Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist
In which a scientist searches for an empirical explanation for phenomenal experience, spurred by his instinctual belief that life is meaningful.
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.
... and the bÍte noire of my research: the extent to which quantum mechanics is
relevant to understanding consciousness. This book is notjust about science,
however. It is also a confession and a memoir. I am not only a dispassionate
I wrote programs, initially on punched cards submitted to the university's
centralized computer, in Algol and assembler language for astrophysicists and
nuclear physicists. Studying the Biophysics of Nerve Cells I also became utterly
... Research, and the Brain Viewed by a Physicist In fall 1986, I moved farther
west with my family— enlarged by a daughter Gabriele—arriving at the California
Institute of Technology as an assistant professor of biology and engineering.
What is striking to a physicist studying the brain and the mind is the absence of
any conservation laws: Synapses, action potentials, neurons, attention, memory,
and consciousness are not conserved in any meaningful sense. Instead, what ...
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LibraryThing ReviewUser 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
LibraryThing ReviewUser 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
In which I explain why consciousness challenges the scientific view of the world
In which you hear tales of scientistmagicians that make you look but not see
In which you learn from neurologists andneurosurgeons that some neurons care a great deal about celebrities
In which I defend two propositions that my younger self found nonsense
In which I throw caution to the wind bring up free will Der Ring des Nibelungen
In which I argue that consciousness is a fundamental property of complex things
In which I outline an electromagnetic gadget to measure consciousness
In which I muse about final matters considered offlimits to polite scientific discourse to wit