Conversations on Consciousness

convoncons

Since the spring semester is now in full swing, it has been increasingly difficult for me to devote the necessary time to a full-length treatment of consciousness as I would like. This in mind, I picked up a copy of Susan Blackmore’s Conversations on Consciousness the other day, and I have not regretted it. It serves as an informal introduction to several competing theories and views on the scientific study of the brain and conscious experience. The set-up of the book is simple: interviews with the researchers/philosophers themselves explaining their theories in their own, colloquial way. Add to this a few questions on free will and the fate of consciousness after death, and you get twenty of the most interesting conversations that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. They allow, among other things, the chance to see these researchers as actual people, and not simply as objective reporters of experimental results as happens far too often.

I have only one complaint about the book, which you may have guessed given the author, Susan Blackmore. Put simply, Blackmore endorses a few very fringe (and some, myself included, would say absurd) ideas about the nature of consciousness. Normally, this would not be an issue—everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and I often disagree with the authors that I read. The complaint comes, however, in the questions that Blackmore chooses to ask her interviewees. The book is accompanied by the sub-script, “What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What it Means to be Human.” At times, though, it seems like it would read more accurately as, “What the Best Minds Think about My Ideas about the Brain, Free Will, and What it Means to be Human.” This is not over-riding, and most of the time the book stays true to its stated purpose (I thank the interviewees for most of this, they do a good job sticking to what they believe are the real issues), but it is, at times, distracting. It is not enough to knock this down as a great book, well worth reading, but it is something that should be noted, nonetheless.

I would like to give this five out of five stars—it was great fun to read—but the above complaint makes me unable to do so. That said, I would give the interviewees five out of five stars and Blackmore four out of five stars, so let’s say that the book as a whole gets four and a half out of five stars.

3 thoughts on “Conversations on Consciousness

  1. Thanks for the post and your blog. May I suggest my own proposals for your reading list? My ideas are novel, insofar as I can tell. Chiefly, I propose new technologies (with detailed designs) and I challenge the “modern scientific view.” Perhaps I am beyond the fringe. For example, I directly criticize the models of Baars and Koch (who are listed on the cover of the Blackmore book) and I suggest that “dualism” may be the best approach.

    Please see
    “How to Solve Free-Will Puzzles and Overcome Limitations of Platonic Science”

    Summary:

    “Free will” puzzles are failed attempts to make freedom fit into forms of science. The failures seem puzzling because of widespread beliefs that forms of science describe and control everything. Errors in such beliefs are shown by reconstruction of forms of “platonic science” that were invented in ancient Greece and that have developed into modern physics. Like platonic Ideas, modern Laws of Physics are said to exercise hegemonic control through eternal, universal principles. Symmetries, rigidity and continuity are imposed through linear forms that have been abstracted from geometry and indifference. Static and quasi-static forms presume placid equilibrium conditions and relaxation processes. Such forms, based on empty space, fail to describe actual material transformations that occur during the making of steel or the generation of snowflakes. They also fail to describe muscular movements and related bodily feelings of persons and animals that have actual life. Limitations of platonic science are overcome by means of new forms with the character of time, such as “beats” and saccadic, jumpy forms. New technologies of action and freedom generate and control temporal forms in proposed device models of brains and muscles. Some temporal forms have critical moments of transformation, resembling moments when persons exercise freedom, e.g., a moment of overtaking during a footrace or a moment of decision by a jury during a civil trial.

    More at http://www.quadnets.com/puzzle.html

  2. Have you read any of the eastern / indian philosphies ?? Because i’m pursuing a course in ancient philosophies and how they can be applied to modern psychology and Integral Yoga of sri aurobindo , deals with the ascent of mind into higher forms of consciousness ., like supramind….etc.

    • I’ll be honest, I’ve never looked into any of that. I probably should, and I want to, but to date, I’ve stuck with the more empirical, Western literature. I’ll have to check that out, though—thanks for recommendation!

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