You are previewing The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning.
O'Reilly logo
The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning

Book Description

Consciousness is our gateway to experience: it enables us to recognize Van Gogh’s starry skies, be enraptured by Beethoven’s Fifth, and stand in awe of a snowcapped mountain. Yet consciousness is subjective, personal, and famously difficult to examine: philosophers have for centuries declared this mental entity so mysterious as to be impenetrable to science. In The Ravenous Brain, neuroscientist Daniel Bor departs sharply from this historical view, and builds on the latest research to propose a new model for how consciousness works. Bor argues that this brain-based faculty evolved as an accelerated knowledge gathering tool. Consciousness is effectively an idea factory—that choice mental space dedicated to innovation, a key component of which is the discovery of deep structures within the contents of our awareness. This model explains our brains’ ravenous appetite for information—and in particular, its constant search for patterns. Why, for instance, after all our physical needs have been met, do we recreationally solve crossword or Sudoku puzzles? Such behavior may appear biologically wasteful, but, according to Bor, this search for structure can yield immense evolutionary benefits—it led our ancestors to discover fire and farming, pushed modern society to forge ahead in science and technology, and guides each one of us to understand and control the world around us. But the sheer innovative power of human consciousness carries with it the heavy cost of mental fragility. Bor discusses the medical implications of his theory of consciousness, and what it means for the origins and treatment of psychiatric ailments, including attention-deficit disorder, schizophrenia, manic depression, and autism. All mental illnesses, he argues, can be reformulated as disorders of consciousness—a perspective that opens up new avenues of treatment for alleviating mental suffering. A controversial view of consciousness, The Ravenous Brain links cognition to creativity in an ingenious solution to one of science’s biggest mysteries.

Table of Contents

  1. Title Page
  2. Dedication
  3. Introduction
  4. 1 - Conceptual Conundrums of Consciousness
    1. TECHNOLOGICAL TELEPATHY
    2. PHILOSOPHY VERSUS SCIENCE
    3. DESCARTES AND THE MIND-BODY DUALITY
    4. MODERNITY ARRIVES AND GHOSTS LEAVE
    5. THE IMPENETRABILITY OF “WHAT IT IS LIKE”
    6. CAN A PROGRAM HAVE FEELINGS?
    7. CAN A LAPTOP REALLY UNDERSTAND CHINESE?
    8. THE MOST COMPLEX OBJECT IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE
    9. THE CASE FOR ARTIFICIAL CONSCIOUSNESS
    10. ERODING THE WALLS OF SUBJECTIVITY
    11. OUR INDOMITABLE SPIRIT
  5. 2 - A Brief History of the Brain
    1. THE FIRST LESSON IN NATURE IS FAILURE
    2. THE ESSENCE OF EVOLUTION
    3. BREEDING CHEMICAL COMPLEXITY AND REBELLIOUS OFFSPRING
    4. LIVING ON THE EDGE OF CHAOS
    5. WETWARE
    6. A UNIVERSAL RECIPE AND A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE
    7. EXTRA INNOVATION IN DESPERATE TIMES
    8. MUTANTS, SEX, AND DEATH
    9. EVERY CREATIVE TRICK IN THE BIOLOGICAL BOOK
    10. COOPERATION AND DIFFERENT LEVELS OF INFORMATION PROCESSING
    11. GENIUS CELLS
    12. INTERNAL EVOLUTION
    13. THE COMPUTATIONAL LANDSCAPE OF A BRAIN
    14. VAST INTERNAL WORLDS
  6. 3 - The Tip of the Iceberg
    1. A HOLIDAY FROM AWARENESS
    2. UNPEELING EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY IN THE BRAIN
    3. UNCONSCIOUS NEURONS MARCHING IN STEP
    4. LEARNING ON THE OPERATING TABLE
    5. UNCONSCIOUS BETTER THAN CONSCIOUS?
    6. FEELING YOUR WAY TO KNOWLEDGE
    7. EAT POPCORN: THE UNCONSCIOUS TAKES CONTROL
    8. UNCONSCIOUS DECISIONS AND THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE
    9. ASPIRING TOWARD FREE WILL
  7. 4 - Pay Attention to That Pattern!
    1. DANGEROUS DAYDREAMS
    2. ATTENTION FUNNELING RAW DATA TO BUILD EXPERIENCES
    3. NOT SPOTTING THE WOOD, THE TREES, THE BIRDS, THE SOIL, THE FLOWERS, THE . . .
    4. A BRIGHTER, MORE VIBRANT WORLD
    5. THE ATOMS OF THOUGHT
    6. ATTENTION AS A BRUTAL NEURONAL WAR
    7. ATTENTIONAL VICTORIES EMERGING INTO CONSCIOUSNESS
    8. OVERESTIMATING THE VALUE OF EMOTIONS
    9. LAYERS OF AWARENESS
    10. FOUR COMPARTMENTS TO AWARENESS AND NO MORE . . .
    11. . . . BUT EACH CONSCIOUS COMPARTMENT CAN HOLD OBJECTS OF GREAT COMPLEXITY
    12. BELITTLING THE RICHNESS OF EXPERIENCES?
    13. CHUNKING AND CONSCIOUSNESS
    14. LANGUAGE—JUST ONE KIND OF CONSCIOUS CHUNKING?
    15. THE FRUITS OF CHUNKING AND AWKWARD SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS
  8. 5 - The Brain’s Experience of a Rose
    1. QUIT WHILE YOU’RE AHEAD?
    2. MY CONSCIOUS MIND IS MY CONSCIOUS BRAIN
    3. OPENING THE FLOODGATES
    4. BLINDSIGHT PATIENTS LEADING YOU UP A BLIND ALLEY
    5. VISUAL HIGHWAYS TOWARD CONSCIOUSNESS
    6. SCANNING CONSCIOUSNESS AS CANDLES BECOME FACES
    7. PATIENTS AND THE PREFRONTAL PARIETAL NETWORK’S OFFICIAL JOB
    8. STILL CONSCIOUS, BUT ONLY OF THINGS ON THE RIGHT
    9. CONSCIOUSNESS SHRINKING TO A SMALL POINT
    10. BRAIN-SCANNING THE PREFRONTAL PARIETAL NETWORK
    11. THE PREFRONTAL PARIETAL NETWORK, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND CHUNKING
    12. HARMONIOUS EXPERIENCES
    13. CONSCIOUSNESS, IN THEORY
    14. EXPLAINING EXPERIENCES
  9. 6 - Being Bird-Brained Is Not an Insult
    1. TENDER CHIMPS, CAPRICIOUS BONOBOS
    2. CRAFTY CROWS
    3. CAN A BIRD ADMIRE ITSELF IN A MIRROR?
    4. GAMBLING ON CONSCIOUSNESS
    5. ANIMAL CHUNKING
    6. INFANT AWARENESS
    7. MEASURING CONSCIOUSNESS IN ANIMAL BRAINS
    8. CHAUVINISTIC ANATOMICAL BOOTSTRAPPING
    9. QUANTIFYING CONSCIOUSNESS
    10. ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS
    11. DIFFERING QUALITIES AND QUANTITIES OF EXPERIENCE
  10. 7 - Living on the Fragile Edge of Awareness
    1. JUST TOO COMPLEX?
    2. A TORTUOUS BATTLE OF UNCERTAINTY
    3. A THIN VEIL BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH
    4. VIEWING CONSCIOUSNESS FROM WITHIN
    5. COMMUNICATION BY BRAIN ACTIVITY
    6. CHECKING THE INTEGRITY OF CONSCIOUS NEURAL HIGHWAYS
    7. THE DIFFICULTY OF REPAIRING HUMPTY DUMPTY
  11. 8 - Consciousness Squeezed, Stretched, and Shrunk
    1. SHARP FRACTURES IN AWARENESS
    2. AUTISM AND OVER-CONSCIOUSNESS
    3. UNHEALTHY SLEEP, UNHEALTHY CONSCIOUSNESS
    4. WORKING MEMORY NOT WORKING
    5. CHEMICAL CASCADES UNBALANCING AWARENESS
    6. BUILDING THE CONSCIOUSNESS MUSCLE
    7. A SEESAW OF STRESS VERSUS CONSCIOUSNESS
    8. A WIDER, PURER OCEAN OF AWARENESS
    9. HEALING CONSCIOUSNESS FROM MANY ANGLES
  12. Epilogue
  13. Acknowledgments
  14. Notes and References
  15. Illustration Credits
  16. Index
  17. Copyright Page