Consciousness and the Social Brain

Consciousness and the Social Brain

by Michael S. A. Graziano
     
 

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What is consciousness and how can a brain, a mere collection of neurons, create it? In Consciousness and the Social Brain, Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano lays out an audacious new theory to account for the deepest mystery of them all. The human brain has evolved a complex circuitry that allows it to be socially intelligent. This social machinery has only

Overview

What is consciousness and how can a brain, a mere collection of neurons, create it? In Consciousness and the Social Brain, Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano lays out an audacious new theory to account for the deepest mystery of them all. The human brain has evolved a complex circuitry that allows it to be socially intelligent. This social machinery has only just begun to be studied in detail. One function of this circuitry is to attribute awareness to others: to compute that person Y is aware of thing X. In Graziano's theory, the machinery that attributes awareness to others also attributes it to oneself. Damage that machinery and you disrupt your own awareness. Graziano discusses the science, the evidence, the philosophy, and the surprising implications of this new theory.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Theories of consciousness are a dime a dozen. This one is different. Here is what makes Graziano's central idea distinctive: it makes sense - good scientific and logical sense. It fits with what we know about brain anatomy and physiology. It accounts for a wide swath of psychological data and clinical data. It does not peddle the preposterous nor rely on semantic mumbo jumbo. It has no gigantic holes it has to pretend not to notice. It connects to other reasonable approaches deftly and productively. It is masterfully clear. It is surprising in places, and probably wrong in some places, as any rich and deep theory inevitably is. The central idea, however, is quite probably right, or very close to. Almost invariably I find that I hurl books on consciousness to the floor midway through. Not this one."
Patricia S. Churchland, PhD, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of California, San Diego

"Orchestrating how our personal awareness jives with the stuff we think about has eluded us all. Graziano has a plausible and rich theory about how it all articulates without giving away the store, and he explains it vividly."
Michael S. Gazzaniga, PhD, Director, Sage Center for the Study of Mind

"Graziano proposes a new and intriguing theory of consciousness.. Graziano guides readers step-by-step through his captivating and convincing theory of consciousness, explaining how the theory accounts for many oddities in human perception. This book is an essential read for anyone interested in consciousness from either a scientific or philosophical perspective." — Library Journal

"In most scientific theories, awareness emerges from the physical functioning of the brain, almost like heat rising from circuits. Laid out in his recent book, Consciousness and the Social Brain, Graziano's theory takes a completely different approach to explaining consciousness. 'In this theory, the brain is an information-processing device. It doesn't produce non-physical essences — it computes information,' Graziano said. Graziano has given consciousness a more solid footing in the real, tangible world even if it remains a creation of the brain, Schurger said. 'If anything, his theory stands to demystify consciousness, in the same way that our understanding of genetics and self-organizing systems has begun to demystify 'life,' which was once thought to depend on an unseen force.'" -Morgan Kelly, Princeton University News

"The author offers an engaging and accessible explanation of his theory. Rather than merely touting its merits, he aims to show how it is compatible with other popular theories. Avoiding technical details, he uses anecdotes, drawings, and metaphors to convey an understanding of the important concepts. [Consciousness and the Social Brain] turns the field's contemporary wisdom on its head, and from its new vantage point one has the sense that an answer to the problem of consciousness might be in sight. Graziano's attention schema theory marks a milestone by offering a plausible, mechanistic answer to the hard problem." —Aaron Schurger, Science Magazine

"Well known for his work on the motor cortex, Graziano is a newcomer to the field of consciousness research. His ideas and approach here are outliers in the theoretical arena, but that makes Consciousness and the Social Brain all the more intriguing. It turns the field's contemporary wisdom on its head, and from its new vantage point one has the sense that an answer to the problem of consciousness might be in sight." —Science

Library Journal
The question of how the brain creates consciousness has been debated for hundreds of years, with some experts deeming the issue a "hard problem" that can never be solved. Neuroscientist and best-selling novelist Graziano (psychology, Princeton Univ.; God, Soul, Mind, Brain; The Divine Farce) proposes a new and intriguing theory of consciousness that explains how the brain creates and makes use of subjective awareness and sets out to resolve perceptual illusions, such as the "out-of-body" experience and the misattribution of consciousness to inanimate objects. Graziano asserts that consciousness is an informational description, or "sketch" of attention, and the attribution of awareness to one's self and to others is essentially the same process, which inextricably links consciousness to social perception. Basing his work on neuroscience research, Graziano identifies two brain areas that may be critical for subjective awareness—the temporo-parietal junction and the superior temporal sulcus. Finally, he impartially discusses implications for free will, the existence of God, and eternal life. VERDICT Graziano guides readers step-by-step through his captivating and convincing theory of consciousness, explaining how the theory accounts for many oddities in human perception. This book is an essential read for anyone interested in consciousness from either a scientific or philosophical perspective.—Katherine G. Akers, Emory Univ. Libs., Atlanta

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199928644
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
09/02/2013
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
280
Sales rank:
946,017
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Michael S. A. Graziano, Professor of Neuroscience at Princeton University, is an internationally renowned scientist and an award-winning novelist. His books include the popular science book God, Soul, Mind, Brain and the short novels The Divine Farce, The Love Song of Monkey, and Death My Own Way.

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