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Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  765 ratings  ·  77 reviews
This title is printed in full color throughout.

From one of the most original and influential neuroscientists at work today, here is an exploration of consciousness unlike any other—as told by Galileo, who opened the way for the objectivity of science and is now intent on making subjective experience a part of science as well.
Galileo’s journey has three parts, each with a
ebook, 380 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Pantheon (first published 2012)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  765 ratings  ·  77 reviews

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Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion, biology, science
The idea behind this book is wonderfully original; Francis Crick, Alan Turing, and Charles Darwin take Galileo on a trip to view a wide range of metaphorical scenarios. Each scenario explores a different aspect of the brain, or of consciousness. This approach is reminiscent of Dante's Inferno, but with a scientific attitude superimposed onto artistic and religious themes. Why Galileo? He was one of the first people to use the scientific method, upending the then-prevalent Aristotelian mentality. ...more
Katia N
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: consciousness
I continue my voyage into the different theories of consciousness. This was quite a pleasant part. Guile Tononi is a neuroscientist and the founder of the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness (IIT), the one of the most advanced modern hypotheses about the nature of it. But this book is much more playful than I expected it to be. In fact, it is hard to believe it is written by a scientist. It resembles more a kind of fiction with the hint of post-modern.

Evidently it is modelled on Dant
Aug 21, 2012 added it
Ezra Pound calls the epic (stealing, as he always did from others, in this case Baudelaire)the tale of the tribe. Pound's Cantos is the Modernist attempt at an epic. It nearly killed him and certainly drove him toward if not beyond madness.

Phi is what is now called creative non-fiction. It explains the tale of the tribe through a journey which happens in 3 parts. If you don't 'get it' Tononi is rewriting Dante's Comedia for the scientific age we now live in.

It is an Italian folktale ( a strong n
Elizabeth K.
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012-new-reads
Oh, for heaven's sake. I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, reviews compared it to Gödel, Escher, Bach (which I have to admit I have owned for about 20 years, and never made it past page 17 because it gets way too hard) and Sophie's World, in that it takes an academic discipline -- neural science and the definition of human consciousness -- and puts it into a populist format with kind of a loose narrative (although mercifully, one which does not involve the U.N.).

So I think we're using a
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
I picked up this book thinking I was going to read a book on the neuroscience of consciousness and found something like Borges work or a Dali painting between the covers. When I read nonfiction I expect an idea that is laid out in a straight forward manner. Instead I got a baroque story about Galileo in a surreal dream. I couldn't make heads or tails of the authors thesis. Call me an unimaginative curmudgeon but I didn't get the point of this book. That's the downside but it is full of beautifu ...more

This ranks as the oddest neuroscience book I've ever read, and yet for me it was often beautiful and quite compelling.

Giulio Tononi specializes in work on neuroscience and the mystery of consciousness -- how we gain a sense of self and an awareness of all our mental experiences adding up to an "I."

To do this, he creates short, vivid chapters of a journey through time with Galileo. Along the way, Galileo meets many other historical figures, from Francis Crick to Alan Turing to Freud to Kant to B
Marijn Meijles
A most interesting book.

First of all it has an unusual format. It follows Galileo on an imaginary journey where he encounters interesting people who, through discussion and confrontation with various "interesting patients “ try to paint a picture of what consciousness really is. This has the added benefit that the reader is part of the journey to the “answers" which makes it much more impactful to read the book. It also makes you reflect on your own consciousness and I noticed myself being anno
Craig Werner
Phi is an extremely ambitious book which sets out to explain the nature and implications of consciousness. It's beautifully put together, incorporating numerous images from classical painting and sculpture and contemporary scientific imaging. The images are interspersed with a text which is consciously modeled on the Divine Comedy; everything comes in threes and Tononi balances his vision of the infernal dimensions of consciousness with the wonders of life. The book is structured around Galileo' ...more
James Leth
There's a lot here that is interesting, but the biggest problem with this book is that I cannot figure out who it is written for. It's basically a thought experiment, highly allegorical, with many obscure literary, historical, and philosophical allusions. Therein lies the problem. It's far too fanciful for the technically-minded reader interested in a serious exposition on the nature of consciousness; it contributes nothing new to that reader. For the less technically-oriented reader with little ...more
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
A creative, colorful, and poetic book, styled quite similarly to Dante's Divine Comedy, with spirit-guides walking the interlocutor through three perceptual realms. Certainly more of a scientific bent than DC, though ultimately I don't believe it connected all the dots it was supposed to in explaining the basis of consciousness.

Consciousness is explained to Galileo in parts by Frick, Alturi, and an unnamed bearded man (Francis Crick, Alan Turing, and Charles Darwin), where they lead Galileo fro
Sep 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book that will be easy to recommend.

It's beautifully illustrated, clearly and stylishly written, and a fantastic synthesis of the problems of consciousness. Like a meatier version of Alain de Boton, Tononi writes for the non-academic but doesn't condescend.

I was consistently impressed with his balance between historical influences and a modern and subtle trajectory through the modern scientific approach to minds and meaning.

One of the few books whose overall style compares well to the works
Polly Dahms adams
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book takes the reader on a mind-altering journey through the nature of consciousness. It interweaves science, art, and the imagination with golden ratios, The reader has the joy of perceiving the world through such masters as Galileo, Alan Turing, Darwin and Francis Crick, among others. From neuroscience to pseudoscience, from deep introspection to mindful meditation, Tononi demonstrates how consciousness is an evolving, ever-deepening awareness of ourselves as finite, spiritual beings in a ...more
Aug 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Sarah by: Biblioklept
Shelves: nonfiction
One of the handsomest books I've ever held. A mixture of parts: science, philosophy, and fiction when all I wanted was the science with a little bit of speculative meandering along the way. Besides that, the fictional narrative is kind of a failure. I don't think psychiatrists make for good story-tellers. Plus I don't agree with its presupposition: that consciousness = soul. Who could really believe that your soul is responsible for the moronic stuff that goes around in your head all day.
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

Nothing personal, I just didn’t like the style of the book. It attempts to approach hard questions about neuroscience and consciousness in a poetic and allegorical way. The end result is something not very poetic and not particularly elucidating.


What if your science, too, is just the image of a need—the need that things are clear and solid and all can be explained?

Consciousness lives in the cerebrum, the great, bustling metropolis, the lively democracy—and the cerebellum is an immense, si
Rating: 4/5

Phi is written by Giulio Tononi was first published in the year 2012. It is very unusual book. It is difficult to put Phi in one particular genre. Although the book majorly deals with the idea of consciousness, but it draws upon a body of work from different genres such as neurology, arts, history, artificial intelligence, philosophy, psychology and biology to name a few fields.

The book is quite allegorical, where Galileo goes on a voyage in his dreams to discover the nature of consci
Oct 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an extraordinary book. I can completely understand that its audience is very narrow, but that audience was apparently me. Each short chapter involves Galileo meeting a few figures, some historic, some composites, who illustrate an element of psychology, cognition or the philosophy of consciousness. He has a guide for this: in the first third of the book, dealing with the science of cognition, it is Crick - Frick to the deaf Galileo; in the second, dealing with theories of complex informa ...more
Chitram Banerjee
Jun 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author explores the possibilities of origin of consciousness, from a neurosurgeon's point of view. The author has somewhat successfully discussed questions of philosophical and theosophical importance.

The book progresses on the basis of logic of scientific reduction as championed by Galileo. Indeed, the book presents various questions, arguments and conclusions drawn by Galileo, as he meets up other prominent philosophers, scientists and artists, whose characters are based on historical fac
Apr 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in consciousness
Recommended to Lord_Humungus by: Teresa Giménez-Barbat
In a voyage similar to Dante's Divine comedy, Galileo is taken on a voyage with some famous scientists to try to solve the hard problem of conciousness. Tononi, the author, doesn't deliver completely, of course -no one has really come near solving it in two millenia- but everything is quite suggestive, and the gorgeous book, with great full-color paintings and beautiful photos, is worth the effort.
The main claim of the book is that conscience depends on "phi", a measure of the level of integrati
David Walter
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting format. Tononi goes through, what I like to think of as, a set of dreams and brings us through a journey of the different aspects of consciousness. This book goes into integrated information theory only a very surface level, which was my main disappointment, because I was hoping he would get more technical, but I was satisfied with the philosophical depth of this book and the development of the main character Galileo. The thing that this book really brought to me more than what I've ...more
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an explain-the-brain-through-brain-injuries book, so in that respect it is similar to an Oliver Sachs or Antonio Damasio book. But the similarities end there. The author has ambitiously attempted to write a survey on modern neuroscience through a complicated metaphor involving Galileo interacting with historical figures. The device is brilliant in some places, tortuous in others, but ambitious throughout. What really saves the book are the self-deprecating 'Notes' sections at the end of ...more
Alessandro Perilli
Dec 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
A unique book, merging science, philosophy, art in a narrative that is so easy to understand and so compelling at the same time, and that reminds of the Divina Commedia journey. For this, it deserves 4 stars.

Throughout the journey, the book presents a theory of consciousness grounded in neuroscience that anybody can understand, without any major scientific knowledge. But it fails to answer all questions, and the reader is left wondering about many aspects that are not clarified. For this, it de
Arthur Ryman
A fascinating title but the content fails to live up to it. This is a topic that awaits a clear exposition.

This is a topic that awaits a clear exposition. The books starts with good description of medical experiments that help characterize consciousness but then continues in a very flowery allegorical and philosophical style that only clouds an already difficult subject. I was hoping for a more mathematical or physical model. Perhaps the author’s published scientific papers are better source.
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very enjoyable book in the tradition of Gödel, Escher, Bach.
Tononi's style is high-brow, humorless, sometimes pretentious, nonetheless I enjoyed it a lot.

As for a summary of current status on consciousness research, it is both too slow and surface-level. But as a neuroscience -slash- western culture romp, it was really nice and sometimes even profoundly touching.

Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: well-being
A thought experiment book that will bring you in an allegorical journey where roads are met by science, arts and mysticism. What I Ioved is that it keeps me wondering, it makes me wanna keep walking in the unfinished road/theory of consciousness that till now science can only mechanize and philosophize but can't measurely explain (yet).
Sorin Tudor
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty interesting way of presenting the fundamentals of Information Integration theory, but sometimes hard to follow. If you want something more practical and focused, read Sizing up Consciousness: Towards an objective measure of the capacity for experience.
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Giulio Tononi is a wonderful book, interweaving science, art, and imagination, telling a story about Galileo in search of consciousness. This is also a book for lover of books as books (referring to the hard cover edition), with many beautiful pictures and pages feeling like gifts.
Sep 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Artistic. Reads like poetry and is thought provoking. But verbose and like any book that deals with consciousness an inability to define basic axioms results in ambiguous, circular reasoning. In a sense, the book defines what is not in the hope of defining what is.
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Using a philosophical journey through history as a lens to understand consciousness.
Petter Wolff
Aug 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: stopped-reading
Can it be more contrived?
Love it all you want. But don’t compare it to GEB within earshot of me, thank you very much.
Oct 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Phi attempts much, and achieves most, but not all, of what it attempts. It is a masterful work. The first thing I noticed about it was that it was extraordinarily heavy - the paper is very thick, and there are a tremendous number of beautiful images and illustrations in every chapter.

Tononi's approach here could be viewed as derived from a combination of Dante's Divine Comedy or from Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach. For the first, our protagonist (Galileo) is led by a guide (in our case a great
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Science and Inquiry: Phi 3 41 Jun 20, 2014 04:37PM  

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Giulio Tononi is a professor of psychiatry, the David P. White Professor of Sleep Medicine, and the Distinguished Chair in Consciousness Science at the University of Wisconsin. In addition to the major scientific journals, his work has appeared in New Scientist, Science Daily, and Scientific American. His research has been the subject of articles in The New York Times and The Economist. He is the ...more

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