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A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness Paperback – July 1, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Humphrey is one of that growing band of scientists who beat literary folk at their own game." -- Daily Telegraph
More About the Author
His books include Consciousness Regained, The Inner Eye, A History of the Mind, Leaps of Faith, The Mind Made Flesh, Seeing Red, and Soul Dust. He has been the recipient of several honours, including the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, and the British Psychological Society's book award.
He has been Lecturer in Psychology at Oxford, Assistant Director of the Subdepartment of Animal Behaviour at Cambridge, Senior Research Fellow in Parapsychology at Cambridge, Professor of Psychology at the New School for Social Research, New York, and School Professor at the London School of Economics.
Top Customer Reviews
My reservations notwithstanding, this book turned out to contain some genuinely interesting, as well as sensible, thinking on the operation of the human brain. His theory is well grounded in common sense, and is developed carefully. Humphrey's approach is a good one: How might the human brain have evolved to create consciousness from primitive antecedents?
Central to Hamphrey's theory is the distinction between sensation and perception, that is to say the difference between the subjective sensations that we experience versus the awareness of some external object. This argument takes a considerable length of time for Humphrey to unpack, and there were moments where I doubted that the distinction was worth the care that Humphrey lavished upon it. However, at the end of the day, it is worth wading through this discussion in order to fully understand this key element of Humphrey's idea.
The critical leap occurs when Humphrey postulate the existence of "reverbatory feedback loops." Under this theory, consciousness arises when sensory information is shuttled between the nervous system and the brain repeatedly. This mechanism would give temporal continuity to sensation and might well be the foundation for consciousness.
Whether or not you buy this theory, you will be interested to follow Humphrey through the steps that allow him to get to the conclusion.Read more ›
Other reviews have noted that his theory is flawed because it falls into the Cartesian Theater mode (ref. Daniel Dennet) - at this I can only scratch my head and wonder if they read the same book that I did. Others have mentioned that this book is "speculation" and has no 'scientific' basis (I believe in neuroscience and so forth)... Again I must only puzzle at these statements: science can indeed show us the quantitative "facts" about brain hardware but the experience of being conscious won't be found under the microscope and that is the core of this book...
Perhaps reading the book with a certain predisposition creates these misinterpretations? Which, oddly enough, Humphrey mentions in this work. From within each discipline studying consciousness a tendency to favor one's own ideas emerges - it's a fact of humanity.
All that being said this book represents only a partial theory - a journey through areas that are still unknown... But it provides (if not a map) at least a partially functioning compass! Enjoy with an open mind...
There is a reviewer who mentions Dennett, and I would like to say something in Humphrey's behalf. First, it is not evident that Dennett has it right (see Crick and Kotch's paper 'the unconscious homonucolus" for a possibility). Second, I do not see what reading of Humphrey's would show a cartesian theather fallacy in his model.(Humphrey is close, and has collaborated with, Dennett. I would think he is aware of his work). Whithout spoiling it, consciousness for Humphrey (or qualia) are "as-if" bodily activity loops in the brain. There is no place where it all "comes together", and the activity is refered back to itself, so does not need to be read out by a homonuculus. Humphrey's free from the cartesian theather.
The latter shows in this writing: I read this book in a single sitting. You may not agree with the ideas on consciousness (I don't) but you get a clear exposition of all the work from Descartes to McGinn. Also if you want to figure out what Dennett is saying it helps to read this book first.
Humphrey presents some bold propositions and theories - quite different from that offered by a number of other scientists and philosophers who have tried to explain the mind. The writing is also very lucid and readable. For instance, under Cartesian dualism - which asserts that the mind is separate from the physical stuff (namely, the brain) and hence in theory the mind and brains could exist independently of each other - when the brain and mind do meet it would, as Humphrey describes it, involve "a handshake across a metaphysical divide". Humphrey's erudition is also highly evident in the book - an example of which is his use of the design concept of skeuomorphism to explain how living organisms may have carried over some features from earlier evolutionary strategy even if they may no longer be biological useful.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Nicholas Humphrey has also written books such as Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness, Seeing Red: A Study in Consciousness, How to Solve the Mind-Body Problem, etc. Read morePublished on May 28, 2013 by Steven H Propp
it gave me another view and undterstanding of the human mind, it really blew mi mind. Its a must if you like to know more about ones mind.Published on April 1, 2013 by Dani
I was fooled by the title of this book. Or possibly my conception of mind is radically different than the authors. Read morePublished on February 17, 2013 by R. Golen
Appreciating an interesting but light read, I came to the following on page 40: "So boundaries - and the physical structures that constituted them... - were crucial. Read morePublished on January 9, 2012 by Ken
What a difference to investigate the universe out there by direct observation - as astrophysicists do - than to try to figure out how it is by logical speculation! Read morePublished on February 10, 2003 by Giuseppe Tulli
He has some strong arguments but he falls into the "Cartesian theater" trap outlined by Daniel Dennett in the book, Consciousness Explained.Published on May 22, 2000