A Journey through the Human Brain with Guilio Tononi

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Brains on a shelf (neil conway/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

The human brain and our consciousness: they have been mystical and exotic topics that many a scientist has tried again and again to understand.  Neuroscientist Guilio Tononi, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin, is one of those scientists.

Tononi has published two books on the topic of our consciousness. His most recent publication, “Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul,” grabs the reader’s attention from the beginning with his exploration narrative. 

The story is told by Galileo, a man who opened the way for the objectivity of science. He takes the reader on a tour of the three minds and meets three famous friends on his journey of understanding. "Galileo is now on a journey to understand how experience, consciousness, and subjectivity can arise out of matter," Tononi says. The protagonist wants to reintroduce subjectivity to science.   

Tononi discusses the brain, our conscience, and what unique twists and turns are revealed in his book that provide a new perspective on this complicated subject. Tononi recalls Galileo's disproving of the theory that Earth, and therefore mankind, was at the center of the universe, while Darwin discovered humanity's evolutionary roots. Human beings have struggled with the implications of these revelations ever since, but Tononi focuses on a third idea. 

Tononi gives the example of the cerebellum, a highly complex component of the brain that is involved in motor functions like balance coordination. "Yet, if you take it away, consciousness doesn't change a bit. Essentially, this is a very, very complicated thing; it is a piece of brain, and yet it has nothing to do with consciousness. But, if you take out some other parts of the brain, suddenly you would not only block the functioning of a piece of matter, but you yourself would disappear and not exist anymore." 

The neuroscientist sees further study of the brain as a way to gain some insight on the connection between the physical structure of the brain and human consciousness. "What is it that makes some parts of the brain generate experience [and] subjectivity, and others which are equally complicated don't do anything at all?" 


Guilio Tononi

Produced by:

Robert Balint, Charlotte Evans, Jillian Weinberger and Rachel Weisberg

Comments [6]

Peter Kinnon from New Zealand

Mind Is Not The Boss Of The Body

The ancient belief that the mind is in someway the master of the body should really, in the light of modern science, be long dead.

It is now very clear that the mind is simply a function of the community of cells which the body comprises.

Also that the rather small aspect of mind which we identify as consciousness is merely an extension of the navigational facility required by many organisms for optimal interaction with their external environments.

The extent of such interaction of our own species, of course, extends far beyond the simple requirements of food, sex, basic shelter and defense against predation, that are adequate for many animals and the level of consciousness (enhanced by our sharing of imagination) is correspondingly much higher.

These points are expanded upon using the broad evolutionary model outlined very informally in the free e-book "The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?".

(Available from "Unusual Perspectives" website.)

Aug. 08 2012 05:02 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y

I can't think of Galileo without thinking about Queen's song "Bohemian Rhapsody"

..."Is this the real life? is this just fantasy?..."

I'd like to curse someone out,"You are nothing but a pack of neurons!"

Eventually we will be hooked up to Computers "where information creates reality..." sounds like a social network site...

How do I disappear. My five year old just asked to listen to this segment again... I told him, "How about Bohemian Rhapsody instead?"

Aug. 07 2012 10:31 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Though I disagree with this writer's ideas, he didn't have enough time.

Aug. 07 2012 08:02 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Philosophy has been dominated by materialism since Marx, but has been moving away from it in the last few decades because materialism doesn't work.

Aug. 07 2012 07:58 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Oh, brother, another naturalist materialist.

Aug. 07 2012 07:51 AM
Ed from Larchmont

No matter how complex one finds the brain to be, which it is, it is still matter. What guides and organizes and uses that matter is the soul, an unextended substance, that has consciousness, memory, and free will.

Aug. 07 2012 07:41 AM

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