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Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist
     

Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

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by Christof Koch
 

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What links conscious experience of pain, joy, color, and smell to bioelectrical activity in the brain? How can anything physical give rise to nonphysical, subjective, conscious states? Christof Koch has devoted much of his career to bridging the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the physics of the brain and phenomenal experience. This engaging book -- part scientific

Overview

What links conscious experience of pain, joy, color, and smell to bioelectrical activity in the brain? How can anything physical give rise to nonphysical, subjective, conscious states? Christof Koch has devoted much of his career to bridging the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the physics of the brain and phenomenal experience. This engaging book -- part scientific overview, part memoir, part futurist speculation -- describes Koch's search for an empirical explanation for consciousness. Koch recounts not only the birth of the modern science of consciousness but also the subterranean motivation for his quest -- his instinctual (if "romantic") belief that life is meaningful.Koch describes his own groundbreaking work with Francis Crick in the 1990s and 2000s and the gradual emergence of consciousness (once considered a "fringy" subject) as a legitimate topic for scientific investigation. Present at this paradigm shift were Koch and a handful of colleagues, including Ned Block, David Chalmers, Stanislas Dehaene, Giulio Tononi, Wolf Singer, and others. Aiding and abetting it were new techniques to listen in on the activity of individual nerve cells, clinical studies, and brain-imaging technologies that allowed safe and noninvasive study of the human brain in action. Koch gives us stories from the front lines of modern research into the neurobiology of consciousness as well as his own reflections on a variety of topics, including the distinction between attention and awareness, the unconscious, how neurons respond to Homer Simpson, the physics and biology of free will, dogs, Der Ring des Nibelungen, sentient machines, the loss of his belief in a personal God, and sadness. All of them are signposts in the pursuit of his life's work -- to uncover the roots of consciousness.

Editorial Reviews

Science News

Koch weaves a vivid and poignant story, punctuated by fascinating characters and compelling science. The book will leave you with a small piece of Koch's own consciousness, plucked from his head and delivered into yours.

Nature - Robert Stickgold

... [D]efinitely worth reading.... I argued with Koch all the way through this book. And I loved every minute of it.

Chronicle of Higher Education

Pioneering consciousness studies requires a nimbly multiprocessing mind. That Koch possesses one is apparent.

Times Higher Education - Anil Seth

Among the plethora of books on consciousness, this engaging blend of science, autobiography and honest self-reflection stands out. It combines a lucid description of the leading edge of consciousness science with a surprisingly personal and philosophical reflection of the author's life as one of its foremost authorities, shedding light on how scientists really think. Science writing at its best.

TimesHigher Education - Tristan Bekinschtein

... [T]he book offers good rides through the wild forest of the neuroscience of consciousness. Koch is fearless, and does not shrink from talking about phenomenology and qualia; he includes them and tries to formalise consciousness by linking it to direct brain signals or well-defined psychological constructs.

Choice

This new volume is attractive not only for the breadth and depth that is typical of
Koch's writing, but also for its highly accessible nature.... This important book serves as a subtle introduction to many of the driving questions of the discipline that may well significantly change people's understanding of human nature.

From the Publisher
"Koch weaves a vivid and poignant story, punctuated by fascinating characters and compelling science. The book will leave you with a small piece of Koch's own consciousness,plucked from his head and delivered into yours." — Science News

"…[D]efinitely worth reading…I argued with Koch all the way through this book. And I loved every minute of it." — Robert Stickgold,Nature

"Pioneering consciousness studies requires a nimbly multiprocessing mind. ThatKoch possesses one is apparent."- Chronicle of Higher Education

"Among the plethora of books on consciousness, this engaging blend of science,autobiography and honest self-reflection stands out. It combines a lucid description of the leading edge of consciousness science with a surprisingly personal and philosophical reflection of the author's life as one of its foremost authorities, shedding light on how scientists really think.

Science writing at its best."-Anil Seth, Times HigherEducation

"…[T]he book offers good rides through the wild forest of the neuroscience of consciousness. Koch is fearless, and does not shrink from talking about phenomenology and qualia; he includes them and tries to formalise consciousness by linking it to direct brain signals or well-defined psychological constructs."—Tristan Bekinschtein,TimesHigher Education

"This new volume is attractive not only for the breadth and depth that is typical ofKoch's writing, but also for its highly accessible nature…This important book serves as a subtle introduction to many of the driving questions of the discipline that may well significantly change people's understanding of human nature." — H. Storl,Choice

Library Journal
Part memoir and part hard science, this latest by Koch (cognitive & behavioral biology, Caltech; The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach) describes how psychology, physics, and neurosurgery have contributed to the modern understanding of consciousness and unconsciousness. Koch discusses his work with the late Francis Crick, codiscoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, with whom he collaborated on locating the neural correlates of consciousness. Crick had a profound influence on Koch professionally, as a mentor, and personally, as a friend. Koch also shares his personal views on the differences between attention and awareness, the biology and physics of free will, and the unconscious. Included as well are descriptions of research studies on the neurobiology of consciousness, plus an extensive list of references. VERDICT Although some background in science would be helpful, none is necessary to read this book; Koch explains scientific phenomena in lay terms. An enlightening scientific memoir in which the author reveals his personal struggles as he attempts to uncover the truth about consciousness.—Tina Chan, SUNY Oswego Lib.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262301039
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
03/09/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
200
Sales rank:
839,779
File size:
281 KB

What People are Saying About This

Michael Shermer

With this masterful narrative of his life and science, Christof Koch has done for neuroscience what James D. Watson did for biology in his classic work The Double Helix. At once engaging, informing, and enlightening, Consciousness should be read by every student and scientist of the mind, along with general readers who would like to know how science really works and how scientists really think -- and feel -- when they engage the world with their experimental tools. Destined to takes its place as a timeless masterpiece in the history of science.

Ned Block

This is a strikingly charming and enlightening -- and even moving -- report from the front lines of the neurobiology of consciousness from one of our foremost authorities. It is a lucid account of the latest ideas about consciousness science together with their philosophical underpinnings, all in the context of a highly personal, emotional and intellectual autobiography that features to an extent that surprised me, Christof Koch's journey of rejection of religion and discovery of meaning in the universe.

From the Publisher
"With this masterful narrative of his life and science, Christof Koch has done for neuroscience what James D. Watson did for biology in his classic work The DoubleHelix. At once engaging, informing, and enlightening, Consciousness should be read by every student and scientist of the mind, along with general readers who would like to know how science really works and how scientists really think — and feel — when they engage the world with their experimental tools. Destined to takes its place as a timeless masterpiece in the history of science."—Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine;author of The Believing Brain

"This is a strikingly charming and enlightening — and even moving — report from the front lines of the neurobiology of consciousness from one of our foremost authorities. It is a lucid account of the latest ideas about consciousness science together with their philosophical underpinnings, all in the context of a highly personal, emotional and intellectual autobiography that features to an extent that surprised me, Christof Koch's journey of rejection of religion and discovery of meaning in the universe."—Ned Block, Professor of Philosophy andPsychology, New York University

"This is the book Christof Koch was born to write. An exuberant blend of science,wit, wisdom and autobiography, it brings the subject to life and shows why Koch has had such a profound influence on this exciting area of neuroscience"—Geraint Rees,Director, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London

Geraint Rees

This is the book Christof Koch was born to write. An exuberant blend of science, wit, wisdom and autobiography, it brings the subject to life and shows why Koch has had such a profound influence on this exciting area of neuroscience.

Meet the Author

Christof Koch is Professor of Biology and of Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. He is the author of The Quest for Consciousness and other books.

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Consciousness 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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