Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation: Why Physicists Are Studying Human Consciousness and AI to Unravel the Mysteries of the Universe (Hardcover)

Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation: Why Physicists Are Studying Human Consciousness and AI to Unravel the Mysteries of the Universe By George Musser Cover Image

Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation: Why Physicists Are Studying Human Consciousness and AI to Unravel the Mysteries of the Universe (Hardcover)

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(COGNITIVE SCIENCE)

“This is a delightful account of one of the deepest and most fascinating explorations going on today at the frontier of our knowledge.” —Carlo Rovelli, bestselling author of The Order of Time and Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

“Musser knows that the point of popular science is [. . .] to get a sense of what’s at stake, what kinds of answers are being offered to difficult questions, and why it all matters. One could not ask more of Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation—on all three counts it delivers.” —Julian Baggini, The Wall Street Journal

A revelatory exploration of how a “theory of everything” depends upon our understanding of the human mind.


The whole goal of physics is to explain what we observe. For centuries, physicists believed that observations yielded faithful representations of what is out there. But when they began to study the subatomic realm, they found that observation often interferes with what is being observed—that the act of seeing changes what we see. The same is true of cosmology: our view of the universe is inevitably distorted by observation bias. And so whether they’re studying subatomic particles or galaxies, physicists must first explain consciousness—and for that they must turn to neuroscientists and philosophers of mind.

Neuroscientists have painstakingly built up an understanding of the structure of the brain. Could this help physicists understand the levels of self-organization they observe in other systems? These same physicists, meanwhile, are trying to explain how particles organize themselves into the objects around us. Could their discoveries help explain how neurons produce our conscious experience?

Exploring these questions and more, George Musser tackles the extraordinary interconnections between quantum mechanics, cosmology, human consciousness, and artificial intelligence. Combining vivid descriptive writing with portraits of scientists working on the cutting edge, Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation shows how theories of everything depend on theories of mind—and how they might be one and the same.

George Musser is an award-winning journalist, a contributing editor for Scientific American, and the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory. He is the recipient of a Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award from the American Astronomical Society and the 2011 American Institute of Physics Science Communication Award for Science Writing. He was a Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT from 2014 to 2015. He has appeared on Today, CNN, NPR, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, with his wife and daughter.
Product Details ISBN: 9780374238766
ISBN-10: 0374238766
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: November 7th, 2023
Pages: 336
Language: English

"Musser knows that the point of popular science is [. . .] to get a sense of what’s at stake, what kinds of answers are being offered to difficult questions, and why it all matters. One could not ask more of Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation—on all three counts it delivers." —Julian Baggini, The Wall Street Journal

"Musser is to be applauded for tackling both consciousness and the quantum realm . . . [Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation] is readable and enthusiastic, packed with first-person anecdotes. It conveys as much about quantum theories of mind and IIT as it is possible to do without rolling up your mathematical sleeves and getting stuck into the equations." —Michael Wooldridge, Times Literary Supplement

"[Musser] has assembled a vast array of ideas from developments in artificial intelligence, heterodox interpretations of modern physics, and philosophies of science and mind, and has interviewed many of the scientists and philosophers behind these theories . . . Musser broaches an impressive array of topics, including quantum gravity, causation, statistical mechanics, personal identity, free will and—why not?—reality itself." —Balaji Ravichandran, The Washington Post

"George Musser brings readers along on [a] quest, tracking the development of different ideas and suppositions that aim to elucidate how consciousness might have arisen . . . [Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation] is structured as an overview in the form of an expansive series of questions. It begins with the mechanical and local—say, how a brain might anticipate information—and progresses toward ones that threaten any simplistic notion of reality." Pitchaya Sudbanthad, Scientific American

"[Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation] is engaging and provocative." Physics Today

"This is a delightful account of one of the deepest and most fascinating explorations going on today at the frontier of our knowledge." —Carlo Rovelli, bestselling author of The Order of Time and Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

"The renowned science writer George Musser has taken on one of our time’s greatest issues: AI, how it works, and what makes it so powerful. This masterfully written book shows a surprising connection with theoretical physics.” Max Tegmark, professor at MIT and bestselling author of Life 3.0 and Our Mathematical Universe

"George Musser is one of my favorite science writers of all time. Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation is an important book that will inform both the future of physics and the philosophy of mind.” —Annaka Harris, bestselling author of Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind

“Electrifying . . . Musser explores the fascinating ways in which scientists are studying the physics of the mind . . . Musser has a talent for distilling complex science into accessible language . . . Lucid and endlessly intriguing, [Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation] will expand readers’ minds.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[A] penetrating account of the connections among consciousness and artificial intelligence, cosmology, and quantum mechanics . . . A skilled reporter, [Musser] chronicles his travels around the world interviewing experts in many fields.” Kirkus Reviews

"The philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote once: 'The starry heavens begin at the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and they broaden the connection in which I stand into an unbounded magnitude of worlds beyond worlds.' In this captivating book, George Musser takes us on a fascinating tour of the modern, surprising connections, scientists discover between the cosmos and our inner world of consciousness." —Mario Livio, astrophysicist and author of The Golden Ratio and Galileo and the Science Deniers

“George Musser delivers stunning clarity on mother nature’s toughest puzzles. The reader will discover some things they thought they understood they don't. And mercifully, some things they thought they would never understand they now do. Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation is a great book." —Michael S. Gazzaniga, author of The Consciousness Instinct

"In Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation, George Musser takes us on a fascinating journey that links the deepest mechanisms of human consciousness to the most advanced developments in AI." —Guido Tonelli, professor at the University of Pisa and author of Genesis

"I couldn't put this book down. The science of what makes reality tick, and what makes us conscious, all explored with lively, inviting prose that draws the reader in, from cover to cover." Susan Schneider, Director of the Center for the Future Mind at Florida Atlantic University and author of Artificial You: AI and the Future of the Mind

"Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation is a remarkable book. It offers a wonderful treatment of bleeding edge issues in the physics of consciousness, asking whether we are sentient observers of the universe or whether the universe emerges from our sentient observations. George Musser leaves the reader with burning questions about our place in the universe (or vice versa)—questions whose answers seem tantalizingly within reach." —Karl J. Friston FRS, professor of neuroscience at University College London

"In this book, George Musser entices the reader to ask whether in the gap between consciousness, qualia, and free will, on the one hand, and neurons, electrophysiology, neural networks, quantum mechanics, and emergent behavior on the other, there might now be a new scientific synthesis necessary. Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation is a sprightly and beguiling read." —John Hopfield, professor emeritus at Princeton University and former president of the American Physical Society