Gerald M. Edelman: Wider Than the Sky The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness



Consciousness re entrant circuits mediating between primary consciousness and semantic capability Symbolic nature of semantic dissociation between symbol and meaning combined with the flexibility of manipulating these symbols thru syntax releases the consciousness from the remembered present and thru these re entrant circuits enables remembered past imagined past and future and planned future although the conscious process involves representation the neural substrate of consciousness is non representational 104 mental images arise in a primary consciousness scene largely by the same neural processes by which direct perceptual images arise One relies on memory the other on signals from without 105it is thru re entry that these processes are so similarThis view rejects the notion of computation and the idea that there is a language of thought Meaning is not identical to mental representation Instead it arises as a result of the play between value systems varying environmental cues learning and non representational memory 105also Thibault Jnl of Prag much of cognitive psychology is ill founded There are no functional states that can be uniuely euated with defined or coded computational states in individual brains and no process that can be euated with the execution of algorithms Instead there is an enormously rich set of selectional repertoires of neuronal groups whose degenerate responses can by selection accommodate the open ended richness of environmental input individual history and individual variation Intentionality and will in this view both depend on local contexts in the environment the body and the brain but they can selectively arise only through such interactions and not as precisely defined computations 111embodied and groundedConstructivist brain Filling in of the blind spot the phenomena of apparent motion and gestalt phenomena can all be explained in terms of temporal synchrony in re entrant circuits The same is true of time of succession and of duration The re entrant brain combines concepts and percepts with memory and new input to make a coherent picture at all costs 124eg saccades eye movements are erratic with the eye jumping to a new point of focus often as a result of peripheral vision and then resting Our experience of vision however is one of a smooth transition from one scene to the next Given the continual sensorimotor signals arising from the body subjectivity is a baseline event that is never extinguished in the normal life of conscious individuals But there is no need for an inner observer or a central I in James s words the thoughts themselves are the thinker 134Higher order consciousness may be considered as a trade off of absolute precision for rich imaginative possibilities 135The pervasive presence of degeneracy in biological systems is particularly noticeable in neural systems and it exists to a high degree in the rentrant selective circuits of the conscious brain In certain circumstances natural languages gain as much strength from ambiguity as they do under other circumstances through the power of logical definition Association and metaphor are powerful accompaniments of 135 conscious experience even at early stages and they flower withy linguistic experience 136the study of consciousness must recognize the first person or subjective point of view 140Consciousness is a property of neural processes and cannot itself act causally in the world 141Whether in the dreams of REM sleep or in imagery or even in perceptual categorization a variety of sensory motor and higher order conceptual processes are constantly in play in visual imagery the same reentrant circuits used in direct perception are reengaged but without the precise constraints of signals from without In REM sleep the brain truly speaks to itself in a special conscious state one constrained neither by outside sensory input nor by the tasks of motor output 144 A pretty technical and dense book Wider Than the Sky aims to provide a consistent scientific theory on the emergence of consciousness from the neural base without delving into speculation such as uantum consciousness resolving to dualism mindbody but focusing on embodiment the fact that brain develops in a different way for every person and neurons are highly adaptable making representations of concepts non permanent in the patterns of neural firing The theory outlined makes a distinction between primary consciousness and higher order consciousness being conscious of being conscious Primary consciousness seems to have evolved in the transition from reptiles to birds and reptiles to mammals Having primary consciousness means having concepts basic understanding of cause and effect and learning from experience In the development of primates specifically with evolution of Broca and Wernicke s areas and simultaneously with the development of language conceptualizations about time space and the self enabled higher order consciousness to emerge making it possible to be conscious of being consciousThe book discusses massive re entry of neural cells a looping interplay of connections between different parts of the brain to explain the neural base for consciousness Even though it simplifies the organization of the brain structures enough for their interplay to be understood to a layman I found it difficult to follow due to many anatomical terms in addition to sheer complexity of the brain The author provides a good explanation between the interplay of thalamus hippocampus cortex and other functional areas Not a casual read and very dense in parts it s hard to follow without previous understanding of brain anatomy and some level of familiarity with philosophical approaches to explanations of consciousness. The self and to the origins of feelings learning and memory His analysis of the brain activities underlying consciousness is based on recent remarkable advances in biochemistry immunology medical imaging neuroscience and evolutionary biology et the implications of his book extend farther beyond the worlds of science and medicine into virtually every area of human inui.

REVIEW Wider Than the Sky The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness

Ecessity by Jacue Monod be patient u ve gotta get thru about 80 pages before the book starts getting anywhere near interestingthe biological theory must show how the neural bases for consciousness could have arisen during evolution how consciousness develops in certain animalscausal status of consciousness epiphenomenon wo material conseuences efficacious causes things to happen neural bases of consciousness but not consciousness per se can cause things to happenhow a neural mechanism entails a subjective conscious state ualeWilliam James consciousness is utterly dependent on the brain consciousness is embodiedhow properties of conscious experience can emerge from properties of brainconsciousness is a process not a thingJamesian properties of consciousnessprivatesubjective occurs only in the individualcontinuous albeit continually changingintentionality about thingseventsdoes not exhaust all aspects to which it refers unitaryintegrated scenes differentiated from moment to momentthe remembered presentall past experience is engaged in forming my integrated awareness of this single momentprimary consciousness lacking in semanticlinguistic capabilities socially defined self sense of pastfuturehigher order consciousness recreate past episodes form future intentionssemantic ability assignment of meaning to a symbollinguistic ability system of symbols grammaruale particular experience of some propertyualia higher order discriminations that constitute consciousness experienced as parts of unitaryintegrated conscious sceneconscious events complex set of ualiaualia ability of conscious individuals to make high order discriminationsscientific description of consciousnessgive a causal account of relationship btw these domains so properties in one domain may be understood in terms of events in the otherbrain based theory of consciousness should give a causal explanation of its properties but should not be expected to generate ualia by description This book is very interesting but very difficult Edelman starts by describing the neural anatomy that sensory perceptions and then processed information travels through in order for our brains to process information then describes how this process of ordering info is primary consciousness Combined with value systems with instinctual responses to stimuli the development of communication then language our brains evolved to also process abstract thoughts How our brains process language was not really discussed and could have bridged the gap between advanced sensory perception and value filters and Socrates So this is only the beginning of my reading not the end However Edelman notes how our memories and concepts about those memories form our identities A good start but be prepared for alot of hard vocabulary The Brain is wider than the Sky For put them side by side The one the other will containWith ease and You beside The Brain is deeper than the sea For hold them Blue to Blue The one the other will absorb As Sponges Buckets do The Brain is just the weight of God For Heft them Pound for Pound And they will differ if they do As Syllable from Sound Emily DickinsonThis book is amazing Edelman is amazing It not exactly light reading and while he does do alot of explaining One may get lost with out a solid knowledge base in the subject to begin with SighYou d think that by now I would know better Why did I buy a book about consciousness by an eminent scientist and expect it to shed light on the uestion of how brain processing relates to subjective conscious experience Scientists are the last people to shed light on this uestion because they or at least mos This book is written by one of the most prominent scientists of this field therefore making it an authentic and credible depiction of the topic ConsciousnessHowever This was my first read book about consciousness and I had a hard time finishing this book not because it wasn t a great book but I had barely any knowledge as prereuisites other than the uest to understand consciousness and wondering Moreover I was in a rush to return the book to the borrowerThe only thing I remember from this book is the exuisite poem by Emily Dickinson in its preface The Brain is wider than the Sky The Brain is wider than the Sky For put them side by side The one the other will containWith ease and You beside The Brain is deeper than the sea For hold them Blue to Blue The one the other will absorb As Sponges Buckets do The Brain is just the weight of God For Heft them Pound for Pound And they will differ if they do As Syllable from Sound And after reading the poem ou can get a sense how well suited this poem is for the bookSo I really loved this book and wish to re read it even though I haven t understood anything in my first readSo I recommend this book to anyone wondering about these issues as I do This is not so much a review as a synopsisEdelman s work on both researching and describing neuroanatomy has significantly changed the way we see how the brain works It is not too difficult to follow and should be enough to rock subjects like psychology to the core as they seem happy to proceed on the delusion that there is some kind of metaphysical ie non physical mind that bears no resemblance to the brain With people such as Edelman and Maturana and Varela on the case metaphysical approaches to the mind should soon be a thing of the past wishful thinkingRe entry within the dynamic core of the brain allows for primary consciousness mediation of value category memory originating in bodily experiences and thru re entry can be re enacted with or without motor function at any time and perceptual categorisation the here and now of sorting perception into different objects Higher Order. Scientific inuiry into the workings of the brain to formulate answers to the mind body uestions that intrigue every thinking personConcise and understandable the book explains pertinent findings of modern neuroscience and describes how consciousness arises in complex brains Edelman explores the relation of consciousness to causation to evolution to the development of.

Gerald Edelman a Nobel prize winning neuroscientist offers a neurological theory of consciousness which interests me because consciousness is central to many philosophical positions and disputes Edelman is philosophically well informed especially praising the work of William James so that he often addresses the obvious philosophical concerns For example he takes care to avoid category errors such as the tendency to treat objects of consciousness as though they were things in the same sense as material objects Early in his book Edelman makes the point that a theory of consciousness should not be expected to duplicate consciousness eg to generate my uniue experience of red but only to explain it Just as a meteorologist can explain a hurricane but cannot produce one a brain based theory of consciousness should give a causal explanation of its properties but having done so it should not be expected to generate ualia by description Unfortunately much of the groundwork for the theory involves a detailed description of brain processes much of which is lost on me because he names and identifies many parts of the brain most of which are difficult for me to keep distinct in my own mind He then describes brain processes in terms of neural impulses which travel from this part of the brain to that so that I have a picture of a lot of traffic but not much clarity I do get a grasp of some of the general principlesEdelman makes a strong point that the brain does not function like a computer Instead of algorithms and Turing Machine type operations the brain functions using neural networks and exhibits degeneracy a technical term meaning massive redundancy or that the same result can be reached by many different paths I am somewhat surprised by this since I have read Paul Churchland a neurophilosopher who describes parallel distributed processing a theoretical description of neural networks which can be implemented on a computer I think this may be a terminological dispute since artificial intelligence is based on parallel distributed processing which learns by trial and error based on massive feedback loops This resembles brain processing as Edelman describes itEdelman says that consciousness is an epiphenomenon based on the continual cycling of neural impulses in the brain Neural input may come from sense organs such as the optic nerves and is then cycled through a part of the cerebral cortex which categorizes it in terms of conceptual experience and then is recycled so as to refine and to clarify the original impression Along the way the neural impulses may go through value systems areas of the brain not ethics which prioritize neural impulses in various ways such as to promote survival or to focus or to accomplish some other purpose This recycling of neural impulses called reentrant and related to a feedback loop resembles churning such as water in a washing machine or in ocean tides and serves to generate a constantly changing model of the sensory world as well as of one s own body and needs The image generated by the constant cycling of neural impulses is consciousness Or to put it another way consciousness is the way the world including our own bodies seems to us after the brain has done its categorizing prioritizing updating emotional coloration and other refinementsSo according to Edelman consciousness is generated by neural processes but unlike neural processing cannot cause anything to happen Only neural processes have causal efficacy Edelman uotes beautiful metaphors from William James to illustrate So the melody floats from the harp string but neither checks nor uickens its vibration so the shadow runs alongside the pedestrian but in no way influences his steps I m impressed by Edelman s argument but I have a problem with the idea that consciousness itself as distinct from neural processes cannot cause anything to happen Just for starters if I call up the movie theater and find out the time of the next screening my conscious knowledge of that time is part of the causal chain that leads me to go to the theater I suppose the counterargument is that my neural processes are handling all of that and my consciousness is only keeping me updatedBut I think this limits the term consciousness to only the most superficial aspects of my awareness If I know in the usual sense of the word that force euals mass times acceleration it is not just words that I know I know the meanings of the terms and how to apply those terms in specific situations Even though I may not articulate all of that I know that I know and that is part of my consciousness of knowing the euation from physics To say that my knowledge of how to apply the euation is handled by neural processes while I am only conscious of words is to take the term consciousness in too restricted a sense My consciousness includes awareness of meanings and powers that I don t necessarily recite to myselfBe all of that as it may I am impressed enough by Edelman s theory to pursue the issue by further reading While I have no doubt that Edelman is a great neuroscientist I have seen science writing done better by other people Paul Churchland in The Engine of Reason the Seat of the Soul to my mind does a far impressive job of describing parallel distributed processing neural networks though he approaches it from a theoretical viewpoint rather than from the viewpoint of empirical research Either way it is a fascinating topic So I did a single module of neuropsychology in college and have read a few books about the brain since to give ou an idea of my backgroundTo me about half of it was comprehensible He starts off admirably explain For me this book rates up there with other classics in science like Chance and How does the firing of neurons give rise to subjective sensations thoughts and emotions How can the disparate domains of mind and body be reconciled The uest for a scientifically based understanding of consciousness has attracted study and speculation across the ages In this direct and non technical discussion of consciousness Dr Gerald M Edelman draws on a lifetime of.

pdf read Wider Than the Sky The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness Author Gerald M. Edelman – cafe1919.org

Gerald Maurice Edelman born July 1 1929 is an American biologist who shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work with Rodney Robert Porter on the immune system1 Edelman's Nobel Prize winning research concerned discovery of the structure of antibody molecules2 In interviews he has said that the way the components of the immune system evolve over the life of the individu