Book Reviews

Additions to the Bibliography on Mind and Consciousness

compiled by Piero Scaruffi

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Ulanowicz Robert: GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT (Springer-Verlag, 1986)

In order to explain growth and development (not only of individuals, but also of ecosystems, societies and economies), the book introduces a new thermodynamic quantity: "ascendency" is a phenomenological measure increasing with ecological succession and decreasing in stressed ecosystems. Ascendency reflects the ability of a system to prevail against other configurations.
The second law of thermodynamics is interpreted as stating the impossibility, for any ecosystem component, to convert its energetic and material inputs into ordered biomass, i.e. that a fraction of it is always dissipated. Ecological systems are nonequilibrium systems. Prigogine's theorem is invoked to show that near equilibrium forces and flows of a steady state system tend to minimize entropy production.
Growth and development are formalized through the concept of networks of (energetic and material) flows. This formalization applies to all levels of the biological hierarchy, from cells to biosphere, and even to nonbiological systems. Network of flows can be reduced to elements of linear algebra and a calculus of measured flows can be reduced to information theory, once information is defined as the magnitude of decrease in uncertainty (uncertainty being the logarithm of the probability of the outcome).
The process of growth and development is eventually summarized in a variational principle (ascendency is maximized subject to a set of conservation constraints). Such principle of "optimal ascendency" specifies the influence of higher-scale events on the lower levels of the hierarchy. Fitness must be redefined as the ability of organisms to play a coherent role in the network of ecological processes.


A computational theory of how the sensory input of the eye originates a representation of the environment in the mind is divided into two problems: the "correspondence" problem (recognizing a piece of the image as an individual object in motion) and the 3-d interpretation problem. The former is solved by reducing the image to a set of tokens and applying similarity-based reasoning to them. The latter is solved by the interplay of a "structure from motion" process and a "motion from structure" process.

Underwood Geoffrey: ASPECTS OF CONSCIOUSNESS (Academic Press, 1982)

A monumental (three volumes) collection of articles on consciousness written by psychologists.

Unger Peter: IDENTITY, CONSCIOUSNESS AND VALUE (Oxford Univ Press, 1991)

Unger indulges in all sorts of thought experiments about personal identity. What happens i a brain is replaced or exchanged? Can one person fade into another?
Survival of personal identity over time requires continous physical realization of it by a physically continous succession of realizers beginning with the current one. Physical continuity entails properties such as gradual replacement of matter (e.g., most cells in the body are continously replaced) and constitutional cohesion (adhesion of the parts, at the smallest level).

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