June 13, 2021


Exploring the Complexity
of Brain, Mind, and Self,

by Paul N. Nunez,
Prometheus Books (350 pages).



The 2016 book extends the ideas presented in Nunez's earlier 2010 book, with the same title, which addressed both the 'easy' and 'hard' problems of consciousness. The hard problem is the question: "How can subjective experience arise from activity in the brain?" It is arguably the greatest question in science.

Nunez uses carefully chosen analogues and metaphors instead of equations in the body of the book. He asks: What do we know?; What do we only think we know?; and What can we perhaps never know?

Does the brain create the mind? Or is Mind already out there? Nunez lets you decide.

DEFINITIONS OF CONSCIOUSNESS: This book assumes that people view human consciousness as one of the following:
    1) Nothing but a byproduct of sensory, motor, and memory information processing, essentially saying that the hard problem is just an illusion;

    2) Something mystical that lies beyond scientific purview, implying that the hard problem is just too hard for us deal with;

    3) Explained by flaky ideas, pseudo quantum mechanics, or appeals to fuzzy theology.
Nevertheless, Nunez regards the brain as a "complex dynamic system of waves of electrical activity interacting at different rhythms and phases to process and filter information, to learn from experience, and to operate at an unconscious, pre-conscious, and conscious level."

Practically, consciousness can be assessed only by observing a person's arousal and responsiveness.

"Consciousness presents itself as a continuous range of mental states from full alertness and comprehension, through the medical states of disorientation, delirium, loss of meaningful communication, and even the absence of movement in response to painful stimuli. Immediate issues of practical concern include assessment of the consciousness in severely ill, comatose, or anesthetized patients and how to treat impaired consciousness." (page 111)

"All proposed definitions of consciousness are circular, suggesting that consciousness may be a fundamental property in the sense that electric charge is fundamental.

One plausible definition of consciousness is 'the state of awareness of an external environment or of something within oneself; the ability to experience or feel.' Despite the difficulty with definition, consciousness is now considered to be a legitimate research topic in psychology and neuroscience." (page 135)

Consciousness involves "distributed dynamic patterns... essential to healthy mental functions" that include the two major cortical speech centers, Wernicke's area and Broca's area. (page 137)

Nunez was awarded the 2011 Pierre Gloor Award by the American Clinical Neurophysiological Society for his contributions to clinical research. He currently writes regular blog posts for Psychology Today (

You can explore other Nunez Resources, which include: Video on-line: PL Nunez, Neural models and their connections to experiments: A friendly reminder that fancy mathematics can never trump physical or biological principles. See regular Psychology Today blog posts on the brain and consciousness. For example, Brain Dynamic Patterns and the Mind. At what organizational level is consciousness "encoded?" =


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