Understanding Consciousness

Understanding Consciousness

Understanding Consciousness

Understanding Consciousness


Understanding Consciousness, 2nd Editionprovides a unique survey and evaluation of consciousness studies, along with an original analysis of consciousness that combines scientific findings, philosophy and common sense. Building on the widely praised first edition, this new edition adds fresh research, and deepens the original analysis in a way that reflects some of the fundamental changes in the understanding of consciousness that have taken place over the last 10 years.

The book is divided into three parts; Part one surveys current theories of consciousness, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. Part two reconstructs an understanding of consciousness from first principles, starting with its phenomenology, and leading to a closer examination of how conscious experience relates to the world described by physics and information processing in the brain. Finally, Part three deals with some of the fundamental issues such as what consciousness is and does, and how it fits into to the evolving universe. As the structure of the book moves from a basic overview of the field to a successively deeper analysis, it can be used both for those new to the subject and for more established researchers.

Understanding Consciousnesstells a story with a beginning, middle and end in a way that integrates the philosophy of consciousness with the science. Overall, the book provides a unique perspective on how to address the problems of consciousness and as such, will be of great interest to psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists and other professionals concerned with mind/body relationships, and all who are interested in this subject.


Consciousness is personal. Indeed it is so close to the core of our being that it has puzzled thinkers from the beginnings of recorded history. What is it? What does it do? How does it relate to the physical world and to the workings of our bodies and brains? At the dawn of the new millennium answers to these questions are beginning to emerge. However there is not one mind/body problem, but many. Some of the problems are empirical, some are conceptual, and some are both. This book deals with some of the deepest puzzles and paradoxes.

In the nine years or so following the completion of the first edition of this book I have had the opportunity to debate and discuss the ideas presented here with many gifted scientists and philosophers, some sympathetic and some with competing views. Although I believe that my original analysis remains secure, these engagements have allowed me to clarify, deepen and update the argument at many points. To accommodate areas in which there has recently been considerable progress I have also added some new chapters and chapter sections, for example on the neural causes and correlates of consciousness, the potential (but disputed) relevance of quantum mechanics, the vexed problem of free will, and the rather mysterious fact that the phenomenal world seems to be out-there in space, when according to reductionist science it ought to be inside the brain. As before, this book charts a path through the mind/body labyrinth that incorporates these and many other seemingly disparate topics in what (I hope) is a simple, connected way.

A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, so this book is arranged in three parts. The first part, ‘Mind–body theories and their problems’, summarises currently dominant thinking about the nature and function of consciousness. We start, as we must in Chapter 1, with some initial definitions, and then go on in Chapter 2 to look at mind/body dualism, an ancient way of viewing the relation of mind to body that persists in some modern interpretations of quantum mechanics. In the Western tradition, this dualist splitting of the universe has largely given way to efforts to understand the universe in a unified materialist way, either in terms of its physical structure or in terms of the ways that it functions. Chapter 3 deals mainly with attempts to demonstrate that mind and consciousness are nothing more than . . .

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