Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soulby Published 07 Aug 2012
|Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul.pdf|
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 different guide. In the first, accompanied by a scientist who resembles Francis Crick, he learns why certain parts of the brain are important and not others, and why consciousness fades with sleep. In the second part, when his companion seems to be named Alturi (Galileo is hard of hearing; his companion’s name is actually Alan Turing), he sees how the facts assembled in the first part can be unified and understood through a scientific theory—a theory that links consciousness to the notion of integrated information (also known as phi). In the third part, accompanied by a bearded man who can only be Charles Darwin, he meditates on how consciousness is an evolving, developing, ever-deepening awareness of ourselves in history and culture—that it is everything we have and everything we are.
Not since Gödel, Escher, Bach has there been a book that interweaves science, art, and the imagination with such originality. This beautiful and arresting narrative will transform the way we think of ourselves and the world.
"Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul" Reviews
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.
The first part of the book dealt with various subcomponents of consciousness. But why Francis Crick? I had not previously realized that after working out the structure of DNA, he moved to California, and worked in the field of neuroscience and consciousness. In this part, Crick takes Galileo to see a variety of people with brain limitations or damage, to understand how various parts of our brain contribute to consciousness.
In the second part of the book, Alan Turing helps Galileo explore various information aspects of consciousness. Starting with the simple example of a photo-diode, they boost up the complexity and come up with the idea that information integration--symbolized by the symbol PHI--is at the heart of consciousness. In the third part of the book, Charles Darwin leads Galileo to explore the evolution of consciousness.
Besides the originality of the "voyage" aspect through the brain and consciousness, the heavy "feel" of the book is amazing. There is a photograph or artistic image on at least every other page. There are no captions below the images, but at the end of each short chapter there are notes that explain them. In addition, the notes serve as commentary on the chapter, explaining the actions of the characters and their significance. Even the commentary is unusual, in that the notes sometimes include opinions about the behavior of the characters, as if the body of each chapter were a historical text, and the commentary were the writings of a scholar from a later generation.
The first two parts of the book were excellent, but the last part seemed to fall apart for me. I could not understand where the journey was going. All in all, this is one of the most original, imaginative books I have ever read; it ranks up there with Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. But this book requires attention in order unravel the tapestry of scientific, metaphorical, artistic, and literary themes.
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 not to Eco in the book), it is an homage to Dante and to all those who have both a Beatrice and a heavenly host. It is also a nod to virgil as guide.If I had to guess the hidden guide here it would be Calasso whose Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony is one of the great works of synthesis, poesis, and beauty in the last 30 years
Phi is a slow read. and a beautiful one. the words sometimes sing, as an epic should, but also sometimes fail to fly: the attempt to incorporate the science of the brain and the physics of the world perhaps is not as possible as the religious tropes that Dante lived/wrote/learned in.
But this is not a tale of exile. Instead, as we move toward heaven we see that the brain and its capacities are the heaven, the host, and the god within the neurons and the cosmos.
If this sounds ambitious, it is.
I am unsure who will read this. I loved it but then I would. I love Dante, epics, neuroscience, philosophy and Phi. But for those who like one language game better than others the approach will not work perhaps. I have not read reviews.
And last, the photographic juxtapositions are integral to the book. And stunningly beautiful on both the print and kindle edition.
I guess I would have liked to see links to the net and much more awareness of how all this should and indeed needs to be a part of the social text that is the world we live in.
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 series of metaphors and analogies to describe different aspects of consciousness and neurological process? My biggest problem with the book is that they weren't particularly GOOD analogies. They were elaborate and detailed and gussed up with a lot of literary language so by the end I would typically lose the thread and have no idea was it was supposed to be an analogy for in the first place. There were also a lot of cameos from real historic figures, with coy remarks about how the author took license with the details -- and at first, I was all for this -- I have no issues with using the basics of an example from history without a lot of labored extra effort to make all the exact circumstances fit into a metaphor -- but these examples got so crazy off-topic that I can't figure why there was a big *wink, wink* about making them actual people.
All the information about neurology you already know from reading Oliver Sacks.
The book also weighs about fifty million pounds, because it's printed on extremely high quality paper and contains a whole bunch of excellent reproductions of classic art, photography, and other images. You know, I get what the author was trying to do, and if the book worked better, I'd probably be more excited about the art ... but it ended up, to me, looking like someone was trying to bulk up a web site by throwing up a bunch of images without actually improving the content.
Reading this never stopped feeling like homework. I noticed, though, that reading this as homework would probably have been a better experience for me, it would have been interesting to read it with someone else and see what kinds of conversations and reactions get sparked as a result. (Not that I would encourage anyone to read this for the sole purpose of talking about it, more like if you had to read it for an assignment, I bet there would be good class discussions.)
I guess the most frustrating thing is that I can completely see how the author is knowledgeable and passionate about the topic, and probably a very interesting guy to chat with in person, and the plan for this book is impressive ... but it simply doesn't meet the goals.
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 beautiful artistic prints and lovely imagery kind of like consciousness. That is why I am giving it three stars instead of one or two but it won't get four because I was left utterly confused and slightly miffed. Still it is interesting I will pick it up next time as not my nonfiction philistine self but I will try to read it in a more literary manner. Still the book should be advertised as a piece of interesting postmodern art not a book about the neuroscience of consciousness.
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 Borges, each introduced to illustrate some aspect of how our brains work and what constitutes consciousness.
The title, Phi, is Tononi's way of expressing the somewhat ineffable idea that consciousness is the totality of integrated information that our brains produce, residing not in one particular part of the brain, but certainly seated somehow in the frontal cortex.
Someone with bucks must have loved this book project, because the hardcover is printed on glossy, heavy stock with scores of full color illustrations of great works of art and other scenes. Each short chapter ends with a set of notes to explain what the more scientific meaning of the chapter was, which gives Tononi freedom to exercise his creative writing muscles in the main text. Sometimes, he does that quite well. At other times, he ventures into Creative Writing 101 territory.
Nevertheless, I found much of this material to be fascinating, particularly his chapters toward the end that explored such things as when or whether consciousness might develop before birth, how consciousness permits imagination as well as discovery, and how consciousness can exist without language.