The Ancestry of Reason

It’s perhaps not too hard to conceive that bodies have been shaped by aeons of imperfect duplication of DNA, edited by natural selection. But could our capacity for sensation, emotion and even abstract reason really be the result of the same process? Can this mysterious thing we call consciousness be explained as the product of a huge assemblage of nerve-cells?

The past decades have produced a considerable amount of evidence supporting the idea - evidence about how sensory consciousness happens, what it achieves, and how higher levels of consciousness might have been added to it. There are also some good clues to the areas in which other species enjoy sensory consciousness, and to where it’s absent.

There’s less indication of just how consciousness might have evolved, but it’s possible to lash the evidence together with some intelligent guesswork.

The author writes: I became interested in the brain, and how its structure must shape our thinking, over forty years ago, and was lucky enough to have time to pursue the subject. My aim in this book has been to produce a digest of the most pertinent discoveries of neuroscience, one that will be accessible to anyone who is seriously interested in these questions, regardless of their scientific background, or lack of it. For those whose knowledge of science is scanty, forgotten, or out of date, there are brief introductions to relevant disciplines.

Several ancient philosophers advised that we must know ourselves before we can pursue any other form of wisdom. This knowledge seems even more vital if we are to face the challenges modern technology has created – but science is providing means of understanding ourselves that the ancients couldn’t dream of.


Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction   2 Reason and Consciousness   3 Clues to Where Consciousness is at Work   4 From Earliest Animals to Homo Sapiens - a Quick Sketch   5 An Introduction to Neurons and Nervous Systems   6 The Basic Mechanisms of Vision   7 Learning to See   8 Creating the Conscious Visual Moment   9 The Benefits of Conscious Sensory Experience   10 The Internal World   11 Subtler Forms of Reinforcement - Cognitive Emotions   12 Social Emotions   13 Social Lifestyles   14 Attention   15 The Neurology of Movement   16 The Neurology of Attention   17 The Neurology of Reward   18 Learning   19 Contextual and Episodic Memory   20 Sleep, Dreams and Memory   21 The Long-term Memory Store   22 Where the Thinking's Done   23 More About the Basal Ganglia   24 Some Guesswork About the Thalamus   25 Overview   26 Some Pivotal Innovations   27 A Tentative History of Consciousness   28 Language   29 The Evolution of Language   30 Endword  
It would have been nice to include a really comprehensive bibliography in the book, for readers who wanted to explore any of the subjects further, or to consider more evidence, or alternative interpretations of the evidence. But there was only room for the more essential stuff.

However a more extensive bibliography is available here. And here it can be expanded as new evidence and new interpretations are published. Additions made since the book went to press are shown in contrasted colour.

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