Cambridge University Press
January 25, 2013
The title of this book was inspired by a passage in Charles Sherrington’s Man on his Nature. When that famous physiologist died in 1952, the prospects for a scientific explanation of consciousness seemed remote. Enchanted Looms shows how the situation has changed dramatically, and provides what is probably the most wide-ranging account of the phenomenon ever written.
Rodney Cotterill bridges the gap between the bottom-up approach to understanding consciousness, anchored in the brain’s biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, and the top-down strategy, which concerns itself with behavior and the nervous system’s interaction with the environment. Equally at home describing the intricacies of neural networks, the methods of monitoring brain activity and relevant aspects of psychology, the author argues that an explanation of consciousness is now at hand, and extends the discussion to include intelligence and creativity. Those who believe that their conscious selves control their bodies will be shocked to learn that even our spur-of-the-moment decisions are made unconsciously – that we are merely captive audiences of our own muscular acts. The remarkable thing is that the underlying deterministic mechanism requires that we be conscious. Evolution’s boldest trick greatly increased our competitive edge, by giving the body a conscious servant. The fascinating thing is that this ultimately opened the floodgates of our culture and our technology, including – soon – consciousness in computers.
This beautifully written and illustrated book will be valued by scientists and general readers alike for its easy access to one of science’s last great challenges. It will change forever our view of consciousness, and our concept of the human being.
Born near Jamaica Inn in Cornwall, Rodney Cotterill spent his early years on the Isle of Wight, and he was educated at University College London, Yale and Cambridge. Originally a physicist, he gradually extended his interests to the biological domain and he now specializes in biophysics at the Danish Technical University, where he has been a professor for the past three decades. Prior to that, he spent five years at Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago, and has had two briefer periods as visiting professor at the University of Tokyo. He has been studying the human brain since the mid-1980s, and has concentrated particularly on the neural correlates of consciousness and intelligence. He is also interested in the possibility of simulating consciousness with the computer; he holds a patent in this area, and is currently involved in an industrial collaboration which aims to introduce artificial consciousness to the Internet. Enchanted Looms is Professor Cotterill’s third popularization, his previous books being No Ghost in the Machine (1989) and The Cambridge Guide to the Material World (1985), which one reviewer referred to as an instant classic. He is a fellow of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters and also of the Danish Academy of Technical Science. When not researching, teaching or writing, he enjoys sailing and choral singing.