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 G�del, 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.
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August 07, 2012
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Excerpt from Phi by Giulio Tononi
[Images were removed from this excerpt due to the technical restrictions of the website. The finished book offers vivid full-color illustrations throughout.]
Every night, when we fall into dreamless sleep, consciousness fades. With it fades everyone's private universe--people and objects, colors and sounds, pleasures and pains, thoughts and feelings, even our own selves dissolve--until we awake, or until we dream.
What is consciousness, and what does it mean? How is it related to the world around us? What is it made of, and how is it generated inside the brain? Can science shed some light on it? Perhaps, but consciousness cannot just rest inside the shroud of science. Because consciousness is more than an object of science: it is its subject too.
What follows is a story where an old scientist, Galileo, goes through a journey in search of consciousness. In his time, Galileo removed the observer from nature and opened the way for the objectivity of science. Perhaps this is why Galileo is engaged to return the observer to nature, to make subjectivity a part of science. Or perhaps because Galileo was a master of thought experiments, of which this book makes much use.
During his journey, Galileo meets people from his and other times, learns many lessons, thinks many thoughts, and sometimes wonders, too, whether he is awake or dreaming. But each chapter makes some kind of statement, building on the previous ones, and Galileo's understanding grows. So in the first part of the book, he learns the facts of consciousness and the brain--why certain parts of the brain are important but not others, or why consciousness fades with sleep. In the second part, he sees how these facts can be unified and understood through a scientific theory of consciousness--a theory that links consciousness to phi, the symbol of integrated information that gives the book its title. And finally, in the third part of the book, he realizes some of the theory's implications, and sees that they concern us all, because consciousness is everything we have, and everything we are. Each experience, Galileo realizes, is a unique shape made of integrated information--a shape that is maximally irreducible--the shape of understanding. And it is the only shape that's really real--the most real thing there is. The reader can judge whether the old man's musings make any sense at all.
The notes at the end of each chapter attempt to clarify some ingredients of the main text and list credits when they could be identified. (Some pictures and quotes were liberally altered.) Those interested in a scientific exposition of a theory similar to the one presented in the main text can consult "Consciousness as Integrated Information," Biological Bulletin (2008), and references therein. Several thoughts, images, and citations have appeared in previous work--it would seem that some people cannot help but write the same story all their life.
1 The Dream of Galileo
Midway upon the journey of his dream,
he found himself adrift inside the dark,
not knowing whence or wherefore he was there.
He looked and saw that all was black. His soul was rising fast, or it was falling--Galileo knew not which way was up. So his soul turned and saw the stars. He saw the galaxies, fixed in their distant ways, and saw the planets, revolving in the indifferent void. The earth was moving, too, but there was no sun.
Yet dawn was coming. The earth painted itself like a faint half-moon, one face toward sunrise and one toward sunset. It loomed closer and closer--he could see the soft light of the morning sweep the ridges of the highest mountains, the shadows recede over the valleys. Soon the top of the tallest trees stared into the light, and amid the woods the monastery of his youth appeared--his own small turf of earth had come to meet its guest at his own place.
Hovering in midair, he slid inside his erstwhile room--a soul floating above his bed--and the soul saw himself: his eyes were closed, his mouth half open--it was an old man's face. And yet the soul was light, unfastened from the frame of his own body.
His -b--o--d--y! He could see its letters,
entering (stage right), then floating full,
then heading -off---so soon--
how like a little kohl-rimmed moon
o plots her course from b to d
--as y, unanswered, knocks at the stage door.
He put his ear to his own chest and listened to the heart. How could the pulse go on, beat after beat, for all of life? No machine could run that long without a stumble. Ask not if the beating cranks are going to jam, he thought, but when.
He heard his breath flow in and out. So for a while he watched the bellows puff and wheeze, in and out, and wondered how many puffs were left in him. Ask not, he thought, for far too soon the steam is going to fizzle--every balloon leaks.
Then, suddenly, straining to blow inside his body, the air took Galileo with it. And he felt his soul being sucked inward, flowing through narrow nostrils inside the dark vault of the skull.