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new book – ‘Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy’ by Evan Thompson

November 11, 2014

Waking, Dreaming, Being

Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy by Evan Thompson (Columbia University Press, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

A renowned philosopher of the mind, also known for his groundbreaking work on Buddhism and cognitive science, Evan Thompson combines the latest neuroscience research on sleep, dreaming, and meditation with Indian and Western philosophy of the mind, casting new light on the self and its relation to the brain.

Thompson shows how the self is a changing process, not a static thing. When we are awake we identify with our body, but if we let our mind wander or daydream, we project a mentally imagined self into the remembered past or anticipated future. As we fall asleep, the impression of being a bounded self distinct from the world dissolves, but the self reappears in the dream state. If we have a lucid dream, we no longer identify only with the self within the dream. Our sense of self now includes our dreaming self, the “I” as dreamer. Finally, as we meditate — either in the waking state or in a lucid dream — we can observe whatever images or thoughts arise and how we tend to identify with them as “me.” We can also experience sheer awareness itself, distinct from the changing contents that make up our image of the self.

Contemplative traditions say that we can learn to let go of the self, so that when we die we can witness the dissolution of the self with equanimity. Thompson weaves together neuroscience, philosophy, and personal narrative to depict these transformations, adding uncommon depth to life’s profound questions. Contemplative experience comes to illuminate scientific findings, and scientific evidence enriches the vast knowledge acquired by contemplatives.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website, Book on Facebook

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new book – ‘Consciousness’ by Josh Weisberg

October 27, 2014

Consciousness

Consciousness (Polity Key Concepts in Philosophy) by Josh Weisberg (Polity, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

Each of us, right now, is having a unique conscious experience. Nothing is more basic to our lives as thinking beings and nothing, it seems, is better known to us. But the ever-expanding reach of natural science suggests that everything in our world is ultimately physical. The challenge of fitting consciousness into our modern scientific worldview, of taking the subjective “feel” of conscious experience and showing that it is just neural activity in the brain, is among the most intriguing explanatory problems of our times.

In this book, Josh Weisberg presents the range of contemporary responses to the philosophical problem of consciousness. The basic philosophical tools of the trade are introduced, including thought experiments featuring Mary the color-deprived super scientist and fearsome philosophical “zombies”. The book then systematically considers the space of philosophical theories of consciousness. Dualist and other “non-reductive” accounts of consciousness hold that we must expand our basic physical ontology to include the intrinsic features of consciousness. Functionalist and identity theories, by contrast, hold that with the right philosophical stage-setting, we can fit consciousness into the standard scientific picture. And “mysterians” hold that any solution to the problem is beyond such small-minded creatures as us.

Throughout the book, the complexity of current debates on consciousness is handled in a clear and concise way, providing the reader with a fine introductory guide to the rich philosophical terrain. The work makes an excellent entry point to one of the most exciting areas of study in philosophy and science today.

See also: Author’s webpage

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$1.99 kindle (short): ‘Dying: What Happens When We Die?': Selection from ‘Waking, Dreaming, Being’ by Evan Thompson

September 17, 2014

(UK kindle ed.)

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new book – ‘Actual Consciousness’ by Ted Honderich

August 18, 2014

Actual Consciousness

Actual Consciousness by Ted Honderich (Oxford University Press, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

What is it for you to be conscious? There is no agreement whatever in philosophy or science: it has remained a hard problem, a mystery. Is this partly or mainly owed to the existing theories not even having the same subject, not answering the same question? In Actual Consciousness, Ted Honderich sets out to supersede dualisms, objective physicalisms, abstract functionalism, general externalisms, and other positions in the debate. He argues that the theory of Actualism, right or wrong, is unprecedented, in nine ways. (1) It begins from gathered data and proceeds to an adequate initial clarification of consciousness in the primary ordinary sense. This consciousness is summed up as something’s being actual. (2) Like basic science, Actualism proceeds from this metaphorical or figurative beginning to what is wholly literal and explicit–constructed answers to the questions of what is actual and what it is for it to be actual. (3) In so doing, the theory respects the differences of consciousness within perception, consciousness that is thinking in a generic sense, and consciousness that is generic wanting. (4) What is actual with your perceptual consciousness is a subjective physical world out there, very likely a room, differently real from the objective physical world, that other division of the physical world. (5) What it is for the myriad subjective physical worlds to be actual is for them to be subjectively physical, which is exhaustively characterized. (6) What is actual with cognitive and affective consciousness is affirmed or valued representations. The representations being actual, which is essential to their nature, is their being differently subjectively physical from the subjective physical worlds. (7) Actualism, naturally enough when you think of it, but unlike any other existing general theory of consciousness, is thus externalist with perceptual consciousness but internalist with respect to cognitive and affective consciousness. (8) It satisfies rigorous criteria got from examination of the failures of the existing theories. In particular, it explains the role of subjectivity in thinking about consciousness, including a special subjectivity that is individuality. (9) Philosophers and scientists have regularly said that thinking about consciousness requires just giving up the old stuff and starting again. Actualism does this. Science is served by this main line philosophy, which is concentration on the logic of ordinary intelligence–clarity, consistency and validity, completeness, generality.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘The Conscious Mind’ by Zoltan Torey

August 12, 2014

The Conscious Mind

The Conscious Mind (MIT Press Essential Knowledge) by Zoltan Torey (MIT Press, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

How did the human mind emerge from the collection of neurons that makes up the brain? How did the brain acquire self-awareness, functional autonomy, language, and the ability to think, to understand itself and the world? In this volume in the Essential Knowledge series, Zoltan Torey offers an accessible and concise description of the evolutionary breakthrough that created the human mind. Drawing on insights from evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and linguistics, Torey reconstructs the sequence of events by which Homo erectus became Homo sapiens. He describes the augmented functioning that underpins the emergent mind — a new (“off-line”) internal response system with which the brain accesses itself and then forms a selection mechanism for mentally generated behavior options. This functional breakthrough, Torey argues, explains how the animal brain’s “awareness” became self-accessible and reflective — that is, how the human brain acquired a conscious mind. Consciousness, unlike animal awareness, is not a unitary phenomenon but a composite process. Torey’s account shows how protolanguage evolved into language, how a brain subsystem for the emergent mind was built, and why these developments are opaque to introspection. We experience the brain’s functional autonomy, he argues, as free will. Torey proposes that once life began, consciousness had to emerge — because consciousness is the informational source of the brain’s behavioral response. Consciousness, he argues, is not a newly acquired “quality,” “cosmic principle,” “circuitry arrangement,” or “epiphenomenon,” as others have argued, but an indispensable working component of the living system’s manner of functioning.

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