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Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,281 ratings  ·  183 reviews
A breathtaking look at the new science that can track consciousness deep in the brain

How does our brain generate a conscious thought? And why does so much of our knowledge remain unconscious? Thanks to clever psychological and brain-imaging experiments, scientists are closer to cracking this mystery than ever before.

In this lively book, Stanislas Dehaene describes the pion
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published January 30th 2014 by Viking
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Marc Porlier The answer depends on how one defines "nothing more than firing neurons". If emergent properties constitute something more than their material basis t…moreThe answer depends on how one defines "nothing more than firing neurons". If emergent properties constitute something more than their material basis then "no", his view is more nuanced than that. However, Dehaene is clearly on the side of physicalist identity theory concerning the mind-brain philosophical problem. Several critics have pointed out this is the weakest part of his otherwise excellent book.(less)

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Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to David by: Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
This book is a truly fascinating exploration of the biological foundation of consciousness. Stanislas Dehaene is an active researcher in the field. He makes a compelling argument that consciousness can be explained in terms of his "global neuronal workspace theory". In this theory, consciousness means that information that comes into a particular area of the brain through one of the senses becomes available to the rest of the brain. The information becomes "... globally available to all our high ...more
David Katzman
Feb 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Manages to be fascinating, boring and disturbing all at once. Consciousness is a fascinating metaphysical concept. Linguistic even. Dehaene is reporting on a significant volume of psychological research related to testing and evaluation of consciousness from a scientific perspective. The details and repetitive reporting of these tests in CATB:DHTBCOT is dull, dull, dull. It’s essentially a very long science report. The excessive detail is likely needed to prove his various points, but I was cons ...more
Having completed half, I will no longer continue.

This is confusing and extremely unclear.

The author’s nomenclature is presented too rapidly and in terms too diffuse.

Conclusions are drawn but the proof documented here in the book failed to convince me.

The audiobook is read by David Drummond. It is read too quickly.

Evidently, popular science books are not for me. This and the others I have read have all failed me.
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, nonfiction
Now here is how to write "popular" science for the intelligent reader, one who is not necessarily expert in the particular subject, but who nevertheless has his own technical or scientific background. Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts is most definitely not a dumbed-down creative non-fiction gloss by a staff journalist, like so many recent "popular" science works of questionable worth and accuracy. This is written by a leading researcher in the field. You ...more
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: consciousness
The most comprehensive review of consciousness research from the clinical applications in coma and minimal consciousness conditions to attentional blindness, masking, subliminal priming.

Everything is covered in this book. The author came up with the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness. The meticulous clarification of the multiple conflated meanings of consciousness at the start of the book lays the groundwork for a deep dive into the workings of the subconscious mind followed by the
Filled with a lot of wonderful neuroscience. Worthwhile studies. I was with him until he began making illogical arguments at the end. He obviously hates Peter Singer. In this he is not alone. No matter how disdainful researchers find Singer, they are often able to argue against him using research and logic. Dehaene was obviously overcome by emotion and his logic centers failed to light up. A little too much vmPFC activation and not enough dlPFC involvement in his decision-making.

Dehaene argues
Morgan Blackledge
May 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
One readers (QI) review expressed fear and skepticism regarding whether we should or even can understand consciousness via the scientific method.

In her opinion we "need to leave room beyond the conscious machinery model of being human".

My response to her was as follows:

Weather or not we need to leave room beyond "conscious machinery" model of being human, that territory is shrinking daily. I'm still not exactly sure how the systematic investigation of consciousness could possibly be harmfull.
Todd Martin
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
The question “Can the human mind understand itself?” may sound like another nebulous and unanswerable Zen koan along the lines of “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” but it turns out that scientists have learned a remarkable amount about the brain’s function in general and consciousness in particular. Though there is still much to be discovered, here’s what we do know for sure: consciousness is produced by the brain. Indeed, it could hardly be otherwise without invoking supernatural explan ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
In my opinion, the only good chapter in this book was "The Ultimate Test" which explores consciousness in people in vegetative or other minimally conscious states. It was definitely interesting, although made me wonder how somebody who can't communicate can consent to being included in studies that sometimes include having wires surgically implanted into the brain.

In general, this book was filled with "my group", "my lab", "my studies", "I discovered", "blah blah I'm awesome." I understand that
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Very good neuroscience book on one of the toughest nuts to crack in the sciences and closest to home, Consciousness. Dehaene shows from brilliant experiments how neuronal firing (especially which particular kinds of neuronal firing) make up conscious experience. He uses the theory of consciousness as a global workspace for unconscious input as his basis. He shows that consciousness is not some accidental epiphenomenon with no practical use but has a key part of the filtering and decision making ...more
Lis Carey
It seems we are, finally, starting to solve the mystery of what consciousness is, and how the brain creates it.

Moreover, this is not just a fascinating scientific breakthrough, but one with important clinical implications. These are breakthroughs that are starting to make it possible to identify which patients in a "persistent vegetative state" or "minimally conscious state," have conscious activity going on in their brains, despite their inability to communicate.

More than that, it's becoming th
Bart Jr.
Feb 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing

It is wonderful to find a book that has taken consciousness from a philosophical subject, approachable mostly by way of metaphor, to the scientific, experimental level.
Mr. Dehaene begins, as is often necessary in science, by defining the term consciousness in a clear and unambiguous manner that delineates it from other related and often conflated terms such as awareness and attention.
But the majority of this book concerns data taken from nuts-and-bolts experiments in the lab, many using brain-im
Michael Shore
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
Although this book does contain some fascinating science (much of which is overly technical), I was extremely disappointed overall. Even though the entire book is ostensibly concerned with consciousness, Dehaene spends absolutely no time defining what he means by the notoriously loaded term. Adding insult to injury, he then proceeds to haphazardly use "consciousness" in many different ways throughout the book. This is supremely frustrating, to say the least. Maybe I should've known better, given ...more
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, favorites
This is a splendid work, wonderfully well-organised and written with exceptional clarity and depth. A joy to read! Highly, highly recommended!

Jan 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cognition
Brilliant state-of-the-art coverage in consciousness research!

Bernard Baars proposed versions of the theory in '88, '97, '02. This '14 book quotes several hundreds articles & experiments, several of them authored by Dehaene but mostly by others of the likes. The way Dehaene writes is highly engaging because it is sort of chronological - he asks a question, gives a tentative answer, then plays the devil's advocate role and if any doubt remains refines the answer in the light of later research. T
Mar 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
As someone with what I feel is a particularly noisy brain, I really enjoyed this book about recent discoveries in neuroscience. (I do a great deal of reading because it helps focus my "mind" -- whatever that is.)

The findings of Dehaene and his team appear to be groundbreaking. Why aren't they in the headlines, at least the human interest story about methods being developed for determining the level of consciousness in comatose people?

The book is very well organized. It's real science, written i
Gaurav Gautam
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Gets boring in some parts because of the writing style, but the content makes up for it.
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A first-rate work by eminent cognitive neuropsychologist Stanislas DeHaene, outlining his "global workspace" theory of consciousness. According to DeHaene, there are four hallmarks of a conscious thought: sudden widespread ignition of circuits in the parietal and prefrontal lobes; a late slow wave called the P3 wave across the top of the head detectable by EEG; a late burst of high-frequency "gamma" waves; and synchronization of two-way exchanges across widely separated parts of the brain. Altho ...more
Apr 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
*This book was extremely exciting for me because my model of consciousness has been, for quite some time now, Yggdrasil, and the theory set forth in this book, including the map he draws… confirms everything I have thought. If you made his map beautiful--it's Yggdrasil.

-Haven't had this much fun reading a book since Ayn Rand's Intro to Objectivist Epistemology!
-This book was not actually what I was looking for--it is not so much about what we DO with conscious thoughts once we have them, it is
Andrea Kladar
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic read. Consciousness is notoriously hard to define. However, Dehaene creates a clear definition of what he is referring to as "consciousness" (conscious access) and goes on to explain the myriad of well constructed scientific experiments designed to detect the markers of this "conscious access". Thought provoking and thoroughly enjoyable read.
Adam Duracz
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great explanation of the Global Workspace theory of consciousness. I wish more scientific theories were explained in such an accessible format.
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book on the subject of consciousness. It's just a very hard read. You need to pay attention early in the book because the concepts build upon each other and as you miss things, the book gets harder and harder to read. Not a friendly read, but if you can get past that, the subject matter and the professional nature of the book are great. The scientific approach to what consciousness is and how it works is such an incredible subject. I think it is very much worth the read but ...more
Pete Welter
May 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The most clear point you get from "Consciousness and the Brain" are the huge strides made in the study of consciousness over the last 25 years.

After reading Dahaene's other books, focused on how the brain processes quantities/math and reading, I great anticipated this book, which goes to the more general topic of consciousness from a neurological perspective. Specifically what a conscious thought is, and how we can identify it when we see brain activity.

He first spends a chapter discussing the p
Oct 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Definitely not the genre I usually read, but the title sounded super interesting. Overall the author had interesting theories but there is still such little known about consciousness and the brain I found myself wanting more concrete information, which just doesn't exist. The author did include information on studies and experiments, but was only able to hypothesize about what some of the results meant. I am encouraged that humans are working toward a better understanding of consciousness.
Mar 28, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a clear and intelligent account of scientific exploration in our conscious thoughts. Its merit is evident in its clear writing style, its useful compilation of latest scientific data, and the author's superior first-hand knowledge in this field. But this is a book written by a scientist in a field trembling with border dispute between what can be scientifically understood, and what should be left to the philosophers and theologians. Our author opines that all of human consciousness can b ...more
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Very thorough book about recent findings differentiating brain signal processing and consciousness. It contains an extensive bibliography and an excellent index, though the information content could be improved slightly through more color images.

The unconscious brain still responds to external stimulus (primarily sounds) at one level, but these responses don't go anywhere. The author uses the interesting metaphor of Sherlock Holmes, gathering several clues before acting on the information. In th
Oliver Hoover
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts, written by Stanislas Dehaene in 2014, is an alright book. The book is a documentation of Stanislas Dehaene’s research into the scientific basis for consciousness over 15 years. Consciousness, itself, was deemed unable to be scientifically observed until the 1980’s. The book, itself, goes through various behavioral experiments, such as testing a subject’s focus by making someone follow a basketball with their eyes, while ...more
Apr 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read. I put this among the most influential books I have read in the last few years.

What this book is:
A thorough explanation of the brain mechanisms that give rise to consciousness. The signatures of consciousness are mapped to an outstanding detail in this book. Its approach is 100% materialistic and never loses a chance to attack dualism.

What this book is not:
An exploration of the fundamental philosophical question of why self awareness and the sense of being rises from the biologi
Yasser Mohammad
Sep 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
The book explores the signs of consciousness in the brain as measured through imaging and EEG studies and proposes a comprehensive theory of consciousness called the global workspace theory.
The theory is related to the integrated information theory in its focus on global connections and signaling as a precursor of consciousness.
The hard problem is mentioned in the beginning but as expected from a Neuroscience book just skipped over.
The most useful aspect of the book in my opinion is the brillian
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was the ultimate in braincandy for me! And while it took me longer than I planned to get through (probably because somewhere in the middle I purchased my own copy and with no library due date, my attention felt free to drift in other directions), it was still the best non-fiction I read all year. What can I say? I'm a sucker for clearly written, non-technical language that clearly lays out a topic and takes me down the path to understanding. I learned so much about where we are in the moder ...more
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47 likes · 15 comments
“Introspection makes our conscious motives and strategies transparent to us, while we have no sure means of deciphering them in others. Yet we never genuinely know our true selves. We remain largely ignorant of the actual unconscious determinants of our behavior, and therefore we cannot accurately predict what our behavior will be in circumstances beyond the safety zone of our past experience. The Greek motto “Know thyself,” when applied to the minute details of our behavior, remains an inaccessible ideal. Our “self” is just a database that gets filled in through our social experiences, in the same format with which we attempt to understand other minds, and therefore it is just as likely to include glaring gaps, misunderstandings, and delusions.” 8 likes
“Science often progresses by carving out new distinctions that refine the fuzzy categories of natural language.” 4 likes
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