Consciousness and the Social Brain: Michael S A Graziano

What follows are quotations from the book, in order mainly from the back of the text to the front.

  • Awareness is a description of attention.… I use the word [attention] in a neuroscientific sense. I am referring to a mechanistic process in the brain.

    According to the theory, the statement “X is conscious” means “a brain (or other computational device) constructed an informational model of consciousness and attributed it to X.”

    In this theory, a universal deistic consciousness does actually exist. It is as real as any other consciousness. If brains attribute consciousness to X, then X is conscious, in the only way that anything is conscious…. The universe has consciousness type B. That consciousness is an informational model constructed in the brains of many (though not all) people and attributed to the collection of all events that are otherwise inexplicable. The cosmos is conscious in much the same way that anything is. Its consciousness is made of the same stuff as our own consciousness--information instantiated in the hardware of the brain… It is conscious because brains attribute consciousness to it, and that is the only way that anything is ever conscious.

    Awareness is an informational model, a description, a picture; but the depiction directly alters the thing that it depicts. It has the capacity to shape the processing in the brain and control behavior…. A tree can be conscious. A hunk of rock can be conscious. They can all be conscious in more or less the same sense that a human is conscious. The reason is that, according to the attention schema theory, human consciousness …is not something a person has… it is an attribution.

    I believe that most scholars have a deep-seated bias in the way they think about consciousness. The bias is pervasive and subtle. In it, awareness and information are distinct from each other… [By contrast I think] Logically, awareness is information…. I am suggesting that awareness is indeed a chunk of information constructed in the brain…. The heart of the theory is that awareness is a schematized, descriptive model of attention…. How can we become aware of any information at all? What is added to produce awareness? I will argue that the added ingredient is, itself, information.

The author is Professor of Neuroscience at Princeton University. The publisher is Oxford University Press. Blurbs on the back cover include “It makes sense—good scientific and logical sense… the central idea, however, is quite probably right, or very close to,” from Patricia Churchland and “a plausible and rich theory,” from Michael Gazzaniga. Notably, the author is also a novelist and ventriloquist.