Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness [NOOK Book]

Overview



Alva Noë is one of a new breed—part philosopher, part cognitive scientist, part neuroscientist—who are radically altering the study of consciousness by asking difficult questions and pointing out obvious flaws in the current science. In Out of Our Heads, he restates and reexamines the problem of consciousness, and then proposes a startling solution: Do away with the two hundred-year-old paradigm that places consciousness within the confines ...
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Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness

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Overview



Alva Noë is one of a new breed—part philosopher, part cognitive scientist, part neuroscientist—who are radically altering the study of consciousness by asking difficult questions and pointing out obvious flaws in the current science. In Out of Our Heads, he restates and reexamines the problem of consciousness, and then proposes a startling solution: Do away with the two hundred-year-old paradigm that places consciousness within the confines of the brain.

Our culture is obsessed with the brain—how it perceives; how it remembers; how it determines our intelligence, our morality, our likes and our dislikes. It’s widely believed that consciousness itself, that Holy Grail of science and philosophy, will soon be given a neural explanation. And yet, after decades of research, only one proposition about how the brain makes us conscious—how it gives rise to sensation, feeling, and subjectivity—has emerged unchallenged: We don’t have a clue.

In this inventive work, Noë suggests that rather than being something that happens inside us, consciousness is something we do. Debunking an outmoded philosophy that holds the scientific study of consciousness captive, Out of Our Heads is a fresh attempt at understanding our minds and how we interact with the world around us.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Noë turns Descartes's famous statement on its head: I am, therefore I think, says Noë. The author, a philosopher at UC-Berkeley, challenges the assumptions underlying neuroscientific studies of consciousness, rejecting popular mechanistic theories that our experience of the world stems from the firing of the neurons in our brains. Noë (Action in Perception) argues that we are not our brains, that consciousness arises from interactions with our surroundings: "Consciousness is not something that happens inside us. It is something we do or make." Noë points out that many of our habits, like language, are "foundational" aspects of our mental experience, but at the same time many, if not most, habits are environmental in nature-we behave a particular way in a particular situation. He goes on to challenge popular theories of perception, in particular the claim that the world is just a grand illusion conjured up by the brain. Readers interested in how science can intersect with and profit from philosophy will find much food for thought in Noë's groundbreaking study. (Feb. 24)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429957199
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 2/2/2010
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 390,079
  • File size: 239 KB

Meet the Author

Alva Noë is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also a member of the Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences. His previous book, Action in Perception, was published in 2004.

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Table of Contents

1 An Astonishing Hypothesis 3

2 Conscious Life 25

3 The Dynamics of Consciousness 47

4 Wide Minds 67

5 Habits 97

6 The Grand Illusion 129

7 Voyages of Discovery 149

8 A Nothing Reserved for Everything 171

Epilogue: Home Sweet Home 183

Notes 189

Index 207

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2009

    Impressive Idea Overblown and Poorly Executed

    Noe's thesis is an interesting one, that consciousness is not a thing and does not reside within the brain, but rather is a process that only can occur only in animals with bodies and brains operating within their environments.

    Our vision is a good example. It appears that we just look out and see a panoramic image, equal throughout in its detail. We know that not to be the case. If you look straight a head (without cheating) and hold a jack of spades or jack of hearts out to the side a few inches, you cannot see what it is. Movement of the head and the eyes is very much involved with creating the images we see. Both the body and the external world and our interaction are required to produce our experience.

    But Noe very much overstates his case and then really doesn't go anywhere practical in terms of how to test his thesis or where consciousness studies might go next. Although he acknowledges that the brain is a requirement for consciousness he shows remarkably little curiosity about how it functions or how it might contribute to conscious experience.

    Much of the book seems to be composed of straw men. He states that neuroscience makes the claim that consciousness must reside within the brain, very much like the way digestion occurs within the stomach. Yet I don't know of any scientist that believes that the brain creates consciousness without lots of interaction with the environment.

    In other words the thesis seems to actually be one of relative emphasis...that neuroscience may be looking a lot at the brain when maybe the interactive process with the environment might contain some key info the overlooking of which has prevented neuroscience from progressing toward any deep understanding of how brain processes contribute to consciousness. Reading the book, one would think that all neuroscientists take a collective oath that consciousness requires a brain and absolutely nothing else, which is not at all what I've encountered in the literature.

    I also recall very few ideas about what the implications of his argument are concerning how research might progress. He pretty much says that neuroscience up til now has by and large been a waste of time (with the exception of those portions he needed to martial for the argument made in the book).

    I wondered as I read if Noe wasn't encouraged by his publisher to make such a strident, self-important stand taking on the whole field of neuroscience, and to adopt a title that was misleading many people who were (judging by questions at a local presentation he did) hoping that his conclusion was a spiritual rather than scientific one. Noe did describe his worldview as thoroughly materialistic at the presentation.

    Some enjoyable well thought out content, a potentially promising line of inquiry, but could have been written into a much more helpful, realistic contribution to consciousness studies without all the posturing about taking down the neuroscientific Goliath single handedly, especially when it seems there really isn't actually a Goliath that needs to bit whacked in the forehead with a rock.

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