cover image Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul

Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul

Giulio Tononi. Pantheon, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-307-90721-9

Both playful and philosophical, this extravagant book addresses questions about the root of consciousness in a unique way to illustrate Tononi’s innovative view of consciousness in terms of information theory, the brain as an integrated network of signals. Professor of neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, Tononi takes an aging Galileo—and the reader—on a complex intellectual journey in three parts, each led by a prominent scientist. Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, shows Galileo how various portions of the human brain function, both separately and together. Alan Turing, a founder of the science of artificial intelligence, helps Galileo understand how to link these facts into “a scientific theory of consciousness.” Galileo’s third guide is Charles Darwin, who explores how consciousness is evolving. Tononi provides notes at the end of each chapter that expand on the themes raised, and in a voice separate from that of the text’s narrator; for example, the book ends with an arcane symbol, and the note comments that this symbol “must hold some great significance to the author but could not be deciphered.” The book is a visual delight as well as an impressive read, its lavish artwork and literary references demonstrating just how fully complementary art and science can be. (Aug)