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Publisher's Summary

Focusing attention can help an animal find food or flee a predator. It also may have led to consciousness. Tracing evolution over millions of years, Michael S. A. Graziano uses examples from the natural world to show how neurons first allowed animals to develop simple forms of attention: taking in messages from the environment, prioritizing them, and responding as necessary.

Then some animals evolved covert attention - a roving mental focus that can take in information apart from where the senses are pointed, like hearing sirens at a distance or recalling a memory.

Graziano proposes that in order to monitor and control this specialized attention, the brain evolved a simplified model of it - a cartoonish self-description depicting an internal essence with a capacity for knowledge and experience. In other words, consciousness.

In this eye-opening work, Graziano accessibly explores how this sense of an inner being led to empathy and formed us into social beings. The theory may point the way to engineers for building consciousness artificially. Graziano discusses what a future with artificial consciousness might be like, including both advantages and risks, and what AI might mean for our evolutionary future.

©2019 Michael S. A. Graziano (P)2019 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

What listeners say about Rethinking Consciousness

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Clueless on Many Fronts

Does not realize
(1) that he is merely playing semantic parlor games (ex. 'attention' vs 'awareness');
(2) that there are varying degrees of consciousness (he's pursuing a go, no-go perspective, which is less useful, if not useless);
(3) that he is proposing Perspectives, not hard science, and that the value of perspectives are their useful (if any));
(3) that emotions are used to affect outcomes (usually social), and that they can easily be programmed;
(4) that his grasp of artificial intelligence consciousness is askew, and his potifications on future AI's internal workings are weak.

Interesting was the idea of measuring consciousness.

He has a Philosophy of Death (he does not want to live forever).

He misunderstands mind uploading, in that you will not be uploaded, but only an initial copy of you, which will immediately begin to become different (individualized) with different new experiences.

All in all, he represents Continued Universal Human Cluelessness, and all of the deficiencies associated with it. On that level (philosophical), it was torture for me to listen to. The science was enjoyable.

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Almost excellent, and very helpful

Graziano’s attention schema theory of consciousness is almost understandable to the devoted lay reader/listener. Almost, but not quite. Regardless, he makes a persuasive case that the mysteriousness of consciousness will be solved, and also that there is no barrier precluding consciousness in machines. (We are, after all, conscious machines ourselves.) It even makes me think that while the details are important and remain to be fully hammered out, the bigger picture isn’t as hard as some would suggest. Excellent narrator, btw.

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A conscious spark of joy

Prof. Graziano delineates clearly and intuitively what consciousness really is.
This book is a swift and Jargon-free journey to the recent advance in neurobiology and especially a computational theory of consciousness. It takes you from the evolution of the conscious brain trough the biological technicality and advantages, the philosophical considerations, and the possible future of conscious machines and mind uploading.
I think that the final chapters on mind uploading and futurism are too speculative. After all, the attention-schema theory of mind does not require a full brain-scan for mind uploading. It is not even clear that you need a neural network for that. Nevertheless, the ideas are mind-blowing and inspiring. A most read to any intellectual.

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Disappointing and strangely anachronistic

I enjoyed the Social Brain, and the elucidation of an attention schema (author's previous work), but much of this book reads like a step sideways not forward. It's got an overly avuncular tone (which may also have to do with the narrator) and is an underwhelming summary of the pop-culture approach to consciousness. Especially the final chapters which read like an exercise in wool gathering and clichés.

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Thought-provoking survey of consciousness science

While the book focuses primarily on Attention Schema Theory -- the scientific theory of consciousness developed and supported by the author -- it's a pretty good overview of the landscape of scientists' thinking on consciousness in general. Graziano goes to some lengths to describe not just AST, but also the other leading categories of theories around consciousness.

For me it lacked a little detail, painting a great picture in broad strokes but not refining the predictions & ramifications of AST, or contrasting it against other theories in a way that helps to differentiate them. But I think for the general public, whose main purpose is something like "understand what consciousness is and how it relates to better-understood systems of information processing", rather than "get testable predictions for designing experiments" or "enumerate detailed subjective ramifications of objective theories of consciousness", the book hits the bullseye.

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  • arinze onyiah
  • 06-18-20

insightful

I felt inspired reading this book. it got me thinking about ways in which we might exist in the future and I find that compelling.

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  • Craig
  • 04-18-22

On the right track

I have read a large number of books on consciousness. This author is one of very few that seems to understand consciousness in a way that is compatible with my own views formed after decades working as a clinical neurologist. The idea behind the book is that consciousness is a cognitive construct with a specific functional purpose rather than an accidental property emerging from complexity. That purpose is providing a user-friendly schema for directing attention.

Those wanting a complete take down of the Hard Problem of Consciousness will not find a full explanation in this book of why some philosophers are so drawn to dualism and so convinced scientists cannot explain consciousness, but for those already predisposed to see the Hard Problem as ill-posed, this book provides a plausible explanation to the central problem of defining what consciousness is and why it evolved.

Qualia are barely acknowledged, which will frustrate some readers.

Those readers who are drawn to Chalmers' mystification will no doubt come through unconvinced. Only a detailed analysis of the dualist intuition would have a chance of turning someone towards physicalism, but for physicalists with an appetite for a coherent theory, this book is an important addition to the discussion.