The Face in the Mirror: The Search for the Origins of Consciousness

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9780060012793: The Face in the Mirror: The Search for the Origins of Consciousness

How do we know who we are? When and how did we become aware of our presence and thoughts? Why do some species develop self-awareness, while others do not?

This question of self-awareness and consciousness has puzzled philosophers and scientists alike, from Aristotle and Darwin to Descartes and William James. In his famous "mirror test" thirty years ago, leading researcher Gordon G. Gallup Jr. showed that self-awareness begins with the recognition of one’s reflection in the mirror, an ability that only higher order primates possess. In The Face in the Mirror, Julian Paul Keenan, Gordon G. Gallup Jr., and Dean Falk further explore mirror recognition as the key to understanding the origins of consciousness and its role in our evolution, everyday behavior, and ongoing survival.

For the past decade, Julian Paul Keenan and his colleagues have been closing in on the source of self-awareness in the brain. With the advent of MRI technology and other techniques, they have examined the hypothesis that there is a brain network specifically involved in self-recognition. This book shows how the right hemisphere of the brain (where mirror recognition takes place), often relegated to "supporting role" status, may be a more crucial determinant of higher order consciousness. Keenan also shows how recognizing our reflection -- an ability we take for granted -- is linked to such common self-related functions as memory and to emotions like empathy, narcissism, and deception, which play a crucial role in evolution.

Insightful, witty, and accessible, The Face in the Mirror plunges the reader into the forefront of thedebate on consciousness in humans and primates. From animals who share our ability for self-recognition, to the development of self-awareness in children, to case studies of patients who no longer recognize who they are, Keenan examines some of the latest evidence in the fields of neurology, psychology, and anthropology and suggests remarkable and surprising results about the function of self-awareness in humans and other primates.

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About the Author:

A Harvard-trained neurologist, Julian Paul Keenan is currently an assistant professor in psychology and the director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory at Montclair State University and a researcher at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University. He was previously on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. He lives with his wife, Ilene, in Jersey City, New Jersey.

From Publishers Weekly:

Why do we experience a sense of self? Is it unique to humans? Is it a spiritual force or a natural function of the brain? Keenan, director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory at Montclair State University, reduces these age-old metaphysical problems to scientifically testable questions and, piece by piece, constructs his theory that the self resides in the brain's right hemisphere. He begins by equating recognition of one's own reflection with self-awareness; as coauthor Gallup showed three decades ago, monkeys, humans' distant relatives, fail the mirror self-recognition test while our nearer cousins the chimpanzees pass, suggesting that self-awareness originated far back in the apes' evolutionary lineage. Children first exhibit self-awareness around the age of two, then quickly develop the ability to take the perspective of another person. Essential to primate society, this ability to "attribute mental states to others" is called Theory of Mind and makes cooperation possible, although, as even chimps know, it also confers a talent for deception. Keenan next introduces brain anatomy and modern neuroimaging technology in preparation for an armchair field trip to his laboratory, where he describes his own research and pinpoints structures responsible for self-recognition in the brain's right frontal region. Studies of patients with an impaired sense of self provide further evidence for the significance of this region. Whether Keenan convinces professional colleagues of his theory about the right brain origins of self, this engaging book, written with Gallup and anthropologist Falk, will delight readers curious about the mind and the scientists who study it. B&w illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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