Some Books About Minds, Brains, and the Scientific Search for the Basis of the Universal Human Cultural Element of Belief in Souls

Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD by Carl Sagan. Defending science from mystics and con-artists.


Most of the books discussed here are concerned with the issue of how a mind is produced by a brain as the result of complex systems of neurons. This is the issue that I have been concerned with for most of my life.

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Included here are some of my own comments on the books as well as some links to Reviews by other people.
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Check their web site for book reviews and reader comments.

Books are like huge koans, we each get something different from any given book. My biases are fairly clear.


For linear thinkers, here is a list of books reviewed at this web site.

I have divided the books into several categories (easy click map) described below:

Complex Adaptive Systems. I have included some books about Complex Systems, not Necessarily Brains......brains are complex biological systems, our consciousness depends on that complexity and it is the complexity that makes our current understanding of consciousness so limited (and the process of figuring out consciousness so much fun). Developing a science of complex systems will help us study brain/mind.

In response to the quantum consciousness craze, I have included some books about Physics and Cosmology.....one of the amazing features of our universe is that so many physicists think they can explain consciousness as a physical property like mass or spin. I think this idea is an error and it is up to biologists to set the record straight. Some physics books that fall into this hyper-reductionistic trap are here. For comparison, I have included Alwyn Scott's book that tries to explain mind in terms of physics in the main section of books about mind/brain.

The attempt to understand biological brains and human consciousness is all tied up with Artificial Intelligence research. Most of the books about mind/brain include discussion of artificial intelligence, but I have put those books that are mainly about artificial intelligence and not biological intelligence over here. I have taken the liberty of including the topic of transhumanism in the AI section. My guess is that in 100 years there will not be a clear division between artificial and biological intelligence.

Another part of the mind/brain story is from the world of philosophy. While much of traditional Philosophy of Mind has been blown out of the water by the new science of mind, some philosophers are joining with scientists in useful cooperative ventures. Most psychology work these days falls into the empiracle domain of biology, but some is at the border of philosophy.

I even have some mind/brain Science Fiction. Go here to join a group participation Web Novel exploring minds, brains, and souls through fiction.

A final group of books is concerned mainly with evolution. We biologists never tire of repeating that nothing in biology makes much sense if taken outside of the theory that organisms are the way they are because they have slowly evolved to be the way they are. Thus, while I am clearly a physiologist by trade, my interest in developmental biology makes me particularly susceptable to the great sucking attraction of evolutionary thinking.



Books about Mind/Brain

Newbie corner: a good textbook for introduction to how neuroscience is going at the mind/brain problem is Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior (Appleton and Lange) by Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell.

The Astonishing Hypothesis by Francis Crick. This is my third most favorite book after Godel, Escher, Bach and The Origins of Order. Only the expected clarity of vision from one of the great theoretical biologists of the century. Check-out Stuart Derbyshire in The Marxist Review of Books. Review by Stephen Grossberg (one of the neural network big-daddies). Comments from philosopher Daniel C. Dennett. Review by Bill Webster (a Psychologist). Review by David Christopher Lane (philosopher).

As an exercise, compare what Crick has to say about the "soul" (even his wife's story about conscious beans) to what religious thinkers have to say, for example, Kundalini Catechism (check out "the consciousness of the vegetable kingdom"). It is interesting to compare the thoughts of scientists and non-scientists who just think about consciousness without worrying about experimental investigation of consciousness. Arthur M. Young has a "scientific" sound to his rambling, and I can even agree with him on one thing: "The problem of memory..... may be even more difficult than the problem of consciousness." Adrian Kuzminski is an example of a consciousness theorist who left even the world of academia behind to explore the topic. The high irony of consciousness studies may be that so many lament about how hard the problem is while so many think they can explain consciousness in so many contradictory ways.

Neural Darwinism Books by Gerald Edelman. Minds as a result of biological brains that have been selected by evolution and which select neural subsystems for modification in response to sensory input. Still the most complete biological theory of mind. Edelman makes memory central to his theory of mind.

Stairway to the Mind by Alwyn Scott. Mind/Brain theory in the context of the hierchical organization of atoms->molecules->cells->brains->mind. Watch a physical scientist struggle to escape the Dead Hand of Plato.

Descarte's Error by Antonio Damasio The high road for neuronerds to get in tune with their feelings. I'd like to see The Emotional Brain: THE MYSTERIOUS UNDERPINNINGS OF EMOTIONAL LIFE by Joseph LeDoux.

For the mathematically inclined.......

Neural Computing and Neural Science: A Theory of Information Processing in the Human Brain by Ales Grmela. The book depicts mathematical methods and theories that suggest how the human brain works.

of historical interest.........

The Computer and the Brain. John von Neumann. Right from the start, it was clear that functional changes in synaptic connections or actual structural changes in connections were the likely basis of brain memories.

The Conscious Brain and The Making of Memory by Steven Rose. Good illustrations of the struggle by pre-molecular biologists to come to grips with how brain chemistry makes memories and minds.


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