Consciousness Explained

Consciousness Explained book cover Post edited by: Raúl, at: 2006/11/13 13:13

I’m about to finish reading the book Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett (1991). Although I have seen some critics against Dennett’s approach I think this book is a really valuable resource for those who aim to better understand the nature of consciousness. The multiple draft model presented in the book is quite interesting and it seems that latest advances in neuroscience prove the basics assumptions of the model. The Cartesian Theatre approach is confronted to the multiple draft model, and I think the distributed nature of consciousness is well supported.

As usual, the phenomenal dimension of consciousness is the controversial point. Dennett introduces the term “heterophenomenology” in this book. The heterophenomenological approach is the tool used by Dennett to explain the proposed model.

An interesting interview with the author of the book, Daniel Dennett, is available here.

Theatre of the Mind

Theatre of the Mind. Raising the curtain on consciousness book coverTheatre of the Mind. Raising the curtain on consciousness. Jay Ingram (2005).

Reviewed: 2007/09/18 13:13. This book by Jay Ingram is published by Harper Collins Canada (2005).
This is the last book I’ve read about consciousness, and I can recommend it to anyone interested in the field as an introductory journey into the matter. As Jay Ingram is a science broadcaster the book is written for the broad public, and…

it can be easily understood. Books about consciousness can be sometimes too difficult to understand for the non-expert in the field, as they tend to use too many philosophical terms and usually the writer assumes previous knowledge in cognitive sciences and/or neurobiology. But, this is not the case of Theater of the Mind. It is written in a direct and easy way, thus creating a comfortable and enjoyable summary of latest advances in the search for an explanation of consciousness.

Other strong point I see in this book is that it covers a wide range of issues related with consciousness, from its definition, the problem of free will, dreams, animal consciousness, and even cosmic experiences. This will make you to wonder many new questions about your consciousness. Also, some of the most remarkable neurological syndromes are also described, like split brains, giving the reader the chance to appreciate how neurologists and psychologists infer some assumptions regarding the nature of consciousness.

The Making of the Memory

The Making of the Memory book coverThe Making of Memory by Steven Rose

This is not a book on consciousness but there is no doubt that memory is a fundamental component of mind. That’s the reason why I am also interested in the research of memory in mammals and that’s why I read this book by Steven Rose: The Making of Memory. From Molecules to Mind. (ISBN: 0099449986. 1992. Actually my copy is a revised edition published by Vintage in 2003).

As the title suggests, Rose offers a scientific review of current advances in the study of the processes of memory at the biochemical, physiological, and cognitive levels. However, one has to take into account that this is not a cognitive science book, and the strength is given in the realms of biochemistry and physiology. The book is to a great extend a biography of Rose’s research career, which I believe is a good strategy to introduce the world of biochemical research to the reader. For those whose field of research is not related with biology or physiology labs (like me) the book provides a good insight about how things are done, what animals and methods are used, and finally how science knowledge is obtained out of these sort of scientific research. Additionally, Rose makes an interlude in chapter 13, where he describes from his own experience how the social aspects of science and scientific community dynamics interact in the whole process of research, bringing to light the back-stage issues constantly present in the life of a scientific researcher.

This book is a great opportunity to discover the great complexity of the brain when you look at it from the point of view of biological processes that take place at the levels of description studied by biochemistry (composition), physiology (dynamics), and to a lesser extend psychology (cognitive functions). If you are interested in neurosciences, you’ll have fun reading this book.

I Am a Strange Loop

I Am A Strange Loop book coverI Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter.

As the theory about consciousness proposed by Douglas Hofstadter was being discussed here in forums and elsewhere, I decided to challenge again my genuinely engineering and scientific intellect with another dangerous incursion into philosophy. Being a researcher in the field of consciousness this is actually a must, given the multidisciplinary nature of the study of consciousness.

Anyhow, I am to some extend an experienced reader of essays on philosophy of mind, and I’ve been surprised by the style and content of I am Strange Loop Book.

Even for those who are not interested in the problem of consciousness, but have some interest in computation, mathematics and logic, the first chapters of the book could be of great value. Hofstadter present in these first chapters some amazing (and easy to understand) mathematical concepts. Also, Russell and Whitehead’s Principa Mathematica are discussed under the view of Gödel achievements. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and their implications will be the core of Hofstadter’s theory for consciousness.

To be honest, I must say that this was not an easy reading for me (partly because English is not my mother tongue and partly because of the more or less 400 pages, which sometimes I felt there were filled with too much musing). However, the way the book is written, which sometimes I would call an autobiography, helps the reader to understand the exact point that Hofstadter wants to communicate. The way the author reveals his intimate thoughts and feelings help the reader to understand how his arguments about consciousness can be assimilated from a personal point of view (specifically for those who don’t believe in any form of dualism). By the way, Hofstadter includes in the book some arguments and criticism against other philosophical ideas about consciousness. Dualism is particularly discussed under the light of the proposed theory and heavily criticized. In summary, Hofstadter tries to convey the reader a highly counterintuitive idea of consciousness by confronting it to his own personal feelings and other dualist approaches.

Sources of Consciousness

Sources of Consciousness book coverSources of Consciousness (Green, Triffet, 1997)

I haven’t read this book (yet), but I think it could be interesting to some extend as it tries to cover the biophysical and computational roots of consciousness. From a quick look at the index and some leaf through it seems that the authors are proposing a quantum mechanics explanation for consciousness (however, …

it doesn’t looks like the Orch-OR – Orchestrated Objective Reduction proposed by Hameroff and Penrose). Instead, they argue that the brain is like a quantal turing machine that processes information stored in a tape (memory). For them, perception is the instant action of gaining information, while awareness is the continuing aspect of acquiring the information from the quantal tape. Complementarily, the instant action of creating new information is identified with a decision, while volition is said to be the continuing aspect of the information creation process.

Book details:
Title: Sources of Consciousness. The Biophysical and Computational Basis of Thought.
Authors: H. S. Green and T. Triffet.
World Scientific Publishing. 1997.

The Cognitive Approach to Conscious Machines

The Cognitive Approach to Consciousn Machines book coverThe Cognitive Approach to Conscious Machines
by Pentti O. Haikonen
Principal Scientist, Cognitive Technology, Nokia Research
Imprint Academics. March 2003, 300 pp., ISBN 0907845428.

Review of the book ‘The Cognitive Approach to Conscious Machines’ by Pentti O. Haikonen, Principal Scientist, Cognitive Technology, Nokia Research.

The first thing to say about this book is that it is quite complete. For anyone interested in Machine Consciousness, this is an excellent resource as it covers virtually all open issues of this research field. The first part of the book is an introduction to computation, Artificial Intelligence and Neural Networks, so it is worth reading for those who don’t have a good background in Computer Science (even though if you are not particularly interested in Machine Consciousness).

The simple and direct writing style of the book makes it quite easy to read, even to the non-native English speaker (like me). It is actually amazing how the author manages to deal with lots of controversial and complicated issues with such a clarity and simplicity. After having read some other books on consciousness I have to say that this is the one that you can read and have the real feeling that you actually understand everything. But make no mistake; this apparent simplicity doesn’t imply that the author doesn’t approach the hard issues of Machine Consciousness. On the contrary, hard problems like the generation of speech are brilliantly tackled down and practical solutions are always explained.

Part II of the book is an introduction to consciousness and cognition, hard concepts that again are clearly introduced and explained. Part III of the book covers the author’s Machine Consciousness proposal, the cognitive architecture. I think that someone with a strong background in Computer Science (part I) and also in the scientific study of consciousness (part II) could skip parts I and II. However, I enjoyed reading them as they are presented from a particular straightforward point of view. Haikonen’s cognitive architecture described in part III of the book is something that anyone seriously interested in Machine Consciousness should read. I personally don’t know of any other framework that covers in such a broad range the problem of Machine Consciousness.

Finally the two last chapters are quite thought provoking and provide an insight of what the field of Machine Consciousness could lead us to in the future.


Journal of Consciousness Studies

JCS covers the following topics:
– How does the mind relate to the brain?
– Can computers ever be conscious?
– What do we mean by subjectivity and the self?

These questions are being keenly debated in fields as diverse as cognitive science, neurophysiology and philosophy. JCS is a peer-reviewed journal which examines these issues in plain English.

Some special issues on Machine Consciousness have appeared in JCS.


Ron Chrisley

Ron Chrisley

Reader in Philosophy.
Director, Center for Research in Cognitive Science.
University of Sussex.

Ron research interests include mind, computation, art, meaning, neural networks, reference, cognition, quantum computation, infant development, representation, artificial intelligence, non-conceptual content, consciousness, epistemology, animal mentality, subjectivity, systematicity, implict learning, concepts, intentionality, robots, psychology, spirituality, cognitive maps, mirrors, metaphysics, objectivity …


Antonio Chella

Antonio Chella

Dipartimento di Ingegneria Informatica (DINFO)
Università di Palermo: Italy.

Antonio is the head of RoboticsLab and his research interests include cognitive architectures for robotics and Machine Consciousness.

Antonio Chella was born in Florence on March 4, 1961. In 1988 he obtained his laurea degree cum laude in Electronic Engineering from the University of Palermo and in 1993 he obtained his PhD in Computer Engineering defending a thesis on neural networks for robot vision. From 1992 to 1998 he was a scientific researcher at the University of Palermo, where he became an associate professor in 1998 and a professor in robotics in 2001.

He is the head of RoboticsLab. His main research interests concern the cognitive architectures for robotics.Related research fields are: artificial consciousness; 3D vision systems; neural networks; cooperative robotics; intelligent agent architectures. He is a member of IEEE, AAAI, IAPR, IAS, AI*IA, AICA, SIREN.