Consciousness Readings

Not blogged much recently. Been reading hard.

James Austin’s “Zen And The Brain” (1998)
Gerald Edelman’s “Wider Than The Sky” (2004)
Adam Zeman’s “Consciousness, A User’s Guide” (2002)

Completed the latter two, but still only 60% through Austin’s 840 page tome. All three are state-of-the-art brain-focussed, written by neuroscientists. All aim to get somewhere into explanations of consciousness.

Zeman starts with basics – simple everyday concepts of being awake / asleep, aware / unaware, self-conscious, etc then leads into brain physiology aspects of normal, abnormal and traumatic phenomena of sleep and perception. In fact all three dwell on anatomy, physiology and electro-chemistry of the brain – and drug induced states.

Austin I’ve not yet finished, so I’ve not found any link yet between his independantly described Zen philosophy and teaching and the brain science.

Zeman’s book is relatively unsophisticated philosophically, but after passing gratuitous references to duality and quantum physics, really just leaves a number of open ends about how various perceptual and physiological phenomena leave plenty of doors open. He ends suggesting that inconclusive picture of consciousness and existence itself, may simply reflect limits to human understanding. (Like Edelman he includes numerous references to Nagel’s Bat, though never deeply analysed.)

Edelman (a Nobel Laureate) is different. He moves very quickly beyond brain physiology to his own schematic model of how the brain works (and gives rise to consciusness) – TNGS – the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection. Like Zeman much of his description of brain development in species and in individuals makes use of an “evolutionary” model – neurons are extremely “plastic”. Edeleman specifically disagrees with David Chalmers view of consciousness, whereas Zeman seems to be barking up the same tree – searching to explain qualia – the actual qualities we attribute to perception independant of the mental picture we build with them – need to refine that … later.)

I guess I’ll just have to finish Austin – on my 12 hour flight to China later today.
BTW did I mention I had the pleasure of an MRI scan on a neuroma in my leg on Monday last – more than disinterested curiosity. Interesting experence – all that energy and noise at weirdly varying low frequencies ?

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