See Also: Book Notes, Conceptual Spaces Cheat Sheet, Swarm Intelligence, Blank Slate, Clock of the Long Now, Info Viz & Perception.
This book is a rich and detailed descriptions of the mechanisms of the brain that are a prerequisite of consciousness. It is written for the scientifically inclined lay person. Basically, if you are curious about how the brain works and what consciousness is and you have the patience to slog thru details or skim over them, this book is for you.
It starts with history and philosophy of our understanding of consciousness and proceeds to the basics of the nervous system. It then traces the development of the encephalon and various pathologies and drugs that muck with consciousness. It covers the Visual System in great detail and fascinating pathologies.
It concludes with a Darwinian history and rationale for consciousness and then end with more philosophy. In the end, the question is whether we are biological machines and predictable (see neuroeconomics), or whether the mind is transcendent. This is discussed by Pinker. IMHO, we are machines, but the complexity will never allow us to be predictable, and as we gain insight into how we think, that will change how we think.
There are wonderful quotes and anecdotes thru-out the book!
There is a great amount of detail on the V1 area of the visual cortex and the whole system. The idea of attention and "preattentive" visual processing. Different type of attention: Preparatory, Selection, and Sustaned. This make a great complement to Information Visualization: Perception for Design by Colin Ware. More on the fusiform gyrus, one of the areas that is specially programmed to recognize faces.
There are two major pathways thru the visucal system: dorsal and ventral. The Dorsal pathway runs from the occipital to the parietal lobe. It is involved with space and motion - determining immediate threats. The ventral stream runs from the occipital to the temporal lobe and recognizes objects.
There are many fascinating pathologies arising from damage to specific parts of the brain and exhibit the specificity of the visual system. Blindsight: if the primary visual cortex is damaged on one side, one cannot see object in that hemisphere, but, can still point to "targets", grasp objects appropriately, and say whether things are Xs or Os. Neglect: not being able to see the left/right side of an image. A woman is show two pictures of the same hose. In one the left side of the hose is on fire. She says they are identical pictures, but when asked which house is safer, she picks the one not on fire. Prosopagnasia: inability to recognize fear in another's face. Movement Agnosia: can't see things in motion - can see tea in teh cup, but not when it is moving, so, overfill things a lot. Form agnosia from carbon monoxide poisoning - cannot integrate to recognize objects - can see color and texture fine.
Taxonomy of memory, compatabilism, Quantum Theory of Consciousness. This book is great!