Other Books

Run-on Sentence Summary

Neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene gives a broad overview of the leading science behind consciousness research and explains his theory of how consciousness manifests itself in the brain.

Impressions

This was an interesting, short and high quality pop science book. It doesn’t feel dumbed down, but it is not dry either. The book begins with various experiments and how they have led to reliable markers and tests for consciousness. Then it goes into some interesting sections on coma patients and testing consciousness in babies and animals. Finally, he explains his unifying “global neuronal workspace theory” and briefly explores ideas of free will, artificial intelligence and materialism.

While reading this book, I kept trying to feel the electrical activity in my own head and imagine it manifesting as my stream of consciousness, and it made me so uncomfortable! Some of the experiments in the book, such as one in which they can spontaneously cause a patient to picture a face in their mind by electrically stimulating an area of the brain, raise huge ethical dilemmas that never fully get explored. The greatest dilemma, though, is the mounting evidence that consciousness is nothing special and is completely manifest by the activity of the brain, and the implications this has for free will.

Dehaene argues that a deterministic brain doesn’t preclude the notion of free will, and is even optimistic that computer simulated brains can and will achieve free will of their own. If nothing else, this book has sparked my nascent interest in AI.

Final Thoughts

Over all, the lasting impression I felt is that despite massive progress, we still know astonishingly little about how the brain works, and that is fascinating.

Favorite Quote

"This exquisite biological machinery is clicking right now inside your brain. As you close this book to ponder your own existence, ignited assemblies of neurons literally make up your mind.