No one can escape a sense of awe when reflecting on the workings of the mind: we see, we hear, we feel, we are aware of the world around us. But what is the mind? What do we mean when we say we are aware” of something? What is this peculiar state in our heads, at once utterly familiar and bewilderingly mysterious, that we call awareness or consciousness?
In Physics in Mind, eminent biophysicist Werner R. Loewenstein argues that to answer these questions, we must first understand the physical mechanisms that underlie the workings of the mind. And so begins an exhilarating journey along the sensory data stream of the brain, which shows how our most complex organ processes the vast amounts of information coming in through our senses to create a coherent, meaningful picture of the world. Bringing information theory to bear on recent advances in the neurosciences, Loewenstein reveals a web of immense computational power inside the brain. He introduces the revolutionary idea that quantum mechanics could be fundamental to how our minds almost instantaneously deal with staggering amounts of information, as in the case of the information streaming through our eyes.
Combining cutting-edge research in neuroscience and physics, Loewenstein presents an ambitious hypothesis about the parallel processing of sensory information that is the heart, hub, and pivot of the cognitive brain. Wide-ranging and brimming with insight, Physics in Mind breaks new ground in our understanding of how the mind works.
Loewenstein (The Touchstone of Life), emeritus professor of biophysics at Columbia University, describes his premise clearly and concisely: consciousness has a physics explanation. Unfortunately, his elucidation of this point gets lost in arcane details, complex writing, and metaphors run amok. The book s first half explores the limits of information transfer in biological systems, while the second half discusses computational processes at the traditional and quantum levels. The link between brain function and evolution is, at best, opaque, and the author s incessant use of the term demons to refer to catalyzing macromolecules (in honor of the nomenclature proffered by James Maxwell in 1871 to describe hypothetical beings who were able to create order from chaos ) makes it hard to take him seriously. Credibility is further strained by the regular anthropomorphization of evolution; indeed, Loewenstein refers to the process as a female with very specific desires. Writing about the Pacinian corpuscle, a sense organ, he writes: So we can see it now that tuning gives away Evolution s game. It was... biologically meaningful mechanical information... that she was after when she engineered that stupendous little capsule. Loewenstein s attempt to blend serious data with the accessible tropes of pop science is an unwieldy mess. 65 b&w illus.