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

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,515 ratings  ·  201 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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Dan Pendergrass I think you are looking at this as a book about consciousness, but it's really about how consciousness manifests itself in the brain. Think of time ve…moreI think you are looking at this as a book about consciousness, but it's really about how consciousness manifests itself in the brain. Think of time versus how time is monitored by the workings of a watch. A watch tells time, by using calibrated events, but how it works can not tell you about time itself. This is a book written by a scientist that lays out the scientific underpinnings of consciousness. Not a discussion of the nature of consciousness itself. That is probably not testable using the scientific method.(less)

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David Rubenstein
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to David by: Peter 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
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
Nov 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a great read! Dehaene glides effortlessly into an abysmally difficult topic...he uses no big words or lofty concepts but an easy to understand exploration of this hotly debated area. Since the dawn of time humans have pondered 'what is consciousness?' The author and his team use modern science to propel this conversation forward.

It is important to remember that in order to make this subject matter measurable (and worthy of scientific examination) it must be simplified. So it is not a defini
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
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
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
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
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, science
This is a splendid work, wonderfully well-organised and written with exceptional clarity and depth. A joy to read! Highly, highly recommended!

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
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
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.
Feb 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
My review will be ready soon!
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
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
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
Minervas Owl
Jan 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Haris Mexas
Apr 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a brilliant source of information on our current understanding of consciousness and a few of the areas in which this knowledge can be applied.
It is a pity many philosophers and spiritual teachers keep ignoring the advancements of neurobiology and cognitive science, thus failing to understand the basics of how consciousness (or subjective experience) works. This renders the ideas expressed in the book extremely valuable and worth propagating.
The downside of the book is that it is not char
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
Petter Wolff
Oct 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Extremely informative and clearly written book on the experimental path to finding out what consciousness really is. A must-read for anyone interested in this subject, and surely a book to which I will return to refresh my cache of consciousness-related concepts.
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.
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
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82 likes · 29 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.” 9 likes
“I do not mean, of course, that we can always accurately express our conscious thoughts with Proustian accuracy. Consciousness overflows language: we perceive vastly more than we can describe.” 6 likes
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