The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach / Edition 1

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About the Author

Born in 1956 in the American Midwest, Christof Koch grew up in Holland, Germany, Canada, and Morocco, where he graduated from the Lycèe Descartes in 1974. He studied physics and philosophy at the University of Tübingen in Germany and was awarded his Ph.D. in biophysics in 1982. He is now the Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology at the California Institute of Technology. The author of several books, Dr. Koch studies the biophysics of computation, and the neuronal basis of visual perception, attention, and consciousness. Together with Francis Crick, his long-time collaborator, he has pioneered the scientific study of consciousness.

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What People Are Saying

Eric Kandel
Christof Koch has written a superb introduction to the modern exploration of the biology of consciousness, based on his collaborative work with Francis Crick. The Quest for Consciousness is an extraordinarily well-written book that outlines in clear terms the key issues that the biology of the mind will be confronting in the next several decades. The book is a must for both the general reader as well as for scientists in the field.
Author of Principles of Neural Science and winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine
Oliver Sacks
The quest for consciousness has been the great intellectual adventure of recent years, as neurobiology has started to close in on its ultimate goal, to define the neural basis of human consciousness. Christof Koch, in intimate collaboration with Francis Crick, has been one of the major pioneers in this quest, and in this new book he offers a vivid, brilliant and very personal account of how our understanding has developed in the last twenty years, moving from the basic processes of visual perception to the highest reaches of consciousness. He unfolds a new, dynamic vision of the brain, based on experimental findings, clinical observations, and neural modelling, in which coalitions of nerve cells form, dissolve and reform continually, weaving our ever-changing but integral sense of consciousness.The Quest for Consciousness is not only a mine of information, and full of provocative thoughts and insights, but a delight to read and ponder.
Author of Author of Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Uncle Tungsten.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780974707709
  • Publisher: Roberts & Company Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.98 (w) x 10.46 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword by Francis Crick
1. Introduction to the Study of Consciousness
2. Neurons, the Atoms of Perception
3. The First Steps in Seeing
4. The Primary Visual Cortex as a Prototypical Neocortical Area
5. What Are the Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness?
6. The Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness Are
Not in the Primary Visual Cortex
7. The Architecture of the Cerebral Cortex
8. Going Beyond the Primary Visual Cortex
9. Attention and Consciousness
10. The Neuronal Underpinnings of Attention
11. Memories and Consciousness
12. What You Can Do Without Being Conscious:
The Zombie Within
13. Agnosia, Blindsight, Epilepsy, and Sleep-
Walking: Clinical Evidence for Zombie Agents
14. Some Speculations on the Functions of
15. On Time and Consciousness
16. When the Mind Flips: Following the Footprints of Consciousness
17. Splitting the Brain Splits Consciousness
18. Further Speculations on Thoughts and the
Unconscious Homunculus
19. A Framework for Consciousness
20. An Interview
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It is a pleasure to write an informal introduction to this unusual and excellent book. Most of the ideas in it have been developed by Christof and myself in continual collaboration, as our joint papers show, and Christof has involved me in much of the writing of it, though the hard work, and the breezy, informal yet well reasoned style are all his own. So mine is not an unbiased assessment.

I strongly recommend it to the main audience for which it is intended, which is, in round terms, not merely neuroscientists, but scientists of all sorts with an interest in consciousness.

Consciousness is the major unsolved problem in biology. That there is no present concession on the general nature of the solution is made clear by Christof in Chapter 1. How do what philosophers call "qualia", the redness of red and painfulness of pain, arise from the concerted actions of nerve cells, glia cells and their associated molecules? Can qualia be explained by what we now know of modern science, or is some quite different kind of explanation needed? And how to approach this seemingly intractable problem?

In the past dozen years there has been an enormous flood of books and papers about consciousness. Before that the behaviorist approach, and, surprising, much of the initial phase of cognitive science which replaced it, effectively stifled almost all serious discussion of the subject.

What is different about this book? Rather than another closely argued and largely sterile discussion of the root of the mind body problem, our strategy has been to first try to find the neuronal correlates of consciousness (often called the NCC). Because our emphasis on the behavior of neurons we have concentrated mainly on topics that can be studied in the macaque monkey, while including parallel work on humans. Thus, both language and dreams receive little or no emphasis. How would you study a monkey's dreams?

We have also avoided some of the more difficult aspects of consciousness, such as self-consciousness and emotion, and concentrated instead on perception, especially visual perception. And we have tried to approach visual perception at a number of levels, from visual psychology, brain scans, neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, down to neurons, synapses, and molecules.

This involves digesting an enormous number of experimental facts, some of which inevitably will turn out to be wrong or misleading, while at the same time trying out various theoretical hypotheses. These ideas are seldom totally novel, though the combination of them may be new.

Thus, parts of the book are necessarily heavy on "facts." This is especially true of the chapters on the details of the macaque visual system, but Christof has a recapitulation at the end of each chapter (except the last, which is a recapitulation of most of the book), so that the reader can, the first time round, skip some of the details.

Another unusual feature is that, for a book with so many facts, it is a delight to read. Christof's informal style, which would be strictly banned by the editors of scientific journals, carries the reader along. It also conveys quite a bit about Christof's background and tastes, from his love of dogs to his very catholic love of music, with quotations ranging from Aristotle to Woody Allen, and from Faust to Bertie Wooster.

While easy to read, Christof has provided, in the convenient footnotes and references, a guide to both broad surveys and key papers, so that the interested reader can easily begin to explore the very extensive literature on almost all the relevant topics.

Solving the problem of consciousness will need the labors of many scientists, of many kinds, though it is always possible that there will be a few crucial insights and observations. The book is designed as an introduction for scientists, especially younger ones, with the hope that it will lead them to contribute to the field. A few years ago one could not use the word "consciousness" in a paper for, say, Nature or Science, nor in a grant application. But thankfully, times are changing, and the subject is now ripe for intensive exploration. Read on!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2007

    Still ... A Sad State of Affairs

    As we know, neuroscientists are attempting to ascertain the neural pathways of thought. Well and good ... or is it? The propositions relating to consciousness (innate, phenomenal, neurobiological, or a combination of all the above) have historically come within the ideational purview of philosophers. But now, from concepts that are arguably the creative property of philosophers, neuroscientists are seeking to expand their understanding of thought through experimental, physiological models of the experiential process using nonhuman primates as subjects. How are we to understand innate knowledge (that which exists in the mind without having been derived from previous experience), a priori, phenomenal, or even what can be considered epiphenomenal knowledge, and consciousness in general, by basing the existence of that knowledge on experiential studies utilizing traditional (animal model) investigational methods? This is a trial design paradigm concocted of fallacious reasoning. But the worst part is that the human experimenters do not suffer ... only the voiceless monkeys and apes in cages. Finding the single neuron, or domain of neurons firing that might create the visual image related to experience would be an exciting triumph for some, but please consider, at what cost? And the work goes on. It goes on behind closed doors in medical school facilities and other institutions of physiological and psychological research where the vivisection is out of sight and out of mind of the general public. These studies will not give us the answers the scientists are seeking. Brain imaging studies are one thing, as they are relatively noninvasive, but still, the intelligent arboreal animals must usually be confined to small, metal cages, and when being examined or 'worked-on' they are clamped and secured to a table. I am a veterinarian, and I have worked as a rehabilitation specialist with many species of wildlife. One important lesson I have learned is that all wildlife species belong in the wild ... they are not pets, and many zoos still do not provide proper care. But certainly, these intelligent animals should not be used for this kind of biological research. They are alive and conscious and feeling, so much more so than the average Homo sapiens physiological researcher will attempt to understand. The primates I have been involved with have a very special look in their eyes that tells of their inner turmoil, and the nonhuman beings I have worked with who have come from research laboratories are remote, fearful beyond belief, and often psychotic. Frequently, their bodies are scarred, from both their hellish journey through research programs, and by self-mutilation. And they were slaves to who, and for what? Finding the elusive and faddish NCC is interesting and intriguing, perhaps too much so, but methods must be found that limit experimental animal suffering. How many simian slaves, whether Chimpanzees, Macaques, Capuchins, Baboons, or Owl Monkeys will once again have to be bound to 'the table' or other cold metallic restraining device, or anything that completely restricts movement, and subjected to the painful, humiliating anguish of 19th-Century-Style vivisection. In that, I mean cruel, unprincipled, and unethical tortures, such as, having their eyes implanted with electrodes or ablated, their bodies burned with lasers or given electrical shock to determine pain receptors, or their reproductive organs surgically opened and closed a hundred times, or their skulls sawed or punctured by trephination and their brain tissue cut on with portions surgically excised, or their cerebral hemispheres split, or their craniums drilled so that infectious agents can be directly administered to their nervous tissue, or their small heads bashed with hammers to simulate cranial injury, or their backs broken to simulate spinal cord injury, or now, with the 'new' cognitive sciences (that alluring quest for the NCC), their brains implanted with dozens, if

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