Friday, January 17, 2014
Nobody has yet been able to successfully define what ‘Consciousness’ is. In the ‘Future of the Mind’, famous physicist Michio Kaku makes an interesting attempt to explain consciousness based on the latest developments in Neuroscience. The last few years have witnessed rapid progress in understanding the Brain and how it works, and this has been accompanied by a large number of popular science books on Neuroscience and the Brain. Hence I was rather reluctant to read another one on the same subject – but having read other books by Dr.Kaku on Physics, I was intrigued enough to check how a Physicist would look at this subject. I am happy to say that the effort was not in vain as Kaku provides a grand tour on the subject explaining in detail how the latest technologies provide us greater insight into brain function.
Kaku has divided the book into three sections – Section 1 describing the Mind and Consciousness, Section 2 taking a look at Mind and Matter – telepathy, telekinesis and brain enhancement, and Section 3 exploring dreams, different types of consciousness, and the future of the Mind. The Appendix on Quantum consciousness is the icing on the cake – a fascinating few pages which one should not miss under any circumstance.
One reason that I really liked the book was because it drew upon some of best books I have seen on this subject from experts like VS Ramachandran, David Eagleman ( his fantastic book ‘Incognito’ is a must read) and Ray Kurzveil. Further Kaku has met and interviewed hundreds of other experts and visited most of the leading neuroscience research labs across the world. Then he has been able to distill all that information into a great narrative that you will find difficult to put down.
Physicists like to create models and that approach is entertaining when applied in a complex domain. One may not agree with all the simplifications and approximations but it definitely enables better understanding of the subject. Most of us may also not agree with the future that Kaku (and others like Ray Kurzveil) envisions, where one will download the brain into a digital storehouse and become immortal. They feel that the Universe will ‘awaken’ when human consciousness develops into a cosmic consciousness, which is supposed to be our destiny. I am reminded of a cartoon I saw many years back in which a stick person shouts to the Universe ‘Sir, I exist”. “However” replies the Universe “that has not created in me a sense of obligation”.
We take great delight in our “Consciousness” and find it difficult to believe that the Universe may not care. If we consider that it took 3.5 billion years (which is not a small time period even at cosmic scale) and a multitude of accidents to develop ‘intelligent’ life and “consciousness” on earth, it may not be a part of a grand scheme that we would like dream about. Also, the fact an asteroid from space or a volcanic eruption on earth can finish off all life in earth in minutes is something that we do not think about much.
Nevertheless it is fascinating to understand how the brain works and marvel at the way evolution has created such a complex organ. It is even more entertaining to see how we can use that organ to not only try to understand the Universe but dream about taking it over.