The Book of Consciousness

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Jul 12, Greg rated it really liked it. To say this book is thought provoking is an understatement. It will challenge the way you think about yourself, and about the nature of reality, and it may scare the hell out of you, too. Author Annaka Harris brings a lively curiosity, and a welcome humility, to the hard problem of consciousness, and I applaud her for advancing a conversation that too often makes people feel uncomfortable and threatened, and causes them to react dismissively. Aug 03, M. What is consciousness and what is not?

Consciousness is a mysterious thing, but being conscious essentially means that you are having an experience.

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When we rule out these human aspects of consciousness, we can begin to speculate as to whether other things in the world also have What is consciousness and what is not? When we rule out these human aspects of consciousness, we can begin to speculate as to whether other things in the world also have conscious experiences. The theory of panpsychism goes even further, claiming that consciousness is an intrinsic element of all matter blinkist summary View 2 comments. Jun 18, Maria rated it it was ok.

I wanted to give this 3 stars, because going in, I had such high hopes for it as a brief introduction to the major questions in the field of consciousness. And, in fairness, it did engage my interest in the topic. Harris often introduces a new question or idea, but never explores it in depth.

And her explanations of complex ideas especially in quantum mechanics often leave quite a bit to be desired. More significantly, the author clearly has a I wanted to give this 3 stars, because going in, I had such high hopes for it as a brief introduction to the major questions in the field of consciousness.

More significantly, the author clearly has a preference for the Panpsychic school of thought, and this bias permeates most of the book. Which is fine! I went in expecting a balanced introduction to contemporary theories about consciousness; I was disappointed in this regard. And of course our self-concept constantly changes, as we integrate new ideas and experiences into our psyche.

A large body of empirical evidence in psychology tells us that the variables generally considered to constitute the self personality, genetic predispositions, individual experiences have a profound influence on our actions and psychological states. Oct 21, Bakunin rated it liked it Shelves: philosophy , identity , spirituality , psychology , non-fiction.

The New Science of Consciousness: Exploring the Complexity of Brain, Mind, and Self

This proved to be a frustrating read. The advantage being that it managed to illuminate many of my disagreements with Annaka and her husband, Sam Harris.


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To start off her definition of what is conscious leaves one unfulfilled. I don't mind that definition but I don't think its perhaps a strong enough definition to lend itself to deeper philosophical and scientific discussion. Annaka then uses David Chalmers famous zombie argument to further explore what consciousness is. Chalmers says that we can imagine a world where humans do everything as we normally do but where we don't have any subjective that is to say conscious experience of the world.

Humans in this world are philosophical zombies. Even though Annaka admits that this just a hypothetical situation, she still uses it to prove her somewhat murky views of the universe. She thinks and uses some scientific research to prove this that consciousness doesn't have a function: we are merely under the illusion that our subjective "I" is doing really anything at all.

So why are we conscious? I must say I find this line of reasoning a tad absurd as it might well be reasonable to think that consciousness is a consequence of our evolution.

As living organisms develop instincts in order to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, their brains and therefore their consciousness also increases. This seems perfectly reasonable to me. And yet, to mrs. Harris consciousness is this mysterious thing which seems to be unexplainable. I would also add that I believe that we don't really need to like the explanation for consciousness for it to be a sound and scientific one.

Our brains and instincts are not adapted to understand intuitively the explanations which science gives us. The author then proceeds to panpsychism. As consciousness isn't doing anything in this world and as it remains a mystery, perhaps all things have some kind of consciousness built into them. If consciousness is just complex handling of information, then surely you can argue that even tiny bacteria are conscious in some sense of the word?

The author usually singles out something in the universe and then extrapolates to the nth degree. To better understand my critique of her reasoning I will use an analogy. If I build a car, then it is the sum of all the parts that is the car. The parts of the car don't have any intrinsic car-nature to them. They only become a car because I organize different parts in a specific way.

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Consciousness can be similar to this as it cannot be explained by reducing it to a mere microbe. Harris has a hard time accepting that the car analogy or strong emergence as it is called in the scientific literature is believable. Why would something suddenly spring into existence which was not there to begin with?

I am not sure have an answer to that specific question but my spontaneous answer is that this is how humans work.

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We see the world this way as it makes common sense. If I sit on a chair, I am not worried that I will fall through it because of what quantum mechanics tell me about the world. Is there a chair nature to the different atoms in the chair? The Swedish author Lena Andersson has written about this specific problem and her explanation of the phenomenon is that we humans use abstract ideas to elucidate reality.

There is no perfect chair, but there is an idea of the chair. That doesn't make the chair any less real. This is based on her quite interesting reading of Plato. Another question which pops up is in what way a tiny unicellular organism has an experience? Aren't we changing the definition of the word experience in order to make panpsychism theory more sound? Jul 07, Mark Robison rated it really liked it.

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Book Review: Consciousness and the Brain

A short book whose acknowledgments were so good, they almost caused me to bump it up a star. And the list of scientists and philosophers who offered feedback is jaw-dropping in their prominence. The book's biggest contribution is a case for A short book whose acknowledgments were so good, they almost caused me to bump it up a star.

Of course, she's not suggesting that all matter is capable of complex thought, just bits of consciousness, because otherwise, it's difficult to explain how consciousness appears. One especially intriguing part brings together the way a conscious observer today has the power to affect the path of a particle 10 billion years ago. And if you think this sounds absurd, Harris will agree with you and then offer convincing evidence to indicate it just might be true anyway.

Grade: A Jun 05, Aryeh Levine rated it it was amazing. Well researched, succinct, lucid. This little book is a must-read for any conscious being wondering what the fuck a conscious being is.