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Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness [Hardcover]

Gerald Edelman
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 9 2004 0300102291 978-0300102291
Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA. The author, a Nobel prize winner, explains, in non-technical language, the pertinent facts about neuroscience and describes how consciousness arises in complex brains. Explores the relations of consciousness to causation, to evolution, to the development of the self, and to the origins of feelings, learning, and memory.

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Product Description


“[An] elegant . . . laudable, [and] accessible exploration of what’s happening in neuroscience, biochemistry, and other disciplines, and an insightful examination of the trait that defines humans above all other organisms.”—San Diego Union-Tribune

“Highly readable.”—Oliver Sacks, New York Review of Books

“Consciousness is a hot topic, but still a mystery. One of the leaders of the scientific approach to the study of consciousness, Gerald Edelman has written a book that is a good roadmap for the lay reader.”—Francis Crick, author of The Astonishing Hypothesis
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Gerald M. Edelman, M.D., is director of the Neurosciences Institute and president of Neurosciences Research Foundation. He is also professor and chair of the Department of the Neurobiology at the Scripps Research Institute. For his studies on the structure and diversity of antibodies he received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
In this new book, Gerald Edelman continues his intellectual saga regarding the scientific study of consciousness. Both the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (TNGS) and the Dynamic Core Hypothesis have been introduced in earlier books (Surprizingly, with alot more mathematical detail), but never had they been described with clarity and vividness as they were in this book. Examples, that the general reader can relate to, are given throughout the whole book.
Chapter One (The Mind of Man: Completing Darwin's Program) is an assertion by Dr. Edelman that any theory of consciousness should account for the phenomenon to have arisen in evolution by Natural Selection.
Chapter Two (Consciousness: The Remembered Present). This is a chapter in which Dr. Edelman talks about some properties of consciousness in light of William James' earlier descriptions. He ascribes privacy, differntiation and intergration to consciousness and stresses the fact that consciousness is a process not a "thing". For instance, on page 6 he says:
"... there are accounts that attribute conscoiuness specifically to nerve cells (or consciouness neurons) or to particular layers of the cortical mantle of the brain. The evidence, as we shall see, reaveals that the process of consciousness is a dynamic accomplishment of the distributed activities of population of neurons in many different areas of the brain."
Chapter Three (Elements of the Brain) is where Dr. Edelman briefly goes over the structural elements of the brain, describing neurons and their chemical and electrical based signaling systems along with diagrams. He also describes the next hierarchial system of networks and highlights three major neuroanatomical systems that are important for his Global theory of consciousness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A total head trip. May 18 2004
The human brain consists of a hundred billion neurons that ultimately result in consciousness and self-awareness. It doesn't require much gray matter to appreciate the complexity of this process. In his fascinating study of this experience, Dr. Gerald M. Edelman attempts to answer the challenging question: How can the firing of neurons give rise to human sensations, thoughts and emotions (p. xii)? As a Nobel laureate, the Director of the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, and author of several important studies on consciousness, Dr. Edelman certainly has the credentials. He recognizes his subject is a challenging one, and has written WIDER THAN THE SKY for "the general reader" (with no background in neurobiology, like me), who is willing to expend "a concentrated effort" to understand the subject, promising readers who stick with him on his trip through the human brain a "deeper insight into issues that are the center of human concern" (p.xi).
In his short, 148-page book (exclusive of the glossary and index), Dr. Edelman first considers global brain theory encompassing evolution, development, and function of the most complex of human organs. He basically proposes that in the transition between reptiles and birds and reptiles and mammal, a new reciprocal connectivity evolved in the thalamocortical system of the brain (p. 54), and that consciousness then emerged from increasingly complex and integrated neuronal groups. In the end, WIDER THAN THE SKY provides readers with a concise, scientific explanation of consciousness unique to humans.
G. Merritt
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"Wider than the Sky" offers a concise scientific explanation of human consciousness to readers with no previous formal education in neurobiology. It avoids the metaphysical and mystical (what Edelman calls "spooky forces") and clearly explains any technical terms used. A glossary at the back of the book defines words from Action potential to Zombie. ("A hypothetical humanlike creature that lacks consciousness but which, it is erroneously assumed, can carry out all of the functions of a conscious human.")
The author uses the concept of neural Darwinism to suggest how consciousness evolved in mammals by massively increasing the connectivity between the cortical areas of the brain that carry out perceptual categorization and the frontal areas responsible for value-category memory systems. The definition of zombies turns out not to be purely whimsical. Consciousness requires specific neural activity - and where that activity occurs there must be consciousness.
Dr Edelman promises a "deeper insight into issues that are the center of human concern" to any reader willing to make a concerted effort to understand this challenging subject. He delivers wonderfully well on his promise. The conscious brain as described in "Wider than the Sky" is complex, dynamic, variable and unique to humankind.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Consciousness Simplified April 18 2006
Edelman's book, as well as the Crick book (The Astonishing Hypothesis), shows why both of these men won the Nobel prize....they are not only scientific geniuses, but they possess the ability to articulate their hypotheses in an elegant and simple way that render this topic comprehensible even to the average joe, not initiated in scientific jargon.
My copy of 'Wider Than the Sky' has so many highlighted and underlined sections, and dog-eared pages, that I may as well have underlined the entire book, as there is an epiphany on every page....
I found myself saying, "yeah, that's how it works." He just makes so much sense. This book is an easy read, and impossible to put down.
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