Don't expect answers to the compelling mysteries of mind, consciousness, or free will, for Harth makes no pretense that he...


WINDOWS ON THE MIND: Reflections on the Physical Basis of Consciousness

Don't expect answers to the compelling mysteries of mind, consciousness, or free will, for Harth makes no pretense that he knows them. But he can report knowledgeably on what neuroscientists have to say--adding his own bit as a physicist (Syracuse Univ.), interested in computer modeling of the nervous system. Thus, the early chapters are partly inspired by the pioneering works of Pitts and McCulloch at MIT, and pay homage to von Neumann, Wiener, and current cyberneticians. Harth explains how dual inputs of excitation and inhibition on nerve cells permit simple logical operations. Then, welcomely, he points out that cortical circuitry goes far beyond elementary operations. In later chapters, Harth details some of the evolutionary and comparative anatomy background to demonstrate that, for all the human brain's complexity, one can still learn from simpler organisms. Rather than deal with all the senses, Harth selects vision and pain for special study. Vision reveals the elaborate coding and processing system by which light signals are ultimately preceived as forms and contrast. Pain, in spite of the wealth of new information Harth discusses, poses some fundamental perceptual problems that make it difficult, still, to explain just where and how pain is felt. Chapters on mind, voluntary actions, and consciousness parade well-known historical personages and theories; and here again Harth manages his arguments well. He disposes of Sir John Eccles' new mind-brain dualism, as well as current variants on monism and psychoneural identity theories. All this may leave the lay reader in slight disarray and discontent: Harth's writing is sophisticated in style and content, and he has no ready answers. At the end comes a novelistic revelation of time Harth spent on an island in Brazil as a youth. There, he was exposed to the gentle but firm persuasions of an unlikely group of ÉmigrÉs who believed in thought transference and referred to ""the Tibetan"" as a personage of ultimate authority. Harth withstood their assaults with a grace that showed a budding Scientific talent--here exercised with considerable skill and the proper level of skeptical questioning.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981