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Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – June 23, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0192805850 ISBN-10: 0192805851

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 146 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 23, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192805851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192805850
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.3 x 4.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A very thought-provoking book. The Guardian

About the Author

Susan Blackmore is a psychologist, freelance writer, and lecturer. Previously Reader in Psychology at the University of the West of England, Bristol, she left in 2000 to write an undergraduate textbook on consciousness. The author of numerous scientific articles and book contributions, she writes for several magazines and newspapers and is a frequent contributor on radio and television, both in the UK and abroad. She has presented several television programs including a Channel 4 documentary on the intelligence of apes. She has been training in Zen for twenty years. Her books include an autobiography, In Search of the Light (1996), The Meme Machine (1999), Consciousness: An Introduction (2003), and Conversations about Consciousness (forthcoming in 2005).

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Customer Reviews

Maybe the book changes in the latter parts.
Susan Blackmore uses a light and easy to read writing style; direct & simple, in a very comprehensive curation of the best thinkers on the subject of consciousness.
Harry Jordan II
For free will choices to be causal initiators of brain choices, they must be IN ADDITION to brain function, and this is explicit dualism.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 92 people found the following review helpful By Mark Twain on January 17, 2006
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I have to admit that at first I dismissed this little introduction to consciousness, but then I read the book again. It's a gem. Blackmore makes it all clear right up front what the problem of consciousness is and several ways that consciousness might be defined. She considers whether consciousness is some integral feature of brain processes or something in addition to the physical features of the brain (a position that goes by the clumsy name of "epiphenomenalism"). Next she talks about a last Cartesian seduction in the thinking of some materialists called "the Cartesian theatre", a phrase coined by Daniel Dennett that means that some scientists have embraced the material operation of the brain but still believe that consciousness is something that appears at a place and time in the brain. It as if there is a little theatre in the brain where consciousness is played.

Blackmore next questions the natural or intuitive idea that consciousness is present in a continuous stream: this is a grand illusion and how the brain may create this illusion is investigated. She focuses on visual perceptual consciousness and presents research that questions our natural understanding of what is going on with our brains while we experience the world. There follows a consideration of "the self" (a useful construction, it seems), conscious will, and altered states of consciousness (psychedelic drugs, meditation, and out-of-body experiences). All in all this is a brief, but very clear and stimulating discussion of consciousness. I find it remarkable that so much was packed in a little volume that left me stimulated and grateful instead of exhausted, bored, or confused.

It's just a great place to begin trying to get a grip on what the fuss is and why consciousness is such a curious and marvelous phenomenon.
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52 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Earle Bowers on August 1, 2005
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No one book can cover all there is to say about the burgening field of Consciousness Studies of Consciousness Research, but this book comes as close as any one up-to-date one can; furthermore, it has all the usual physical advantages of Oxford University Press' "Very Short Introduction" titles: small enough to actually fit into a pockes yet so well bound that when carried so the spine will never crack nor pages ever fall out.

Susan Blackmore's experience as a Zen meditator adds depth to the section on altered states of consciousness as well as to her final summary on the future of consciousness and consciousness research.

A minor disappointment was the abscence of any treatment of Artificial Intelligence and the philosophical problems it raises, especially unfortunate since she sha covered that subtopic well and thoroughly in a longer book. Also some cartoon drawings are rudimentary and add little to the text, but on the other hand, some photographic, do-it-yourself demonstrations of how our conciousness differs from what we believe we introspectively know it to be are excellent.

Another positive for any book but especially one suitable as an initial introduction to a topic is an excellent bibliography for further reading.
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58 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Peter Reeve VINE VOICE on August 12, 2007
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I first encountered Blackmore's work when, after searching long and hard for a scientific explanation of out-of-body experiences, I came across her book Beyond the Body. It was astonishingly well researched and offered a rational, convincing explanation for phenomena that were usually neglected by the scientific community. I became an instant fan and have followed her work ever since. But now, alas, she has aligned herself with the Dawkins/Dennett axis of drivel, and my loyalty to her is badly shaken. In this book (a shorter version of her Consciousness: An Introduction) she follows Dennett by denying the existence of consciousness and then indulging in much speculation about the properties and evolutionary history of this non-existent entity. Consciousness, she maintains, is an 'illusion', which she defines as something that exists but does not have the properties it appears to have. She then proceeds to discuss it as if it does not in fact exist, and slips into calling it a 'delusion', which she apparently regards as a synonymous term. So far, so Dennett. She follows Dawkins by labeling just about everything a 'meme' (as Poe might have said 'All that we see or seem is but a meme within a meme'), unless she happens not to approve of it, in which case it is 'a virus of the mind'. As an example, she indulges in a quite intemperate and completely irrelevant rant against religion, in which Roman Catholicism is described as a parasitic infection. Like Dennett and Dawkins, she leaves no axe unground.

So why do I give the book 5 stars if I disagree with so much of it? Well, I guess you can't keep a good scientist down, and Blackmore is still a great scientist.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By dcleve on July 3, 2009
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Susan Blackmore has written an outstanding introductory reference in Consciousness, A Short Introduction. She wires clearly, and in a jargon-free style that is a pleasure to read.

The book discusses most of the major frameworks that people have used to think about consciousness, as well as the problems they suffer from. The organization, however, is not around these theories, but around the observations and experiences which have lead to developing these different theories. This observational/experimental focus is why I think her book is the best single book on consciousness I have read. She has collected about half of all the observations I have read in nearly a dozen other books on consciousness, but with a broader focus than any of these other books have had. This short (135 page) gem is therefore an outstanding summary for anyone who does not wish to delve into the much denser tomes that are more characteristic of literature in this field.

Every writer has a bias and a point of view, and Blackmore is no exception. She is a devotee of the Daniel Dennett "Consciousness is a self delusion" school. She interweaves advocacy for this viewpoint into the discussions of the observations on consciousness, arguing that all other theories of consciousness are doomed to failure. Her advocacy is not overbearing, and the book includes examples which actually disprove her claims (discussed later). Dennett's views are very different from pretty much all other materialist thinking, and are influential enough to have a prominent place in modern thought. So her treatment, which is to carry an ongoing debate between materialism, dualism, and delusionism through the text, is very appropriate.
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