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Seeing Red: A Study in Consciousness (Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative)
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Top Customer Reviews
Seeing Red is based on a series of lectures at Harvard University, and, as with all his other books, it is written in a simple and direct style.
Humphrey begins by asking his audience to look at an expanse of red. If it is convenient, you might want to take a moment away from reading this to join in with the experiment. Simply look at something red for a moment.
Then comes the first question: What does it mean to see red? We can measure the light and the mixture of wavelengths, but actually seeing red is a subjective experience. So this first and apparently simple question brings us straight to the heart of the great mystery: consciousness itself. Despite millennia of philosophies, experimentation and now the advent of sophisticated methods for peering into the brain of conscious individual, we are still face with the "hard problem:" how do three pounds of physical matter with the consistency of thick oatmeal, give rise to self-awareness, the works of Mozart and Shakespeare, and the insights of Einstein and the Dalai Lama?
Seeing Red is a synthesis and summing up of much of Nick's earlier work, much of which is provocative and controversial, but also brilliant and insightful.
The high school theory of vision, still being taught today, is that first we receive photons that strike the rods and cones in the retina, which in turn generate visual sensations. We then use those sensations to perceive objects in the external world.
From the outset, Nick tells us that this is completely wrong.Read more ›
I liked the description of consciousness as being "temporally thick" rather than being about an instantaneous "now", suggesting that it includes pieces of short-term memory and possibly predictions about the next few seconds.
The book won't stop people from claiming that there's still something mysterious about qualia, but it will make it hard for them to claim that they have a well-posed question that hasn't been answered. It avoids most debates over meanings of words by usually sticking to simpler and less controversial words than qualia, and only using the word consciousness in ways that are relatively uncontroversial.
The book is short and readable, yet the important parts of it are concise enough that it could be adequately expressed in a shorter essay.
He takes a dual approach, first laying out a pseudorepresentationalist naturlistic theory of sensation, and then proposing an evolutionary history to account for its existence. The first part is probably the weakest part of the book. Humphreys idea that there very likely exists a deep functional/biological basis for perception and sensation must be right at some level, but its not clear how this accounts for the representational aspects of sensation. Humphrey proposes that sensations are representing (virtually) what once was a bodily reaction to a stimulus, and this seems also to be right at some level, but again, just because sensation and actions have some properties in common (even intentionallity), it is not clear how this makes sensations any more amenable to philosophical explanation. At times, Humphrey seems to drift from representationalism to higher order thought theories of sensations, when he decleares that to see red "the subject gets to have a red sensation,s, then gets to feel his having of this red sensation p(s)". What exactly is, in phenomenological terms, the difference from having a red sensation (redding, if you will) and to get to feel the redding itself? if "feel" seems to allready imply sensation, then I do not really think it does any explanatory or causal work.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A fair amount of redundancy. Some of the concepts are interesting, but the booklet is underwhelming.Published 22 months ago by James F. Kadlec
This book covers the same material (but less) than A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness by the same author. Its presentation is easier to understand. Read morePublished on July 18, 2012 by Jackal
This is one of those books that is changing how I'm sensing/perceiving the world. It is bringing me to another level of awareness of what my brain/mind does. Read morePublished on September 24, 2011 by HK Soubhi
Humphrey thoroughly examines his view of personal consciousness from a neurological point of view.
Quite technical in many respects, drawing upon his experience and... Read more
Indeed, sensation lends a hereness, a nowness, a me-ness to the experience of the present moment, such as seeing red. It constructs our world. Read morePublished on June 21, 2010 by Simon Laub
Where do sensation and perception diverge? Is perception based on sensation, or the other way around? Read morePublished on June 11, 2010 by Dan Jensen
The author starts his book with a pessimistic quotation from psychologist Stuart Sutherland, "Nothing worth reading has been written about it" (consciousness). Read morePublished on August 29, 2008 by Rama Rao
The book is written in a page-turner style due to the very understandable (not popularized, fully rigorous) description of qualia and their role in the context of cognitive... Read morePublished on July 28, 2007 by Ruggero Rapparini