Summary of Consciousness

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Christof Koch, a notable researcher in the field of “consciousness,” calls himself a “romantic reductionist.” He explains that, as a reductionist, he looks for “quantitative explanations for consciousness in the ceaseless and ever-varied activity of billions of tiny nerve cells” and as a romantic, he believes “the universe has contrails of meaning that can be deciphered in the sky above us and deep within us.” In this intense scientific and personal autobiography, his prose and narrative structure prove anything but reduced. Koch details complex neurobiological experiments and studies, interweaving his life story with his philosophy about the profundity of the universe and what he interprets as the absence of a supreme deity. He addresses the weightiest topics, and his enthusiasm for them is admirable. But unless you study or work in similar areas, his complex style, long sentences and technical details may daunt even the most informed consciousness. Still, for his thoughtful expertise in multiple disciplines, getAbstract – while always neutral in matters of religion – recommends this work to philosophers, biologists, neurologists, computer scientists, and all who teach or study those fields.

About the Author

Neuroscientist Christof Koch is best known for his work on the neural bases of consciousness. He is the president and chief scientific officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington. His books include The Quest for Consciousness.




How and why do you perceive the world, and how and why do your perceptions affect the world you perceive? How and why does your awareness of yourself as a functioning, feeling, thinking being – that is, your consciousness – nourish or thwart your connection to the world? These largely unanswerable questions motivate neuroscientist and philosopher Christof Koch’s work. A basic dichotomy informs human existence: Your brain, which the laws of physics govern, is one part, and your cognizance about everything you experience is the other. What is the relationship between these elements? Your nervous system and consciousness interact constantly, but no one knows how. The questions of how and why fascinate philosophers, scientists and laypeople alike. Philosophers call it the “Hard Problem,” in that consciousness eludes “rational explanation…scientific analysis” and “empirical validation.”

Religion and science are humanity’s prisms for seeking insight about the nature of the world and people’s place in it. Charles Darwin undermined notions of religion by suggesting that God did not rule the Earth. Instead, certain life forms, including humans, developed in...

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