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Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism? 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1845400590
ISBN-10: 1845400593
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  • Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism?
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Galen Strawson currently holds the President's Chair in Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin.

Review

"The final essay is an impressive piece of work, setting out 36 metaphysical and four epistemological theses, and in reframing Descartes as a fellow panpsychist rather than a substance dualist."

(Scientific and Medical Network)

"Strawson had me immediately running a high fever... he gives so many of my cherished 'materialist' assumptions a hard time... I panic at the very thought of what he would have to say about my paraphrase."

(T.J. Clark ARTFORUM)

"The book is very rich... It is very rare for a book with this sort of format to be so complete a success, or so much fun to read... If you want an idea of just how hard the hard problem is, and just how strange things can look when you face its hardness without flinching, this is the right book to read."

(Jerry Fodor London Review of Books)

"Bold and provocative... Strawson defends and develops his position while adding a historical dimension... unusually interesting reading."

(Barry Dainton Times Literary Supplement)

"Essential reading for anyone interested in the hard problem... a testimony to Strawson's standing on the problem of consciousness."

(Christian Onof Journal of Mind & Behavior)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 285 pages
  • Publisher: Imprint Academic; 1 edition (November 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845400593
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845400590
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,131 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Dr. Richard G. Petty on July 5, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been going to meetings, workshops and seminars about consciousness since I was knee high to a puppy, and after a few years when it was a minority interest, it is very noticeable that consciousness is currently back in favor, with new books, journals and research appearing extremely rapidly.

The interdisciplinary conferences are always fun, though they tend to be populated by an extraordinary array of people, many of whom are convinced that they have The Answer, and nothing will ever dissuade them. I have met mystics, philosophers, psychologists, brain scientists and a lot of people who used to do physics. Several Nobel laureates have written books purporting to explain the connections between consciousness and their primary area of expertise.

Yet for all this activity, we are still left with the central problem that philosophers call `the hard problem:" if, as most materialists believe, the world is made entirely of physical matter, how can matter be conscious? How could three pounds of material inside the skull have experiences?

Most people who have done philosophy 101 will have learned that there are two main schools of thought about the "hard problem." The first says that the hard problem is easy: consciousness `emerges' from neural processes. This succeeds in replacing the question, "what is consciousness and how is it possible?" with a similar one: "what is emergence and how is that possible?" In effect "explaining" one mystery with another one.

Option two is to say that the hard problem is so hard that it is insoluble: consciousness must be some sort of illusion.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is for you if what you are interested in philosophical puzzles about the mind-body problem. The contributors are academics, mostly in philosophy. Definitely not a New Age book.

Strawson in the lead essay argues vigorously and with wit that panpsychism does provide the solution to the mind-body problem. Personally, I was persuaded, though I don't regard my opinion as worth much. The 17 other contributors take diverse positions pro and (mostly) con. The contributors assume some background in philosophy generally and the modern Anglo-American style in particular. A reader not comfortable with such terms as "supervenient," "ontological," and "property dualism" would be hard put to follow some of the arguments.

The focus is on the mind-body problem. A few passing comments aside, there is nothing about the broader implications if panpsychism is actually true.
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All my life as a student of philosophy I have had to endure scorn and derision whenever I expressed skepticism about physicalism. "You cannot really be a Cartesian dualist, can you?" "Do you believe in spooks?" "Are you a bible-thumping religious nut?"

Yet the fact remains that all attempts to derive mind from the dance of the atoms in the void have failed. So if consciousness is real (and it cannot be denied without self defeat) then some form of dualism must be true.

Strawson lays out this argument with clarity and vigor. We may just have to accept "ghosts" in our world. The bible thumping issue is beside the point since the ancient Jews all had a materialist theory of the self. (See First Thessalonians, Ch. 4. Paul thought resurrection would consist of our getting a new body which would enable us to fly through the air like a comic-book super-hero. The idea of the immaterial self was introduced to our literary tradition by Plato, in his dialogue called "The Phaedo", not by anyone writing in the bible.)

Anyway Strawson made me feel vindicated after many decades of (often) secretly affirming heretical dualistic views of the mind. If mind exists, and is not caused by the dance of the atoms in the void, then both must have existed since the Big Bang, and a form of Panpsychism must be true after all.

The book is structured like a sandwich. There are the first and last essays, which are by Strawson himself. The first essay lays out the basic thesis concerning panpsychism which Strawson defends. The intervening essays are all critical commentaries on Strawson's ideas. The concluding essay is Strawson's reply to his critics and commentators. Strawson's opening and concluding essays, together with the intervening commentaries, provide an intelligible survey of the plausible stances concerning these issues.
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