Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

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MIT Press, 2012 - Science - 181 pages

What links conscious experience of pain, joy, color, and smell to bioelectricalactivity in the brain? How can anything physical give rise to nonphysical, subjective, consciousstates? Christof Koch has devoted much of his career to bridging the seemingly unbridgeable gapbetween the physics of the brain and phenomenal experience. This engaging book -- part scientificoverview, part memoir, part futurist speculation -- describes Koch's search for an empiricalexplanation for consciousness. Koch recounts not only the birth of the modern science ofconsciousness but also the subterranean motivation for his quest -- his instinctual (if "romantic")belief that life is meaningful.

Koch describes his own groundbreaking work withFrancis 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 shiftwere 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 onthe activity of individual nerve cells, clinical studies, and brain-imaging technologies thatallowed safe and noninvasive study of the human brain in action.

Koch gives usstories from the front lines of modern research into the neurobiology of consciousness as well ashis own reflections on a variety of topics, including the distinction between attention andawareness, the unconscious, how neurons respond to Homer Simpson, the physics and biology of freewill, dogs, Der Ring des Nibelungen, sentient machines, the loss of his belief ina personal God, and sadness. All of them are signposts in the pursuit of his life's work -- touncover the roots of consciousness.

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User Review  - Cheryl_in_CC_NV - LibraryThing

I just couldn't stay engaged.? Even though this is a newer book, it doesn't really seem to be breaking news to me... more personal philosophy, and lots of cultural (both classical and pop) allusions ... Read full review

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User Review  - haig51 - LibraryThing

Part personal memoir, part popularization of science, and part philosophical speculation on the mind/body problem, Christoff Koch has written a deeply personal and profound book on understanding the ... Read full review

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About the author (2012)

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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