978-0-231-12008-1 / 9780231120081

How Brains Make Up Their Minds


Publisher:Columbia University Press



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About the book:

Raise your arm. Now: which came first? The raising of your arm, or the decision to raise it? Walter Freeman's admirably articulate and very difficult little book on the biological foundations of consciousness comes up with a surprising answer: action precedes consciousness of action. Consciousness has better things to do than involve itself with simple motor actions; rather, it establishes the parameters within which action occurs by itself. We are not divine homunculi, directing action independent of the physical constraints of cause and effect. But neither are we ghosts in the machine of the body, observing, and taking credit for, actions which are in reality dictated by conditioned responses and blind fate. Minds are like weather systems: at once evanescent and remarkably robust. Freeman's grasp of philosophy is unprecedented among experimental biologists, and he writes at the leading edge of that movement that makes study of the mind the venue for the long-awaited reconciliation of science and the humanities. This book would make a poor introduction to the subject: it is too much part of the ongoing debate, and readers would do better to tuck a few Dennetts, Calvins and Penroses under their belts first. But this caveat takes nothing away from Freeman's contribution or importance, and the book is a fine addition to Steven Rose's "Maps of the Mind" series, which looks to be the most diverse and rigorous science series for many years. --Simon Ings

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