cover image The Race for Consciousness

The Race for Consciousness

John Gerald Taylor. Bradford Book, $75 (392pp) ISBN 978-0-262-20115-5

As technology leaps forward, scientists and philosophers inch closer to a comprehensive definition of perhaps the most illusive ontological term: human consciousness. Taylor, emeritus professor and director of the Centre for Neural Networks at Kings College in London, has pursued the definition of mind for the last quarter century. In this sophisticated volume, he explores the latest developments in competing theories as a handicapper might detail the pros and cons of various thoroughbreds in a championship horse race. First stating the parameters of the study of consciousness, Taylor analyzes both the physiological structure of the brain and the subtleties of its neurological electro-chemistry. The reciprocal psychological categories of experience, thought and emotion are also addresed. Human consciousness so constructed includes thinking, feeling and willing. An apt quotation from a poet, scientist, theologian or philosopher introduces each chapter and focuses attention on the step-by-step historical development of various theories concerning the mind. The author draws from contemporary masters in the arcane reaches of neural networks and computer simulation of brain structures, but doesn't neglect ""classical"" sources like Freud and Piaget, when their work is relevant to the continuing debate. While the topic is esoteric, and his discussion sometimes hard going for the lay reader, Taylor avoids the obfuscation of professional jargon and makes a case for his own favorite theory, relational consciousness, by which ""consciousness arises through evocation of past memories and their intermingling with present input."" This theory, he asserts, is capable of both empirical and mathematical proof, necessities for any satisfactory scientific definition. 20 illustrations. (July)