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Consciousness and the Social Brain

4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  202 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
What is consciousness and how can a brain, a mere collection of neurons, create it? In Consciousness and the Social Brain, Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano lays out an audacious new theory to account for the deepest mystery of them all. The human brain has evolved a complex circuitry that allows it to be socially intelligent. This social machinery has only just ...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published September 2nd 2013 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2013)
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I just accidentally realized I hadn’t reviewed this back when I finished it. Now that I think about it, I came down with a very nasty two-week-long cold the day I discussed it with a book group, and then the holidays hit, so that’s understandable.

But this is an interesting and important book, so I’m backtracking to tell y’all to read the thing. I read three “cognition” books in 2014, and this one came in second! Okay, that doesn’t sound so good.

The best one was Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Me
Nov 12, 2014 David rated it it was amazing
The best book on consciousness I've read in quite a long time. The "Attention Schema" theory is the first one that actually goes some way toward being a useful theory of consciousness, in the sense that it actually seems to make sense of the phenomenon, and allows specific answers to questions that could be testable.
Morgan Blackledge
Oct 18, 2014 Morgan Blackledge rated it really liked it
Consciousness And The Social Brain Notes.

This is an interesting book. The author Michael Graziano is a neuroscientist and (apparently out of necessity) a pretty dang good philosopher too. That dual neuroscience/philosophy skill set seems to be par for the course if you're working in the field of consciousness studies these days.

Graziano begins the book with a brief discussion about how Darwin's simple but "dangerous" idea (evolution via natural selection) organizes the otherwise incomprehensib
May 31, 2016 Mark rated it liked it
This book was a great conversation starter at Devo's wedding, but now that I'm done, I'm hungry for something more meaty. It was good, but also at risk of being ponderous.

Things get explained, and then explained again. It’s needful though because sometimes when something new is discovered or imagined, the old words just won’t do. Our language is inadequate to describing it for a while, while new jargon is invented and solidified. Graziano may have this problem, and additionally the problem of m
Simon Fay
Dec 15, 2013 Simon Fay rated it liked it
The concept of consciousness presented in this book is a simple one, described in a straight forward manner without getting bogged down in dense language or philosophical conundrums. The attention schema theory could be laid out in less than a paragraph, the two hundred page count accounted for by the introduction, discussion of previous theories, the attention schema’s relation to them, possible flaws in the theory and how to address them, and consequence of the theory if it is correct. Some of ...more
May 31, 2015 Steve rated it really liked it
Liked this book, what I can understand of it, but I had some mixed feelings. Graziano says he will explain how the brain produces consciousness -- a tall order, of course. I don't think he really explained it, at least not in a way I could grasp it. I feel like what he was really explaining was a theory that covers part of consciousness, not the whole thing. But he certainly had some good ideas that I could understand, and he made some points that resonated. One of the points he made early on, ...more
Ginger Campbell
This book offers a new compelling theory about how the brain generates awareness. Building on the well-accepted idea of the body schema Graziano suggests that the brain also generates something he calls the "attention schema," which models whether one is aware particular content, be it sensory or otherwise. He suggests that this ability might be an outgrowth of our ability to attribute attention/consciousness to others.

I probably haven't done a very good job of describing the theory off the top
Jan 20, 2016 Karen rated it liked it
Graziano fails to actually discuss consciousness. Instead he just explores awareness, which is just one aspect of consciousness, while dismissing all other aspects of consciousness. I suspect his publisher wanted to sell books and therefore labeled it with a juicy book-selling word like consciousness. I doubt many people would have read a book called Awareness and the Social Brain: A Feeble Nascent Theory, which would have been a much more precise description.
Jan 20, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended.

Perhaps start with this article:

and/or this talk: Consciousness Talk With Ventriloquism.
By far the most logical, internally and externally consistent, intellectually satisfying explanation of consciousness that I've come across with.
Craig Jaquish
Feb 10, 2015 Craig Jaquish rated it really liked it
Whereas attention is the brain’s information-handling process that singles out a given stimulus within the sensory field for deeper information processing, awareness is the brain’s model of attention. Unlike attention, which is the more primordial of the two, awareness is an informational unit, an encoded attribute. It arises in the first place as a model for what others (of the same or a different species) are attending to in order to facilitate interaction with them. You then turn this model ...more
Nov 03, 2016 Leopold rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Seems like a huge step forward

This book feels like a huge leap forward. The attention schema theory seems obvious in retrospect. The author spends a lot of time addressing possible counter arguments which can get tedious once you've bought into the theory, but I'm sure that many will remain unconvinced even after reading the whole thing.

I think the material on religion, while probably broadly accurate, both scopes the phenomenon too narrowly as "god as a felt sense of presence" and doesn't go in
Teo 2050
~4h @ 2x. Contents:
(view spoiler)
Melissa Mills
Jan 17, 2015 Melissa Mills rated it it was amazing

I love this book! Graziano brings us into his research. He presents contemporary ideas and approaches to the question of consciousness in order that we understand the challenges. Then he replies to these challenges.

Graziano explains his "attention schema theory." In this theory, attention is a "data-handling method." The data that attention handles is "awareness."

He points out that "attention is an emergent property; it emerges from the competition among signals of the brain."

The key point that
Mar 05, 2016 Alison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am a sucker for a really well-written science book, and this was absolutely a really well-written science book. Graziano's theory is deceptively simple, so he is able to outline it in the first few chapters and then spend much of the book discussing the implications. He has a rare knack for clear, accessible writing that nevertheless never feels patronising, as he expects his reader to keep up once he has explained it in plain language.
The result is a rather compelling book, arguing for a synt
Ronan O'Driscoll
Dec 14, 2014 Ronan O'Driscoll rated it it was amazing
Often reviews of controversial theories get muddied by the reader's adoption/rejection of the theory. Whatever the reader thinks about Graziano's theory, nobody can deny that he puts it forward excellently. The book covers a dense topic very clearly. It reads like a really good set of lectures. The theory itself is one that I have been thinking a lot about (no pun intended) and find very compelling. It takes Hofstatder's approach (in Godel, Escher, Bach for example) a step further by providing a ...more
Feb 15, 2016 Hans rated it liked it
Only thing new I got from this book was the Author's central thesis that consciousness is a combination of the Attention schema mixed with Social and Self Perception paradigms. I thought it was fascinating that he argued how Attention is a form of information, a type of self-aware of information that is able to build upon itself. Basically our minds are flooded with a vast amount of sensory and imaginative input and the only thing that is able to sift through what we select as important is ...more
Jan 21, 2015 P D rated it it was amazing
Until Chapter 17 - the second-to-last chapter of this book - I found nothing to refute. Which may simply indicate a failure of my own thought process, but I like to think that, having focused on systems neuroscience for six years, I would be able to find something, if it was there to find.

The attention schema theory is very compelling to me. Further research is certainly needed, but like many solid theories, it does not directly dismantle its competitors so much as subsume them.
Dec 17, 2015 Murray added it
Move over Daniel Dennett, Graziano nails consciousness with this book. Having an information processing sensibility the idea of consciousness arising from the evolution of attention management seems logical. It's seems practical that a conscious computer could also be created now. But even if it was I suppose the problem of what the perception of "blueness" really is still wouldn't be solved - but would it be so important?
Closer to a 4. Some good thought-provoking observations, but I think he doesn't adequately distinguish between consciousness and awareness and exaggerates the relationship between my own consciousness and social awareness. Should make for good discussion by the Sunday Philosophers.
Sep 16, 2015 Amy rated it liked it
I found the last couple of chapters fascinating.

I found the author's use of the first person and his - I'm not trying to negate your theory - patter irritating.
Ted Stark
Nov 05, 2013 Ted Stark rated it it was amazing
I give it five because the prose moved and the hypotheses are audacious. It put me in another world. Graziano takes you out of your comfort
Miguel Veliz
Sep 21, 2016 Miguel Veliz rated it it was amazing
What an amazong book specially in the last chapter I feel now my life has a 'before reading this book ' and 'after reading it'
David Zugman
Oct 02, 2014 David Zugman rated it it was amazing
NLP and Dennett - makes me think I'll have to break down and read Chalmers...

Wow. Now I'm going to read all the Graziano I can. If only for the body schema...
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Brain Science Pod...: * BSP 108: Consciousness as Social Perception 7 25 Apr 24, 2014 11:33AM  
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  • Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts
  • Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose
  • The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease
  • Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety
  • Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain
  • Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking
  • Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills
  • The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation
  • The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning
  • Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind
  • NeuroLogic: The Brain's Hidden Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior
  • The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life
  • Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy
  • Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind
  • In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis
  • Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness

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“much of the same machinery, the same brain regions and computational processing that are used in a social context to attribute awareness to someone else, are also used on a continuous basis to construct your own awareness and attribute it to yourself. Social” 1 likes
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