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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 [Kindle Edition]

Stanislas Dehaene

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“Ambitious . . . Dehaene offers nothing less than a blueprint for brainsplaining one of the world’s deepest mysteries. . . . [A] fantastic book.”
The Washington Post

“Dehaene is a maestro of the unconscious.”
Scientific American Mind

“Brilliant… Dehaene’s special contribution is his global-workspace theory, the first step in a complete account of why some neural processes lead to conscious experience…. Dehaene’s account is the most sophisticated story about the neural basis of consciousness so far. It is essential reading for those who want to experience the excitement of the search for the mind in the brain.”
--Chris Frith, Nature
“In Consciousness and the Brain, [Dehaene] summaries the fruits of two decades of vigorous experimentation and modeling…. The book introduces the methods that acted as midwife at the birth of a science of consciousness…. Postulating that global availability of information is what we subjectively experience as a conscious state begets the question of why…. Answering such questions requires an information-theoretical account of what type of data, communicated within what system, gives rise to conscious experience in biological or artificial organisms. Dehaene’s well-written and well-sourced book avoids this, as this, as he opts to restrict it to behavioral and neuronal observables.”
—Christof Koch, Science
“Consciousness tomes have become a dime a dozen over the past decade or so, with every last researcher feeling the need to join the fray. But Stanislas Dehaene is one of the few at the top of the disciplines involved – philosophy, history, cognitive psychology, brain imaging, computer modelling – to add something new.”
New Scientist
“An excellent teacher with a gift for vivid analogies, Dehaene writes that ‘consciousness is like the spokesperson in a large institution . . . with a staff of a hundred billion neurons’ issuing briefs that tell us what we need to know moment by moment. He then explains his and his colleagues’ groundbreaking theory about the “global neuronal workspace,” where information is made ‘available to the rest of the brain,’ wowing us with descriptions of our pyramidal neurons and their spiny dendrites and the discovery that each neuron ‘cares’ about such specific stimuli as ‘faces, hands, objects.’ A stunning delineation of the “exquisite biological machinery” that has made us an animal unlike any other.”
Booklist, starred review

“A revealing and definitely not dumbed-down overview of what we know about consciousness.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Stanislas Dehaene’s remarkable book is the best modern treatment of consciousness I have read to date. Dehaene, a world-class scientist, has pioneered the development of a set of experiments for studying consciousness that have revolutionized the field and given us the first direct approach to its biology. Simply stated this book is a tour de force. It opens up a whole new world of intellectual exploration for the general reader.”
—Eric Kandel, author of In Search of Memory and The Age of Insight, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine


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



  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 8622 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 352 Seiten
  • Verlag: Viking Adult (30. Januar 2014)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.8 von 5 Sternen  27 Rezensionen
75 von 78 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Ignition, a self-reinforcing avalanche (and with panache!) 24. Februar 2014
Von Bob Blum - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
As a physician and Stanford researcher (initially in artificial intelligence and currently in cognitive neuroscience), I have been interested in consciousness research for 50 years. How does the brain create consciousness? And, if this is "simply" a story of billions of spiking neurons talking to one another, can it be done in silicon? (If so, this may occasion a profound turning point in human history.)

I have followed Professor Stan Dehaene's prestigious journal publications for a decade as he has amassed a wealth of evidence supporting the view that consciousness is 1) experimentally accessible, 2) has reliable neural correlates (signatures), and 3) is functionally important . Dehaene (a professor at the College de France in Paris and director of the INSERM Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit) is one of the world's leading scholars of consciousness. Fortunately for us, his literary agent, John Brockman (of "Edge" fame) persuaded him to write this popular work.

That Dehaene writes this well in English makes me wonder how spectacularly he must write in his native French. We are not only transported to the cutting edge of research on consciousness, but the voyage is a thrill. As expected, Dehaene is thoroughly steeped in the history of consciousness from Plato, through Descartes, Hume, and the Continental philosophers. His writing is also filled with references to French art, literature, and humanism (like serotonin molecules, that culture seems to have diffused from the Louvre down the Boulevard Saint-Michel and become bound in this book.)

Right from the start (see the beautiful, free Introduction on Amazon) he reminds us that it all began in the caves at Lascaux with the depiction of a dreamer's soul wafting about like a sparrow. Deftly weaving ancient Egyptian mythology with the Upanishads, he transitions to Descartes and his alleged "Error." Rightfully defending his countryman, Dehaene takes contemporary pop-neurosci to task. Descartes was no dualist (body + immaterial soul) blinded by religion. Rather, he was genuinely grappling with the central problem of this book and the field. How does conscious perception, reflection, and deliberation emanate from a machine?

In seven chapters, Dehaene carefully steps us through all the evidence (from his large Paris group and the world's other top labs) of the brain's signatures of consciousness.

How can one even study consciousness in the lab? (Chapter 1) The key innovation was the discovery and exploitation of "minimal contrast" phenomena. When presented just too faintly, too rapidly. or when masked they are completely invisible. But, increase the intensity, duration, or remove the mask and there they are, plain as day. I'll list these, but do yourself a favor and go to YouTube to see them for yourself: motion-induced blindness, change blindness, attentional blink, binocular rivalry, multistable perception. Now you see it; now you don't. (Also, go to Charlie Rose's website and look at the episode on consciousness in which Nobelist Eric Kandel interviews Dehaene and other stars of this field.)

We are obviously conscious, but is there any neural processing of which we are NOT conscious?
(Chapter 2) Yes, most of it! Non-conscious and pre-conscious processing is ubiquitous, functional, and essential. He reviews fascinating experiments that reveal the pervasive and essential role of non-conscious processing in language, vision, hearing, and action. Consciousness is the tip of the iceberg.

Perhaps consciousness is epiphenomenal (a non-functional add-on, like the roar of a jet plane). In Chapter 3 he dismisses that old, profoundly counter-intuitive proposition. His argument here is reminiscent of Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. Fast (nonconscious) thought is fine for practiced, routine, reflexive speech and action. But thinking and action marked by careful deliberation and planning requires consciousness: the ability to maintain a percept in working memory and mull it over.

Chapter 4 displays the core findings of the experimental work: the neural signatures of consciousness. These are what Nobelist Francis Crick and collaborator Christof Koch called the neural correlates of consciousness. (See Koch's excellent work "The Quest for Consciousness") Even invisible, unseen (subliminal) stimuli excite chains of neural firing but only in primary sensory areas. However, when a stimulus crosses the threshold into consciousness, the neural firing is strongly amplified in intensity and distribution as many brain regions ignite and communicate especially prefrontal, parietal, and anterior temporal areas.

In Chapter 5 he describes a tentative theory that accounts for the experimental findings: the global neuronal workspace theory. I'm old enough to recall the origin of this theory as the blackboard model from 1970s AI research sponsored by DARPA that led to the then famous Hearsay-II speech understanding system from CMU. In an interesting quirk of history, this excellent work was dragged into oblivion by the AI Winter of the 1980s. But, the theory itself became resurrected as a theory of consciousness by psychologist Bernard Baars. (See Baars' 1988 A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness). With the 1990 advent of fMRI, this theory became ripe for experimental verification. Entrez Professeur Dehaene. Not only can he explain the lab details from Chapter 4, he has also built a computer simulation of a spiking neural network that exhibits the same behavior.

As you may know, Europe has just embarked on a ten year 1.5 billion dollar project to simulate the human brain. While this project may seem to be irrationally ambitious, I am comforted in knowing that Dehaene is one of the scientists at the helm.

Chapter 6 deals with the crucial topic of coma and vegetative states. It opens poignantly with the case of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the Editor of Elle, who had a brain stem stroke, and though entirely paralyzed (save for one eye), wrote an entire book "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly" by blinking that eye. EEG, MEG, and fMRI signatures of consciousness may in the future help us to decide which coma patients are conscious and which are not.

He closes in Chapter 7 with the future: tests for animal consciousness and machine consciousness. While machine consciousness may someday be possible, it will not happen soon. Nonetheless, this work paves the way to it by showing the functional properties of the only system that we know is conscious: ourselves.

Although I've read widely on this topic (and cover AI and Stanford neuroscience on my website: bobblum) , there was much here that was new to me. This is an outstanding work on the basis of both scientific and literary merit.
21 von 22 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Consciousness As Experimental Science 26. Februar 2014
Von Penman - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
It is wonderful to find a book that has taken consciousness from a philosophical subject, approachable mostly by way of metaphor, to the scientific, experimental level.
Mr. Dehaene begins, as is often necessary in science, by defining the term consciousness in a clear and unambiguous manner that delineates it from other related and often conflated terms such as awareness and attention.
But the majority of this book concerns data taken from nuts-and-bolts experiments in the lab, many using brain-imaging equipment, that give information about actual brain processes that occur during consciousness and how they differ from those of unconscious processing. And sometimes startling insights about the evolution of consciousness and the reasons it may have developed.
Four "signatures" of consciousness were identified from this experimental data, and using these signatures, a theory of consciousness was developed and also a practical method for determining the actual state of animals, babies, or patients who have suffered brain trauma or paralysis and are not able to communicate directly with people.
This is cutting-edge, ground-floor science, and I am thankful to live in an era where I can access this knowledge. It is in the nature of science that new experiments and findings on the nature of consciousness will doubtless now occur rapidly, but this is the finest book on consciousness I have read thus far.
20 von 22 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Masterful explication by a pioneer 16. Februar 2014
Von Jon G. Allen - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Dehaene and his colleagues have made enormous contributions to our understanding of conscious and unconscious processes in the brain. This lucid explication provides and up-to-date synthesis of their work with that of others. Cleverly integrating neuroscience with experimental cognitive science, Dehaene has meticulously identified several signatures of consciousness, that is, patterns of brain activity that are distinctive to conscious processing. This differentiation is not graded but rather binary: above a threshold, the brain "ignites" into an "avalanche" of activity. Dehaene has refined and updated Bernard Baars's well-established "global workspace" theory of consciousness, the distinctive feature of which is sharing information widely across the brain. This book also makes the profoundly important clinical contribution of elucidating the complex and varied sequelae of coma and pioneering ways of identifying consciousness in unresponsive patients. Given the book's accessibility to lay readers, family members of patients recovering from comatose states will find it extraordinarily useful and informative. What we are learning about ourselves from burgeoning research on the neurobiological basis of consciousness is truly mind boggling and is likely to change our self-understanding in ways that are challenging to anticipate. We can be grateful that Dahaene was persuaded to put his knowledge into a book.
19 von 25 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Thorough 9. April 2014
Von Daphne - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I liked most of the discussion, he covers the ground in detail. It's not for the uninitiated, a lot of material on synapses, interaction of various parts of the brain and endless 'studies.' Apparently college students have little to do but be research subjects.
I dumped a star because of the final chapter. The author can't relinquish the idea of free will. He supports it by suggesting that our 'higher functions' allow us to ponder the input from the brain and cogitate over what to do next. He ignores the role of the unconscious at this point, after going to great lengths earlier to highlight its importance in our actions. Further, he ignores hormones, as if the emotions they generate can somehow be overridden and a form of pure reason take control. That fallacy has been amply explored and demolished. Humans are emotionally driven, even when they believe they are objective and dispassionate.
If there is free will, why are so many people obese, drive too fast, smoke, fail to prepare for tests, in so many ways knowingly act against their own best interest? Why can't they just 'will' themselves out of behavioral error? What we think is free will is a sense of guilt when we reflect on alternatives we believe we could have taken. If we can conjure up alternatives after the fact, it leads us to believe we had a choice when we make the original decision. That, of course, is nonsense, whatever we did when we did it was the only thing we could have done. Guilt and embarrassment are to help us avoid future errors, an evolutionary advantage that requires no add-on like free will to operate. Think Occam's Razor.
He also thinks that, ultimately, we can build a computer that mimics consciousness. He never explains how to stick chemicals, hormones, into the box. Maybe the box can be built, maybe it will have a form of consciousness. It would be like Mr. Spock, self aware and purely rational, but it will never be human.
7 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Signatures of Consciousness: The Avalanche that brings the World to Mind 20. April 2014
Von Jan Hardenbergh - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This book is Brilliant!

This first thing I really like - and is new to me - is Dahaene's avenue of investigation about consciousness: measuring brain activity in response to subliminal stimuli and then measuring as stimuli is gradually increased until they become conscious phenomena to the subjects. For the first 1/3 of a second, there is little difference in the brain processing between what will stay subconscious and just fade away versus what will come to our attention. When the flood of visual/auditory sensations trigger an avalanche. The difference is that the supraliminal stimuli cause a global ignition, in which a much larger network of neurons light up. The frontal cortex is sending message back to the visual cortex to guide in the refinement of what we see. This larger coalition is the global neuronal workspace. Once in the Global Workspace, it is available to all other brain regions so they can take appropriate action - or be primed.

Also new, the concept of the Rider "sampling" the Elephant. System 1, aka, the elephant is presenting all sorts of information the the Rider/System2, and the Rider takes snapshots. See quote from p.97 below. I gotta believe this where the "see what you want see" action or inaction happens.

Chapter 2 is a well written catalog of all of the subconscious processing that is is the Elephant in Haidt's The Elephant And The Rider Metaphor and the System 1 in Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow.

Signatures of Consciousness form an upgrade from correlates of consciousness found in Christof Koch's The Quest for Consciousness. I would not say these are really signatures of consciousness, but rather signatures that new stimuli have entered consciousness - have made it into the Global Workspace. We retain whatever is conscious without the constant refresh of these signatures. Here are the . . .
p. 159 - "four reliable signatures of consciousness - physiological markers that index whether the participant experienced a conscious percept.
First, a conscious stimulus causes an intense neuronal activation that leads to a sudden ignition of parietal and prefrontal circuits.
Second, in the EEG, conscious access is accompanied by a slow wave called the P3 wave, which emerges as late as one-third of a second after the stimulus.
Third, conscious ignition also triggers a late and sudden burst of high-frequency oscillations.
Finally, many regions exchange bidirectional and synchronized messages over long distances in the cortex, thus forming a global brain web.

An avalanche is also used as a metaphor for ignition. The subliminal rumble of neural activity is almost identical to the supraliminal. Just a little bit strong stimulus triggers and avalanche that gets a new precept into the Global Workspace.

The P300 wave is much stronger in the case of ignition. It can be from 250ms to 500ms after the stimulus. The P3 wave is fired by the winning coalition, mostly to inhibit rival coalitions (p.179).

p.179 - "The landscape of active and inactive neurons can explain our second signature of consciousness: the P3 wave that I described in Chapter 4 a large positive voltage that peaks at the top of the scalp. During conscious perception, a small subset of workspace neurons becomes active and defines the current content of our thoughts, while the rest are inhibited. The active neurons broadcast their message throughout the cortex by sending spikes down their long axons. At most places, however, these signals land on inhibitory neurons. They act as a silencer that hushes entire groups of neurons: "Please remain silent, your features are irrelevant." A conscious idea is encoded by small patches of active and synchronized cells, together with a massive crown of inhibited neurons.

Global Workspace

I'm going to say that the global workspace is not a specific set of neurons, but, rather any coalition of neurons that has members in several of the "higher sectors of the cortex".

p.177 "higher sectors of the cortex" . . . "are particularly predominant in the prefrontal cortex but also in other sectors of the anterior temporal lobe, inferior parietal lobe, and a midline region called the precuneus. All send and receive numerous projections to and from a broad variety of distant brain regions, allowing the neurons there to integrate information over space and time. Multiple sensory modules can therefore converge onto a single coherent interpretation ("a seductive Italian woman"). This global interpretation may, in turn, be broadcast back to the areas from which the sensory signals originally arose. The outcome is an integrated whole. Because of neurons with long-distance top-down axons, projecting back from the prefrontal cortex and its associated high-level network of areas onto the lower-level sensory areas, global broadcasting creates the conditions for the emergence of a single state of consciousness, at once differentiated and integrated.

Altho the Global Workspace is much more explicitly defined by Dehanee, Christof Koch has the same notions as one of his 10 working assumptions in The Quest for Consciousness: 3) Conscious precepts are the results of a single winning coalition of neurons with at some prefrontal parts of the network.

What Is Consciousness Good For?

p.96 (ambiguous images) - "Fascinatingly, the convergence process that leads our neurons to agree on a single interpretation vanishes under anesthesia. The loss of consciousness is accompanied by a sudden dysfunction of the neuronal circuits that integrate our senses into a single coherent whole. Consciousness is needed for neurons to exchange signals in both bottom-up and top-down directions until they agree with one another. In its absence, the perceptual inference process stops short of generating a single coherent interpretation of the outside world."
p.97 - "What we see at any time, tends to be the most likely interpretation, but, other possibilities occasionally pop up and stay in our conscious vision for a time duration that is proportional to their statistical likelihood. Our unconscious perception works out all of the probabilities - and then our consciousness samples from them at random."

p.102/103 - "In human subjects, memory-trace learning seems to occur if and only if the person reports being aware of the systematic predictive link between the tone and the air puff. Elderly people, amnesiacs and people who were simply too distracted to notice the temporal relationship show no conditioning at all (whereas these manipulations have no effect whatsoever on coincidence-based conditioning). Brain imaging shows that the subjects who gain awareness are precisely those who activate their prefrontal cortex and hippocampus during the learning." [ memory-trace learning means the air puff follows the tone by some amount of time. Like Pavlov's dog]

p.109 - multicore - " This active social transmission of a conscious symbol offers new computational abilities. Humans can create "multicore" social algorithms that do not draw solely on the knowledge available to a single mind but rather allow the confrontation of multiple points of view, variable levels of expertise, and a diversity of sources of knowledge."

p.110 - "Sharing information with others is a second reason our brain finds it advantageous to abstract from the details of our present sensations and create a conscious "brief." Words and gestures provide us with only a slow communication channel-only 40 to 60 bits per second,42 or about 300 times slower than the (now antiquated) 14,400-baud faxes that revoutionized our offices in the 1990s. Hence our brain drastically com- presses the information to a condensed set of symbols that are assembled into short strings, which are then sent over the social network. It would actually be pointless to transmit to others a precise mental image of what I see from my own point of view; what others want is not a detailed description of the world as I see it, but a summary of the aspects that are likely to also be true from my interlocutor's viewpoint: a multisensory, viewer-invariant, and durable synthesis of the environment."

More Notes

p.118 - "The primary visual cortex and surrounding areas were basically activated by all of the images, regardless of the amount of masking. In the higher visual centers of the cortex, however, within the fusiform gyrus and the lateral occipitotemporal region, a tight correlation urged between brain activation and reports of conscious reports.
p.126 - "the brain contains exquisite mechanisms that compensate for these delays . . .

p.135 - "The bestiary of brain oscillations includes the alpha band (8 to 13 hertz), the beta band (13 to 30 hertz), and the gamma band (30 hertz and higher) [jch - hertz is per second. 8 hertz means a pulse every 1/8 second]

p.244 - great discussion about consciousness in animals. For most definitions of consciousness, they are. DUH!!!

p.252 ". . . in humans the prefrontal cortex is vastly expanded ... Neurons have the largest dendritic trees ... Frontopolar cortex, or Brodmann's area 10 is larger in humans and the underlying white matter, the long distance axons to support connections to other regions, is disproportionate larger ...
. . . "Another special region is Broca's area, the left inferior frontal region that plays a critical role in human language. Its layer-3 neurons, which send long-distance projections, are more broadly spaced in humans than in other apes, again permitting a greater interconnection.49 In this area, as well as in the midline anterior cingulate, another crucial region for self-control, Constantin von Economo discovered giant [spindle] neurons that may well be unique to the brains of humans and great apes such as chimps and bonobos, as they seem to be absent in other primates, such as macaques.50 With their giant cell bodies and long axons, these cells probably make a very significant contribution to the broadcasting of conscious messages in the human brain."


One thing that was a little frustrating is that the Global Neuronal Workspace seemed to be used as if it were a specific thing, as if it were a workbench and you bring things to the workspace and they become conscious.

Also a bit frustrating is the use of the term code. The concept of a brain code - in the subtitle of the book! - was never developed. There was talk about how many different combinations of neuron connections there could be and that perhaps each concept or thing we have in our minds has a particular coalition of neurons to represent it.

And speaking of code and computers, I find it amusing to have on the same page, a little rant on how inadequate computers are followed by how great the global neuronal workspace simulator is.

Dahanene spends a lot of time talking about the ignition of consciousness and not a lot about the idling - the keeping those 7 +/- 2 things in mind.

Still, this is a brilliant book! It has plenty of new material and excellent descriptions of how this fits into the current research.
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