Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Touching The Light At The Edge Of Everything

Within a single human brain the number of connections are far greater than the number of stars in the Universe. And from this chaotic complexity emerges an experience most of us are aware of but are hardly able to contain into words: Consciousness. From philosophers and psychologists to engineers and physicists, everyone seems to have some idea on how to approach this elusive subject. However, since this is a brain-based activity, it is the neurobiological approach that, in the end, is more luckily to bear tangible fruits.

As above, so below: this Hermetic piece of wisdom seems to be the key to unlocking Edelman's approach. Evolution and natural selection seems to apply not only to the level of organisms but also to memory systems. Edelman shared a Nobel prize in 1972 for his work on the evolving immune system. He then used a similar approach to tackle the mystery of our minds.

Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination is not an easy book. It is dense with concepts and it will require the reader's full attention and dedication. Edelman's older theories (Neuronal Darwinism and Biological Consciousness) are presented in brief but not explained in depth - for that I would recommend his older book The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness. On the other hand, this book is not limited to specialists; dedicated enthusiasts can still get the most out of it. Its 274 pages are organized in seventeen chapters with full bibliography and index.

As memory and consciousness are also my foci of study (and research papers alone rarely offer the big picture!), I have read most of the books on the subject, from Dennet's Consciousness Explained to Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind. However, I find the biological approach to be the most promising.

After all, any physicist or philosopher still has to use his brain to comprehend how his mind is interacting with the Universe. And until we are able to grasp, at least, the framing dimensions of our inner Universe, scientific progress is bound to be as conditional and ritualistic as ancient star-gazing .

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