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A Universe Of Consciousness How Matter Becomes Imagination [Paperback]

Gerald Edelman , Giulio Tononi
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 28 2001
In A Universe of Consciousness, Gerald Edelman builds on the radical ideas he introduced in his monumental trilogy-Neural Darwinism, Topobiology, and The Remembered Present-to present for the first time an empirically supported full-scale theory of consciousness. He and the neurobiolgist Giulio Tononi show how they use ingenious technology to detect the most minute brain currents and to identify the specific brain waves that correlate with particular conscious experiences. The results of this pioneering work challenge the conventional wisdom about consciousness.

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Emily Dickinson wrote "The Brain--is wider than the Sky," and who can argue with that? Quoted by Nobel-winning scientist Gerald M. Edelman and his Neurosciences Institute colleague Giulio Tononi in A Universe of Consciousness, Miss Emily neatly explains the problem of conscious awareness, then ducks out of the way as the two scientists get to work solving it. Testable theories of consciousness are mighty lonely, as even the soberest mind can be driven to tears of madness pondering its own activity. Centuries of work by philosophers and psychologists like James and Freud have made little progress by starting with awareness and working backward to the brain; these days we have a secure enough base to try looking in the other direction and building a theory of the mind out of neurons.

Though Edelman and Tononi do make a good effort to help out the lay reader, ultimately A Universe of Consciousness is aimed at the interdisciplinary gang of scientists and academics trying to understand our shared but invisible experience. The first sections of the book cover the basic philosophical, psychological, and biological elements essential to their theory. Swiftly the authors proceed to define terms and concepts (even the long-abused term complexity gets a reappraisal) and elaborate on these to create a robust, testable theory of the neural basis of consciousness. Following this hard work, they consider some ramifications of the theory and take a close look at language and thinking. This much-needed jump-start is sure to provoke a flurry of experimental and theoretical responses; A Universe of Consciousness might just help us answer some of the greatest questions of science, philosophy, and even poetry. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Edelman and Tononi's work breaks new ground." -- Antonio Damasio, author of The Feeling of What Happens

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First Sentence
Everyone knows what consciousness is: It is what abandons you every evening when you fall asleep and reappears the next morning when you wake up. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a very important book. Although the authors recognize that there is still awfully much tot do, their analyses and hypotheses are a big step forward in our understanding of consciousness.
It is certainly not an easy book. One should have a basic knowledge of the constitution and the working of the brain.
I, personally, would have liked more concrete examples, like those for instance in the book of C.J. Lumsden and E.O. Wilson 'Promethean Fire'.
This book doesn't explain how consciousness arises, but what it is (properties) and how it works.
Consciousness is not a thing or a property, but a process (of neural interactions).
One of the reviewers here compares consciousness to a car. But a car is a thing, not a process.
Consciousness is a private, integrated, coherent, differentiated, informative, continually changing process.
The authors make also the opportune distinction between primary (animal, unconscious) and higher-order consciousness (the ability to be conscious of being conscious).
Crucial for the authors are re-entrant interactions, degeneracy (recategorical memory), and a part of the brain 'the dynamic core' (a subset of neuronal groups responsible for consciousness).
The dynamic core provides then a rationale for distinguishing conscious processes from unconscious ones (e.g. the circuits that regulate blood pressure).
This book shows clearly that the brain is not a computer and that it doesn't work as a computer program or algorithm.
It has also very important philisophical consequences, which the authors summarize as follows: being is prior to describing, selection is prior to logic and doing is prior to understanding.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Breaks new ground April 22 2003
By A Customer
The title quotes A. Damasio from the front cover.
In my view Gerald Edelman has the best theory of consciousness there is, by far. It is strongly grounded in biology, evolution, the nature of the brain and nervous system. Firstly, consciousness is not a thing, it's a process. Consciousness is private, unified, and informative. It is private because no two are alike and its workings are dependent on its own history. It is unified or integrated because it arises from a variety of sources, e.g. the different senses and a body which provides a built-in value system. The unified integration is the result of global, reciprocal mappings among diverse groups of neurons. It is informative and highly differentiated because of these various sources.
Conscious awareness arises from a lot of unconscious processing, along the lines of information theory (a branch of mathematics) with importance to the organism driving what is selected.
Edelman holds there are two levels of consciousness -- primary and higher-order. The primary level generates a mental scene with much diverse information for the purpose of directing present or near-term behaviour. It includes perceptual categorization, but no sense of self or use of language. Other animals have it, too. Higher-consciousness is built atop the primary level, includes a sense of self, awareness of a past and future, and language capability. It is supported by the evolutionary newer structures of the brain.
It gets pretty technical at times. There is quite a bit about the brain and neural processes. Information theory is introduced. An earlier book, The Remembered Present, might be a better introduction to his work. In any case, A Universe of Consciousness is founded on his previous works, but adds a lot more. It is a mighty blend of a firm empirical ground and a highly integrated and coherent theory.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Universe of Dr. Edelman Jan. 8 2003
How does matter become imagination? How could consciousness arise as an emergent property of complex brains. This is by far the most exciting question one can ask ( at least in my opinion). It's a quest set by the unified collective brain in order to understand itself on lower hierarchial levels.
The authors do a marvelous job in overviewing the philosophical history and implications of such a question. It is extremely enlightening to read through the first few chapters and get a feel of how significant the question is and where the "knot is tangeled"
In the next few chapters, the authors present their hypotheses on this issue, with some real mathematical tools to test them. They also bring about some results that support their hypotheses. I found the concept of a "functional cluster" along with the statistical models that describe it extremely novel and creative.
Reading this book was a great experience for me. A source of insipration I would say. A few things I found a bit unsatisfying were:
1.Reentry as a solution for the binding problem-- I thought this was merely speculative in nature
2.Untangling the knot-- It hasn't been untangled! Actually the authors say it all throughout this book: Describing something does not give any clue on how it results in subjective, first person, experience
However, I still found it a great book. I would recommend reading it along with Dr. Crick's work
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good step foward. Oct. 19 2001
Edelmans new theory of consciousness is, as I expected,impresive and quite apealing. Reentry is again in the spotlight, but this time in support of the Dynamic Core hypothesis. This hypothesis is a step foward from other less specific neuronal assembly theories of consciousness, and overall, I found it convincing. I did not give this book 5 stars because at the end of the book, Edelman moves frome concrete science to speculation, and because qualia as neural dimension space discriminations is far from being a convincing model for qualia. It is grounded on neurology though, and for that it is much better than many others. It also is able to diferenciate between conscious and unconscious proceses, among many other advantages. At the end, I believe the strongest aspect of the dynamic core is the way Edelman and Tononi use it to directly explain the phenomenology of consciousness. The introduction is also excellent, and the whole attempt is an adequately built bridge between the neurology and phenomenology of consciousness.
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