Julian Keenan:

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(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

The US neuroscientist Julian Keenan has written a book that is both easy to read and full of details on his personal research program. What it lacks is comparative references to other scientists. The book is easy to read, although a bit annoying, like all popular science books, in the way they open chapters with totally irrelevant episodes (and even worse when they are autobiographical) that they then try to turn into universal laws. Keenan's starting point is Gordon Gallup's celebrated 1970 test of consciousness: most monkeys interpreted a mirror image as another animal, but chimpanzees correctly interpreted it as their own image. Thus they may be self-aware. From these studies on animal's self-recognition he jumps into who, how and when is capable of building a theory of mind. Unfortunately, he does not seem to know enough of the field. He omits to mention just about everybody who has done similar studies. When he starts discussing the brain, he stops with Roger Sperry, as if nothing was discovered about the functioning of the brain after the 1980s. The bulk of the book is an investigation of where in the brain the self (awareness of one's thoughts) and the theory of mind (awareness of other people's thoughts) could be located. He is convincing in that he details practical experiments (rather than mere speculation). His conclusion is that the right hemisphere might be very important for both functions, but clearly the field needs many more decades of experiments before a verdict can be announced (He would be more credible if he quoted more than Gallup and Sperry, which are pretty much the only neuroscientists discussed in the entire book, out of the hundreds who have published books in recent years). He seems to imply that the two forms of awareness may be the same process, although most scholars believe that children develop one (self) before the other (theory of mind) by about two years. The last chapter asks why consciousness appeared in the first place: again, the author seems to know little about the prolific literature of the last decade on the subject. For a book published in 2003, this is very little informative. It might stimulate novice readers to go on to more up-to-date literature., but the reader must be warned that there is a lot more than what this book discusses. In fact, this book might be a bit misleading because it ignores so much of what has been discovered over the last ten years.