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A Universe Of Consciousness How Matter Becomes Imagination Paperback – Apr 20 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (Feb. 28 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465013775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465013777
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 381 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #125,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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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4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
Within a single human brain the number of connections are far greater than the number of stars in the Universe. And from this chaotic complexity emerges an experience most of us are aware of but are hardly able to put to words: Consciousness. From philosophers and psychologists to engineers and physicists everyone seems to have some idea on how to approach this elusive subject. However, since this is a brain-based activity, it is the neurobiological approach that, in the end, is more luckily to bear tangible fruits.

As above, so below. This seems to be the key to unlocking Edelman's approach. Evolution and natural selection seems to apply not only to the level of organisms but also to memory systems. Edelman shared a Nobel prize in 1972 for his work on the evolving immune system. He then used a similar approach to tackle the mystery of our minds.

This book is not an easy one. It is dense with concepts and it will require the reader's full attention and dedication. Edelman's older theories (Neuronal Darwinism and Biological Consciousness) are presented in brief but not explained in depth - for that I would recommend his older book The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness. On the other hand, this book is not limited to specialists; dedicated enthusiasts can still get the most out of it. Its 274 pages are organized in seventeen chapters with full bibliography and index.

As memory and consciousness are also my foci of study (and research papers alone rarely offer the big picture!
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By A Customer on April 22 2003
Format: Paperback
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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