19 von 21 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Kim M. Clark OD
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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
A brilliant, intelligent book tainted, perhaps, by a tenebrous soliloquy better suited for an autobiography. That said, Koch's background in philosophy, physics, and biology (a PhD in biophysics), and his command of the neurosciences, makes Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist an informative and rewarding study.
Consciousness is among the top two or three books I've read in the last year (and I choose my books and authors carefully). His skill as a writer and his ability to tease from the evidence the salient particulars is laudable. Christof is to be credited for articulating the reasons why physicists are eminently qualified to lead the discussion on brain states and brain activities which help explain the neural correlates and integrating circuits responsible for consciousness. His rhetorical and reasoning abilities are on par with Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens. Koch is not just another intellectual.
With relative ease, he dismantles Descartes' substance dualism, reminding us that "If the mind is truly ephemeral, ineffable, like a ghost or a spirit, it can't interact with the physical universe. It can't be seen, heard, or felt. And it certainly can't make your brain do anything." Other insightful pearls include, but are not limited to:
* "Every phenomenal, subjective state is caused by a particular physical mechanism in the brain."
* Why it is we "look, but don't see."
* How afferent data and sensory referrals are "heavily edited before they become part of the neural correlates of consciousness."
* "Consciousness does not arise from regions but from highly networked neurons within and across regions.... It is critical to understand how this tremendous diversity of actors ... contributes to the genesis of qualia."
* "Nervous systems, like anything else, obey the laws of quantum mechanics."
* Reviewing the research of neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet, Koch reminds us that "The beginning of the readiness potential precedes the conscious decision to move by at least half a second....The brain acts before the mind decides!" Brain-imaging studies have largely upheld Libet's conclusions. Such a foundation allows Koch to segue into a rich and productive discussion of Free Will. "The feeling of agency is no more responsible for the actual decision than thunder for the lightning stroke.... But even if your feeling of willing an action didn't actually cause it, do no forget that it is still your brain that took the action, not somebody else's. It is just not your conscious mind that did so." He goes on to say that "the brain decides well before the mind does; the conscious experience of willing a simple act - the sensation of agency or authorship - is secondary to the actual cause."
* Koch argues that consciousness is a "fundamental property of complex [systems]." Observing the sweet innocence and playful banter of his beloved dog Nosy was all the proof he needed that she, too, was conscious and experiencing. (See pp. 115ff for details.) "We are all nature's children; all of us experience life."
* As to David Chalmer's views of the Hard and Easy Problems of consciousness: "Don't be taken in by philosophical grandstanding and proclamations that the Hard Problem of consciousness will always remain with us. Philosophers deal in belief systems, simple logic, and opinions, not in natural laws and facts. They ask interesting questions and pose charming and challenging dilemmas, but they have a mediocre historical record of prognostication." When it comes to the power of science, Koch affectionately recalls something his intellectual father Francis Crick intoned: "It is very rash to say that things are beyond the scope of science." Christof insists that "There is no reason why we should not ultimately understand how the phenomenal mind fits into the physical world."
But no sooner does Koch bemoan the "lengthy, unsolicited cogitations" that clutter his mailbox, and which fail to include "hard-won neurologic and scientific knowledge" and page 165 happens! With palpable conviction, Koch announces: "I do believe that some deep and elemental organizing principle created the universe and set it in motion for a purpose I cannot comprehend." (My jaw will be seen to hit the carpet below.)
Oy vey, Christof! Where's the "hard-won scientific knowledge" in that confession? Should we not, in the words of Hume, proportion our beliefs to the evidence? Recall that from your own lips fell these instructive words: "Science remains humanity's most reliable, cumulative, and objective method for comprehending reality.... [It] is far better than any alternative in its ability to understand, predict, and manipulate reality. Because science is so good at figuring out the world around us, it should also help us to explain the world within us."
With respect, it's likely that existential angst amid a maelstrom of turbulent emotion will explain Koch's quixotic teleology. Taking a page from his own manuscript: "I continue to be amazed by the ability of highly educated and intelligent people to fool themselves."
His beliefs and convictions, however sincere, explain nothing. At the very least, Christof's proposal leads to infinite regress. To accept the reality of this "organizing principle" requires that we account for its origins. And where in the data is such organizational information to be found? What is it you've identified that others have missed?
Perhaps, Koch's obnubilated judgment is best explained by any of the following crises listed in his book:
* Death of infant daughter Elisabeth.
* Death of his dog Nosy, whom Christof adored. I couldn't help but weep when I read the moving account of her euthanasia: "[The vet] injected her with a large dose of barbiturate while she was resting trustingly in my arms, licking me gently, until her brave heart stopped. It was quick, it was painless - albeit profoundly sad - and it was the right thing to do. I hope that when my time comes, somebody will render me the same service." Ditto, Christof.
* Death of his beloved friend, mentor, collaborator, and intellectual father Francis Crick, whose passing left "a gaping hole in [his] life."
* The "gut-wrenching certainty" that he, too, was going to die.
* His precious children becoming adults and going off to college, leaving Christof an "empty nester." As he lamented, "I missed them more than anything else."
* Abandoning his wife Edith - the same woman he credits for keeping him "grounded for close to three decades. She enabled [him] to develop fully as a professor and a scientist. She put her career on hold for many years to raise [their] children into the healthy, smart, resourceful, responsible, and beautiful adults that they are today." Sounds like a pretty remarkable woman to me. Then again, maybe Edith wasn't the problem. I suspect that somewhere in Christof's pain will be found a measure of self-absorption - a theory I'm prepared to recant in proportion to the evidence.
* "I am a solitary planet ... wandering in the silent spaces between the stars." Hmm. My suspicions may be correct after all.
But it's Koch's understanding and command of the subject and science of consciousness (not his failings as a husband or as a human) that prompted me to buy the book, and which compels me to recommend it to all persons looking to better appreciate the beauty and complexity of Consciousness.
23 von 30 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
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Christof Koch's Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist is the best book I've read in years. If you want to understand consciousness, this is the book for you. It is much kinder and gentler than the author's 2004 tome, The Quest for Consciousness, 429 pages, 1.7 footnotes per page, 100 pages for glossary, references and index. You need a knife & fork to read Quest. There are no footnotes in Confessions and a mere 15 pages of chapter notes, references and index. If you want to delve deeper, those 15 pages have plenty of pointers. This means that a key assertion - we are not conscious of the highest levels of cognition (i.e. decision making) - might just appear in support of the larger point he is making about free will. While other key experiments are brought into the narrative and fully explained, such as Libet's experiment showing that the brain's initiation of an action happens before we are conscious of deciding to act.
That this book uses Mr. Koch's personal journey for the context of his life's work does not diminish the academic rigor of the presentation. His story does not intrude into the exposition of the neuroscience, except for occasional fun anecdotes of meetings of competitive scientist and discussion of his tribe. In a very real sense, his story is the story of the scientific study of consciousness. When he first used physics to understand the biology of nerve cells he "was quarantined". He is now at Cal Tech and Chief Science Office at AIBS with this working model:
"Biology is about unheard-of complexity and specificity at the molecular-cellular level. Chemistry made no progress when matter was conceived to be a mixture of the four Greek classical elements of earth, water, air and fire. And so it is with consciousness. Phenomenal experience does not arise from active or silent brain regions but from the ceaseless formation and dissolution of coalitions of neurons whose complexity and representational capacity is the ultimate substrate of our most intimate thoughts."
Where his own story takes a broader brush is where it is the story of all humans, even if particulars of how we ask the big questions differ. And big questions are raised. Why do we have this gift of consciousness? Is it an evolutionary advantage or is it a byproduct - confabulatory cheesecake - a powerless narrator trying to take credit for and rationalizing decisions that are being made by the animal it is riding. This is the question of Free Will. My own easier question is "Do we have control of our conscious thought?" Concede the dorsal pathway, the limbic system and other overrides of consciousness. Consider the mind in a contemplative moment, free of biological or emotional urges. If one the above mentioned coalitions of neurons can linger or influence the next winning coalition, then we ultimately have free will, IMHO.
Another big question/theme this book cogitates is Dualism. The best early definition by Descartes is that the brain and body obey the laws of physics, but the mind transcends the material world. The problem dualism must resolve is how the nonmaterial mind can effect the physical brain. Many mechanisms have been tried, from the pineal gland to quantum mechanics, but, Koch concedes that Physicalism/materialism rules the day and that makes things simple, but "impoverished". Perhaps I am missing something, but, if the brain has 1000 different types of neurons and dozens if not hundreds of little functional engines as well as a many, many massive feedback loops, do we need a supernatural mind?
I'm glad Christof Koch does not like poverty. He argues that consciousness is a fundamental property of complex things - mind expanding! I am sure I will not do this justice, but, I love skating on the thin ice. A possible mechanism for consciousness as a property is Guilio Tononi's Integrated Information theory. There are two axioms: consciousness 1) reduces entropy and 2) is highly integrated - a conscious state cannot be subdivided. The theory is that the amount of integration is a measure of consciousness. Then there is some math, so, it has to be right :-). There is the fun notion that each different conscious state can be represented as a very high dimensional polygon (polytope). From there Koch goes to panpsychism - that everything has consciousness to some degree as measured by its integrated information. The fewer possible states, the lower the consciousness. A relevant aside from the book, today's New York Times discusses peer reviewed research (Rumor has it, PloS ONE) that shows that "plants are able to perceive and respond to stress ... of their neighbors" - more than a vegetative state? The terminus for panpsychism is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's Noosphere, which I will oversimplify to mean a global consciousness in which all conscious beings participate. While Cristof Koch is not pushing these as accepted theories, he proposes that some mechanism for this notion of consciousness is possible. He ends the chapter with a plea for humility, pointing out that dark matter was only "discovered" 2 decades ago. Anyone that can take me from Claude Shannon to Teilhard de Chardin in eight coherent pages has my vote!
As you can plainly see by "looking inside" at the Table of Contents, I have only served up a slice of this very rich pie - and as often happens with that first piece - I messed it up getting it onto the plate. I blame it on my enthusiasm for the author, who also has a column in SciAm Mind and fascination with the subject matter, of which I believe he is the leading authority. Let me end with a quote that you do not see in every book on neuroscience: "The conclusion of this experiment, that the words you hear or use shape your behavior, would not be news to my grandmother, who always preached that tipping, bringing small gifts, and being polite pays off in unknown ways."