Consciousness and the Brain – Deciphering how the brain codes our thoughts.
Loved this book. The entire book is a result of a simple fact: A message or picture flashed less than 30ms before the eyes is not perceived by the consciousness, yet will influence a persons decisions. Aka a subliminal message. Normally these psychology books are full of wanna-be scientists. I fully expected this book to ramble on and on about how ‘OMG seeing a picture creates brain waves!’ and nothing more. But it delves into some really state-of-the art technology like microscopic electrodes where people can measure the electrical potential of INDIVIDUAL neurons, and by putting these probes into peoples brains, they can cause people to think about or even see certain objects. They found a ‘Bill Clinton’ neuron, that only activates when shown a picture of OR SEES THE WORDS ‘Bill Clinton’. Matrix-like virtual reality is a real possibility.
Then the book got even better by getting all theoretical – and better yet, the authors invent experiments to validate their theories. Some attempts failed, but I was fascinated just reading about them. They worked with people in comas, and did a lot of mapping of the brain. They talked about computer neural-networks and even Lucretius’ “swerve atom” (Which is weird because I just read this 3000 year old book last month).
I was a little disappointed they didn’t talk about Google’s recent billion-node neural network experiment. A lot of their theories were already put to the test in their experiment and shown to be valid. If you haven’t heard about Google’s little experiment, Google harnessed the processing power of computers they store their data on (some 16,000 cores) and created a open-ended neural network simulation and found that certain features created stronger responses than others, like faces. Although this was still something like 1/600,000th of the brains processing power, I see no idea why this concept could not be extended to infinity to explain how our brain works. Memory, visual recognition, even consciousness could be explained (if you create a neural network that links to itself as its inputs).
The other small disappointment was not referencing Eric Kandel’s work. With so much talk about neurons the book could have benefited from a discussion of how neurons work and remember things.