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The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Philosophy of Mind Series) [Paperback]

David J. Chalmers
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 27, 1997 0195117891 978-0195117899 1
What is consciousness? How do physical processes in the brain give rise to the self-aware mind and to feelings as profoundly varied as love or hate, aesthetic pleasure or spiritual yearning? These questions today are among the most hotly debated issues among scientists and philosophers, and we have seen in recent years superb volumes by such eminent figures as Francis Crick, Daniel C. Dennett, Gerald Edelman, and Roger Penrose, all firing volleys in what has come to be called the consciousness wars. Now, in The Conscious Mind, philosopher David J. Chalmers offers a cogent analysis of this heated debate as he unveils a major new theory of consciousness, one that rejects the prevailing reductionist trend of science, while offering provocative insights into the relationship between mind and brain.
Writing in a rigorous, thought-provoking style, the author takes us on a far-reaching tour through the philosophical ramifications of consciousness. Chalmers convincingly reveals how contemporary cognitive science and neurobiology have failed to explain how and why mental events emerge from physiological occurrences in the brain. He proposes instead that conscious experience must be understood in an entirely new light--as an irreducible entity (similar to such physical properties as time, mass, and space) that exists at a fundamental level and cannot be understood as the sum of its parts. And after suggesting some intriguing possibilities about the structure and laws of conscious experience, he details how his unique reinterpretation of the mind could be the focus of a new science. Throughout the book, Chalmers provides fascinating thought experiments that trenchantly illustrate his ideas. For example, in exploring the notion that consciousness could be experienced by machines as well as humans, Chalmers asks us to imagine a thinking brain in which neurons are slowly replaced by silicon chips that precisely duplicate their functions--as the neurons are replaced, will consciousness gradually fade away? The book also features thoughtful discussions of how the author's theories might be practically applied to subjects as diverse as artificial intelligence and the interpretation of quantum mechanics.
All of us have pondered the nature and meaning of consciousness. Engaging and penetrating, The Conscious Mind adds a fresh new perspective to the subject that is sure to spark debate about our understanding of the mind for years to come.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Chalmers (philosophy, Univ. of California at Santa Cruz) analyzes the mind-body problem in terms of that elusive relationship between the physical brain and conscious events. Focusing on subjective experience as such, he rejects all reductive (materialist) explanations for conscious experience in favor of a metaphysical framework supporting a strong form of property dualism. His theory is grounded in natural supervenience, the distinction between psychological and phenomenological properties of mind, and a novel view of the ontological status of consciousness itself. Chalmers uses thought experiments (e.g., zombie worlds, silicon chips, a global brain, and inverted spectra) and discusses such issues as causation, intentionality, and epiphenomenalism. Even so, the critical reader is left asking, How can physical facts be relevant to the emergence of consciousness beyond an evolutionary naturalist worldview. Ongoing neuroscience research may provide a sufficient explanation of consciousness within a materialistic framework. Nevertheless, as a scholarly contribution to modern philosophy, this is suitable for all academic and large public libraries.?H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Certainly one of the best discussions of consciousness in existence."--The Times Higher Education Supplement

"A startling first book....Offers an outstandingly competent survey of the field."--The Economist

"Chalmers shakes up the reductionist world of neurological research by asserting that scientists need to approach the conscious experience as a basic, nonphysical component of the world, similar to time, space, and matter."--Science News

"David Chalmers is widely credited for posing the so-called hard problem of consciousness:...What is the nature of subjective experience? Why do we have vividly felt experiences of the world? Why is there someone home inside our heads?"--The New York Times

Product Details

  • Series: Philosophy of Mind Series
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 27, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195117891
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195117899
  • Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 4.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
123 of 137 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An honest look at the "hard problem" of consciousness November 30, 1998
The basic problem with any materialist theory of consciousness is that there is no room for consciousness to *do* anything -- it is caused by certain material processes but does not itself cause anything. The firing of a neuron can always be explained in terms of the firing of other neurons, the impingement of a photon on a photoreceptor, or some other objectively observable cause. At no point is it necessary to say that "this neuron fired because the brain it was part of had such-and-such a subjective experience". Thus consciousness is not logically necessary in our objective description of the material world, so we can at least conceive of a world where David Chalmers' zombie twin writes papers and books about the mind-body problem without ever having any subjective experience itself. This seems absurd but the absurdity is inherent in all the various flavors of functionalism or property dualism. And "new physics" won't change the picture at all -- string theory, quantum gravity, quantum multiverses, and any as yet unconcieved of physical theory are all simply more of the same kind of "ontological stuff" that we already have -- objective procedures for predicting the behavior of objectively measurable things.
Some functionalists attempt to make the problem go away simply by declaring conscious states a matter of definition -- "pain" is some set of states of an information processing system, "pleasure" is some other, etc. Thus whether a robot that makes a convincing whine when you hit it actually experiences pain is a matter of definition.
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70 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Team Consciousness March 26, 2007
A bunch of us (PS Churchland, PM Churchland, Dan Dennett, Frank Jackson, Colin McGinn, Joe Levine ,Tom Nagel, John Searle, Jaegwon Kim, and many others) have been writing about how to understand how talk of *mind* and talk of *brains* connect and if, and in what sense, mind *is* brain. Dave Chalmers breaks out of the crowd & makes us rethink everything. I am on record as not thinking the *hard problem* is as hard as Dave does; but read Chalmers for the argument that I (& most others underestimate) the difficulty. I think also that the move from conceivability (of zombies) to possibility is a problem. The fact remains that this is the most important work in consciousness studies in recent years.

One small thing: one reviewer of my *Consciousness Reconsidered* complains that I don't respond to Chalmers. This is true. My defense: my book appeared 4 or 5 years before Dave's. It would have been hard to respond to him.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting questions, answers not always clear. October 24, 1998
By A Customer
I enjoyed this book; it should be read as a companion to mathematician/neuroscientist Scott's Stairway to the Mind. Both authors take the position of naturalistic dualism (Scott based on emergent properties and nonlinear mathematics) as well as questioning the role of quantum physics in consciousness (both see it as just another factor which still doesn't answer the question). The book provides a welcome comparison and criticism of different theories. Although Chalmers is more honest and humble in his approach than is Dennet, I still believe we are a long ways away from uncovering the ultimate nature of conscious awareness. This being said, the naturalistic dualism of Scott and/or Chalmers seems more reasonable than the reductionism of the Churchlands or Dennet--denying consciousness doesn't make it go away.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of consciousness for expert readers June 19, 2006
Philosopher and author David J. Chalmers makes an ambitious, daring attempt to expand the understanding of consciousness. Although he admits that his sympathies are with materialism, he concludes that materialist (physical) explanations cannot account for the existence of consciousness. His theory of consciousness is based in the natural world, but he proposes that consciousness has both physical and nonphysical properties. He suggests that a set of psychophysical laws are needed to explain the how and why of consciousness. Although parts of this book are densely technical and call for readers with a thorough background in mathematics, physics and philosophy, Chalmers has taken pains to make his material as accessible as possible to the average well-educated person. He even puts asterisks beside sections that lay readers are likely to find too daunting, and notes those sections general readers might most productively read, skim or ignore. We suggest this book to well-schooled readers who are interested in the philosophy of the mind, cognition or psychology.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best books in philosophy of mind January 25, 2004
By J.C.
This is an incredibly important book, as it cogently & decisively challenges a view of mind that is something of a received dogma in philosophy of mind, namely, materialism/physicalism. Chalmers is machine-like in tearing down the superficially strong but ultimately weak arguments from the materialist side. Any impartial reader will come to the conclusion that something is very wrong w/ materialism; the only ones who will deny this are those in the hold of the dogma themselves.
Reading through the other reviews here, I have noticed several criticisms the indicate that the reviewer did not read the book in its entirety. For example, one review complains that Chalmers does not recognize the difference between conceivability & possibility, when it fact a significant chunk of the book is devoted to exactly that distinction, w/ Chalmers making it quite clear why the distinction is irrelevant to his argument.
One methodological advantage of the book, by the way, is that it is readable by people w/ all levels of philosophical background. Sections that are largely technical are marked w/ an *, and the book is structured so that these sections can be skipped w/o losing the main story & argument of the book. Beware, however, of attempting to critique Chalmers' view on technical philosophical grounds without reading the * sections (as the reviewer mentioned above seems to).
Anyway, this is a well-written, important book by one of the most interesting & exciting philosophers around. Anyone interested in philosophy of mind or cognitive science will do well to own it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Conscious Mind
Needed this book for Philosophy class I was taking. It discusses consciousness and it's separation from the mind. If you need this type of book Chalmers is your go to man.
Published 1 month ago by Carolyn Gall
5.0 out of 5 stars Conscious Mind Searches for Its Transcendent Origin
In The Journal of Consciousness Studies, David Chalmers wrote: “ Consciousness poses the most baffling problems in the science of the mind. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Alex Vary
1.0 out of 5 stars Dud
I couldn't read it. It was way, way over my head, written for the philosopher who likes to manipulate concepts instead of learn something important.
Published 3 months ago by James R Wuthrich
2.0 out of 5 stars Beyond my comprehension
Its not the book,may be it is me.I downloaded the book thinking it might be help me understand the conscious mind but got lost in the details and was too complicated for me to... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kalicharan Mahasivabhattu
5.0 out of 5 stars A Milestone
Many can disagree with the views expressed by the author (though many more, after a careful reading, would agree), but it was undoubtedly the most fundamental work on consciousness... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Vladimir
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
First you must remember this is a book of Philosophy. It is not an easy read. However, I found it very fascinating. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Dawn M. Wheeler
2.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult Read
I read about 20% but the desire to make it "a serious work of philosophy," introduced jargon and symbols which made for difficult reading . Read more
Published 6 months ago by David Euhus
1.0 out of 5 stars ARE YOU SERIOUS.
YES AND NO , would not recommend to anyone. A CLEAR AND OBVIOUS WASTE OF ONEs time as both creator and consumer.
Published 7 months ago by W. Young
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable, Intelligent Book
I recommend this book to readers who seek a definitive narrative for non-local/non-physical consciousness. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Rainbow Fish
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing. Very good book, almost life-changing in a way.
A bit over my head yet, but a very interesting book. I would recommend that everyone at least try to read it.
Published 10 months ago by Max
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