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Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul by…

Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul (edition 2012)

by Giulio Tononi

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1125107,804 (3.53)1
Title:Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul
Authors:Giulio Tononi
Info:Pantheon (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:2012, #28

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Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul by Giulio Tononi



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This is physically a lovely book, with fine art illustrations and whimsical photographs. The conception is to explain consciousness as integrated information, the phi of the title. The exposition is in the form of three dreams of Galileo, as he is toured about by Francis Crick, Alan Turing, and Charles Darwin. The dreams are colorfully described, not straightforward neuroscience, and the author comments on each chapter in a footnote, often pretending that the contents were not his -"this chapter seems to be saying that ...". I found that tic annoying. I also did not find much new information; the clinical cases described in the first dream are all familiar to me, and the insights of the last dream are fanciful. ( )
  neurodrew | Jan 1, 2013 |
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. ( )
  delphica | Dec 20, 2012 |
Wonderfully written. Motivates me to go out and find other books to read around the topic. Good read ( )
  remikit | Nov 10, 2012 |
Tononi is the formulator of "integrated information theory", the quantitative theory of consciousness referred to by Christof Koch in _Consciousness_. This handsomely produced and colorfully illustrated volume gives a qualitative sketch of the theory in the unlikely guise of a tale about Galileo Galilei being taken on an educational odyssey by "Frick" (Francis Crick), "Alturi" (Alan Turing), and a bearded old man (Charles Darwin). It certainly should appeal to readers who like their science delivered in a rich blend of classicality, allegory, and metaphor.
  fpagan | Oct 17, 2012 |
Tononi's 'Phi" attempts to discuss consciousness through the vantage point of fictionalized versions of famous thinkers, with the character of Galileo being our main protagonist who we follow through his enlightenment of what consciousness is as explained through the frame of integrated information. There are many intellectually delightful moments in these discussions, and many poetic allusions that are fun through and through, but I can't shake my disappointment that, for such a profound topic, and for such a scientifically important advancement as Tononi's IIT may prove to be, the book remains a superficial popularization without much depth. When one reads a book like this you can't help but draw comparisons to Hofstadter's GEB which masterfully blended fictional anecdotes with deep ideas, but where Hofstadter plunged the reader deep into the relevant issues, Tononi only skates on the surface, offering glances and teasing those of us who wish to learn more. In the end, I think those who know nothing of Tononi's research will still leave not knowing much, and those of us who have the necessary background will not have gained much either. ( )
  haig51 | Oct 16, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030790721X, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:49 -0400)

"From a neurologist whose work offers one of the most promising paths to unraveling the mystery of consciousness, an exploration of consciousness unlike any other. Somehow our soul, our consciousness, our world, all is generated by what's inside our skull. This is the essential question of neurology. Consciousness cannot just rest inside the shroud of science, because consciousness is more than an object of science: it is its subject, too. In PHI, we follow an old scientist, Galileo, on a journey in search of consciousness. Galileo once wrote "concerning sensation and the things that pertain to it, I claim to understand but little"--so he chose to remove the observer from nature, and now his investigation requires its return. 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 Alturi (Galileo is hard of hearing, so doesn't properly hear his companion's name--Turing), he sees how the facts we have might be unified into a theory of consciousness. In the third part, accompanied by another master of scientific observation, he muses on how consciousness is an evolving, developing, ever deepening awareness of ourselves in history, culture"--… (more)

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