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“Literature was not born the day when a boy crying ‘wolf, wolf’ came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big grey wolf at his heels,” wrote novelist Vladimir Nabokov. Instead, he argued, it was born “on the day when a boy came crying ‘wolf, wolf’ and there was no wolf behind him”.

The French consciousness-research pioneer Stanislav Dehaene uses this quote in his new book, Consciousness and the Brain, in which he describes his ‘global neuronal workspace’ theory, elaborated together with Jean-Pierre Changeux through modelling a 20-year series of daring experiments probing conscious and unconscious perception in humans. Only since brain imaging and other tools have allowed us to view the human brain at work has it become ‘respectable’ to try to pin down consciousness, and to debate how the human mind has allowed the development of intellectual pursuits as sophisticated as literature.

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