver conscious experience as we know it. Descartes believed that consciousness arose from the pineal gland in the brain. Gazzaniga and other neuroscientists understand otherwise. It’s always easier to see how something works by looking at how broken specimens function, and the brain is no different. By looking at people with broken brains, we now know that the brain is a modular organ, built up from many discrete modules, each with its own function and history in the evolution of the species. When one module, or multiple modules are damaged, consciousness remains. What this tells us is that consciousness does not reside in a specific area of the brain. Consciousness is a phenomenon or epiphenomenon that arises from the feedback between the different modules of the brain. It is a deep-rooted function which is incredibly hard to stamp out, even in the most damaged brains. Split-brain patients offer the strongest testimony to how consciousness is not tied to a specific neural network: Disconnecting the two half brains instantly creates a second, also independent conscious system. The right brain now purrs along carefree from the left, with its own capacities, desires, goals, insights, and feelings. One network, split into two, becomes two conscious systems. They used to–and perhaps they still do–perform split-brain surgery to cure epilepsy. The surgery works, and after the nerves between the two cerebral hemispheres are cut, consciousness is also cloven. Here’s an interesting story Gazzaniga shares of Case W.J. After his split-brain surgery, Gazzaniga had tested him to see the results of the surgery: More crazy yet, in the early months after surgery, before the two hemispheres get used to sharing a single body, one can observe them in a tug-of-war. For example, there is a simple task in which one must arrange a small set of colored blocks to match a pattern sown on a card. The right hemisphere contains visuomotor specializations that make this task a walk in the park for the left hand. The left hemisphere, on the other hand, is incompetent for such a task. When a patient whose brain has recently been split attempts the task, the left hand immediately solves the puzzle; but when the right hand tries to attempt the task, the left hand starts to mess up the right hand’s work, trying to horn in and complete the task. In one such test, we had to have the patient sit on his bossy left hand to allow the right to attempt the task, which it never could accomplish! If consciousness does not arise from a specific area of the brain, and the dualists and reductionists are mistaken, then from where does it arise? Gazzaniga’s calls his solution complementarity. It’s sort of an awkward word, but I see how he came up with it: the word is a bold rejection of Descartes’ term duality, or the mind – brain split. Complementarity The physicists posit that there are two worlds. There is the world of classical physics. This is Newton’s world. The world of objective observers. Processes are deterministic and predictable. Objects in the classical world can be waves or particles, but not waves and particles simultaneously. There is a spooky force over distance (e.g. gravity), but they got over this centuries ago. Classical physics explains the macro world (larger than an atom) quite well. Then there is the world of quantum mechanics. Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, and others came up with this model to explain the subatomic world. This is the world where there are no objective observers. Observers, by observing, alter the system. Processes are probabilistic and unpredictable. Reality is spooky as objects in the quantum world exist as a blur, as both particles and waves simultaneously. It is only the law of large numbers that levels out the blur so that material objects appear concrete. Complementarity describes how subatomic objects exist as both particles and waves simultaneously. The observer plays a crucial role in the quantum world. By observing quantum processes, the observer collapses the complementary reality of the subatomic object into either a wave or a particle. Choose one experiment, light acts like a particle. But choose another experiment, light acts as a wave. Physicists refer to the inescapable separation of a subject (the measurer) from the object (the measured) die Schnitt. It seemed that human consciousness played a role in collapsing quantum wave functions. But was human consciousness required in breaking down quantum wave functions. Theoretical biologist came up with an amazing breakthrough when he argued that lower levels of consciousness was able to do this. How low? Pattee proposes that the gap resulted from a process equivalent to quantum measurement that began with self-replication at the origin of life with the cell as the simplest agent. The epistemic cut, the subject/object cut, the mind/matter cut, all are rooted to that original cut at the origin of life. The gap between subjective feeling and objective neural firings didn’t come about with the appearance of brains, it was already there when the first cell started living. Two complementary modes of behavior, two levels of description are inherent in life itself, were present at the origin of life, have been conserved by evolution, and continue to be necessary for differentiating subjective experience from the even itself. What Pattee claims is that quantum measurements do not require the physicist-observer. Quantum measurements can take place even on a cellular level. For example, enzymes such as DNA polymerases perform quantum measurement during cell replication. DNA, Materialism, Symbols, and Life Materialists say that DNA, being made of chains of atoms, must obey the laws of nature. But, according to Pattee, the materialists don’t see that DNA is also a symbol: it contains the description of the organism. And while DNA contains the description of the organism, it is not the organism in itself. To turn DNA into the organism, two separate steps are required: translation and construction. RNA and other proteins and enzymes “read” the DNA to translate DNA and construct the organism. If the physicist-observer is the highest level of consciousness, the simplest level of consciousness, according to Gazzaniga and Pattee, is the RNA reading the DNA. Like how the physicist-observer observes subatomic particles, so too, the RNA observes the DNA sequence. At the very beginning of life, there was observation. And this observation was carried up to higher and higher levels of consciousness by evolution so that, to continue the analogy, the DNA is likened to the physical brain and the RNA likened to the subjective experience of “I.” This is an exceedingly bold claim. From Whence Consciousness? So, “consciousness” began with the beginning of life from when RNA and other bondmaker molecules “gazed” onto the DNA template or blueprint. This gaze between RNA and DNA eventually became human consciousness. But where does our consciousness arise? Gazzaniga uses a soda water analogy to illustrate consciousness. Each module of the brain produces conceptual bubbles that rise to the surface. The “I” is what lies at the surface, and whatever bubble happens to have surfaced constitutes the “I.” The History of Ideas For those of you interested in the history of ideas, there’s a story on thermodynamics that Gazzaniga relates that reminds me of a question the astrophysicists are tackling today: Still, even though Newton’s view of things took some getting used to, his laws seemed to describe most observations of the physical world well, and they became entrenched over the next two hundred years. But soon there was a new challenge to Newtonian physics that had to do with a new invention: the steam engine. The first commercial one was patented by Thomas Savery, a military engineer, in 1698 to pump water out of flooded coal mines. Even as the engines’ design improved, one problem continued to plague them: the amount of work they produced was minuscule compared to the amount of wood that had to be burned to produce it. The early engines were all super inefficient because way too much energy was dissipated or lost. In the wholly determined world that Newton envisioned, this didn’t make much sense, so the theoretical physicists were forced to confront the puzzle of the seemingly lost energy. Soon a new field of study emerged, thermodynamics, and with it a change in theory about the nature of the world. Does the story of the missing energy remind anyone of the astrophysicists’ search for dark matter? For galaxies to spin and move through galactic superclusters, they would have to contain much, much more matter than that which we can see. It’s been argued that up to 85% of the mass of the universe has not been discovered. Just as the physicists created thermodynamics to explore and find where all the missing energy in engines was going, perhaps we’re on the verge of a new branch of physics that will discover new laws and properties of matter heretofore unknown. What I’m saying is that the history of ideas seems to recur. The Chicago School I had known about the Chicago School of economics. I didn’t know there was a Chicago school of biology as well. Gazzaniga relates how the Chicago School of biology is, at bottom, anti-reductionist: As Rosen, his [Rashevsky, one of the founders of the Chicago School] student describes, “He had asked himself the basic question: “What is life?” and approached it from a viewpoint tacitly as reductionistic as any of today’s molecular biologists. The trouble was that, by dealing with individual functions of organisms, and capturing these aspects in separate models and formalisms, he had somehow lost the organisms themselves and could not get them back.” He came to the realization that “no collection of separate descriptions (i.e. models) of organisms, however comprehensive, could be pasted together to capture the organism itself…Some new principle was needed if this purpose was to be accomplished.” Rashevsky dubbed that pursuit of the new principle relational biology. Closing Thoughts Gazzaniga talks about how patients who have undergone split-brain surgery develop two separate consciousnesses. Presumably, if you tied back the nerves between the two hemispheres of split-brain patients, consciousness would merge back into one. Now, what if you were to wire together separate brains. On the split-brain analogy, if you wired together multiple brains, they should form into one consciousness (you could do experiments wiring left and right hemispheres in series or parallel as well). Would brains wired in series or parallel access to more computing horsepower or a higher consciousness? And, if yes, would this brain cluster still be human? Or, what if you hooked up an Intel processor to the brain. You’d think from reading the news they’re getting close to being able to do this. Yes, this would also be an interesting thought experiment for the ethical philosophers. Gazzaniga also talks about how evolution added more and advanced modules to the brain. It would have been interesting to read his speculations on where evolution is going to take us next. In another two or three hundred thousand years, will we have acquired additional “modules?” And what will these modules give us? Easier access to abstract mathematics? Higher IQ? Nirvana? Or? And finally, if, as Gazzaniga postulates, the act of RNA and other bondmaker molecules “gazing on” or “interpreting” DNA constitutes the first act of life and consciousness, then another question arises. Was life accidental, or will Nature bring life into being whenever it can? Is consciousness part of the natural order of things? Does consciousness arise as a natural phenomenon like how gravity will coalesce matter together into stars, clusters, and the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Nonfiction book examining the physical brain vs. the soul. What is consciousness and how does it emerge from the physical meat of your brain tissue? A fascinating question, and of course, we don't know and probably never will, but it's interesting to think about. This book included a wide range of topics, not just in biological but also ancient philosophical theories of what makes humans more self-aware of our situations than other animals (or, are we...?) I was more interested in the science and Nonfiction book examining the physical brain vs. the soul. What is consciousness and how does it emerge from the physical meat of your brain tissue? A fascinating question, and of course, we don't know and probably never will, but it's interesting to think about. This book included a wide range of topics, not just in biological but also ancient philosophical theories of what makes humans more self-aware of our situations than other animals (or, are we...?) I was more interested in the science and less in the history and philosophy aspects, but that's just me. Also, I am increasingly annoyed by the recent plague of science books that aim to bring science to the masses by being humorous. Yes, I do need you, the author, to dumb it down for me, but spare me the stand-up comedy routine. But it was an interesting read, if you can deal with the frustrating of reading a long book about something that we only know .05% about.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Phillip

    4.25 / 5.0 Very nice intelligent man. Develops readers understanding of his latest theories on the neurobiology of consciousness at a steady easily accessible flow. Simple elucidating analogies are intuitive. My only criticism is with his discussions of the role of evolution. He phrases discussions as if organism had to evolve in a certain way to make full use of systems possibilities rather than than that the organisms that made best use of the systems possibilities out competed those that didn 4.25 / 5.0 Very nice intelligent man. Develops readers understanding of his latest theories on the neurobiology of consciousness at a steady easily accessible flow. Simple elucidating analogies are intuitive. My only criticism is with his discussions of the role of evolution. He phrases discussions as if organism had to evolve in a certain way to make full use of systems possibilities rather than than that the organisms that made best use of the systems possibilities out competed those that didn't and evolved accordingly. Good Stuff!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Xristos

    My favorite book- Do you ever wonder how a 1,2kg mass of neurons and blood can produce such a rich inner world? Do you also happen to love quantum physics? Then this is the book of your dreams.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kunal Sen

    A very useful and thorough review of the progress that has been made in the last couple of decades in understanding the nature of mind and consciousness from a scientific perspective. There is also a well argued section on why philosophy failed to shed much useful light on this problem for two millennia, other than raising extremely useful questions. Perhaps that is why need philosophy -- to raise good questions, and we should not look at philosophers to explain the world we live in. The last par A very useful and thorough review of the progress that has been made in the last couple of decades in understanding the nature of mind and consciousness from a scientific perspective. There is also a well argued section on why philosophy failed to shed much useful light on this problem for two millennia, other than raising extremely useful questions. Perhaps that is why need philosophy -- to raise good questions, and we should not look at philosophers to explain the world we live in. The last part of the book tries to connect quantum mechanics and the inherent unpredictability of the microscopic reality to explain why biological systems are qualitatively different from the inanimate world. By extension, the author claims why consciousness is not reducible to simpler mechanisms at a lower level. He is definitely not a mystic, and fully believes that consciousness is a physical phenomenon, but he believes that the physics of it is such that only biological systems can display this property, and therefore a machine can never be conscious. I had a hard time understanding his argument here, but I am not knowledgeable enough in this area to refute it either. A lot of food for thought, and will try to explore this avenue further.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ginger Griffin

    "Brains aren't like machines; machines are like brains with something missing," says the author. The missing elements are the parts that make the brain a living organ, not an inanimate object. We have DNA that reflects billions of years of evolution. Computers have code that reflects whatever the coder happens to need at the moment.  DNA is a form of code too, of course. But genetic code has been relentlessly channeled by natural selection. It eventually was forced to create an array of instincts "Brains aren't like machines; machines are like brains with something missing," says the author. The missing elements are the parts that make the brain a living organ, not an inanimate object. We have DNA that reflects billions of years of evolution. Computers have code that reflects whatever the coder happens to need at the moment.  DNA is a form of code too, of course. But genetic code has been relentlessly channeled by natural selection. It eventually was forced to create an array of instincts and emotions that seem to form the core of consciousness. In humans, the process has gone so far that we in effect have meta-consciousness: We're not only aware, we're aware that we're aware. So the brain/machine analogy needs to be abandoned, says the author (who, by the way, is a leading cognitive neuroscientist and the guy who discovered the split-brain phenomenon). What will replace the machine model? The author points toward some intriguing possibilities. Much more research will be needed. But that's the fun of science, no?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Noah Graham

    Probably wrong But wrong in interesting ways

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    There were three parts – the first was a summary of the history of different ideas on the mind and soul, with a good explanation of the distinction between monism and dualism. Unfortunately the author falls into the common modern trap of treating historical ideas with a sort of superciliousness and a chauvinism born of the knowledge we now have that was not known in the past. This idea, that is widely held and rarely challenged, leads one to believe that researchers and thinkers of the past were There were three parts – the first was a summary of the history of different ideas on the mind and soul, with a good explanation of the distinction between monism and dualism. Unfortunately the author falls into the common modern trap of treating historical ideas with a sort of superciliousness and a chauvinism born of the knowledge we now have that was not known in the past. This idea, that is widely held and rarely challenged, leads one to believe that researchers and thinkers of the past were a bit less intelligent than modern thinkers, whereas in fact the opposite is very often the case. The second part is a synopsis of some fascinating results in brain science, many of them from the author’s own work in split-brain patient studies. This part is excellent, and the author makes a very strong case that consciousness (however we define it) is not caused locally by a single organ. Rather each module of the brain has its own consciousness, and split-brain patients actually have two independent “minds” in the one brain. The science here is really eye-opening. I previously read another book by the author, Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain, where he discusses these results at greater length in pursuit of answers to questions about free will. I highly recommend that book. The final part of the book is the author’s attempt to use quantum mechanics to resolve the “hard problem” of consciousness. Honestly, it’s a bit disappointing. First of all, he introduces some of the fundamentals of quantum theory, especially the wave-particle duality of light, but then he latches onto the idea of “complementarity” and proceeds to use it way out of context to explain how consciousness must have arisen at the quantum level at the Cambrian explosion, 550 million years ago. It’s just a bit too hand-wavy for a serious scientist. He also goes to great lengths to explain the field of bio-semiotics, in which there are finely drawn distinctions between laws and rules, symbols and molecules and computers and brains. I had to go over this part several times – at first I thought it was nonsense, then I thought “okay maybe there is something here”, and then back to “no, what an inane suggestion”, before uneasily alighting on “perhaps what he says makes a kind of sense, but he is muddying the waters a lot with his terminology”. Chapter 8 is the heart of the author’s thesis, and it took me several attempts to try and understand what exactly he was proposing as it was quite dense. Here is a summary of that chapter: - In quantum physics, light has been observed to act as both a wave and as a particle. This is referred to as wave-particle duality. The idea of “complementarity” is introduced – this means that two contrasting theories can work together to describe something, with each encapsulating some aspect of that thing. The case in point is the contrast between the wave theory of light and the particle theory of light. - The Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment is described, along with the conundrum of the observer effect in quantum physics. The observer effect is the idea that observation of a quantum system forces it to take on a definite state – this is closely related to the measurement problem, whereby it is impossible to measure a quantum system without affecting it. Schrödinger meant for his thought experiment to illustrate the absurdity of the idea that this quantum uncertainty can propagate up to the macro-level, i.e. the idea that the cat is both dead and alive until the box is opened and the cat is observed. To avoid this absurdity, there must be a “cut” or a measurement event that collapses the wave function at a micro-level. It should be parenthetically noted that the author is here making an assumption that the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct. While that is the most popular interpretation, it is by no means definitive, and there are other plausible interpretations. - The author’s explanation of the measurement problem seems to miss the mark. He gives three reasons why measurement presents a challenge: the first two are i) measurement requires an observer separate from the object being measured, and ii) the measurement process is irreversible and not governed by the classical laws of physics. The third reason given is that measurement is arbitrary. He explains this by suggesting that if I measure you, I would have to pick a subjective set of measurements to do so, such as mass, but there is an inherent ambiguity because the resulting values would change over time, and the measurements themselves would never capture you-ness. This seems a rather different problem to the quantum measurement problem, however. It does not follow that quantum phenomena are present everywhere there is ambiguity or subjectivity. - He (rather puzzlingly) equates the distinction between observer and observed thing with the subjective vs objective experience of something. I hesitate to criticize the ideas of such an eminent scientist, but I can’t shake the feeling that he is overreaching here. His appeal to quantum physics must be taken with a pinch of salt, as that is not his area of expertise, and he openly admits in the book that he is not great with abstract math. One review on Amazon describes his approach as “quantum quackery”, in which you can “call any pair of qualities you want a ‘duality’ and compare it, unaccountably, to the ‘wave particle duality’”. - The author proposes that the “measurement” event that collapses a wavefunction can take place at the level of enzymes, and that such a measurement at the dawn of living matter (around the time that RNA replication first began) created a subject/object complementarity that the author associates with the mind/matter complementarity. According to Howard Pattee, the epistemic “cut” between subjective and objective experience is related to the distinction between inanimate and living matter at the origin of life. More specifically, it pertains to the gap between a genotype and a phenotype. Effectively, he is asserting that the whole Hard Problem of subjective experience can also in principle trace its origin to this point. Again, this assertion makes little sense to me. If this “cut” that begat consciousness took place around the start of RNA replication, what are we to make of all the quantum wavefunction collapses that preceded that in the history of the universe? Is every such event the origin of a kind of consciousness? It just sounds nonsensical. - There is then a segue into the topic of bio-semiotics. Semiotics is the study of signs/symbols, and the author contends that this is another area of complementarity. Specifically he talks about DNA, and how one way of viewing DNA is from the perspective of interacting biochemical molecules, and another is the ATCG notation used to analyze genomic sequences. His point here is that biological cells are semiotic systems – they contain “a triad of signs, meanings and code that are all produced by the same agent, i.e. by the same code-maker.” The code-maker is necessarily part of the system. This gives rise to the idea that cells are “selves” in some primitive form. The final chapters return to firmer footing. Here he brings back the idea of modularity in the brain and suggests that consciousness is not centralized, but also modular. As the modules activate and deactivate, the consciousness associated with that module is made present. In some complex way these consciousness modules bubble up to the surface of our awareness and blend into a continuous sense of self. This is a much more intelligible idea than the mash of incompatible ideas in Chapter 8. Given his work on split-brain patients and expertise in the functioning of the brain, this hypothesis seems plausible, though his description of *how* this occurs is rather scientifically imprecise. In summary, there is good content here, though it requires a bit of patience and much re-reading to extract the golden thread of a valuable idea from the car crash of ideas he presents.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    This is a brilliant example of a book I think I'll like but whilst reading it I realized I don't really care about the subject matter that much... or at all. This is a brilliant example of a book I think I'll like but whilst reading it I realized I don't really care about the subject matter that much... or at all.

  13. 5 out of 5

    P D

    I feel kind of like a heathen for not rating this higher, but in all honesty the central premise - which I find interesting and want to learn more about - wasn't half as well developed as I'd have expected. The great thing about Gazzaniga is that he's so central to neuroscience he knows everyone, but when you're opening a book with the claim that it's time for new thought, I would expect more of an effort to include new voices and even non Western perspectives. (The "historical" sections in this I feel kind of like a heathen for not rating this higher, but in all honesty the central premise - which I find interesting and want to learn more about - wasn't half as well developed as I'd have expected. The great thing about Gazzaniga is that he's so central to neuroscience he knows everyone, but when you're opening a book with the claim that it's time for new thought, I would expect more of an effort to include new voices and even non Western perspectives. (The "historical" sections in this book suffer from a tendency to conflate the West with the world, even during eras when other empires' schools of thought were ascendant.) Given the amount of time devoted to quantum mechanics as an explanation for how brains work, I would have expected at least one chapter centering on the empirical definition of an "instinct." It's not entirely absent, but despite being in the title, it felt like more of an aside than all the background information that is presumably laying the foundation for this novel hypothesis. At the end of the day this book felt more indulgent than I was expecting, and less cogent in its premise and use of supporting evidence and studies. I do get the sense these things exist, but I didn't get much of them in the book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    First 3/4 of book was a history of neuroscience, which was rather dry. Last 1/4 was, for me, a confusing race through the jargon of recent neuro-scientific thought. Literally, only the last few pages of the book dealt with the assertion that consciousness is an instinct. Mostly over my head.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Geoff Walling

    You have to wade through this and then wind up not a lot more educated than when you started.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bard

    Only the eponymous last chapter is helpful and up to date now. I recommend Hawkins “On Intelligence” instead.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    This book was at least somewhat disappointing because it did not provide nearly as much science as I expected when it comes to the matter of consciousness.  On the other hand, the book is one of those volumes that ends up being unintentionally damaging to materialism and evolution for a variety of reasons.  For example, if consciousness is an emergent property that evolved, then it has to be present in all life forms in some fashion, which would mean that one must not only investigate the awaren This book was at least somewhat disappointing because it did not provide nearly as much science as I expected when it comes to the matter of consciousness.  On the other hand, the book is one of those volumes that ends up being unintentionally damaging to materialism and evolution for a variety of reasons.  For example, if consciousness is an emergent property that evolved, then it has to be present in all life forms in some fashion, which would mean that one must not only investigate the awareness of animals, many of which show some sort of response to external stimuli, but that of plants and fungi and various one-celled organisms.  The author also seems far too uninterested in the design implications of what he refers to in consciousness as being a certain complex set of instincts that become more and more complex the more intelligent a particular life form happens to be.  Naturally, there are a great many problems discussed here when it comes to the problem of defining what exactly consciousness is, as well as dealing with the mind-brain dualism that has made truly understanding consciousness impossible so far, and at least for the foreseeable future so long as scientists continue to put their head in the sand looking for evolutionary explanations. This particular book is a bit more than 200 pages and is is divided into three parts and ten chapters.  The book begins with an introduction, before the first part of the book which discusses consciousness and the preparation for modern thought as the author teleologically describes it (I), with chapters on the historical view of consciousness that the author does not approve of (1), the dawn of what the author views as "empirical" thinking (2), and some of what the author considers to be 20th century strides towards understanding consciousness (3).  After that the author looks at the physical system of the brain (II), with chapters on the modular nature of brains (4), the desire to understand the architecture of the brain (5), and the fine line that exists between sanity and consciousness that means that people with dementia are still conscious (6).  After that, the third part of the book discusses the origins of consciousness (III), with chapters on the concept of complementarity that comes from physics (7), the transition from non-living to living and from neurons to mind (8), the bubbling nature of personal consciousness (9), and the author's view that consciousness is an instinct (10), after which the book concludes with notes, acknowledgements, and an index. For someone who is not as wedded to evolutionary thinking as the author is, I find that this book gives a great deal of unintentional insight into consciousness and the gratitude that we should have to God for it.  For one, the author's belief that consciousness is an instinct means that there is some sort of programming for it, given that instinct contains a high degree of information content to it.  In addition to that, the author's view of the human mind as being particularly efficient due to its modular design and the author's interest in the architecture of the brain means that, however unintentionally and perhaps even against his will the author provides a great deal of insight into God as a programmer, designer, and architect.  Obviously, then, this book is of great interest to those who have a design perspective as it provides considerable insight into the ways that the human mind and even other minds were designed to deal with reality and how human beings reflect on that reality by subcreating subjective internal worlds.  Whether that is the author's intention or not is hard to say, but it is an achievement nonetheless.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Sacco

    Gazzaniga's primer on the current state of consciousness research is clear, concise, and does not take itself too seriously. The book begins with a history of the "theory of mind" in western civilization, beginning with Aristotle. I could have done without this section. Personally, I am not a fan of history retold in order to arrive at a specific point in the present. This approach tends to distort the underlying facts and what context it provides is often not needed in the first place. The book Gazzaniga's primer on the current state of consciousness research is clear, concise, and does not take itself too seriously. The book begins with a history of the "theory of mind" in western civilization, beginning with Aristotle. I could have done without this section. Personally, I am not a fan of history retold in order to arrive at a specific point in the present. This approach tends to distort the underlying facts and what context it provides is often not needed in the first place. The book really begins to take shape around page 80 or so, where discussion turns to the most recent research on consciousness, which is buttressed by personal stories from the author -- conversations with leading lights in the field, anecdotes about his time working in a neurology clinic and the experiments he performed there, etc. One of the most promising theories on consciousness today is that it arises wherever symbols are used in nature -- that is, where a life form uses a physical phenomenon (a sound, a letter, a flag, etc) as a reference for something else. Incidentally, even the most primitive life forms use symbols (think of genotype (chains of amino acids comprising the genetic code) versus phenotype (the product of the life form referencing the code to build the proteins that comprise the new life form). And of course, the human brain is rich in symbology -- in fact, there is a specific part of our brain dedicated to language processing alone. The suggestion here is that all life exists along a continuum of consciousness, with small organisms having "less" consciousness, and humans and other relatively advanced beings having "more" consciousness. An excellent read for anyone interested in science, religion, philosophy, or the human mind in general.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Scott Lupo

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book from cover to cover. This subject matter is fascinating to me so reading the whole thing is not a big surprise. What is surprising is how easily the author is able to relate extremely difficult concepts into layperson's terms. There are very good analogies throughout the book to help the reader understand more fully what the author is trying to explain. After a quick history lesson in Part 1, the next two parts delve into the meat of the problem: how to material th I thoroughly enjoyed this book from cover to cover. This subject matter is fascinating to me so reading the whole thing is not a big surprise. What is surprising is how easily the author is able to relate extremely difficult concepts into layperson's terms. There are very good analogies throughout the book to help the reader understand more fully what the author is trying to explain. After a quick history lesson in Part 1, the next two parts delve into the meat of the problem: how to material things like neurons create non-physical things like emotions, ideas, and memory. The author brings to the table the term complementarity from quantum physics to the discussion of how material and non-material can coexist at the same time. How is it that the quantum world exists along with the Newtonian, materialist world? Kind of the same question as how does the brain create the mind? The author also has a section of split-brain patients and how their realities are different but their consciousness is the same or similar. He has a great explanation of how some parts of the brain can malfunction but consciousness is still preserved, proving that consciousness is spread out in the brain and that we will never find the 'exact spot' where consciousness resides in the brain. However, 'there are no spooks in the machine.' The author sees the brain as layered or as modules. And the modules overlap each other. This architecture, under the influence of evolution, is what gives rise to consciousness. Maybe consciousness is an instinct, something already baked into the architecture of living creatures (specifically, RNA that reads DNA). This book has a perfect mix of science and philosophy to try to understand what puts the 'I' in consciousness.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John de' Medici

    A much better read on the topic of Consciousness in my opinion. Not perfect, but pretty good. Gazzaniga starts with an extensive history of philosophers and scientists wrestling with the problem of Consciousness from as early as ancient Greece. Found the history illuminating as it was fascinating, Gazzaniga's conversationalist style of writing too was a joy. Mid-book, Gazzaniga goes into the Organization of the brain in its delivery of Consciousness as we know it. Key concepts are introduced inclu A much better read on the topic of Consciousness in my opinion. Not perfect, but pretty good. Gazzaniga starts with an extensive history of philosophers and scientists wrestling with the problem of Consciousness from as early as ancient Greece. Found the history illuminating as it was fascinating, Gazzaniga's conversationalist style of writing too was a joy. Mid-book, Gazzaniga goes into the Organization of the brain in its delivery of Consciousness as we know it. Key concepts are introduced including the modular structure of the brain and its layered architecture. The third part of the book where he introduces the quantum mechanics principle of complimentarity in relation to the brain and how it produces consciousness is where he lost me to be honest. That, however did not take away my enjoyment of the book. In the end, I think I got a decent grip on the main idea he wanted to relay in this book. The idea being: There isn't one area of the brain that can be pinpointed as the place where consciousness arises (and trying to find it will prove to be futile), rather it's all the parts in the brain working together to produce the phenomenon. How they do so should be the focus in our research to better understand consciousness. Better yet, it is useful to view consciousness as an instinct.

  21. 4 out of 5

    David

    Gazzaniga's insights didn't blow me out of the water, but I really liked a few of his ideas and how they play into my overall picture about how consciousness works. I would put him half way between people like Dennett and Hofstadter, who are interested in where consciousness is born (everywhere, not one place in particular in the brain), and Graziano, who sees the biomechanical foundation of consciousness in the map we create about of our social interactions and our place in that map. Gazzaniga Gazzaniga's insights didn't blow me out of the water, but I really liked a few of his ideas and how they play into my overall picture about how consciousness works. I would put him half way between people like Dennett and Hofstadter, who are interested in where consciousness is born (everywhere, not one place in particular in the brain), and Graziano, who sees the biomechanical foundation of consciousness in the map we create about of our social interactions and our place in that map. Gazzaniga pushes the idea that consciousness is instinctual, ancient and critical animal survival, and is part of an intricately layered architecture. Just as all of the subsystems on an airplane don't know how to do every function of every other subsystem, but nonetheless are able to contribute to the job of keeping the plane in the air, so the subsystems that make up our brain contribute data up various layers until some of them register with what understand as our conscious mind. The image of bubbles in a glass of soda rising the surface as individual packets of consciousness I found particularly evocative.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dave Ciskowski

    A strong and worthy exploration of consciousness, though I think it isn’t quite as strong in its more speculative conclusions. Gazzaniga is exceedingly knowledgeable and cogent at explaining the fundamental workings of the mind. His overall account that the brain builds consciousness at a higher level than the low-level systems is strongly argued; it’s hard to see how it would be wrong. I don’t find his quantum mechanical account of the nature of life (and also consciousness) to be persuasive at A strong and worthy exploration of consciousness, though I think it isn’t quite as strong in its more speculative conclusions. Gazzaniga is exceedingly knowledgeable and cogent at explaining the fundamental workings of the mind. His overall account that the brain builds consciousness at a higher level than the low-level systems is strongly argued; it’s hard to see how it would be wrong. I don’t find his quantum mechanical account of the nature of life (and also consciousness) to be persuasive at all, either in terms of its explanatory power or its accurate portrayal of physics. (I’m not well read in interpretations of QM, but I’m pretty sure that Gazzaniga is arguing an overly strong version of the Copenhagen interpretation.) I also think Gazzaniga’s negative take on the possibilities of artificial consciousness is far too categorically pessimistic. But these disagreements don’t hamper the value of the book, and ultimately he paints a convincing (though not yet complete) picture of how consciousness can work, and what many of its key features are.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Zhenya Frolov

    For the out of practice science and philosophy enthusiast, this is a very good refresher of philosophy of mind and of the philosophers' stances. Connecting the knowledge and culture of the time to the philosophy or idea brought out its depth. The author's explanation of quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle, told in different ways with different contexts, shifted my idea about the determinism of consciousness. I thought that copying a brain and all it's inputs (down to electron spin an For the out of practice science and philosophy enthusiast, this is a very good refresher of philosophy of mind and of the philosophers' stances. Connecting the knowledge and culture of the time to the philosophy or idea brought out its depth. The author's explanation of quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle, told in different ways with different contexts, shifted my idea about the determinism of consciousness. I thought that copying a brain and all it's inputs (down to electron spin and location, etc), would yield the same conscious stream. Now, I think that even if you can guarantee equality of state, processes that depend on quantum effects will not be the same in VERY short order. I'll read reviews by people that have expertise in the fields discussed to see if there are any discussions or refutations.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    This is a short but brilliant book by someone who knows this topic as well as, maybe better than, anyone. This is not a light read, as each chapter requires some "put it down and think about it" time to begin to grasp what is being said. I found myself re-reading a whole sections, even a couple of chapters to pick up what I missed the first go-through. I mean all of that as a complement. If you want to understand how a scientist thinks about consciousness and aren't afraid to have some heavy lif This is a short but brilliant book by someone who knows this topic as well as, maybe better than, anyone. This is not a light read, as each chapter requires some "put it down and think about it" time to begin to grasp what is being said. I found myself re-reading a whole sections, even a couple of chapters to pick up what I missed the first go-through. I mean all of that as a complement. If you want to understand how a scientist thinks about consciousness and aren't afraid to have some heavy lifting to do to learn (not literally, this one is only 237 pages of real content) then I can't recommend this one enough. I think I got maybe 40% of what this book was trying to tell me, and I read it slowly, carefully, and as I said repeatedly in parts. I already know I will be coming back for a re-read to pick up some more, as the failing is mine, not the author's or his book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    This a very strong book explaining an understanding of consciousness and the anatomical structures of the brain that contribute to each aspect of consciousness. The familiar cases that taught neurologists about the workings of the brain like the injury of Phineas Gage and the lessons in neurology that came from that are well covered. There also a good relating to the process of how other scientists like Isaac Newton and other physicists understanding evolved and how that contributed to a further This a very strong book explaining an understanding of consciousness and the anatomical structures of the brain that contribute to each aspect of consciousness. The familiar cases that taught neurologists about the workings of the brain like the injury of Phineas Gage and the lessons in neurology that came from that are well covered. There also a good relating to the process of how other scientists like Isaac Newton and other physicists understanding evolved and how that contributed to a further development of neurological anatomy and function. This is not a light book on neurology. It’s concepts are complex and would be outside the focus of perhaps most readers. Overall a great book , it maybe not one for the casual nerdy reader. This one you might have already had physics and at least some anatomical understanding as it is a “heady” book. 😆

  26. 5 out of 5

    R. Muzaffer

    It feels like the author introduces an important perspective but leaves it at that just when the going gets interesting. I am not clear on why introducing probability to the system would create free will. It just introduces uncertainty. Probability can occur due to two interpretations. In one interpretation, if you knew each and everything about a process you would not have any uncertainty in the system. In the other, probability can never be reduced to 0. None of those interpretations can be us It feels like the author introduces an important perspective but leaves it at that just when the going gets interesting. I am not clear on why introducing probability to the system would create free will. It just introduces uncertainty. Probability can occur due to two interpretations. In one interpretation, if you knew each and everything about a process you would not have any uncertainty in the system. In the other, probability can never be reduced to 0. None of those interpretations can be used to imply that free will allows us choice through uncertainty. One star docked since Pinker said good things about the book and the author references to that guy at the end. These neo modernists want to lead back the charge where the poor is poor and evil is evil due their free will.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Merritt Phillips

    Man reading this book was a slog. It did contain some good information and interesting thoughts about the conscious mind (which as the author says over and over doesn't exist in any particular part of the brain). The chapter on how the mind and the brain are related to quantum theory was unique, but even after 20 pages, not very clear at least not to me. Then at the end it appears someone published a paper during the time the book was being written about how the conscious mind is really an insti Man reading this book was a slog. It did contain some good information and interesting thoughts about the conscious mind (which as the author says over and over doesn't exist in any particular part of the brain). The chapter on how the mind and the brain are related to quantum theory was unique, but even after 20 pages, not very clear at least not to me. Then at the end it appears someone published a paper during the time the book was being written about how the conscious mind is really an instinct and so the author seems to say something like, well I already wrote all this but maybe this Instinct stuff is really where it's at. Anyway, don't take my word for it but I wouldn't recommend this book, too dense and opaque.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Heathyr

    Very, very good book. Too many books on consciousness are summaries of preexisting thought, but Gazzaniga actually brings new things to the table. The first half is a history of how philosophy and psychology have approached consciousness, which he somehow makes interesting (against all odds). The second half is on fire, arguing that consciousness is the product of competition among different brain modules. How he writes this book without mentioning emergent activity switching, dynamical systems Very, very good book. Too many books on consciousness are summaries of preexisting thought, but Gazzaniga actually brings new things to the table. The first half is a history of how philosophy and psychology have approached consciousness, which he somehow makes interesting (against all odds). The second half is on fire, arguing that consciousness is the product of competition among different brain modules. How he writes this book without mentioning emergent activity switching, dynamical systems theory, or self-organizing criticality is beyond me. This book is written very clearly, and explains concepts well without being patronizing to the reader.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christopher L.

    Thought provoking book about consciousness. It pairs really well with Jasanoff's The Biological Mind. Gazzaniga argues that consciousness is "a property of local brain circuits" and "we are each a confederation of rather independent modules, orchestrated to work together" (p. 7). The concepts of "layering" and "modules" in the brain are keys to Gazzaniga's understanding of consciousness. One of my favorite quotes (p. 230): "Simply trying to locate the structure that produces consciousness, as De Thought provoking book about consciousness. It pairs really well with Jasanoff's The Biological Mind. Gazzaniga argues that consciousness is "a property of local brain circuits" and "we are each a confederation of rather independent modules, orchestrated to work together" (p. 7). The concepts of "layering" and "modules" in the brain are keys to Gazzaniga's understanding of consciousness. One of my favorite quotes (p. 230): "Simply trying to locate the structure that produces consciousness, as Descartes and many of his predecessors have attempted, will not unveil the Holy Grail, because consciousness is inherent throughout (italicized) the brain."

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Long

    Wonderful book that has a great many insights on a field i don't know much about. I came away having a much deeper understanding of the history of philosophy around consciousness, a little bit of anatomy and physiology of the brain, and then useful frameworks for reunderstanding the problem - this was all fascinating. However, parts of the book were very dense and full of technical knowledge of physics that could have been made easier to understand with some pictures - i guess it would help to h Wonderful book that has a great many insights on a field i don't know much about. I came away having a much deeper understanding of the history of philosophy around consciousness, a little bit of anatomy and physiology of the brain, and then useful frameworks for reunderstanding the problem - this was all fascinating. However, parts of the book were very dense and full of technical knowledge of physics that could have been made easier to understand with some pictures - i guess it would help to have some background knowledge of physics and DNA structures in that case. Otherwise, i recommend this book for anyone curious about how consciousness comes about.

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