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Mindmelding: Consciousness, Neuroscience, and the Mind's Privacy
     

Mindmelding: Consciousness, Neuroscience, and the Mind's Privacy

by William Hirstein
 

Can consciousness and the human mind be understood and explained in sheerly physical terms? Materialism is a philosophical/scientific theory, according to which the mind is completely physical. This theory has been around for literally thousands of years, but it was always stymied by its inability to explain how exactly mere matter could do the amazing things the

Overview

Can consciousness and the human mind be understood and explained in sheerly physical terms? Materialism is a philosophical/scientific theory, according to which the mind is completely physical. This theory has been around for literally thousands of years, but it was always stymied by its inability to explain how exactly mere matter could do the amazing things the mind can do. Beginning in the 1980s, however, a revolution began quietly boiling away in the neurosciences, yielding increasingly detailed theories about how the brain might accomplish consciousness. Nevertheless, a fundamental obstacle remains. Contemporary research techniques seem to still have the scientific observer of the conscious state locked out of the sort of experience the subjects themselves are having. Science can observe, stimulate, and record events in the brain, but can it ever enter the most sacred citadel, the mind? Can it ever observe the most crucial properties of conscious states, the ones we are aware of? If it can't, this creates a problem. If conscious mental states lack a basic feature possessed by all other known physical states, i.e., the capability to be observed or experienced by many people, this give us reason to believe that they are not entirely physical.

In this intriguing book, William Hirstein argues that it is indeed possible for one person to directly experience the conscious states of another, by way of what he calls mindmelding. This would involve making just the right connections in two peoples' brains, which he describes in detail. He then follows up the many other consequences of the possibility that what appeared to be a wall of privacy can actually be breached.

Drawing on a range of research from neuroscience and psychology, and looking at executive functioning, mirror neuron work, as well as perceptual phenomena such as blind-sight and filling-in, this book presents a highly original new account of consciousness.

Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Christopher J Graver, PhD, ABPP-CN(Madigan Healthcare System)
Description: This book is a bit of an enigma. It has the façade of being neuroscientifically based, but takes a left turn at the idea that consciousness is entirely physical, making it possible for one person to directly experience the conscious states of another person. In that sense, this is a philosophical approach to a neuroscientific proposal.
Purpose: The aim is to argue the point that the privacy barriers we construct around our consciousness can be broken down to the point that one person can directly experience the conscious states of another person given their entirely physical properties, much in the same way that physical objects can be experienced by anyone.
Audience: The book is intended for a wide range of scholars and students in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and cognitive neurosciences. It is written at a very basic level and advanced students or scholars will find much of it a mundane review. The author holds a degree in philosophy and has written a number of books considering the mind-brain interface.
Features: This book is largely philosophical in nature. The middle section contains a review of structural and functional neuroanatomy, as well recent findings in the cognitive neuroscience field. This is integrated with topics involving the mind, such as sense of self and self-representations. When it comes down to it, the author indicates that mind melding could take place through direct physical connections of white matter tracts and offers as support some examples of machine-brain interfaces already taking place. In that sense, it is not difficult to see how this might be possible, but we are light years from that sort of technology. The rest of the book is just a mental exercise that runs in circles and does nothing to forward our progress in this sense. The only way to know is to develop the technology and experiment with it, not defend a 252-page thesis. The references are not as current as they could be and there are some typographical errors that suggest better editing was needed.
Assessment: If mental gymnastics are of interest, this book will entertain. Otherwise, the few hours could be better spent soldering the EEG leads together that will connect those fasciculi together so that we can finally determine if mind melding is actually possible.
Philosophy in Review - Neil Levy
William Hirstein defends a highly novel major claim, in order to defeat what he sees as a dogma in philosophy of mind. The dogma is that consciousness is essentially private; Hirstein believes that defeating it is important because he sees it as the major obstacle to a physicalist account of consciousness.

The highly novel claim is that what he calls mindmelding is possible. Mindmelding occurs when one person has direct access to the conscious states of another person. In order to defend the possibility of mindmelding and advance his physicalist agenda, Hirstein offers an account of the nature of consciousness and of how agents have access to their content states that is heavily driven by recent work in cognitive neuroscience.

The progress of science may yet bridge that gap, and something in the ballpark of the account of consciousness Hirstein offers has a fair claim to be regarded as the best hope to emerge as truly satisfying explanation of its nature. Hirstein's book should not be seen as offering the last word--as he would concede, its details await further scientific development--but the provocative and systematic account it offers must be taken seriously by physicalists and their opponents alike. (XXXIV (2014), no. 1-2, pages 75-77)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199231904
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
04/01/2012
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 9.80(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

William Hirstein is Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Elmhurst College, in Elmhurst, Illinois, USA. He received his PhD from the University of California, Davis, in 1994. His graduate and postdoctoral studies were conducted under the supervision of John Searle, V. S. Ramachandran, and Patricia Churchland. He is the author of several books, including On the Churchlands (Wadsworth, 2004), and Brain Fiction: Self-Deception and the Riddle of Confabulation (MIT, 2005).

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