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Consciousness: An Introduction Paperback – October 16, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0195153439 ISBN-10: 019515343X Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

If you’ve ever driven along a highway and suddenly realized that you have no memory of how you just got to a certain point, then you have some idea of what it’s like to be "in" and "out" of consciousness. Understanding the difference is the crux of Consciousness: An Introduction, which examines the scientific nature of subjective experience. Susan Blackmore, a former lecturer in psychology at the University of the West of England in Bristol, casts a wide net in exploring what she calls "the last great mystery of science." She painstakingly documents the evolution of consciousness studies, from the pioneering work of William James to the controversial, contemporary work of Daniel C. Dennett of Tufts University, who maintains that consciousness is a complex of "memes"—verbal and written information that is transferred from person to person. Then she marches through a host of other topics, including how subjective experiences arise from objective brain processes; altered states; and mystical experiences and dreams. To offset this weightiness, Blackmore periodically invites the reader to participate in interesting practice exercises with titles such as "Was this decision conscious?" and activities such as "Blind for an hour" that sharpen selfawareness. "Some of you will enjoy the self-examination and find the science and philosophy hard," she writes of her approach. "Others will lap up the science and find the personal inquiry troubling or trivial. I can only say this: both are needed." Blackmore also strikes a balance in showing how Western and Eastern philosophies view consciousness. Parts of this discussion may seem too difficult to grasp, but she is not after black-and-white conclusions; she is bold enough to leave some questions unanswered. Blackmore’s best chapters come in the latter part of the book. Her analyses of the effects of brain damage on consciousness are fascinating in their human detail. She does get sidetracked by devoting three short chapters to the possibility of consciousness in robots, even though a machine’s total lack of subjectivity would appear to make a prolonged analysis beside the point. But she redeems herself with an amusing anecdote that underscores how even the best intentioned scholars can get carried away by their own theories. When computer scientist John McCarthy of Stanford University claimed that his thermostat had a belief system, philosopher John Searle of the University of California at Berkeley immediately asked, "John, what beliefs does your thermostat have?" McCarthy’s reply was both clever and courageous: "My thermostat has three beliefs. My thermostat believes that it’s too hot in here, it’s too cold in here and it’s just right in here."

Robert Rorke


"This is an extraordinary book. Consciousness is a swamp, a hornet's nest, a morass of competing theories and rival projects. It takes guts to put together a book like this one that seeks to present a truly general overview of the literature, ranging from philosophy of mind, through discussions in the fast-developing field of cognitive neuroscience, to the hot and fraught issues of the paranormal, lucid dreaming, and altered states of consciousness. Sue Blackmore carries off this ambitious project! There are lots of people who are expert in one, two or three of the areas she discusses, but almost no one who is deeply conversant, as she appears to be, with all of them."--Alva Noe, University of California, Berkeley


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019515343X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195153439
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.1 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #431,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 86 people found the following review helpful By T. Bachman on November 23, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a must-buy for the student or layman interested in consciousness. Blackmore guides the reader on an exhilarating crashcourse through all the issues relevant to the problem of consciousness, from Descartes to the thought of contemporary scientists and philosophers.

This book has a number of unique strengths. Most importantly, Blackmore has managed to distill to their essences the various features of what is often a baffling subject, and writes in clear, lively prose. This alone would justify the book's purchase.

Another strength is her focus not just on the speculative, but on the hard science relevant to consciousness. She frequently makes reference to (and explains) experiments illuminating the characteristics and activities of the mind/brain.

Blackmore also does a good job at introducing prominent thinkers in the area of consciousness by including photos, mini-bios, and explaining their work and why it is important.

Blackmore seems very clever, and overall is quite fair in her assessment of the competing strands of thought within this field. There is only one peculiarity (whether it is a fault or not depends on perspective) that concerns me: almost every discussion of any aspect of consciousness seems to include, and often concludes with, entirely uncritical descriptions of what Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett thinks about the issue. This is odd, because virtually everyone else's ideas are subjected to tough questioning by Blackmore. As if to punctuate this seemingly uncritical embrace of Dennett, Blackmore even uses photos of - guess who? - Daniel Dennett to construct a montage demonstrating blind spots (see page 82).
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98 of 104 people found the following review helpful By N N Taleb on October 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
I am glad to find a complete book dealing with all aspects of consciousness in CLEARLY written format, with graphs and tables to facilitate comprehension. The book covers everything I had seen before from Artificial Intelligence to Philosophy to Neurology to Evolutionary Biology.
Say one wants to get an idea of Dan Dennett's theory of consciousness (without having to get through Dennett's circuitous, unfocused and evasive prose) or Searle's Chinese room argument or Turing's test or Chalmer's position or Churchland's neurophilosophy or a presentation of research on the neural correlates of consciousness...Everything I could think about is there.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on November 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
You have to wonder when an author declares her intention to perplex you. With any book about the human mind, you have a right to expect information and clarification. There's a great deal of information here, and it's presented with clarity. However, while you will learn much from this book, at the end you will be aware of how much remains to be done. That situation, as Blackmore explains, is due to the nature of the subject. Not only are the issues of consciousness difficult to explain, but, a definition - the very foundation of discussion - is lacking. With such a frail base, what can an author give the enquiring reader? Blackmore summarises the advances made in attempting to define "consciousness". Her approach, although formatted as a textbook, is accessible to anyone wishing to delve into studies of the mind. She's to be applauded for synopsising a very dynamic topic with apparent ease.

The study of consciousness is inevitably contentious. With so little firm information available on the workings of the brain, theories of "how the mind works" abound. Blackmore skilfully guides the reader through the many theories of mind that have emerged over many centuries. Blackmore uses those theories to organise her presentation, describing a theorist and his/her idea as a discussion focus. Inevitably, it is Descartes and "dualism" that provide the opening scenario. The structure allows the author to post some "assignments" that may look like academic exercises, but are couched in terms any reader can understand and use. After all, we all have ideas about what "consciousness" means. Why should we not test our assumptions? Blackmore helps us do this as each chapter offers another step in contrasting our own views with that of the philosophers.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Mead C. Whorton Jr. on March 9, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Susan Blackmore has written an excellent book dealing with one of the most challenging problems confronting human kind as we enter the 21st century: What is consciousness and how do we explain it. The book examines consciousness from myriad viewpoints;philosophical, psychological, and biological. Ms. Blackmore presents a plethora of fascinating topics such as:What is it like to be a bat?,What are we actually seeing?,What is it like to be an animal?,Could a machine be conscious?, What are the neural correlates of consciousness?, How do we distinguish between reality and imagination?, and, finally, How are Buddhism and consciousness related?
All the key players involved in the study of consciousness such as Renes Descartes, David Chalmers, Patricia Churchland, Daniel Dennett, Alan Turing,Francis Crick, Roger Penrose, John Eccles, etc. are found in this wonderful book.
Each chapter contains profiles, concepts, activities, and practices,and readings. The references are excellent. And Ms. Blackmore writes in clear, concise prose.
If you have ever wondered what consciousness may be, then this is the book for you whether you plan to use it for a college course or simply read it yourself. This is a great and fun read! Don't delay; buy a copy today and the price is right!!!
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