Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist
A fascinating exploration of the human brain that combines “the leading edge of consciousness science with surprisingly personal and philosophical reflection . . . shedding light on how scientists really think”—this is “science writing at its best” (Times Higher Education).
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.
In which I write about the wellsprings of my inner conflict between religion and reason
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
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action potentials activity animals attention awareness axons behavior billion biology brain Caltech causal cerebral cortex chapter circuits coalition of neurons colleagues color conscious experience correlates of consciousness cortical cortico-thalamic complex Descartes dogs electrical electron eyes face feel fire Francis Crick Francis’s function Giulio Giulio Tononi hand hemisphere human inferior temporal cortex information theory integrated information theory interactions Jennifer Aniston laws light living lobe looking mathematics matter mice mind mind–body problem molecular molecules monkeys motion move movie natural nerve cells nervous system networks neural correlates nuclei orexin organism pain Panpsychism patient phenomenal experience philosopher physical physicist planet prefrontal cortex primary visual cortex processing pulses qualia quantum mechanics quest reason regions responsible scientist sciousness sentient soul specific spikes structure synapses thalamus things thought tion tissue trigger trillion turn types unconscious understand universe volunteers whereas wires zombie agents