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Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts

Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts
  • Penguin Books
WINNER OF THE 2014 BRAIN PRIZE 

From the acclaimed author of Reading in the Brain, a breathtaking look at the new science that can track consciousness deep in the brain


How does our brain generate a conscious thought? And why does so much of our knowledge remain unconscious? Thanks to clever psychological and brain-imaging experiments, scientists are closer to cracking this mystery than ever before.

In this lively book, Stanislas Dehaene describes the pioneering work his lab and the labs of other cognitive neuroscientists worldwide have accomplished in defining, testing, and explaining the brain events behind a conscious state. We can now pin down the neurons that fire when a person reports becoming aware of a piece of information and understand the crucial role unconscious computations play in how we make decisions. The emerging theory enables a test of consciousness in animals, babies, and those with severe brain injuries.

A joyous exploration of the mind and its thrilling complexities, Consciousness and the Brain will excite anyone interested in cutting-edge science and technology and the vast philosophical, personal, and ethical implications of finally quantifying consciousness.

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The River of Consciousness

The River of Consciousness
    From the best-selling author of Gratitude, On the Move, and Musicophilia, a collection of essays that displays Oliver Sacks's passionate engagement with the most compelling and seminal ideas of human endeavor: evolution, creativity, memory, time, consciousness, and experience.

    Oliver Sacks, a scientist and a storyteller, is beloved by readers for the extraordinary neurological case histories (Awakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars) in which he introduced and explored many now familiar disorders--autism, Tourette's syndrome, face blindness, savant syndrome. He was also a memoirist who wrote with honesty and humor about the remarkable and strange encounters and experiences that shaped him (Uncle Tungsten, On the Move, Gratitude). Sacks, an Oxford-educated polymath, had a deep familiarity not only with literature and medicine but with botany, animal anatomy, chemistry, the history of science, philosophy, and psychology. The River of Consciousness is one of two books Sacks was working on up to his death, and it reveals his ability to make unexpected connections, his sheer joy in knowledge, and his unceasing, timeless project to understand what makes us human.

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    Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist (MIT Press)

    Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist (MIT Press)
    • Consciousness Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

    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.



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    Consciousness Explained

    Consciousness Explained
      "Brilliant...as audacious as its title....Mr. Dennett's exposition is nothing short of brilliant." --George Johnson, New York Times Book Review

      Consciousness Explained is a a full-scale exploration of human consciousness. In this landmark book, Daniel Dennett refutes the traditional, commonsense theory of consciousness and presents a new model, based on a wealth of information from the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and artificial intelligence. Our current theories about conscious life-of people, animal, even robots--are transformed by the new perspectives found in this book.

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      The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

      The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
      • Mariner Books
      At the heart of this classic, seminal book is Julian Jaynes's still-controversial thesis that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution but instead is a learned process that came about only three thousand years ago and is still developing. The implications of this revolutionary scientific paradigm extend into virtually every aspect of our psychology, our history and culture, our religion -- and indeed our future.


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      Consciousness: An Introduction (2nd ed.)

      Consciousness: An Introduction (2nd ed.)
        Now in a new edition, this innovative text is the first volume to bring together all the major theories of consciousness studies--from those rooted in traditional Western philosophy to those coming out of neuroscience, quantum theory, and Eastern philosophy. Broadly interdisciplinary, Consciousness: An Introduction, Second Edition, is divided into nine sections that examine such topics as how subjective experiences arise from objective brain processes, the basic neuroscience and neuropathology of consciousness, altered states of consciousness, mystical experiences and dreams, and the effects of drugs and meditation. It also discusses the nature of self, the possibility of artificial consciousness in robots, and the question of whether or not animals are conscious.

        PEDAGOGICAL FEATURES

        * Profiles of important philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, and biologists involved in consciousness studies

        * "Concept" text boxes that elucidate specific aspects of consciousness

        * "Practice" and "Activity" text boxes that encourage students to engage in practical exercises in class and at home

        * Bold marginal quotations that emphasize key ideas, and suggestions for further reading


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        The Nature of Consciousness: Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter

        The Nature of Consciousness: Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter

          “I’ve gained deeper understanding listening to Rupert Spira than I have from any other exponent of modern spirituality. Reality is sending us a message we desperately need to hear, and at this moment no messenger surpasses Spira and the transformative words in his essays.”
          —Deepak Chopra, author of You Are the Universe, Spiritual Solutions, and Super Brain


          Our world culture is founded on the assumption that the Big Bang gave rise to matter, which in time evolved into the world, into which the body was born, inside which a brain appeared, out of which consciousness at some late stage developed. As a result of this “matter model,” most of us believe that consciousness is a property of the body. We feel that it is “I,” this body, that knows or is aware of the world. We believe and feel that the knowing with which we are aware of our experience is located in and shares the limits and destiny of the body. This is the fundamental presumption of mind and matter that underpins almost all our thoughts and feelings and is expressed in our activities and relationships. The Nature of Consciousness suggests that the matter model has outlived its function and is now destroying the very values it once sought to promote.

          For many people, the debate as to the ultimate reality of the universe is an academic one, far removed from the concerns and demands of everyday life. After all, life happens independently of our models of it. However, The Nature of Consciousness will clearly show that the materialist paradigm is a philosophy of despair and, as such, the root cause of unhappiness in individuals. It is a philosophy of conflict and, as such, the root cause of hostilities between families, communities, and nations. Far from being abstract and philosophical, its implications touch each one of us directly and intimately.

          An exploration of the nature of consciousness has the power to reveal the peace and happiness that truly lie at the heart of experience. Our experience never ceases to change, but the knowing element in all experience—consciousness, or what we call “I”—itself never changes. The knowing with which all experience is known is always the same knowing. Being the common, unchanging element in all experience, consciousness does not share the qualities of any particular experience: it is not qualified, conditioned, or limited by experience. The knowing with which a feeling of loneliness or sorrow is known is the same knowing with which the thought of a friend, the sight of a sunset, or the taste of ice cream is known. Just as a screen is never disturbed by the action in a movie, so consciousness is never disturbed by experience; thus it is inherently peaceful. The peace that is inherent in us—indeed that is us—is not dependent on the situations or conditions we find ourselves in.

          In a series of essays that draw you, through your own direct experience, into an exploration of the nature of this knowing element that each of us calls “I,” The Nature of Consciousness posits that consciousness is the fundamental reality of the apparent duality of mind and matter. It shows that the overlooking or ignoring of this reality is the root cause of the existential unhappiness that pervades and motivates most people’s lives, as well as the wider conflicts that exist between communities and nations. Conversely, the book suggests that the recognition of the fundamental reality of consciousness is the first step in the quest for lasting happiness and the foundation for world peace.



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          Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind

          Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind
            Richard M. Bucke's astonishing treatise on the human mind discusses and attempts to explain mystical experiences in the context of evolutionary change in the brain.

            During his mid-thirties, Bucke underwent a feeling of intense revelation and felt distinctly enlightened for a short time. Although the period of enlightenment passed, it had an immense impact upon Bucke's outlook, steering his personal and professional life in a directions he had never before envisioned. He found the experience a permanent boon to his well-being, and was able to work and enjoy life more than he formerly had.

            This book is an attempt to explain the various mystical feelings of enlightenment which humans have experienced over the millennia of recorded history. Bucke's opinion is that these phenomena are becoming commoner over time, and represent an evolution of the human mind. He postulates that these experiences will become commoner as centuries go by, and become accepted as an ordinary, then eventually as a necessary or innate part of human life.

            The term and title of this book, 'Cosmic Consciousness', is shorthand for the state which human beings enter during a mystical experience. A higher mental echelon free of fear or negative emotions, and characterized by greater perception and understanding of the world, Bucke stresses that Cosmic Consciousness cannot be adequately explained in spoken language. The experience in itself is indescribably different; those who attempt to couch it in words inevitably fall short, or even appear deceptive to other, skeptical individuals.

            In an attempt to convince the reader that Cosmic Consciousness exists and is already instrumental to the human condition, Bucke examines a series of people he believes also underwent such a state. The figures he discusses include religious figures such as Mohammed and St. John of the Cross, philosophers such as Socrates and Leo Tze, scientists such as Francis Bacon, and authors such as Benedict Spinoza, Walt Whitman and William Blake.

            This early text of psychology sees Bucke speak freely about the mystical and spiritual aspects of the human mind. At the time, the discipline was in its infancy, and philosophical discussions of unusual, spiritual experiences were a welcome addition. Although many of Bucke's views have been disproved or refuted by testing and research, Cosmic Consciousness continues to be considered a classic for its incisive, frank discussions of unusual experiences. It is today considered a good companion text to the masterwork of William James; The Varieties of Religious Experience.

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            Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction

            Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction
            • Oxford University Press
            "The last great mystery for science," consciousness has become a controversial topic. Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction challenges readers to reconsider key concepts such as personality, free will, and the soul. How can a physical brain create our experience of the world? What creates our identity? Do we really have free will? Could consciousness itself be an illusion? Exciting new developments in brain science are opening up these debates, and the field has now expanded to include biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers. This book clarifies the potentially confusing arguments and clearly describes the major theories, with illustrations and lively cartoons to help explain the experiments. Topics include vision and attention, theories of self, experiments on action and awareness, altered states of consciousness, and the effects of brain damage and drugs. This lively, engaging, and authoritative book provides a clear overview of the subject that combines the perspectives of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience--and serves as a much-needed launch pad for further exploration of this complicated and unsolved issue.

            About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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            Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

            Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

              Named a Top Ten Science Book of Fall 2016 by Publishers Weekly

              Although mammals and birds are widely regarded as the smartest creatures on earth, it has lately become clear that a very distant branch of the tree of life has also sprouted higher intelligence: the cephalopods, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. In captivity, octopuses have been known to identify individual human keepers, raid neighboring tanks for food, turn off lightbulbs by spouting jets of water, plug drains, and make daring escapes. How is it that a creature with such gifts evolved through an evolutionary lineage so radically distant from our own? What does it mean that evolution built minds not once but at least twice? The octopus is the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien. What can we learn from the encounter?

              In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, tells a bold new story of how subjective experience crept into being―how nature became aware of itself. As Godfrey-Smith stresses, it is a story that largely occurs in the ocean, where animals first appeared. Tracking the mind’s fitful development, Godfrey-Smith shows how unruly clumps of seaborne cells began living together and became capable of sensing, acting, and signaling. As these primitive organisms became more entangled with others, they grew more complicated. The first nervous systems evolved, probably in ancient relatives of jellyfish; later on, the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous mollusks, abandoned their shells and rose above the ocean floor, searching for prey and acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so. Taking an independent route, mammals and birds later began their own evolutionary journeys.

              But what kind of intelligence do cephalopods possess? Drawing on the latest scientific research and his own scuba-diving adventures, Godfrey-Smith probes the many mysteries that surround the lineage. How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart? What is it like to have eight tentacles that are so packed with neurons that they virtually “think for themselves”? What happens when some octopuses abandon their hermit-like ways and congregate, as they do in a unique location off the coast of Australia?

              By tracing the question of inner life back to its roots and comparing human beings with our most remarkable animal relatives, Godfrey-Smith casts crucial new light on the octopus mind―and on our own.



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