Christof Koch: Consciousness. Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist (flirt met Spinoza)

Om te signaleren. Niet dat het boek over Spinoza gaat, maar omdat het onderwerp Spinozisten in hoge mate aangaat. Toch, tweemaal komt Spinoza erin voor, maar hoe...

Christof Koch: Consciousness. Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist. The MIT Press, 13 April 2012 - ISBN 978-0262017497

Christof Koch is Professor of Biology and of Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. He is the author of The Quest for Consciousness and other books. De uitgever verder:

"What links conscious experience of pain, joy, color, and smell to bioelectrical activity in the brain? How can anything physical give rise to nonphysical, subjective, conscious states? Christof Koch has devoted much of his career to bridging the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the physics of the brain and phenomenal experience. This engaging book--part scientific overview, part memoir, part futurist speculation--describes Koch's search for an empirical explanation for consciousness. Koch recounts not only the birth of the modern science of consciousness but also the subterranean motivation for his quest--his instinctual (if "romantic") belief that life is meaningful. Koch describes his own groundbreaking work with Francis Crick in the 1990s and 2000s and the gradual emergence of consciousness (once considered a "fringy" subject) as a legitimate topic for scientific investigation. Present at this paradigm shift were Koch and a handful of colleagues, including Ned Block, David Chalmers, Stanislas Dehaene, Giulio Tononi, Wolf Singer, and others. Aiding and abetting it were new techniques to listen in on the activity of individual nerve cells, clinical studies, and brain-imaging technologies that allowed safe and noninvasive study of the human brain in action. Koch gives us stories from the front lines of modern research into the neurobiology of consciousness as well as his own reflections on a variety of topics, including the distinction between attention and awareness, the unconscious, how neurons respond to Homer Simpson, the physics and biology of free will, dogs, Der Ring des Nibelungen, sentient machines, the loss of his belief in a personal God, and sadness. All of them are signposts in the pursuit of his life's work--to uncover the roots of consciousness.

Een reviewer:

"With this masterful narrative of his life and science, Christof Koch has done for neuroscience what James D. Watson did for biology in his classic work The Double Helix. At once engaging, informing, and enlightening, Consciousness should be read by every student and scientist of the mind, along with general readers who would like to know how science really works and how scientists really think -- and feel -- when they engage the world with their experimental tools. Destined to takes its place as a timeless masterpiece in the history of science."--Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine; author of The Believing Brain

En Spinoza?  

Tweemaal komt Spinoza erin voor - in het slothoofdstuk, Chapter 10: "In which I muse about final matters considered off-limits to polite scientific discourse: to wit, the relationship between science and religion, the existence of God, whether this God can intervene In the universe, the death of my mentor, and my recent tribulations."
Hij laat op p. 164 zien dat hij Spinoza's sub specie aeternitatis niet helemaal gevat heeft:

"Spinoza coined a beautiful expression, sub specie aeternitatis, literally, "under the form of eternity." This is the remote viewpoint. Look down onto the Milky Way from far above its central black hole. You see a swirling disk of hundreds of billion of stars, many of them surrounded by tiny. dark associates. Some of these planets harbor life. On one of them, semi-intelligent, violent, and social primates furiously couple and uncouple. They endow this frenetic, anthill activity with great cosmic importance. These pairings last but the blink of an eye, the flash of a firefly, the flight of an arrow, compared with the time it takes the majestic galactic wheel to complete one rotation.

My anguish begins to recede in significance when viewed in this celes-tial light of deep time. My tribulations are not meaningless—I am no nihilist—but they should not, and will not, overwhelm my life. Having lost my central sun, I am a solitary planet now, wandering in the silent spaces between the stars. I am slowly regaining some measure of that inner peace, the equanimity, what the Epicureans called alaraxia. that I had for so long." [p. 164]

En een pagina verder schetst hij zijn godsbeeld dat niet echt op dat van Spinoza lijkt, maar dat hij er toch gelijkend aan acht:

"I do believe that some deep and elemental organizing principle created the universe and set it in motion for a purpose I cannot comprehend. I grew up calling this entity God. It is much closer to Spinoza's God than to the God of Michelangelo's painting. The mystic Angelus Silesius, a contemporary of Descartes, captures the paradoxical essence of the self-caused Prime Mover as "Gott ist ein lauter Nichts, ihn rührt kein Nun noch Hier" (God is a Iucent nothing, no Now nor Here can touch him).

The pioneering generation of stars had to die in spectacular supernova fashion to seed space with the heavier elements necessary for the second act of creation— the rise of self-replicating bags of chemicals on a rocky planet orbiting a young star at just the right distance. The competitive pressures of natural selection triggered the third act of creation— the accession of creatures endowed with sentience, with subjective states. As the complexity of their nervous systems grew to staggering proportions, some of these creatures evolved the ability to think about themselves and to contemplate the splendidly beautiful and terrifyingly cruel world around them.” [p. 165]


website van Christof Koch 

Christof Koch on Free Will, the Singularity and the Quest to Crack Consciousness [hier]

Christof Koch, Consciousness. Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist. In  te zien bij


The Romantic Reductionist - A Conversation with Christof Koch - by Tam Hunt - 13 maart 2013 in