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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: A Universe of Consciousness



The connections between matter and thought has been a debate for hundreds of years. Thought is a higher level of conscious form grown out of the natural development of human beings and their interaction with the environment. Matter is that which physically creates the biological structure by which thought can develop. Such matter developed out of our physical and historical existence in a need to create higher probabilities of survival. According to Darwinian perception, our very experience is constantly seeking advantages and adaptations to our environment. 

The book A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter becomes Imagination by Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi delves into this matter and consciousness connection. Like similar subject experts, they believe that neural connections in the neocortex create pathways by which we take individual images and connect them to develop consistent stories that both explain and predict our environments.  Those with higher levels of neocortical activity also have higher levels of intelligence as they are able to connect more experiences into a stream of consciousness.

More importantly, what we know as society comes from our shared language that helps to represent images that further create similarity in thought and conscious experience. The book does not move into this concept but it can be intuitively drawn that a society is a collection of people with shared streams of consciousness. It means that they have a shared string of images in their past that make them a unified cultural entity-a society. When these images and streams are significantly different, their sense of society and hence collective conscious experience is different. 

The brain makes connections within this neocortex depending on its development and experience. The more experience the brain has the more connections that are created to understand those experiences. New connections are created through cell division that helps us to become more aware of both patterns but also differences in our environments. The more successful we are able to distinguish these differences the more successful our brains are in creating pockets of knowledge through neural development. 

The book also discusses the concept of the World Knot. In its most basic form, the World Knot tries to untie the complex nature of how individual subjective experience relates to objective reality. It is believed that experimentation and research will be able to untie that knot someday. However, even research and its methodology is subjective at its core due to its cultural and developmental process. Perhaps the World Knot is really more of a collective knot whereby multiple perspectives and critical thinking create a more accurate understanding of our physical reality.

The book moves through the chapters of The World Knot, Consciousness and the Brain, Mechanisms of Consciousness, Dealing with Plethora, Untangling the Knot, and Observer Time. It is a collection and explanation of modern neuroscience and its theoretical explanation of consciousness. The book is written at a graduate level and a large bibliography for those seeking other sources.  It is coherent in its development but technical in the language. It is not suggested that those without a rudimentary understanding of psychology attempt to traverse its meaning without a theoretical and biological basic understanding of human life. 

Edelman, G. & Tononi, G. (2000). A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter becomes Imagination. NY: Basic Books.  ISBN: 978-0-465-01377-7
Price: $20
Pages: 250
Blog Ranking: 4.4

Author: Dr. Murad Abel

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