Conversations on Consciousness

Conversations on Consciousness

What the Best Minds Think About the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Paperback - 2006
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In Conversations on Consciousness, Susan Blackmore interviews some of the great minds of our time, a who's who of eminent thinkers, all of whom have devoted much of their lives to understanding the concept of consciousness. The interviewees, ranging from major philosophers to renownedscientists, talk candidly with Blackmore about some of the key philosophical issues confronting us in a series of conversations that are revealing, insightful, and stimulating. They ruminate on the nature of consciousness (is it something apart from the brain?) and discuss if it is even possible tounderstand the human mind. Some of these thinkers say no, but most believe that we will pierce the mystery surrounding consciousness, and that neuroscience will provide the key. Blackmore goes beyond the issue of consciousness to ask other intriguing questions: Is there free will? (A question whichyields many conflicted replies, with most saying yes and no.) If not, how does this effect the way you live your life; and more broadly, how has your work changed the way you live? Paired with an introduction and extensive glossary that provide helpful background information, these provocative conversations illuminate how some of the greatest minds tackle some of the most difficult questions about human nature.
Publisher: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, c2006.
ISBN: 9780195179590
0195179595
Branch Call Number: 126
Characteristics: 274 p. : ill. ; 20 cm.

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c
callig
Jan 25, 2018

I've read a few books on consciousness of which this was the most readable by far.
This is a side-effect of its of its spontaneity-boosting format.
The author, Susan Blackmore (of Meme fame) was ok'ed to do a BBC radio program \
interviewing top consciousness researchers. The project fell thru, so, not wanting
to waste her interviews, she packaged them into a book.
The results are great, as understandable as this type of stuff gets, because while
you're reacting real-time it's harder to be prissy and pedantic, to CYA (Cover Your
A..) tho she mentions in her foreword that some interviewees wanted to add qualifiers
afterwards. The other reason this is the best single popularized introduction
to consciousness research is that only it presents alternate viewpoints impartial
ly, instead of only individual ones, so you get a one-stop objective overview.
It has a helpful glossary of common terms in the field, but, oddly, no bibliography.
The content itself varies widely, obviously.
Any anthology on any subject would produce wide disagreement and consciousness is
the ultimate subjectivity.
All scientific subjects are reducible to mechanical principles, simple falling dominoes
in comparison. And the computationalists think that even consciousness is just another
such puzzle: mere steam from the pot of sufficiently big brains, that self-awareness
is a side-effect of problem solving -"just wait, when computers get fast enough AI will
demand citizenship".) Like Penrose, i think that will never happen (3D cg may look
just as real but will never be real---you can mimic a body with 3D cg but it'll never be alive, have anything beneath its surface), and that we are mostly 'philosophers zombies'.
If the computationalists are right, then brain research will be the key to unlock the
genesis of consciousness. But if it is an independent factor, primary, it can't.
(studying visual perception in ape brains and eyes won't tell you much about the
physics of light). But it'll still tell you a little, so this book is helpful either
way. (And incidentally, if your jaw dropped at my implication that consciousness is
independent, a cause and not an effect, let me add that it's not only the craven
dualists, like mystics, that say so- some physicists do too.)
I liked the Kevin O'Regan interview, but don't think that change insensitivity justifies
his radical conclusions.
Ramachandran's comments on the equivalence of self and qualia were perhaps irrefutable.
The Crick, Metzinger, and LaBerge interviews were enjoyable too.
A weakness of the book, and of science in general, is the hubris of over-extension, of
assuming that Everything! can be understood/explained in words/math/logic. Coincidentally
(or self-incriminatingly!) i found many of the distinctions drawn to be just sophistry.
I found the Penrose interview best (only the smartest people ever say "I don't know."!).
If you have any interest at all in your feeble nascent, self-defeating and sporadic self
-awareness, you'll like this book.
Update: the March 2018 issue of Discover magazine has a 10 page article on Hameroff (and Penroses) microtuble theory.

Very interesting book, and a great way to get a broad overview of different ways of thinking about consciousness. There's not a lot of depth here due to the nature of the book, but there's a great deal of breadth. It's interesting to read about so many brilliant people who think in such wildly different ways about what lies at the base of all of human experience.

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