Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

by Susan Blackmore
     
 

"Human brains are just the most complicated thing that's yet evolved, and we're trying to understand them using our brains," notes philosopher Daniel Dennett. "We're trying to reverse engineer ourselves, to understand what kind of a machine we are."
In Conversations on Consciousness, Susan Blackmore brings together some of the great minds of

Overview

"Human brains are just the most complicated thing that's yet evolved, and we're trying to understand them using our brains," notes philosopher Daniel Dennett. "We're trying to reverse engineer ourselves, to understand what kind of a machine we are."
In Conversations on Consciousness, Susan Blackmore brings together 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 "what kind of a machine we are." Some of the interviewees are major philosophers (such as John Searle, Ned Block, and David Chalmers) and some are equally renowned scientists (Francis Crick, Roger Penrose, V.S. Ramachandran). All of them 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? Is it even possible to understand the brain, to understand human consciousness? Some of these thinkers say no, it isn't possible, 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 which yields many conflicted replies, with most saying yes and no); if no, how does this effect the way you live your life; and more broadly, how has your work changed the way you live.
Ranging from the curious (do bees have consciousness?) to the profound (is our sense of having a self just an illusion), these provocative conversations illuminate current thinking on the mind and on human nature itself.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Succeeds in providing a very brief survey of the multitude of positions occupied by thinkers in this area.... The often quirky personalities and mannerisms of the interviewees shine through the text.... Blackmore herself comes across as spunky and clever, and the probing follow-up questions she occasionally asks prevent the interviews from seeming too repetitive and boring."—Nature

"Consciousness. Where does it come from? Is it somehow separate from the human brain? Can the brain itself comprehend it? Blackmore poses these and other intriguing questions to some of the top thinkers in philosophy and brain studies. In each interview, the author gets to the heart of the struggle to explain subjective experience in objective, scientific terms. Francis Crick, Daniel Dennett, John Searle, David Chalmers, and others describe the fundamental ideas behind the study of consciousness, including free will, the separation of mind and body, artificial intelligence, and conscious versus unconscious experience."—Science News

"...a lively and revealing look at what is going on in the scientific and philosophical study of consciousness."—PsycCRITIQUES

Publishers Weekly
Blackmore (The Meme Machine) began conducting interviews with leading figures in the study of consciousness for a proposed (but never realized) radio series. In book form, especially organized alphabetically, 20 transcripts with scientists and philosophers from the late Francis Crick to Daniel Dennett and Roger Penrose don't add up to a coherent presentation. The q&a format leaves Blackmore eternally circling around a handful of key issues. She's particularly fond of the philosopher's theoretical zombie, a creature that displays all the outward behavior of human consciousness but has none. She asks just about everybody if they believe it could exist, leading the exasperated Francisco Varela to blurt, "It's just a problem you create by inventing problematic situations. So what?" Other questions, like how studying consciousness affects one's conception of free will, would benefit from stronger thematic unity, a tighter narrative format like that of John Horgan's Rational Mysticism (which profiles Blackmore in her capacity as a research psychologist). These conversations are fascinating raw material, but make for a frustrating guide to a highly complex subject. 22 illus. Agent, Sheila Watson (U.K.). (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195179583
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
01/01/2006
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
8.40(w) x 5.80(h) x 1.10(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Susan Blackmore is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the West of England. She is the author of The Meme Machine.

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