Sunday, August 21, 2016

Book Review: Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

Despite my more or less disastrous encounter with the chapter on Phi, Tononi's theory of consciousness, I think this is a pretty good book. One can learn a lot about what makes consciousness possible and impossible, and the often ingenious techniques used to investigate it. Christof Koch's Consciousness has all that and more: historical and philosophical background of the problem, meditations on his own history and behavior, and some interesting stuff on his mentor and "Sun," Francis Crick. I recommend it to anyone interested in this fundamental concept.

Koch is confident that consciousness is not something exclusively human. Chimps, dogs, mice and birds have some version of it. Perhaps even bees and flies have it. Many of the key insights into it have come from investigations of the mouse brain, a key target of the Allen Institute that Koch leads.

Koch's studies have led him to a certain amount of respect for our junior partners in consciousness:

Then, in 2004, Susan Blackmore, an intrepid British psychologist with rainbow-colored hair, interviewed me for a book of hers. I had just concluded a riff on mouse consciousness with a plea to not kill mice thoughtlessly, as many researchers who work with them do, when Susan asked me, out of the blue, whether I ate meat. We looked at each other for a while, silently, until I sighed to cover up my embarrassment at having been revealed a hypocrite. This incident really bothered me.

Koch, Christof. Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist (MIT Press) (p. 160). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

He still eats fish.

More on the book from me at: