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Carlos Camara "marrorris2" (Monterrey, Mexico)

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Thinking about Consciousness
Thinking about Consciousness
by David Papineau
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 124.08
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great philosophy, March 27 2004
It has been a while, but this book has made the wait worthwhile. Finally, a book on the philosophy of consciousness that makes sense, that is clear, direct, uncomplicated, original, profound, and has the potential to stir and resolve many debates.
Papineau argues for materialism. Not many take the time to do that, nowdays. But it is true many people are still dualists, and those who are materialists do not know how to really defend their views. Other materialists are still thinking on dualist ways, and others cannot decide between token or type identities, fuctionalism, representioalist, HOT, materialist theories. Papineau sticks with token identity. This is the simplest and most plausible view. PHENOMENAL PROPERTIES ARE IDENTICAL TO MATERIAL PROPERTIES. end of story. Papineau has here avoided a lot of baggage. The argument? the same anti-epiphenomenalists have been making. All physical causes are caused by physical things. Phenomenal states have causes, and are caused. Therefore, phenomenal states are material things. (This is not exactly how papienau puts it, but its good enough for me).
Papineau does go throught the usual job of demolishing the knowledge argument, the zombie argument, and the explanatory gap argument. NOthing very new here. Mary learns something new not because phenomenal states are nonphysical but because you cannot cause a brain state to appear (which is identical to the phenomenal state) by simply knowing things. You have to experience them. Kripke was wrong, because although identities are necesary, this does not mean that by knowing one side of the identity you will know all there is to know about the property in question. Conceivability does not entail possibility, because there exist counter-examples, in the theory of names. You can conceive of impossible things if your concepts are different. And Papienau argues for conceptual dualism. Phenomenal concepts are different from material concepts, even if they refer to a single material property. Phenomenal concepts, however, refer directly to those properties.
Another novelty is that the book is actually about how we THINK about consciousness, and not consicousness itself. So, Papineau tells us how exactly to understand phenomenal concepts. Here I have some objections. What is the difference between phenomenal concepts and the states they refer to? Papineau first takes conclusions about one thing to argue about the other, but on other occasions seems to claim arguments do not apply to both the concept and the state. It seems strange to say that because concepts are indeterminate, then the states refered to will also be indeterminate. Papienau needs to be careful to distinguish when he is arguing about the concepts ore the states refered to, but other than that, the way he constructed phenomenal concepts seems to me to be a right way to argue for a theory of phenomenal consciousness.
Ppaineau strikes on the central problem in consicousness studies: why does materialism seem to leave something out? why is there a hard problem of consicousness, but not a hard problem of heat, or energy or water? why is matter correlated with feelings at all? Simple, says Papineau. Because intuitions are the greatest barriers that oppose philosophical advance. And people simply have the intuition that matter is simply not all there is to consciousness. Materialism seems to leave somehting out, like the explanatory-gap theorists claim. Ppaineau does not show them wrong, but shows them 2 ways one can get rid of the intuition that mind and brain are separate. First, identities need no explanation. Mind and brain are identical to one another, and it is not necesary to explain why this is so. And second, the intuition is fueled by a fallacy. The fallacy of concluding that mind and brain are separate, just because when you think of consicousness it feels one way, and when you think of matter it feels another way. Thinking of qualia brings the qualia to mind, but thinking of gray neurons does not, so one must conclude they are not identical. But this is a fallacy, the antipathetic-fallacy. Thinking of something does not have to make that thing happen. Just like in the response to the knowledge argument.
Papineau argues also that scientific studies of consicousness are doomed to failure, becuase the properties of phenomenal concepts makes it indeterminate to decide of wether a creature is conscious, or of wether it is the function or the matter composing the system that is identical to the phenomenal state. Here I think Papineau goes too far. His points are that since verbal reports are the primary evidence for consciousness research, and becuase we cannot decide between exactly what level of explanation is right (atoms, molecules, chemicals, neurons, electricity?), and because pehnomenal concepts are vauge, then sicence is in trouble. But this is not a principled matter. All you have to do is find a non-verbal way to reach criterions of consicousness, and indeed researchers are looking for those methodologies. And I believe it is in principle possible to decide between levels of explanation. For example, you could decide, in principle, wether it is the matter a brain is composed of or the way it is organized that is identical to a phenomenal state like this: take a subject, replace all his neurotransmitters for agonists witht he same proportions, and ask him to make a discrimination (between color plates of gradual hue changes, or memory of a color). Next, restore the subjects brain to normallity, and ask him to make another discrimination. If the discriminations are identical, then it is the orgainization, and not the matter itself (for a chemical is not materially identical, but functional identical to its agonist), that is the material property identical to the phenomenal property.
Or why not simply change the phenomenal concepts? Then the empirical research of the material basis of consicousness would continue problem-free. Amazingly thought-provoking book, inspite of my objections. Required reading.

Consciousness: An Introduction
Consciousness: An Introduction
by Susan Blackmore
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 62.03
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, March 6 2004
Blackmore wrote a very important book, because it is the first "true" textbook on the subject. There are other texts, like Wallace's consciounsness and behaviour, and other collections, like Block et. al.s nature of consciousness, or Carters consciousness, but these could be described or used as textbooks without being textbooks per se. That is, Blackmore's book has the exercises, review questions, profiles of some important figures, that make it a real textbook. However, I am impressed more by the scope of the book. There are many different chapters on many differetn things, and the author does not forget about issues like parapsychology (Blackmore was once a psi researcher), time, animal consicousness, all issues that many other authors seem to leave aside.
The book itself is very readable, and the strenghts,like the number of different chapters, come with weaknesses, like too brief discussions of certain very important, or central, themes. Blackmoere does succeed in giving a sense of the perplexities of studying consicousness to the reader. She is also a very apt philosopher, and explains philosophical ideas much more clearly that other non-philosophers do. She is also very common-sensical and does not fall for many of the traps laid on the field of consicousness studies, save, of-course, only one. The "illusion" trap. Let me explain.
Everey time the discussion is about to climax, and the reader expects an insight, or maybe a conclusion, Blackmore seems to state that everything may just be an illusion. Visual perception? an illusion. Free will? an illusion. Binding? an illusion. qualia? an illusion. Now I do not believe that illusions do not exist, or that they cannot serve an explanatory role. Certainly, visual perception and free will might be illusions. Attentional blindeness studies, and Wegners or LIbets work suggest these possibilities. But why should perceptual binding be an illusion? it is a fairly simple conceptual question, it is empirical and many empirical studies, like the synchrony or attention- models, seem to offer not so mysterian answers. The thing is, I believe, that Blackmore got caught in the intuition pumps created by none other than Daniel Dennett, the philosopher who by the way is most quoted, discussed and brought to bear on every question posed in the book.
Blackmore seems to believe not only that there is no cartesian theather, a place where all consicousness comes together, (which is right), but that it is impossible that consicousness could be located anywhere at all. If this is so, she is wrong. Consciousness is in the brain. How, why, at what time, we still do not know. But if we can locate consicousness in a brain, why not several brain areas? we can just discard those that seem not essential for consciousness, in lesion experiments, for exapmple. Why not just couple of brain areas? now, it may not be that simple, maybe consicousness does not reside or happen at a time, maybe its just identical with those brain a reas. Why the big fuss about consicousness and everything about it as an illusion? Because Dennett is probably the most convincing philosopher, and Blackmore was convinced.
How about qualia. An illusion, Blackmore tells us. It only seems there are qualia, but there are not. The thing is, qualia ARE that seeming, and it is that seeming that needs explaining. Qualia are real, and that anything seems like anything at all is a proof of their existence. What exactly they are, I do not know. But they are not just illusions. AS if their being so would solve anything anyway.
Blackmore also got too carried daway with drawing lines. Either you are a physicalist, a functionalist, or a dualist. She also knows how to determine that. Either you believe in zombies, or not. This is by far the most simplistic analysis of the philosophical quarrels I have read lately. This is not to say she does not make some important points, however. Philosophers, nevertheless, would have a field trip in reviewing this book. Scientists woould be angered by her mysterianism and pessimism. Maybe this makes this book perfect for non-specialists.
This is all too negative. The book is very, very good and complete. It covers many, many important issues. It has an extensive bibliography, although extensive is not enough with such a complicatted subject. It is trully the first textbook, and is very accesible. For the same reason, it ends up being quite superficial at times. It is all good for the undergraduate taking a course, but the really interested reader should only see this book as a good place to start. Those familiar with the field could do without reading it, but they should anyway. Blackmore does deserve her name among those considered experts on the field.

Consciousness: A Guide to the Debates
Consciousness: A Guide to the Debates
by Anthony Freeman
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good, March 6 2004
This is a little and very readable book. It is a good introduction to some of the issues in the field of consciousness studies. Freeman is an editor of the journal of consciousness studies and is quite informed on recent ideas put out on consicousness. As is usual for some authors, he is not particularily a good expositor of the philosophical ideas, but manages to give a nice overview of the central players, like Chalmers, Searle or Dennett.The chapters on the neuroscience of consicousness could have been a little bit more complete, although he does give space to the ideas of LLinas and Cotterill, two authors whith very important contributions that are often forgotten in other introductory books. At times, Freeman got out of track. For example, one chapter is devoted to learning and memory, but learning and memory only, and does not touch on their relations to consciousness, and seems out of sinc with the rest of the book. He writes a chapter on the physics side of the debate, with not many things new, apart from Penrose and Bohm.
Some ggod points are made, to be sure, but the book cannot be said to be above many other good introductions to the subject. Other volumes could possibly be better than this book, although it would serve well as a very light introduction to the field. The price of the book, however, seems a little high for a 300 page book. All in all, I do recomend this book but do not find it indispensable reading.

The Face in the Mirror: The Search for the Origins of Consciousness
The Face in the Mirror: The Search for the Origins of Consciousness
by Julian Keenan
Edition: Hardcover
21 used & new from CDN$ 4.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but limited, Feb. 9 2004
This is a good book, a good read and interesting too. One gets a little of anthropology, and a little of functional brain imaging. All of it, of course, involving self-awareness. Keenan mantains that to be self-consicous one must pass the mirror test-in short- to be able to recognize the image in a mirror as yourself and not as another individual. Most higher apes, it turns out pass the test. Children at about the age of 2 or 3 do too. Some autistic children do not, and autism is sometimes refered to as a problem with theory of mind or self-awareness. It seems then that self-consciousness is something some systems have and others do not. Keenan then reviews the literature on the functional imaging of several interesting tasks that seem to require self-awareness, and concludes that the right cerebral lobe is involved, possibly with the cingulate and prefrontal cortex more centrally related. So far so good.
But for Keenan to have entered into such an interdiciplinary debate, he seem to have forgotten that philosophically, his ideas would at most rest on shaky grounds. Let me elaborate. First, he seems to equate self-consicousness with self-recognition. Now the first thing I would ask is if self-recognition is sufficient for self-awareness}. That is, would a computer programmed to respond to internal signals in an appropiate way be self-awarë? I would say not. But Keenan tries to avoid these objections by holding that self-recognition is an ability one gains by vitrtue of being self-aware. (since self-recognition appears to be correlated with other self related cogniitve abilities). But then Keenan wrote a book about an ability one gains after being self-aware, not a book on self-awareness. Writing a book about visual discrimination is not the same as writinga book about vision, even when I can only discriminate between 2 visual stimuli if I can see in the first place. It is obvious that one can still see, but not discriminate between two stimuli (think of prosopagnosia- loss of face-recognition), and it is equally plausible that one can not recognize himself in a mirror but still be self-aware. This example is interesting, because Keenan would claim that there is a difference between not recognizing yourself because you are not self-aware that because you have a visual impairment. But the point is that although correlated-that is- self-awareness usually comes with self-recognition, it is only that, a correlation. It is then unclear why the mirror test should be so special. It may have positives, but I imagine it has many false negatives.
This can be applied to the neuroscience too: maybe the abilities that one gains by virtue of being self-aware are located on the right hemisphere, but this does not mean it is the location of self-consicousness too. Language is located on the left hemisphere, but the cognitive resources (whatever they are; conceptual information, grammar, memory, mental relations, ideas)and the anatomical resources (mouth, tounge, lips) do not have to be located there too. Of course Keenan simply argues that the right might be dominant for self-awareness, but not the only location of a self-awareness module. In that case, self-awareness seems to be a much more suubtle phenomenon that just the collection of all the self-related abilities.
Now it seems to me that Keenan missed the point from the beggining. He tries to separate self-awareness from awareness itself, when it is not clear this can be done. Maybe self-awareness is just regular awareness but with a self-content, instead of a visual-content or a object-content. In that case, what Keenan theorizes about are the properties, cerebral correlates, and species variations of self-contents, but not of self-awareness itself, just like vison research studies the location of object representations in the brain and not the awareness of objects itself. (For an alternative, check out Thomas Metzingers book, The self-model theory of subjectivity, where in order to write about the self, he first wrote 350 pages on a theory of what makes representations consicous. Now that is an investigation of self-AWARENESS)
Keenans speculations on the functions of self-awareness are quite interesting and plausible. In my opinion,at the end he only succeeds in studying cognitive self-processing, but not self-awareness itself. However meanly I reviewed his book, it still seems to me a good read, a good adition into a neuroscientists library, and a thought inspiring discussion of soome very interesting concepts.

Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consciousness
by Bernard J. Baars
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 61.92
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5.0 out of 5 stars it is finally here, Oct. 25 2003
What can somebody who is a science of consicousness freak say about a 1000 pages book about the psychological, cognitive, theorethical, neurological, and historical bases of consciousness? ......well, maybe "finally". This is THE definitive collection of papers on the science of consicousness, something that could only be said before about all three volumes of Towards a Science of Consicousness, edited by Hameroff.
Everything one needs to know to START an inquiry into this interesting field is here. Represented are those papers that started the whole cognitive revolution, all the way to the most recent theoretical investigations on consicousness. The only thing one who is familiar with the literature can disagree with is witht he inclusion and omission of certain key papers, but I am sure the editors had their hands full in making the books size acceptable and at the same time representative of the field. That said, it is impossible to ignore that Baars seems to have chosen some contributions on the basis of how much they are supportive of his global workspace model. I doubt this was made on purpose, however. Another objection could come from the absence of a neurochemistry of consicousness chapter, or a consicousness in quantum physics chapter. The former seems to me impardonable to have been left out, and the latter probably should have been there simply because of the popular attention paid to it, if not because of its shaky scientific foundations.
It is a custom of mine to declare a book on consicousness a must-have, but this one has the most merits to deserve such title. No one who has pronounced the word consicousness in a scientific context can do without this could also work quite well as a textbook for graduate level consicousness courses. One only hopes that many more editions are published, and that it can be someday extended to various volumes.

Blindsight and the Nature of Consciousness
Blindsight and the Nature of Consciousness
by Jason Holt
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very, very good., May 24 2003
Holt is young and smart enough to try and fight everyone he can on their own terms, and his arguments run from brilliant, to simple, to downright strange. He takes on up almost everybody from Dennett, to Chalmers, to the churchlands, BLock, Nagel, Tye, functionalsim, non-reductive materialism, theory of knowledge, you name it....all in 130 pages and revolving arround a single phenomenon-BLindsight. What emerges is one of the freshest approaches to the philosophy of mind that I have read in a while...probably since Owen Flanagans Consicousness Reconsidered. Now it is a very different matter if Holt succedds in all his objectives, I doubt he does, but it is true he is bound to, or at least should, spark ardent debate.
Holt aims to discuss what the phenomenon of blindsight has to offer to philsophy of mind, and the theory of knowledge, concentrating mainly on consicousness. Thus, he starts with an introduction to blindisight and to other cases of dissociations between performance and consicousness. IN blindisghts, patients with damage to V1 and therefore corrtically blind, can still however detect stimuli in their blind fields, but in a special way. Without consicousness. That is, they deny seeing anything, but if prompted to guess wether the stimuli is there or not, or is an X or an O, can perform almost flawlessly. Holt defends the interpretation of the phenomenon that says that blindsight is vision without consciousness. This has straightforward implications: vision does not depend on consicousness (but does not mean consicousness is epiphenomenal-and he shows it), and, more importantly, means that consicousness is a real phenomenon, and a physical one at that. Why? well because what is missing is V1, AND V1 only, and that is strictly physical. And so Holt argues against eliminitavism and discusses the super-blindsight argument. He also shows how consicousness can be casual, or rather is casual, although is not specific on exactly where. He speculates on consicousness as an inhibitor of automatic actions, and has some support for this. It also makes sense. But all of this is just the start of HOlts attack on the entrenched positions of functionalism, dualism and non-reductive materialism.
Holt argues against the zombie argument, claiming the obvious in that conceibability is not a good guide to logical possibility. His points there are good, but when he goes against colourblind mary, things get tricky. Holt mantains Mary already knows what red is like but only gains the red-recognitional ability. This is counterintuitive, but worse, unecessary. Holt forgets that maybe mary does gain knowledge, but that it is of a kind that could not have been gained before, and therefore the arguments assumptions are wrong. Or simply that mary gains indexical knowledge, or access too old physical knowledge in a different way. His position seems to fall to knowledge that/knowledge how distinction, and this line of arguemtn is not as strong as it could be.
Holt also argues against Kripkes, and many a dualist arguments, for dualism. Here Holt shows how good a philosopher he really is. It simply does not work to use the analogy of water as h2o as illustrating anything about consicousness as a physical state. Our concepts are simply different, and changing them could make the latter identity necessary, or at least seemingly necessary, which is what Kripke argues for. Then comes Holts attack on non-reductive materialism. He shows how a token-type identity from consicous states to brain states is no problem for materialism, and further, how a token-token identity can be made to work. Simply by fine graining the types into tokesn will do, but Holt goes further. He also shows there are in fact purely phyisical, and commonly accepted physical, things that nevertheless have token-type relationships between their micro and macro-prperties.
Holt also discusses Chalmers Hard problem, and shows that it is misconceived. As with Kripke, concpetual nuances could be to blame, as well as an insurmountably high bar of explanation set by CHalmers. Does it make sense to ask why consicousness arises out of its correlates anyway? He even attempts to close the Gap, but here he seems speculative (admittedly so) ans seems a little lost. He tries to use the concept of perspectives to do such a thing, and out goes another brave and interesting attempt. But I think HOlt does good simply by showing there is not necessarilt a hard gap, and that HE cannot close it is not to be taken against him. IM sure Chalmers would have a thing or two to say here, but I believe Holt does defend his views adequately. Finally, Holt discussess blindsights implications for the theory of knowledge by considering wether patients from beliefs about their unconsicous discriminations, and argues for an externalist, or maybe a dual internalist sometimes externalist view on perception. He also discusses direct or indirect views of perception and goes for a dual viw as well. Here I think his arguments for a direct form of perception could be countered.
THis book should be read, and its originality serve as exapmle. The use of a clinical phenomenon to make so much philosophy is a brilliant move. Holt makes brilliant point after point, and one only hopes he writes a book on neglect, one on amnesia, one on whatever phenomenon he likes, as long as he makes it as valuable as this one. Essential reading for those interested on consicousness.

Consciousness: A User's Guide
Consciousness: A User's Guide
by Adam Zeman
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good,, May 20 2003
THis is a quite nice book, an introductory book, quite up to date and very refreshingly clinically oriented. Zeeman is a neurologist and he mostly stays in clear waters. His introduction is a quite interesting analysis of the definitions and concepts of consicousness, he traces uses and origins of the words themselves: consicousness, awareness, self-consicousness etc., are all discussed. THis is new, as only some philosophers had concerned themselves with these issues. Then comes the review of litterature, the core of the book. This is the most valuable part not because of its originality but because of the information within it. Zeeman explains the neural systems of wakefulness and alertness, that is, the acending reticular activating system, as well as the neuroelectrophysiology of the thalamocortical system. Zeeman gives historical points and is quite thurough. Right next he examines brain disturbances that alter this system: coma, seizures, vegetative states, etc..topping with what these contribute to the search for the former. He does the same with the neural system of vision, from retina to v1 and extrastriate cortices. He also examines disturbances of vision, achromatognosia, prosopagnosia, agnosia, blindness, blinsight. This method, of investigating the science of the phenomenon, and then the brain damage that alters it, gives a fuller view of the phenomenon and its neural basis, and Zeeman does a good job.
Up untill now everything is good and ready, only with the probable objection that consicousness is not ust wakefulness with sensory content, as Zeeman seems to mantain. But Zeeman also writes chapters on the evolution of consicousness, and seems to give a rather naive argument for why it must be casual. To be sure, if it evolves, it must not be epiphenomenal, but not much follows from this. He also fails to give an adequate story of how consicousness gradually appeared, but only claims it must have. His views on animal consicousness are sensical enough. His chapter on scientific theories of consicousness is quite weak, both becuase he only passingly explains the theories and because he seems to misundertstand some and give some poor objections. He discusess Edelman, Crick, Seki, Baars,Damasio,E.r jOhn, Llinas among a few others, and could have given much more detail. He readily falls to explanatory gap concerns, and cannott do a good critical or explanatory job. He does see through some basic agreements, like the idea of distribuited but integrated neural assemblies in the thalamocortical system.
His chapter on philosophy, freewill, and AI is also quite bad. He fails to really analyse the thought experiments, of colorblind mary, zombies, absent andf inverted qualia. Zeeman cannot see how Mary by gaining physical knowledge can come to have experience, because he seems not to be aware of the litterature that argues for such physical knowledge, like Van Gulicks or John Perrys work. HIs critiques of Dennett or Searle are not profound, but on the right track. He does however explain clearly (but not adequately) the views out there, like physicalism, functionalism, dualism, property dualism, etc. Zeeman is no philosopher and it shows. He ha slittle to say on machinec consicousness, only that its possible, and on free will, suprisingly ignores LIbets work, probably most relevant, and is quite straightforward. Although in principle actions are predictable because they are physical and caused, this does not at all mean we are not free. I think this is largely right, because even if in the same conditions we could not have acted differently, there is no reason why not in the same moment the conditions could have changed by virtue of our actions. This is a weak kind of freedom, but it is naturalistic and unproblematic.
Besides my negative comments, this book is in a short list of comprehensible and scientifically oriented introductions to consicousness, and is highly recomended for newcomers to the field. Zeeman does make some good points, but remains uncontroversial enough. Good book.

The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness
The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness
by J. Allan Hobson
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great, April 23 2003
Hobson has written yet another very good book on the neurochemical mechanisms of conscious states. Certainly, there is not very much one has not read before on his books like Consciousness, Dream as Delirium or The Chemistry of Consicous States. But still, the book should be read because it cuts into some very deep issues regarding consicousness and neurochemistry, specially with regards to dreaming and sleep research. Now the thing is this book is supposed to be about the action of prescription and recreational drugs, but one gets Hobsons model of conscious states, and only then a little of how it explains the actions of those drugs. THis is not necessarily a bad thing, for models are good foundations for such explorations, but maybe a lot more space should have been given to drugs and their actions in the brain.
Hobsons well known model of conscious states, AIM, standing for activation (high-low), Input output grating (internal or external information sources) and modulation (aminergic or cholinergic) is presented in the book, and is supposed to do the lot of the explanatory work. The model is useful in this sense, but I have doubts about its power to actually explain what consicousness is. Activation seems to determine waking, not consciousness per se, Input determines content, not consicousness per se, and modulation seems to be in the level of processing mode, and not processing itself. IN other words, it is not clear to me neurochemistry is the right level where one can find really interesting causal links, like neural correlates of consciousness. But the reality is that the model is grounded on firm evidence and good science, and does explain many things ABOUT consicousness. It certainly adds important things to the debate.
Another very interesting issue Hobson takes on is on the inadequacy of psychotherapeutic frameworks, of how these are mostly incompatible with modern brain sicence. I must agree almost completely here with him. Hobson also mainly concentrates on nonrephinephrine, serotonin and acetycholine as main players, the first two associated with waking and the last with dreaming. This move seems premature, for there are coutless of neurochemicals that may play also important roles. Nonetheless, these serve as the basis of his dream as delirium hypothesis: that psychosis is similar phenomenally and chemically with normal dreaming states, and thus involves alteration in the aminergic or cholinergic systems of the brain. Dreaming involves chcolinergic activity but in sleep. When such activity is present in waking, psychosis ensues. THis is one of the most plausible and defendable views on psychosis out there. By extension, drugs that cause psychosis, or aleviate it, must affect in some way the aminergic and cholinergic systems of the brain. In this way, Hobson explains the action of drugs, both recreational and clinical. (of course im simplifying. I omit the interactions of the other aspects of the AIM model, I and A. Dreaming and psychosis involve high activation and internal or hallucinatory imputs, for example). So in this ellegant framework Hobson frames the rest of his discussion.
Now if one thing can be said about the style of writing, usually good in HObsons books, is that there seems to be way too small a bibliography. For a book of such lenght and scope, one would expect extensive support in references and evidence coming from various diciplines and labs. In fact, Hobson lists about 10 references and onnly seems to present evidence either compatible with his views and coming from his own lab. This is to me a very bad thing for his book, otherwise a brilliant exposition of a promising thesis. The book is nevertheless a valuable addition to the consicousness litterature, and HObson is one of the main players in the game.

Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain
Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain
by Antonio Damasio
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars A great third book., April 22 2003
Damasio took on the interaction between emotions and reason, consicousness, and now, with this book, feelings. These are not unimportant, trivial or simple problems for a neurologist to tackle. They are among the greatest mysteries left in science. Now, do not take this to mean I think I agree wholly with Damasio, or that he has solved these puzzles completely. No. But he has made progress, and he has advanced some really intersting hypothesis. Damasio therefore is rightly considered one of the foremost theorethical neuroscienctists, and although seems sometimes to dismiss much of the literature and consider only evidence coming out of his lab, his ability to so easily transform his theories into highly readable popular accounts is scary.
Damasios main concern in this book is to present an neurobiological account of feelings. Now the first move he makes is to distinguish them from the related phenomenon of emotions. These are not to be confused, even when they are highly related. Felling, to Damasio, comes only after the emotion, and is very different from it. Emotions are complexes of chemical and neural patterns that drive the organism by automatical alterations of the state of the body, towards evolutionarily set places of well-being. Fellings are the perceptions of changes in, or the states of the body, and the modes of thinking that these ensue. To Damasio then, the feeling of fear would consist of the infromation provided by the body proper as well as of the way the cognitive mechanism functions because of the changes that are taking place. Since Damasio considers body regulating, homeostatic, and body sensing so important for feelings, he mantains the neurobiological underpinnings of feelings must be structures related to these functions. And he has evidence to support this claim. Imaging experiments show activity in the brain stem, hypothalamus,cingulate cortices and insula correlated with feelings. These structures have in common precicely their activity in regulating or obtaining information of the body. For theoretical reasons, Damasio holds the insula to be the main player here.
With these thoughts in mind, Damasio lists what he thinks are the necessary and sufficient conditions to have a feeling. THese are a nervous system with a body, a way for that nervous system to map and transform body states in neural maps, and then create out of these mental patterns or images, consicousness, a way for the nervous system to change the state of the body. Dmasio then also discusees the probable functions of feelings, its evolutionary origins, and possible reasons why feelings feel the way they do. The first of these questions he anwers in his first book, Descartes error. The second, because emotions were there as were the neural patterns that mapped body state changes, as well because feelings promoted survival by their function. The third, why feelings feel the way they do, Damasio answers speculatively but very interestingly. The life process, its design in multicellular organisms, the way the life process is altered by changes in the body and thr innate reactions of the body,thenature of the nural medium where these structures are mapped, explain together why feeling feel the way thet do. Damasio also discusses how mental images might arise, speculates about the origins of a mental level of neurobiological phenomena, and discusses mind-body philosophical issues. Also, in between these issues, Damasio devotes roughly a third of the book to his interest on the life and philosophy of Spinoza, who Damasio reads as to have anticipated some of Damasios ideas on the body and the mind.
There remain some problems with Damasios account of course. For example, he seems to say a system that has the necessary and sufficient conditions for feelings but is not alive would not feel. His inclusion of consciousness as a necessary condition makes sense, but also obscures his explanation. Is consciousness itself explained? probably not in Damasios terms, but certainly not in the terms probably most relevant for feelings: qualia. What would life add to a system to make it feel,but qualia, that is, the essence (content?) of a feeling? But why would life bring qualia?if life is a physical process too, so qualia should be a physical process too, and therefore a physical system could have it too. But not necesarily an alive physical system. Damasio also never specifies what takes place between a neural pattern and a mental image for the latter to arise out of the former. This is the qualia problem again. So Damasio does not explain qualia? so what? nobody else has. But it is a reality that feelings will not be explained without a proper account of qualia. There is also the issue of predictions and testability. Will damage to the inusla cause loss of feeling? will a brain in a vat feel? Damasio also gives little space to neurochemistry, and it is obvious that it is a very important part of the making of feelings. How do serotonin, dopamine, acetycholine, and other neuromodulators affect feelings? directly, by changing neurons? Chemicals can alter feelings in predictable ways, so does the insula have special receptors, and if so what are their functions? If feelings require consicousness, and as some mantain, consicousness requires language, does feeling require language? how about the memories of feelings. Do memories of feelings activate the insula too, and if not, can feelings arise then out of association cortex (for memories of feelings bring a little of those feelings into the mind)? These questions are some philosophical and some empirical, but they all have somthing to say about feelings, and Damasio gives us no answers.
The book is a great acomplishment, and anybody interested with the hard problems of neuroscience, consciousness, emotions, the self, will want to read this book. Damasios views are predictable given his other two books, but they are original and very interesting. Few other neuroscientists are as thought provoking, or write as clearly as Damasio does.

Synaptic Self
Synaptic Self
by Joseph Ledoux
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from CDN$ 19.36

4.0 out of 5 stars Good pop neuroscience, April 22 2003
This review is from: Synaptic Self (Hardcover)
This book is as good as a popular science book can be, and explains in easy terms some of the most important concepts in neuroscience. For this it should be widely read. However, Ledoux wants to explain the self, and not only to write a popular book on cognitive neuroscience. Now, given that it is very difficult not to accept that the self at some level is nothing but synapses, Ledoux does seem to base the self on neurobiological mechanisms. But this is no more enlightening than sayying that vision, attention, language, or even qualia are nothing but synapses, claims that at some level must also be correct. So one would expect the bulk of the book to develop principles that tie or at least correlate the self with brain mechanisms. Do we get this in Synaptic Self? well, yes and no.

Ledoux concentrates on memory, having in his last book focused on emotion. He explains memory systems from molecules to circuits, with the classical and most recent findings, including some from his own lab. He also gives a quick overview of the emotional systems of the brain, the working memory complex of the prefrontal cortex, and motivational systems of neuromodulator and brainstem and thalamocortical systems. He calls that the mental trilogy, namely cognition, emotion and motivation. Ledoux also wrote a nice chapter on some brain diseases that seem to alter these functions selectively. And thats it. Ledoux has explained the self. Or has he? Well, memory, emotion, cognition and motivation surely contribute to the making of the self, especially memory. How much of a self is left in a retrograde and anterograde severe amnesic? But this is not saying that putting them together is all the self is about. Its like saying vision, attention and waking are what consicousness is. Vision provides content, attention access, and waking a necesary condition for consicousness, but together they are not the phenomenon in question. I bring out consicousness because Ledoux says the really hard and important question in neuroscience is the self, and not consciousness. To me it seems almost silly to try to understand the former without the latter.

Ledoux then forgets about the feeling of the self itself, the possible bases of it on body schemas and body signals, the primacy of movement. He does touch on volition and free will, and is as naturalistic about these issues as one can be, which I think is a good thing. The final chapter presents 7 principles he can extract from his discussions, and meybe here we can find his theory of the self. Unfortunately, he seems just to add another thing, binding, to the picture. So binding, convergence zones, emotion and motivation, memory, placticity, hebbbian mechanisms of memory, together are the self. Again, I would say they are an important part of the self, but not the self itself. I may be wrong or maybe dogmatic about what would count as an explanation for the self. Maybe there is nothing more to the self than those mechanisms Ledoux lists. But work in theorethical neuroscience like by Damasio, or Patricia Churchland and philosophers like Bermudez show that the self is more complex than Ledoux seems to think.

At the end this book is of value, and I never said it did not make progress on the problem of the neurobiology of the self. However, it does not by any means solve it. It presents a nice theory of the integration of cognitive and affective mechanisms, and manages to cover a great deal of issues in simple terms, and that is always an achievement.

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