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the Complete Review
the complete review - science/philosophy



A Universe of Consciousness

(Consciousness)

by
Gerald M. Edelman
and
Giulio Tononi


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Universe of Consciousness



Title: A Universe of Consciousness
Author: Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi
Genre: Science
Written: 2000
Length: 225 pages
Availability: A Universe of Consciousness - US
Consciousness - UK
A Universe of Consciousness - Canada
Comment la matière devient conscience - France
Gehirn und Geist - Deutschland
  • How Matter becomes Imagination (same subtitle for both US and UK editions)
  • US title: A Universe of Consciousness
  • UK title: Consciousness

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting speculations about consciousness

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Berliner Zeitung . 4/3/2002 Christopher Baethge
FAZ . 19/3/2002 Ansgar Beckermann
The Guardian B- 24/6/2000 Steven Poole
The Sunday Times . 23/7/2000 John Cornwell

  From the Reviews:
  • "(M)an kann die Lektüre gänzlich unvorgebildeten Lesern kaum empfehlen. Denn trotz pädagogischer Bemühungen der Autoren muss der Leser einige Mühe auf sich nehmen, um die Prämissen und schließlich die faszinierende Theorie zu verstehen." - Christopher Baethge, Berliner Zeitung

  • "As I am not a neuroscientist, I can only review Consciousness within its presumably intended genre: popular science. Well, the authors do not provide an objective survey of competitive research; their project is to promote their own work. And while they laudably insist that philosophers must base their work in neuroscience, they might have acknowledged the huge influences in the other direction." - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "Edelman writes eloquently of the transformation of human potential at the point where language and imagination explode into freedom (however limited) and a measure of creative transcendence beyond what nature has given. (...) (H)is theory is fundamentally humble in its acknowledgment of what we can never know." - John Cornwell, The Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The perplexing question of what consciousness is has long been at the forefront of philosophical disputation. This elemental process, an essential -- indeed defining -- aspect of being human has given rise to any number of theories and ideas. Modern science made great advances in the 20th century, and much of the most interesting work regarding consciousness is increasingly no longer the domain of philosophers but of scientists.
       The brain is the seat of consciousness, at least physiologically speaking, and it is those who study the brain -- neurologists, neurobiologists, and the like -- that are doing the most interesting work regarding the question of consciousness. In this book Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman, director of the Neurosciences Institute, and his colleague Giulio Tononi present their findings and theories.
       The brain remains a murky and mysterious place, and though its functions and the processes that take place within it are almost continually becoming better understood its fundamental complexity is still overwhelming. Much about how the brain works has become clear in recent years, but most, it seems, is not. Consciousness, perhaps the most complicated brain-function (involving, presumably, most of the other functions of the brain), remains one of the most daunting areas.
       Edelman and Tononi present a useful overview of the problems and issues regarding consciousness, and various theories regarding it. Numerous examples in A Universe of Consciousness show how the brain is being studied, and what the information gleaned from experiments and experience suggests. A variety of illustrations and charts offer useful supporting information.
       Edelman and Tononi also offer a fair amount of speculation. They are careful to say that much of what they offer is, in fact, theory -- one version of "how matter becomes imagination" -- though the emphasis (that much is speculation) is perhaps not strong enough.
       Among the more interesting concepts they discuss is that of reentry: large numbers of neurons interacting "rapidly and reciprocally", a continuous give and take throughout the brain that is very different from what goes on in a computer, for example. Edelman and Tononi consider reentry central to consciousness -- as they do the idea that consciousness takes place throughout the brain, i.e. that it cannot be pinpointed in one specific area, but requires neural activity in much of the brain. A variety of examples and experiments given in the book support these claims.
       Another aspect Edelman and Tononi emphasize is the notion of "Neural Darwinism" (the title of a 1987 book by Edelman, and a somewhat controversial theory). This theory -- also known as TNGS ("theory of neuronal group selection") -- also integrates the notion of reentry, as well as "developmental selection" and "experiential selection".
       Edelman and Tononi present an interesting and cohesive (if still rudimentary) picture of consciousness, based on their theories of the functioning of the brain. Their theory should be of interest to the professional and layman alike, and provides a useful advanced starting point in any discussion of problems and issues regarding consciousness.
       Well-presented, the book is thorough without being daunting for the non-specialist, and most of the complex points are clearly explained. Perhaps more could have been said about alternative views, but overall A Universe of Consciousness is a very solid effort.

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Links:

A Universe of Consciousness: Reviews: The Neurosciences Institute: Gerald M. Edelman: Giulio Tononi: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       Gerald M. Edelman won the 1972 Nobel Prize for Medicine. An M.D. and Ph.D., he is director of the Neurosciences Institute. He has written several books.

       Giulio Tononi is an M.D. and Ph.D. and a Senior Fellow at the Neurosciences Institute.

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© 2000-2010 the complete review

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