cover image Nineteen Ways of Looking at Consciousness

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Consciousness

Patrick House. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-15117-9

Neuroscientist House debuts with a quirky “collection of possible mechanisms, histories, observations, data, and theories of consciousness” modeled on the the 1987 book Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei. While the author expertly explores the evolution of the brain and the biological processes that underlie consciousness, he posits neither a definition nor a theory of consciousness. Instead, he offers 19 pieces that take different tacks in examining the topic. “Like the Rise and Fall of Pinball” compares consciousness to the arcade game, as “pinball machines were forced to evolve into both story and storyteller as, once, the brain did too, en route to consciousness.” “The Music While the Music Lasts,” meanwhile, compares it to a bowl with 86 billion fish, where ripples in the water are like the “ripples of electrical activity across the surface of the brain’s cells” that “cause” consciousness. “An Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Quantum-Dot-like Non-Machiney” explores the implications of a 1990 neurosurgery experiment in which a spot on a teenager’s brain was electrically stimulated as she looked at a picture of a horse and she laughed, prompting House to wonder: “Are we fully determined? Was Anna, in her responses?” Though the conceit can feel forced at times, House’s observations are intriguing, and the short essays are impressively rich. This is bursting with insight. (Oct.)