Radiant Cool: A Novel Theory of Consciousness


Professor Grue is dead (or is he?). When graduate student/sleuth Miranda Sharpe discovers him slumped over his keyboard, she does the sensible thing?she grabs her dissertation and runs. Little does she suspect that soon she will be probing the heart of two mysteries, trying to discover what happened to Max Grue,and trying to solve the profound neurophilosophical problem of consciousness.

Radiant Cool may be the first novel of ideas that actually breaks new theoretical ground, ...

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Professor Grue is dead (or is he?). When graduate student/sleuth Miranda Sharpe discovers him slumped over his keyboard, she does the sensible thing—she grabs her dissertation and runs. Little does she suspect that soon she will be probing the heart of two mysteries, trying to discover what happened to Max Grue,and trying to solve the profound neurophilosophical problem of consciousness.

Radiant Cool may be the first novel of ideas that actually breaks new theoretical ground, as Dan Lloyd uses a neo-noir (neuro-noir?), hard-boiled framework to propose a new theory of consciousness.In the course of her sleuthing, Miranda encounters characters who share her urgency to get to the bottom of the mystery of consciousness, although not always with the most innocent motives. Who holds the key to Max Grue's ultimate vision? Is it the computer-inspired pop psychologist talk-show host? The video-gaming geek with a passion for artificial neural networks? The Russian multi-dimensional data detective, or the sophisticated neuroscientist with the big book contract? Ultimately Miranda teams up with the author's fictional alter ego, "Dan Lloyd," and together they build on the phenomenological theories of philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) to construct testable hypotheses about the implementation of consciousness in the brain. Will the clues of phenomenology and neuroscience converge in time to avert a catastrophe? (The dramatic ending cannot be revealed here.) Outside the fictional world of the novel, Dan Lloyd (the author) appends a lengthy afterword, explaining the proposed theory of consciousness in more scholarly form.Radiant Cool is a real metaphysical thriller—based in current philosophy of mind—and a genuine scientific detective story—revealing a new interpretation of functional brain imaging. With its ingenious plot and its novel theory, Radiant Cool will be enjoyed in the classroom and the study for its entertaining presentation of phenomenology, neural networks, and brain imaging; but,most importantly, it will find its place as a groundbreaking theory of consciousness.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Other writers, including Umberto Eco, have used literature to illuminate science. Lloyd...[has] done it the other way round." Walter Ellis Times Higher Education Supplement
Publishers Weekly
This ambitious, unwieldy "novel theory" by philosophy professor Lloyd (Simple Minds) sets out to explore paradigms of consciousness while solving the murder of a stodgy instructor at fictional Whaleard University. When graduate student Miranda Sharpe makes an early morning raid on her adviser's office to take back her dissertation, she is horrified to find philosophy professor Maxwell Grue hunched over his desk, presumably dead. Later in the day, his body has disappeared, and Miranda begins "Sherlocking." After the firewall protecting the college computer network is breached and the system crashes, she sifts through Grue's e-mails, CD-ROMs and jargon-laden "virtual world" Web site to find clues. A number of suspects materialize: radio psychologist Clare Lucid; a Russian forensic exchange professor; Miranda's ex-boyfriend; and a smitten computer geek named Gordon. Even the author himself surfaces to lend a hand. Since everyone revels in illustrating neurophilosophical theories, by the time all the sleuthing pays off, the characters have lost definition and the narrative is tied up in knots. Bafflement continues into a stand-alone Part Two as Lloyd leaves his primary story behind for a more academic focus, expanding on a new theory of consciousness developed over the course of the novel. Dry textbook language and graphics that only seasoned scholars will fully comprehend make Lloyd's concentrated exploration of cognitive science a slog for the average mystery reader. The theories on time, reality and whole-brain functionality are intriguing, but Lloyd will lose all but his hardest-working readers by the time the "Sources and Notes" section is reached. (Dec.) Forecast: Intended as an original scientific document as well as a novel, the book may fare better in the former category, though blurbs from Daniel Dennett and David Lodge should catch the eye of campus browsers. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A detective tale based on its author's theory of consciousness, expounded in an appended essay. In Part One, "The Thrill of Phenomenology," first-time novelist Lloyd (Philosophy/Trinity Coll.) tells his story through the eyes of Miranda Sharp, a philosophy grad student who finds her dissertation advisor, Professor Grue, apparently dead in his office. She grabs her dissertation from his desk and runs, then spends the rest of the book trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, which thickens when Grue's body disappears. The mystery turns out to hinge on Lloyd's theory of consciousness, aspects of which are being worked on by almost all the characters. These include a psychologist with her own radio show, a love-struck computer geek, a Russian ex-detective, Miranda's ex-boyfriend (a conceptual artist), and Lloyd himself, who appears to help Miranda with the fine points of his theory. She gets some additional help in untangling it from the graphics that conveniently turn up on her computer and in the folder with her dissertation. Judged as fiction, this is thin stuff, with cardboard people and an improbable conspiracy driving the plot. Part Two, "The Real Firefly: Reflections on a Theory of Consciousness," is written on a level appropriate to an advanced college class: it's an essay drawing on the ideas of the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl and the results of experiments in perception to build Lloyd's theory of consciousness. Though obscured by a thick layer of neurophenomenological jargon, it appears to boil down to the assertions that temporal duration is an essential element of experience, and that consciousness is not located in any one place in the brain but throughout the entire organ.Specialists may well find greater depths here than the typical mystery reader. Probably as good as anything for selling phenomenology to undergrads. Others can give it a pass.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262621939
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2004
  • Series: Bradford Books Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 357
  • Sales rank: 1,107,950
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Lloyd is Thomas C. Brownell Professor of Philosophy at Trinity College and the author of Simple Minds and Radiant Cool: A Novel Theory of Consciousness, both published by the MIT Press

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Read an Excerpt

Radiant Cool

A Novel Theory of Consciousness
By Dan Lloyd

The MIT Press

Copyright © 2004 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
All right reserved.

Chapter One

The Thrill of Phenomenology

He was a fool and a moron, but I never wanted to see him dead. All I wanted was a little slack between us, a space. That's why I was there, in that paper landfill he called his office, in the faint light of an icy dawn. The key he gave me long ago. I planned to slip in, take back what was mine, get out. He'd get the point. No talk needed. Just a little distance.

But, 6 AM or not, he's there. "Oh," I murmur, and as I see his current condition, "oh" again. The door clicks shut behind me. He's there, but not all there: slumping onto his keyboard, with both arms hugging the base of the monitor, like he wants to pull it off the desk. As if someone had blown his brains out, but without the spatter. I freeze into the jittery shadows, holding my breath. It is no dream. I'm about to speak his name, but pull back. Let sleeping senior professors lie, I always say.

I'm thinking I should get the hell out, but instead of moving I'm fixated on him, on the curve of his back. His sweatshirt hunches up at his neck. A tail of dark flannel sneaks out at the waist and drapes over the chair edge, weightless as a shadow. It could be the same shirt he wore last night. The image makes me shiver, reminds me why I'm there. This is not wrong. I remember to breathe, and step in toward the desk. Light folders and papers float on dim stacks, a million words submerged and smudged, silent in darkness. But one folder, lying next to him on the desk, shimmers red. I already know what's scrawled along the tab: CONSCIOUSNESS. In it, my words. To own them again, I have to lean around him like a wife reading over his shoulder. A shiny black mug rests on one corner of the folder, empty except for a metal teaball. I ease the teacup aside like a dead rat, wipe my fingers on my jeans. Inches away, he smells like an old sneaker sprinkled with Obsession. I take the folder. My words.

As I straighten up, hugging my half-bodied dissertation, I have to see the scene again, repeating in the reflection of his dark monitor. At the bottom of the screen, his halo of Jerry Garcia gray. My face, round and startled and pale, hovering above like the double sunrise in 2001. The gray glass washes out the difference between us, between his raggedness and the mathematical strands of my own dark hair, throwing my why-me face and his bald spot into a single deep well, a common dismal fate. I feel sick, uncanny, as if something has fallen out of a movie into my world. The room stills. Thought icicles. Absolute zero.

A second, one endless thick beat, falls. Colorless dark books loom around us, stacked from floor to ceiling. Way off, I consider gagging, and suddenly I'm filled with one thought: Get out. I take a step back, through the maze of lost time. And another, and then I'm in the hall, pulling the door shut behind me. Empty still. I am trembling, freezing all through.

I tremble all the way to the apartment, yawning compulsively, and do not stop even in the cocoon of my down comforter. The scene in the office drifts in fragments around me. What was he doing there? What was he doing there? Slowly it seems less and less like one of his mind games, like discussing Heidegger in total darkness or Sartre while sitting on your hands. Slowly it seems less like a nap. The smell is still with me, a bad mix of man smell and something else. Something like Christmas or old lace. Slowly it surfaces that I might well have seen my advisor-the Mr. Chips of consciousness, the jerk of my grad school life-that I might have seen him dead. Maybe still warm, maybe cold as ice, but all his fires out. I had stood there without seeing. Or hearing either-I can remember only streaks and shadows, and one red thing. I was so busy not stepping on overdue books, not losing it, that I throttled the main conclusion. Maybe.

And for two hours the strange shivering will not stop. It moves around like a cat caged in my ribs. But maybe not. Twice I jump up with the comforter pulled around me, the phone open in one hand, but I can't even think of my first line. I had been there at a strange hour, perhaps minutes after his crash. Why? I'd taken things from his office-secrets, truths, evidence. Why? And did I call anyone then? Why not? Every passing minute incriminates me. I didn't even check if he had been breathing. He got what he wanted after all, an accomplice in his moronic metaphysics, a me. Maybe already-it's 10 AM-he has been missed, or someone else has entered the office. If he is missing at all. At eleven, he will meet his first class. Or maybe not. I'm supposed to be there too. We will both be missing. Missing together. The moron.

Or, I can fake it. I fixate in my mirror, murmuring, This morning did not happen. I will simulate myself, Miranda Sharpe, on a typical Wednesday: ribbed sweater (black), denim jacket (same), jeans (of course), mascara but barely, impeccable high ponytail-the neo retro beatnik graduate student look. The plan: Be very, very normal. Go to class. In his decades of teaching he has never missed a class, he says. It's his jazz, his fix. Class will tell. If he appears, my job will be to sit with folded hands, study cuticles while he explains why appearance is reality. Then blend into the undergrads, flow toward the door and run away, run away.

And if he doesn't come? Then too, sit in class with folded hands, until Miranda Sharpe, TA, pulls the plug. As in plan A, run away, run away. Brave, brave Miranda. Rise and shine.

I drive to campus a second time that morning, parking again among the dirty snowpiles, winding across the quad to Ryle. The day droops badly, colder and grayer than at dawn. As the building looms, I zip my parka to my chin. A big fake Rodin Thinker broods at the main entrance. It had welcomed me two years ago, when being a philosopher meant a golden future of café ecstasies, casting off my body. I would become that thinker. A soul on speed. But then in one stroke, he-the mentor of thinkers-poisoned that dream with his infinite ego, and after a big night spent boiling poison into rage, I had come with the first light to reclaim philosophy for myself. I will think outside of you. But now, take three, all is lost. The weight bears down on the crouched figure, who cannot rise against it. My hopes and my defiance curdle. The Thinker is dead.

I take each step like I'm walking the plank, avoiding eye contact with the Thinker and the great wide world too. I heave up the stairs and through doors heavy as a tomb. Beyond, the corridors of gloom.

My normal first stop would be his office, to discuss the day's classes, or speculate about the secret lives of undergraduates. Instead, I imagine discovering a body. Will someone grab that shoulder-his-pull the body upright, feel for a pulse? Will the head roll, the eyes stare? Do dead men drool? Skip the office for today, I think. I climb the stairs to the second floor, a row of offices on one side of the hall, classrooms on the other. I'm still ten minutes early for class; the hall is empty, and no brighter than at dawn. His door, halfway down, glows. Full of brood, seething. As the screeching music rises, the Undead Philosopher will stagger blindly with his arms outstretched, clomp like a drunk into class, and lecture terrifyingly for fifty minutes. Only the Appointments and Promotions Committee can drive the wooden stake into its heart.

Miranda, get real. Hold on, honey.

I take a seat in the classroom, and cover my pounding heart by pretending to read, this time from The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness, the homework for today. The students float in like dust bunnies, settling in silent rows. I count them over my shoulder, as they stare at the cloudy blackboard, waiting for the movie to begin. Six so far, five still at large. I wait, the words rolling along:

The foreground is nothing without the background; the appearing side is nothing without the non-appearing. It is the same with regard to the unity of time-consciousness-the duration reproduced is the foreground; the classifying intentions make us aware of a background, a temporal background.

The text fills my world with its fine dark words, the first solid point in this surreal day.

We have the following analogies: for the spatial thing, the ordering into the surrounding space and the spatial world on the one side, and on the other, the spatial thing itself with its foreground and background.

Beautiful faraway Husserl with the long beard. Dear Edmund. Tell it like it is. For the temporal thing, we have the ordering into the temporal form and the temporal world on the one side, and on the other the temporal thing itself and its changing orientation with regard to the living now.

But I'm still here. So are they. I want to hose out the room. Scat. I turn again to words.

The foreground is nothing without the background; sitting in his chair, his swivel chair, collapsing onto his keyboard; stacks of books and planes of paper; the appearing side is nothing without the non-appearing. His face, turned away from me; It is the same with regard to the unity of time-consciousness-the duration reproduced is the foreground; my day so far, endlessly looping the classifying intentions make us aware of a background, and what a day a temporal background. Where is he? And ... this is continued in the constitution of the temporality of the enduring thing itself with its now, before, and after. What is he, now? We have the following analogies: for the spatial thing, the ordering into the surrounding space and the spatial world on the one side, and on the other, the spatial thing itself with its foreground and background. Across the hall, in his office, behind the door poster of Nietzsche, who is For the temporal thing ... the ordering into the temporal form and the temporal world on the one side, and on the other the temporal thing itself and its changing orientation with regard to the living also dead. now.

It was all already over before I even got there. He was a fool and a moron, but I had no wish to see him-at all. I didn't do anything. Did I?

Escape hangs in the future, infinitely distant, thanks to eleven temporally extended objects plowing through time like shooting stars. Everybody is in, and they will wait and wait. I walk to the front of the room. "It looks like, um, Professor Grue ... Professor Grue isn't here. I guess this means no class." When did my mouth go dry? "So, bye." So bye. They look startled. They swivel their butts, looking at each other for confirmation that their good fortune is no dream. As an afterthought, I try to smile helpfully. It's always best to smile during a panic attack. Slowly they collect their books. But someone in the back row raises a hand.

"Yes?" I say. It's Elaine, the PG-13 image of sophomore enthusiasm.

"Could I ask you a question? You know, since you're the TA." Her gum snaps.

"Sure, Elaine, sure." She has Heidi cheeks and Bambi eyes; dresses like a hooker but carries it off as if she got the idea from her Barbie collection.

"Now that Professor Grue is gone, I have to tell you that I don't get any of this at all," she begins. The rest of the class stops. "Yeah," says one. They pause, and begin to condense again. We are shifting into help session mode, not my first choice with Dr. Death sliming across the hall. Maybe/maybe not. They all turn their eyes on me.

I suddenly have an overwhelming urge to tighten my ponytail, but instead I lean back on the table at the front of the room, holding on to the leading edge. Ms. Casual, in her fully locked and upright position.

"What don't you get?" I ask in my best probing TA style. But booming in my head, that word, "gone." Why has she said "gone"? Finally I begin to think. I really see them all for the first time, from Marie, at the left, her pencil poised at the top of a blank page, to Mickey along the window with his backwards baseball cap, rocking his little chairdesk to the brink of falling over. And I think, murder. Why not? I am looking at a room full of Motive and Opportunity and maybe even Means to Do It. What if Grue's metaphysical lechery settled on Elaine? Muddle her brains to meddle with her bra? From a tell-all office hour I know that she has a psycho jealous welder boyfriend back home, Stanley Kowalski to her Stella. Motive, check. Or Grue's famous harsh grades-add a few pre-meds with a chem lab, and bye bye prof. Even last night he had student goodies, some tea a student brought him from Russia, and a plate of brownies from someone else. Means, check. Now I'm thinking that a murderer in class would be a good thing, because the prime suspect wouldn't be me-the one with the key to his office and the shaky alibi. Opportunity, hell. Lock the door. No one leaves until the truth is outed!

"Well," Elaine continues. "How about superstition? Professor Grue keeps talking about that?" Snap snap.

"I think you mean 'superposition,'" I say.


I'm about to explain it when a very round, very boy arm waves urgently. It's Gordon-the-nerd, founder of the campus fantasy club, the Guild of Doom or something. His amorous advance on me began perhaps ten minutes into the semester; it was dead in the water at eleven. "It's like in quantum physics. Two states can be superposed, like with Schroedinger's cat. The cat is dead and alive at the same time. Dr. Grue says that consciousness has superposition all the time." He nods at me with a conspiring grin. I imagine a puppy jumping up and down for a treat.

"No, Gordon, not exactly," I say. "Superposition means something else in the study of consciousness. It's not about physical properties. In this course, superposition refers to a pervasive property of our conscious experience. Does anyone remember it?" Does anyone know where Gordon was this morning, at say, 6 AM?

I squeeze the table edge. A fan thrums somewhere in the pipes and tubes above. To the blackboard, then. Layers of Spanish authors and algebra ghost through the smudges. I can't help trying to remember the word for chalk ghosts. Pallindrome? I draw a little random ouija thing: My bean bag chair. Side view of a Wonderbra. My brain on philosophy. Zero, resting. I put down the chalk, dust my hands, thinking, if I ever do become a professor, I will have to stop wearing black.

I turn back toward my eleven phenomena. "What do you see?"

What do you see: Max Grue opening his apartment door, me with fuzzy scarf, to establish winter setting.


Excerpted from Radiant Cool by Dan Lloyd Copyright © 2004 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Prologue xv
Part 1. The Thrill of Phenomenology 1
Part 2. The Real Firefly: Reflections on a Science of Consciousness 223
1 The Wrong Toolbox? 225
1.1 One and Many Consciousnesses 227
1.2 Detectorheads 229
1.3 Houses, Faces, Chairs 232
1.4 The Real Firefly 237
1.5 Clever Leeches and Sympathetic Thermostats 239
1.6 Everything Goes 245
2 Real Life: The Subjective View of Objectivity 249
2.1 Stage 1: Intentionality 252
2.2 Stage 2: Superposition 254
2.3 Stage 3: Transcendence 258
2.4 Stage 4: Temporality 260
2.5 Stage 5: Temporality (1), the Threefold Present 262
2.6 Stage 6: Temporality (2), the Order of Moments 267
2.7 Stage 7: Temporality (3), Phenomenal Recursivity 270
2.8 The Rest of the Story 273
3 Brains in Toyland 275
3.1 Beep ... Boop 277
3.2 CNVnet 278
3.3 Into the Net 284
3.4 Having It All 291
3.5 Our Multivariate World 298
3.6 Toy Temporality 300
3.7 What Is It Like to Be a Net? 305
4 Braintime 309
4.1 Indices of Temporality 310
4.2 Tributaries of the Stream 318
4.3 Retention Revealed 325
4.4 To the Future 328
4.5 And Beyond? 328
Sources and Notes 333
References 351
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