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
     
 

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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 renowned scientists, talk candidly with Blackmore about some of the key philosophical

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Overview

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 renowned scientists, 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 to understand 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 which yields 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Consciousness. Where does it come from? Is it somehow separate from the human brain? Can the brain itself comprehend it? Blackmore, a lecturer in psychology at the University of the West of England, 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

"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

"Susan Blackmore posed the question "What is consciousness?" to 21 leading scientists and philosophers who study consciousness for a living. It provokes all kinds of responses, ranging from jokes about psychedelic drugs to brow-furrowing discourses on life's meaning."— Richard Lipkin, Scientific American

"Are some scientists zombies? That is among the thoughts raised by this diverting collection of interviews with neurobiologists, philosophers and others engaged in the study of the mind...a very efficient overview of contemporary strands of thinking about its subject."—Steven Poole, Guardian Unlimited

"Blackmore interrogates 20 mind-body experts—philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and various hybrids. She doesn't stand on ceremony, is persistent, probing, honest about her puzzlements, and happy to defend her own views if the occasion arises, which once or twice creates a bit of friction."— Tom Clark, Naturalism.org

"One remarkable aspect of the consciousness research field is the lack of agreement on what the key subject matter should be. What is the phenomenon for which we need an explanation? Susan Blackmore begins with these questions in Conversations on Consciousness, a collection of interviews with 21 prominent scientists and philosophers. Their answers introduce the reader to some of the concepts and puzzles at the centre of this fieldConversations on Consciousness provides a casual and accessible introduction to the topic. Few topics are specifically detailed, but the empirical and philosophical work summarized in the book is fascinating and easy to read."—Ephraim Glick, EMBO Reports (a publication of the European Molecular Biology Organization)

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195179590
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
12/20/2006
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
888,045
Product dimensions:
7.90(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.60(d)

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