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Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist Reprint , Format Kindle
|Longueur : 195 pages||Word Wise: Activé||Composition améliorée: Activé|
|Page Flip: Activé||Langue : Anglais|
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So in my case I bought this book because it gives an explanation through a detailed account about what consciousness is (not a ghost, just in case), which means what we know about it today, what it is consciousness now, and what we could expect to know for the future. Another reason is that Christof Koch is an authority on the subject so the combination for learning something new and serious on the topic was perfect.
The other reason to read the book was the personal approach that Koch proposes as a writer. He creates a personal and very intimate relationship with the reader as long as he tells you about his life, how he came to be involved in the subject of consciousness and which are his ideas today after decades of study.
Christof Koch, a physicist, worked for several years with Francis Crick (one of the DNA discoverers) so the proximity with the history of science, the philosophy involved and the effects of living a life dedicated to know who's that guy inside our brains, is all very close, intermingled and narrated in a very exciting style. To read this book is something very similar to stay at Koch's living room, listening to him and sharing good moments of high level science, sadness, memories and humor. "What is striking," says Koch, "to a physicist studying the brain and the mind is the absence of any conservation laws: Synapses, action potentials, neurons, attention, memory, and consciousness are not conserved in any meaningful sense. Instead, what biology and psychology do have in exuberant abundance are empirical observations-facts. There is no unifying theory, with the singular exception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection... [which] is open ended, and not predictive."
Having said that you can rightly conclude that this is both a book about consciousness and also about Koch's consciousness (the reason, I guess, behind the subtitle of the book: "Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist"). Two books in one but clearly separated and cleverly explained and documented.
Indeed, there is lots of explanations based on enormous advances and data about the topic of consciousness but the bad news is there is no consciousness in the form of a cube, a pyramid, or a little person inside a grey box in our heads. There is not a single organ. There is no a special piece of matter with an etiquette saying "consciousness." There is only indirect and distributed evidence. That's the cause of questions like: "How the brain converts bioelectrical activity into subjective states, how photons reflected off water are magically transformed into the percept of an iridescent aquamarine mountain tarn..." To reinforce the idea, Koch quotes John Tyndale: "Granted that a definite thought, and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not posses the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from the one phenomenon to the other." And thus he arrives to the question of "WHY." Why we see what we see through the microscope or the scanner or the fMRI or, you name it, instead of the consciousness. Why we see the crime but not the corpse. We see a correlate, a shadow, an oscillation, but we don't see the thing in itself. Why some strange things happen in our brain when we see a rose? And "how does nervous tissue acquire an interior, first person point of view?"
A hard problem that Christof Koch deals with experience, intelligence, insight and, last but not least, a romantic vein, to let you know how difficult is the task of looking for this material and intrinsic "ghost". This is why, at the end of the book, in chapter 10, he addressed some difficult issues "considered off-limits...of scientific discourse," to limit, of course, the extent of an open end that could be disappointing. This chapter is a personal final for the author and works as the human side of a scientific that opposes the dualistic view of the world and ask difficult questions, such as "Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia [who] had already pointed out to Descartes three centuries earlier -by what means does the immaterial soul direct the physical brain to accomplish its aim?" If we look for explanations, Koch says, "we must abandon the classical view of the immortal soul." Even in this perspective, Koch manages to get out of trouble that an excessive materialism (physicalism) posits by proposing instead "an alternative account that augments physicalism." So what follows is a step further the end of the book and I'm not going to talk about it, except to add that I would have preferred that the book had finished some lines before this last rumination. To me, a tiny stain, an unnecessary (although eloquent) allegation to give a possible solution to an "impossible" task.
So there are no four stars up there, but 4,9.
But do not get the wrong idea, this book is not a purely scientific book. Koch used an interesting approach to give an autobiographical book spirit. Throughout the book you will be interrupted with insightful statements from Koch's life and his career, I found the most interesting to be his collaboration with the legendary Francis Crick and his struggle with religious belief.
Confessions is a great book, not as informative as it could have been, but absolutely touching. The research on consciousness, its philosophical implications, the potential of information theory to explain the mystery of subjective experience, and even Koch's personal anecdotes -make this short book unforgettable.
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