From a cognitive neuroscientist, a lively look at what research is revealing about consciousness and a view of some of the ethical implications of recent findings about the brain’s “ravenous appetite for wisdom.”
Bor (Research Fellow/Univ. of Sussex, Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science) asserts that centuries of philosophical arguments about consciousness have shed little light on the subject and that the science of consciousness, now some two decades old, has much to tell us. Descartes receives special scrutiny. After an opening chapter dismissing many philosophical debates, Bor turns to the evolutionary background of consciousness, which he describes as a certain kind of processing of information that captures useful patterns in the environment. His experience of being under general anesthesia for surgery introduces a discussion of the boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness. He distinguishes between conscious and unconscious processes, examines the psychology and neurophysiology of awareness, and explains how our brains utilize a process called chunking to organize pieces of information into meaningful groups. Bor also takes up the question of how to assess consciousness in various species of animals and in mute individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, and he explores the relationship of dysfunctional consciousness in autism, schizophrenia, ADHD and other mental disorders. Finally, the author includes a cautionary note about the fragility of the human mind; in his view, adopting an attitude of skepticism and practicing meditation are beneficial. Bor keeps general readers in mind, making challenging subject matter entertaining by peppering his narrative with personal anecdotes, imaginative thought experiments and probing research studies. An enthusiastic report from the front lines of cognitive science designed to pique the interest of nonscientists.