Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

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MIT Press, Mar 9, 2012 - Science - 200 pages
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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, 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.

 

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LibraryThing Review

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

Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

User Review  - Tina Chan - Book Verdict

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 ... Read full review

Contents

In which I introduce the ancient mindbody problem
1
In which I write about the wellsprings of my inner conflict between religion and reason
11
In which I explain why consciousness challenges the scientific view of the world
23
In which you hear tales of scientistmagicians that make you look but not see
41
In which you learn from neurologists andneurosurgeons that some neurons care a great deal about celebrities
59
In which I defend two propositions that my younger self found nonsense
75
In which I throw caution to the wind bring up free will Der Ring des Nibelungen
91
In which I argue that consciousness is a fundamental property of complex things
113
In which I outline an electromagnetic gadget to measure consciousness
137
In which I muse about final matters considered offlimits to polite scientific discourse to wit
149
Notes
167
References
173
Index
179
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