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Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "If you’ve ever wondered how you have the capacity to wonder, some fascinating insights await you in these pages.” --Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals As concise and enlightening as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, this mind-expanding dive into the mystery of consciousness is an illumina NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "If you’ve ever wondered how you have the capacity to wonder, some fascinating insights await you in these pages.” --Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals As concise and enlightening as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, this mind-expanding dive into the mystery of consciousness is an illuminating meditation on the self, free will, and felt experience. What is consciousness? How does it arise? And why does it exist? We take our experience of being in the world for granted. But the very existence of consciousness raises profound questions: Why would any collection of matter in the universe be conscious? How are we able to think about this? And why should we? In this wonderfully accessible book, Annaka Harris guides us through the evolving definitions, philosophies, and scientific findings that probe our limited understanding of consciousness. Where does it reside, and what gives rise to it? Could it be an illusion, or a universal property of all matter? As we try to understand consciousness, we must grapple with how to define it and, in the age of artificial intelligence, who or what might possess it.  Conscious offers lively and challenging arguments that alter our ideas about consciousness—allowing us to think freely about it for ourselves, if indeed we can.


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "If you’ve ever wondered how you have the capacity to wonder, some fascinating insights await you in these pages.” --Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals As concise and enlightening as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, this mind-expanding dive into the mystery of consciousness is an illumina NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "If you’ve ever wondered how you have the capacity to wonder, some fascinating insights await you in these pages.” --Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals As concise and enlightening as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, this mind-expanding dive into the mystery of consciousness is an illuminating meditation on the self, free will, and felt experience. What is consciousness? How does it arise? And why does it exist? We take our experience of being in the world for granted. But the very existence of consciousness raises profound questions: Why would any collection of matter in the universe be conscious? How are we able to think about this? And why should we? In this wonderfully accessible book, Annaka Harris guides us through the evolving definitions, philosophies, and scientific findings that probe our limited understanding of consciousness. Where does it reside, and what gives rise to it? Could it be an illusion, or a universal property of all matter? As we try to understand consciousness, we must grapple with how to define it and, in the age of artificial intelligence, who or what might possess it.  Conscious offers lively and challenging arguments that alter our ideas about consciousness—allowing us to think freely about it for ourselves, if indeed we can.

30 review for Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    The argument is familiar. It begins with an honest account of the mystery of consciousness and how there is, as of yet, no adequate or complete scientific explanation for how subjective experience of the material world can arise from the material world. The subjective experience of seeing the color red, for example, is very different from the scientific accounts of wavelengths of light or electrochemical activity in the brain. It is then pointed out that there is no direct external evidence of c The argument is familiar. It begins with an honest account of the mystery of consciousness and how there is, as of yet, no adequate or complete scientific explanation for how subjective experience of the material world can arise from the material world. The subjective experience of seeing the color red, for example, is very different from the scientific accounts of wavelengths of light or electrochemical activity in the brain. It is then pointed out that there is no direct external evidence of consciousness, and that only one’s own consciousness can be known with any degree of certainty. The problem of the “philosophical zombie,” however improbable, is nevertheless unnerving as there is no way to definitively prove that consciousness is driving the behavior of others. Consciousness is therefore one of the deepest mysteries in the universe. Then, inevitably and out of nowhere, the assertion is made—after reviewing a few obligatory neuroscientific case studies mapping neural activity to behavior—that free will and choice is an illusion, not noticing that free will, being inextricably tied to consciousness, must remain a mystery as long as consciousness remains a mystery. Scientists have not solved the problem of consciousness, nor have philosophers, nor has anyone else. And that means, by extension, that the problem of free will has not been conclusively solved either, despite the confident proclamations of the author and other hard determinists. In Conscious, it is not long before the discussion takes a turn for the worse. After categorically declaring free will an illusion, Annaka Harris writes: “Many people, however, object on ethical grounds to the assertion that conscious will is an illusion, holding that people should be held responsible for their choices and behavior. But people can (and should) be held responsible for their actions, for a variety of reasons; the two beliefs are not necessarily contradictory. We can still acknowledge the difference between premeditated, lucid actions and the sort that are caused by mental illness or other disorders of the mind/brain….A distinction between the brain’s intentional behaviors and behaviors that are caused by brain damage or other outside forces (‘against one’s will’) is valid and necessary, especially when structuring a society’s laws and criminal justice system.” These arguments drive me insane. Notice the action verbs I've highlighted in bold. To “acknowledge” the difference and “structure” a society are both actions, or choices, which contradicts the claim that we all lack free will. If the perpetrators of a crime could not have acted otherwise, then the adjudicators of that crime also could not have acted otherwise, and so the structure of society could not be otherwise, and quickly the entire conversation descends into absurdity. What Harris wants to say is that all matter, including mind and consciousness, adheres to the physical laws of causation, and that therefore everything is determined ahead of time because nothing can interfere with or escape predetermined physical laws. But if that’s the case, then consciousness can serve no purpose. The determinist makes the claim that mind and consciousness arises out of the activity of the brain, but that the brain, at the most fundamental level, is simply an arrangement of atoms, and atoms must obey the laws of physics and chemistry, blind to and un-influenced by things like emotion or awareness. The state of the universe at any particular time is the result of preceding causal forces, and therefore that particular state could not have been otherwise. Since the brain, which is composed of atoms, and consciousness, which arises from it, are also part of the universe, any particular conscious state could also not have been otherwise. Any thoughts or emotions or actions you’re taking at this moment could not have been otherwise, therefore free will is an illusion. But if this is true, then consciousness loses its evolutionary rationale. The purpose of conscious awareness, evolutionarily speaking, is the processing of information for the purposes of making choices among alternatives. If choice is an illusion, and the universe can only be one way, based on the preceding chain of causal events, then consciousness now has no function. If it now comes down to the decision to either believe in free will or deny the underlying rationale for all evolutionary theory, I think I’ll stick with free will. The fallacy is clear: Harris is stating that there is no explanation for how consciousness or subjective experience arises out of matter, yet insists that consciousness must be subject to the same causal dynamics as matter. This is an assumption with no backing, scientific or otherwise. Ignorance of the characteristics of consciousness cannot be used as justification for the idea that consciousness must conform entirely to the known physical laws. There’s simply no reason for me to accept these assumptions, and as long as consciousness remains a mystery, and every waking moment of my experience tells me I have some level of choice, it’s more reasonable for me to assume that I do in fact have some degree of choice, especially since I cannot really convince myself otherwise. Harris then moves on to discuss panpsychism, or the belief that consciousness in some sense pervades all matter. Harris explains that panpsychism is in fact based on science and rationality, but then writes, “In actuality, if a version of panpsychism is correct, everything will still appear to us and behave as it already does.” Well, if that’s the case, then panpsychism is not falsifiable, and therefore not scientific. We have a name for non-falsifiable claims that can never be tested: they are called pseudoscientific. And so Harris is simultaneously telling us it is a delusion to believe that we may have free will but it is perfectly reasonable to believe that a thermostat or electron may have consciousness. Harris also fails to adequately address the nuances of the philosophical debate, including the various positions of determinism, compatibilism, and metaphysical libertarianism, opting instead to review of few case studies in neuroscience and promote the idea of hard determinism and the benefits of meditation. What could have been a fascinating intellectual history or philosophical analysis turned out to be a superficial account of a questionable view. And how can you write a book on consciousness and leave out Daniel Dennett? It's either a sign of ignorance or apprehension to include an alternative view. Where I do agree with Harris is when she writes, at the end of the book, “From our current vantage point, it seems unlikely that we will ever arrive at a true understanding of consciousness.” I agree, and that’s why we shouldn’t be making categorical statements about free will, which is a component of consciousness. There are still too many unknowns about the universe and the mind, including the mysteries of the quantum world and the presence of dark matter and energy, not to mention the fact that we only have sensory access to an infinitesimally small sliver of reality. The determinist is forming their conclusions under the assumption that we have all the relevant information we need, but I think this is wrong. My suspicion is that we’re missing something, some kind of natural explanation yet undiscovered that would provide some degree of free will. I of course do not know this, but my ignorance is on par with everyone else. And I wouldn’t write a book about it. ---- Also check out my review of, in my opinion, the far superior book I am Not a Brain: Philosophy of Mind for the Twenty-First Century by philosopher Markus Gabriel.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Please not that in the title it states that this is a brief history, so one cannot expect lengthy explanations on each point. This is scholarly work, and sometimes I felt I was in over my head, or at least not very familiar with this subject from the beginning. I did find it interesting though, that challenging many beliefs, that our conscious and self may be two totally different entities. That often we do something automatically, and our brain knows before we do. That there are specific condit Please not that in the title it states that this is a brief history, so one cannot expect lengthy explanations on each point. This is scholarly work, and sometimes I felt I was in over my head, or at least not very familiar with this subject from the beginning. I did find it interesting though, that challenging many beliefs, that our conscious and self may be two totally different entities. That often we do something automatically, and our brain knows before we do. That there are specific condition when consciousness is there, but our self may not be able to function as such. Such as locked in syndrome, where the body is paralyzed but inside the person is conscious, fully aware but unable to communicate. She does give definitions and explores each subject, giving examples. The altered consciousness when one takes LSD, and the experiments that were used. She explores the belief that under the current definition of consciousness, plants may have their own type of consciousness. They react to touch, have memories passed down from generation just as we humans do. Like I said, some of this I did not quite understand but it is an interesting look at what makes us react the way we do, and how sometimes consciousness is an illusion. Listened to this and the author is the narrator. She did a good job, do three stars all around. ARC from Edelweiss.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Benji Mahaffey

    What do quantum physics, the hard problem of consciousness, and time have in common? They all get a cursory synopsis by Annaka Harris in her very brief Guide. I was prepared to love this book. While rabid Redditors at r/SamHarris were ready to tear Conscious apart before it even hit the printing press (on account of Ms. Harris's lack of academic qualifications to write the book), I was a fervent defender. On a topic as broad and widely debated as consciousness, a professional writer and journalist What do quantum physics, the hard problem of consciousness, and time have in common? They all get a cursory synopsis by Annaka Harris in her very brief Guide. I was prepared to love this book. While rabid Redditors at r/SamHarris were ready to tear Conscious apart before it even hit the printing press (on account of Ms. Harris's lack of academic qualifications to write the book), I was a fervent defender. On a topic as broad and widely debated as consciousness, a professional writer and journalist should be qualified to develop a sweeping analysis of the field thus far, in the vein of Bill Bryson or Michael Pollan. I preordered Conscious and read it over the course of a few hours. It’s a challenging book to review, because I need to separate what I hoped (and expected) it would be vs. what Harris wants the book to accomplish. In any primer on consciousness, I would expect to see Nagel and Chalmers mentioned, and Harris relies extensively on both philosophers to argue her points. Perhaps it’s too much to expect of a hundred-page book, but I was disappointed by the lack of any competing points of view. Daniel Dennett will hate this book, should he read it, and for good reason. I see nothing wrong with taking a side on the debate over the so-called “Hard Problem,” but in a book geared towards the complete layperson, to include Chalmers while omitting Dennett seems at best myopic, and at worst disingenuous. As a dilettante myself, I don't fault Harris for writing outside of her area of expertise. Unfortunately, it seemed like Harris is conflating arguments in philosophy of mind with issues in cognitive neuroscience and physics. Philosophy of mind has not kept up terribly well with advances in the hard sciences. Panpsychism enjoys disproportionate coverage in Conscious, despite the fact that its being correct would require new laws of physics. See Sean Carroll’s Mindscape podcast featuring David Chalmers. Instead of including any of the arguments against panpsychism, Harris repeatedly cites sources from Aeon magazine that will appear credible to the layperson, but are actually little more than Medium.com essays. Conscious is short enough to be worth the read; it’s written in an engaging and accessible tone and can serve as an introduction to the hard problem and qualia, but it veers dangerously close to Deepak Chopra territory (including tenuous quantum mechanics analogies), despite Harris’s occasional affirmations that panpsychism need not be equated with New Age pseudoscience. I was disappointed by the author's bias, reliance on Aeon citations, and her seeming disregard for philosophers like Dennett and similar established, credible literature.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lloyd

    The failure of Annaka Harris’s Conscious to meet the lofty goal of accessibility is apparent in the first chapter. Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris is promised to be as “concise and enlightening as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”. This is such a brave and ambitious undertaking as consciousness truly is an enigma. 
Let me jump to the beginning of Chapter Two: Intuitions and Illusions to confirm what the author wa The failure of Annaka Harris’s Conscious to meet the lofty goal of accessibility is apparent in the first chapter. Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris is promised to be as “concise and enlightening as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”. This is such a brave and ambitious undertaking as consciousness truly is an enigma. 
Let me jump to the beginning of Chapter Two: Intuitions and Illusions to confirm what the author was trying to accomplish in the first chapter: “Now that we have a working definition of consciousness and the mystery it entails, we can start chipping away at some common intuitions.” So did chapter one give us that accessible, working definition of conscience? No, the author seems to give us sciency riddles, “An organism is conscious if there is something that it is like to be that organism.” That quoted definition is followed by a paragraph that is the author’s own definition and the meat of this first chapter: “In other words, consciousness is what we’re referring to when we talk about experience in its most basic form. Is it like something to be you in this moment? Presumably your answer is yes. Is it like something to be the chair you’re sitting on? Your answer will (most likely) be an equally definitive no. It’s this simple difference—whether there is an experience present or not—which we can all use as a reference point, that constitutes what I mean by the word “consciousness.” Is it like something to be a grain of sand, a bacterium, an oak tree, a worm, an ant, a mouse, a dog? At some point along the spectrum the answer is yes, and the great mystery lies in why the “lights turn on” for some collections of matter in the universe.” Yes, the difference is simple when considering such dissimilar entities, but that only confirms we can intuitively identify a difference between extremes. Before considering the mystery of why the lights turn on, I want to understand what the properties are of this light and what phenomena you consider distinct and related or not. I’m left feeling that this book is too sophisticated for me and unsure who is the target audience of this book. The conversation has to start from where the audience is. This book doesn’t meet me at the beginning of my understanding on this topic. There is an assumption that I’m ready to play a hard puzzle. If this is really meant to be accessible the chapter would at least start with what the human experience feels like. A successful introduction starting from the shared human experience would use language like “subjective experience”, “a perspective of experience”, an “I experience”, or “my body and my environment”. How does this relate to “a sense of being”, “inner feeling”, “an emotional life”, “inner voice”, “a sense of self”, “self-awareness” or “feeling like an observer”? Or explain why this is the wrong path or inappropriate. We are not told if “reflection” or “deep thought” is beyond this concept. Instead we’re left to parse and re-parse the cohesive, but terse “something that it is like to be that organism”, which depends on appreciating that “it is like to be” is the inner presence’s experience and not just external experiences like the physical sensation of the stimulus of the air current across a bat’s wing. I’m now wonder if there is a consciousness education equivalent of the Bohr model of electrons orbiting atoms? But even if this does exist, maybe it isn’t a model that can bridge to a more complete model as the conversation becomes more complicated and interesting. I was also counting on the author elaborating on “experience in its most basic form” and say whether there is any indication, observation, or measurements of consciousness. Instead, we see the author setting up the “matter” panpsychism experiment from the start and heightening at chapter one’s ending with another overly witty “wonderful clear and playful portrait of the mystery” quote which starts: “Sure, consciousness is a matter of matter — what else could it be, since that’s what we are— but still, the fact that some hunks of matter have an inner life… “ I really wanted an onramp to the topic. The author’s expertise in consciousness seems to have made her blind to the needs of those unfamiliar [1]. She accidentally pushed us readers in to these deep waters from a cliff. I put down the book to capture my first impressions. I came for a “wonderfully accessible book” by an author known for being able to introduce topics to diverse audiences including children, but that isn’t what I’ve found. I see little likelihood that the book will enable new well-reasoned conversations on this new subject for me. These deep, cold waters leave my anxious to what would be asked for me to wrap my mind around next. I finished the book and it is a fascinating book inspiring awe, but I was correct to fear. I’m left struggling to come up with my own foundation to consider these ideas from. The book provided no stable structure to build on, but definitely surfaces great thought experiments and questions. It contributes to my interesting in further exploration in this area. Unfortunately, the author, her team, and her supporters’ intuitions on this being a general guidebook are incorrect. The promise wasn’t kept. 1. The lack of a good introduction is more puzzling considering the author acknowledges the “linguistically issue” on the Making Sense podcast #159 - Conscious 12:50. “It’s partly a linguistically issue … it’s not as accurate as we’d like it to be. I actually like the word experience better even though that can be misunderstood too.“ The author goes on to describe how she solves the problem with a back and forth, but I’d argue her solution is insufficient. After reading the book, I also listened to 10% Happier with Dan Harris podcast #190: The Fundamental Mystery of the Mind, Annaka Harris. Here too I got the sense the author believes she did have the feedback that the definition wasn’t working for some readers and she thought she had addressed the issue. Endnote: The praise in the author blurbs also have the theme of “clarity”, but they all also look to be experts in related subjects. Was this prose tested on people new to the subject? Was constructive feedback received? Was it incorporated into introducing the topics? Or was the test audience intimidated by how brilliant the author and her writing are?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chaunceton Bird

    Excellent examination of our awareness. Delves heavily into ideas about agency and what it means to be along for the ride.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    The one thing we can know for certain is that we are conscious. Maybe you live in a simulation. Maybe we're all brains in vats. Perhaps everybody else only appears to be conscious, and you are sole person with the "lights on". Whatever the underlying reality might be, you can be convinced of your awareness and experience: the very act of thinking about it is the proof. And yet, consciousness remains one of science's most intractable mysteries. We don't know how the tangle of molecules that form The one thing we can know for certain is that we are conscious. Maybe you live in a simulation. Maybe we're all brains in vats. Perhaps everybody else only appears to be conscious, and you are sole person with the "lights on". Whatever the underlying reality might be, you can be convinced of your awareness and experience: the very act of thinking about it is the proof. And yet, consciousness remains one of science's most intractable mysteries. We don't know how the tangle of molecules that form our neurons, seemingly the same stuff of which everything else is made, results in a conscious experience. In Conscious, Annaka Harris seeks to explore the parameters of what we know about consciousness, give us a tour of the popular thinkers and thoughts, and advocate for an unorthodox solution. If you haven't read much on the topic, this is a great, quick introduction that is sure to expand your mind. If you have, you'll recognize many of the themes and examples, but appreciate the clarity and concision of the descriptions. Harris introduces the hard problem of consciousness (that aforementioned bugaboo of nonthinking matter giving rise to thought) and the common ballpark solutions: perhaps consciousness is an emergent property arising from the complexity of neuronal connections, or the frequencies generated by their activity, or the act of information processing itself. She looks at edge cases that cast light on the topic: plants react to stimuli and form memories based on experience, and yet we know they don't have anything we would call brains. We're pretty sure that a dog is conscious, but is there something that it's like to be a bat? Or a shrimp? When did consciousness arise in the evolutionary time frame? Is it an all-or-nothing proposition, or can you be 15% conscious? We have created artificial intelligence (AI) that also has complexity, information processing, and stimulus response... When it tells us it's conscious, will we believe it? Harris also presents aspects of our own conscious experience that throw off expectations and constrain our theories. Our brains fudge a lot of our sensory inputs to create cohesive "binding": a perception that things are happening simultaneously. A serious neurological look at our decision-making processes reveals that decisions are only reported to our conscious "selves", and not made by them. This casts doubt on the concept of free will, and Harris explores the societal and logical implications of that particular illusion. Brain surgeries have revealed split-brain patients whose left and right hemispheres don't talk to each other, resulting in multiple, competing centers of consciousness (for example, the right hemisphere takes an action based on information the left hemisphere doesn't have, and the left hemisphere comes up with its own justification for the action). This suggests we might have multiple centers of consciousness that work together to create the semblance of a whole. Sleep is an interesting window into our ability to generate vibrant simulation without concurrent sensory input. "Locked-in syndrome" lets us know that it's possible to be conscious without the ability to speak or generate any indication of awareness (with frightening implications for anesthesia and end-of-life decisions). Drugs can alter consciousness and even remove the illusion of an "I" that is doing the experiencing. Practiced meditation can accomplish similar feats of breaking the illusion of self-as-passenger within the body. About halfway through the book, Harris switches gears and advocates for a solution that many have written off: panpsychism. Panpsychism addresses the problem of consciousness arising from non-conscious material by positing that consciousness is inherent in ALL matter to begin with. The common criticism is that this sounds mystical and absurd on its face: we picture desk chairs upset that we're sitting in them, or individual atoms with attitudes. Harris agrees that these are absurd conclusions to draw, and regrets the baggage of the term. This is not a claim that every object is conscious to a human level: there are degrees of consciousness and there are objects that we should expect to have no information processing worth considering. Harris points to a number prominent scientists (she has talked to an impressive array of thinkers and researchers for this book) who have entertained a version of panpsychism that might resolve some of the problems traditional models haven't made headway in solving. And yet, she admits that even with the hard problem addressed, many other issues remain (such as explaining qualia - the subjective attributes we experience - and the fact that this theory doesn't fare well with Occam's demand for simple explanations). Harris insists she's not completely convinced of panpsychism, but is convinced that it's worth taking seriously. I would love to have heard some potential ways this hypothesis could be tested. While I do not leave convinced, I will pay attention to panpsychist explanations far more than I would have otherwise. For the remainder of the book, Harris continues her interesting conversation on consciousness, but now in the light of panpsychism's potential explanatory power. As a funny aside, Annaka Harris references journalist and author Michael Harris (no relation), psychedelic researcher Robin Carhart-Harris (no relation), reporter and meditation promoter Dan Harris (no relation), but not neuroscientist, author, podcaster and meditation proponent Sam Harris (her husband). It's quite the convention of Harrises, and the exclusion of her very-qualified-on-this-topic partner seemed like a conscious (heh) effort to avoid him having too much influence or getting outsized credit for the book. Alternately, I wondered if he wanted to avoid being seen as championing panpsychism. According to this delightful discussion between the two of them on Sam's podcast, he was simply too preoccupied with his podcast and meditation app to return the copy-editing favor that she bestows on his books. Bottom line: it's a quick read, well written, that will give you a lot of food for thought. Or whatever is going on in your head.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    I wanted to give this 3 stars, because going in, I had such high hopes for it as a brief introduction to the major questions in the field of consciousness. And, in fairness, it did engage my interest in the topic. But the author’s style was disappointingly opaque. Harris often introduces a new question or idea, but never explores it in depth. And her explanations of complex ideas (especially in quantum mechanics) often leave quite a bit to be desired. More significantly, the author clearly has a I wanted to give this 3 stars, because going in, I had such high hopes for it as a brief introduction to the major questions in the field of consciousness. And, in fairness, it did engage my interest in the topic. But the author’s style was disappointingly opaque. Harris often introduces a new question or idea, but never explores it in depth. And her explanations of complex ideas (especially in quantum mechanics) often leave quite a bit to be desired. More significantly, the author clearly has a preference for the Panpsychic school of thought, and this bias permeates most of the book. Which is fine! Plenty of scientific/philosophical authors share their opinions, rather than only facts, in their books. But, given Harris’ strong preference for a single philosophy, the book should have been marketed as a defense of Panpsychism (or, at the very least, a manifesto encouraging scientists to take a closer look at Panpsychism) rather than a general discussion on consciousness. I went in expecting a balanced introduction to contemporary theories about consciousness; I was disappointed in this regard. And as a student of psychology, Harris loses me when she declares that “we know that the idea of the self, as a concrete entity, is an illusion,” going on to argue that our conscious experience, therefore, is simply “what it’s like to be over here as this [particular] configuration of atoms.” Such a blanket statement is fundamentally flawed. Of course the “self” does not exist in a physical sense. And of course our self-concept constantly changes, as we integrate new ideas and experiences into our psyche. However, to make the sweeping generalization that the self *does not exist* is to discount decades of research in psychology. A large body of empirical evidence in psychology tells us that the variables generally considered to constitute the self (personality, genetic predispositions, individual experiences) have a profound influence on our actions and psychological states. If they didn’t, how could we predict human behavior at all? I understand that Harris’ book has more of a philosophical/neurological bent than a psychological one, but this oversight on her part undermines her arguments. And, ultimately, that’s the biggest problem I had with the book: in an effort to defend her views, Harris often relies on tenuous arguments to support her claims. It’s too bad, because Harris’ clear love for the topic is infectious, and like I said, the book has interested me in learning more about consciousness.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    To say this book is thought provoking is an understatement. It will challenge the way you think about yourself, and about the nature of reality, and it may scare the hell out of you, too. Author Annaka Harris brings a lively curiosity, and a welcome humility, to the hard problem of consciousness, and I applaud her for advancing a conversation that too often makes people feel uncomfortable and threatened, and causes them to react dismissively. "Humanity is young," she writes,"and we have barely b To say this book is thought provoking is an understatement. It will challenge the way you think about yourself, and about the nature of reality, and it may scare the hell out of you, too. Author Annaka Harris brings a lively curiosity, and a welcome humility, to the hard problem of consciousness, and I applaud her for advancing a conversation that too often makes people feel uncomfortable and threatened, and causes them to react dismissively. "Humanity is young," she writes,"and we have barely begun to understand our place in the cosmos." In other words, let's try to keep an open mind here.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hiba Arrame

    Read this for my Potions O.W.L.s

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bakunin

    This proved to be a frustrating read. The advantage being that it managed to illuminate many of my disagreements with Annaka and her husband, Sam Harris. "Conscious" is supposed to be a 'brief guide to the fundamental mystery of the mind' but all too often ends in up simplifying complex problems. To start off her definition of what is conscious leaves one unfulfilled. She uses Thomas Nagels definition from his essay "what is it like to be a bat" wherein Nagel famously asserts that “an organism h This proved to be a frustrating read. The advantage being that it managed to illuminate many of my disagreements with Annaka and her husband, Sam Harris. "Conscious" is supposed to be a 'brief guide to the fundamental mystery of the mind' but all too often ends in up simplifying complex problems. To start off her definition of what is conscious leaves one unfulfilled. She uses Thomas Nagels definition from his essay "what is it like to be a bat" wherein Nagel famously asserts that “an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism." So for example a rock doesn't have a subjective experience, whereas being a bat would give one a quite unique experience of the world. I don't mind that definition but I don't think its perhaps a strong enough definition to lend itself to deeper philosophical and scientific discussion. Annaka then uses David Chalmers famous zombie argument to further explore what consciousness is. Chalmers says that we can imagine a world where humans do everything as we normally do but where we don't have any subjective (that is to say conscious) experience of the world. Humans in this world are philosophical zombies. Even though Annaka admits that this just a hypothetical situation, she still uses it to prove her somewhat murky views of the universe. She thinks (and uses some scientific research to prove this) that consciousness doesn't have a function: we are merely under the illusion that our subjective "I" is doing really anything at all. So why are we conscious? I must say I find this line of reasoning a tad absurd as it might well be reasonable to think that consciousness is a consequence of our evolution. As living organisms develop instincts in order to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, their brains and therefore their consciousness also increases. This seems perfectly reasonable to me. And yet, to mrs. Harris consciousness is this mysterious thing which seems to be unexplainable. I would also add that I believe that we don't really need to like the explanation for consciousness for it to be a sound and scientific one. Our brains and instincts are not adapted to understand (intuitively) the explanations which science gives us. The author then proceeds to panpsychism. As consciousness isn't doing anything in this world and as it remains a mystery, perhaps all things have some kind of consciousness built into them. If consciousness is just complex handling of information, then surely you can argue that even tiny bacteria are conscious in some sense of the word? The author usually singles out something in the universe and then extrapolates to the nth degree. To better understand my critique of her reasoning I will use an analogy. If I build a car, then it is the sum of all the parts that is the car. The parts of the car don't have any intrinsic car-nature to them. They only become a car because I organize different parts in a specific way. Consciousness can be similar to this as it cannot be explained by reducing it to a mere microbe. Mrs. Harris has a hard time accepting that the car analogy or strong emergence (as it is called in the scientific literature) is believable. Why would something suddenly spring into existence which was not there to begin with? I am not sure have an answer to that specific question but my spontaneous answer is that this is how humans work. We see the world this way as it makes common sense. If I sit on a chair, I am not worried that I will fall through it because of what quantum mechanics tell me about the world. Is there a chair nature to the different atoms in the chair? The Swedish author Lena Andersson has written about this specific problem and her explanation of the phenomenon is that we humans use abstract ideas to elucidate reality. There is no perfect chair, but there is an idea of the chair. That doesn't make the chair any less real. (This is based on her quite interesting reading of Plato). Another question which pops up is in what way a tiny unicellular organism has an experience? Aren't we changing the definition of the word experience in order to make panpsychism theory more sound?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alien Reader

    Overall an interesting little book about why consciousness is more mysterious than we may think. It reads like an open essay somewhere between science journalism and a philosophical argument, but it would be stronger if she firmly picked one style rather than straddling between them. In depth review below: Annaka Harris sets out to illustrate why the nature of consciousness is difficult to define. Her line of inquiry is not focused so much on “what are the neural correlates of consciousness” or Overall an interesting little book about why consciousness is more mysterious than we may think. It reads like an open essay somewhere between science journalism and a philosophical argument, but it would be stronger if she firmly picked one style rather than straddling between them. In depth review below: Annaka Harris sets out to illustrate why the nature of consciousness is difficult to define. Her line of inquiry is not focused so much on “what are the neural correlates of consciousness” or “what is the function of consciousness” so much as “what is consciousness exactly”? Harris takes the readers' background knowledge somewhat for granted, bringing in some assumptions without diving deeply into them. One of these is the assumption that free will is an illusion. Another is that there is no way to prove that another being has consciousness from outside observation (ie. Philosophical Zombies). I agree with her viewpoint on both of these topics and I’m familiar with the arguments behind them. However, she summarizes them briefly without convincing the reader of them. It would be better to do a slow reveal of the arguments for these views or if not that, to leave it an open question. To write a quick chapter with the takeaway “of course free will is an illusion” is to reduce a huge and controversial topic into a footnote. Free will may be altogether beyond the scope of a small book on consciousness. The title wasn’t exactly matching for the book. More than a "guide" to consciousness this books reads like an essay in favor of a specific goal: separating consciousness from the idea of selfhood. Harris brings in several examples and evidence for conscious experience being fragmented: split brains that can contain two centers of consciousness, sensory information coming into our neural processing at different times and rates (an then a binding process creates the illusion that our it all happens at the same time), our consciousness over time, fragmenting when we sleep or are under anesthesia, and of course the famous panpsychism argument (perhaps rather than consciousness “emerging suddenly”, consciousness is a kind of property of matter present in all matter, but taking on a complex form in brains). The ideas are interesting, but they come across as a bit biased when titled “A Brief Guide” to consciousness. In some way it’s neither here nor there - not totally fleshing out arguments in favor of a stance but not giving equal time to different theories and ideas (ie. she could give more time to arguments in favor of “emergence” rather than panpsychism). Harris’s writing style is somewhere between journalistic and argumentative. If it has to be one or the other I would rather she take a firmer stance and flesh out the issues more rather than glossing over them. The topic is really interesting but it’s the kind of topic that has the most impact when the reader really has to grapple with it rather than read a summary of it. For instance, when describing how it is hard to ascribe consciousness to other beings only from observation she mentions that starfish also move to avoid obstacles despite having no central nervous system, and this can mirror complex human behavior. She skips ahead before letting this sink in, letting the reader wonder where exactly they draw the line between conscious behavior and mechanistic behavior. Harris mentions briefly that during both her pregnancies she experienced altered states and sensations she never imagined were “on the menu” of human experience. Then she just skips ahead before letting the reader know what she experienced or what the implications may be of hormonal changes on consciousness, experience, a sense of selfhood. I find myself asking, “wait wait tell me more”, but she quickly moves to the next topic. This book was an interesting balance of philosophical questions and scientific exploration into the nature of consciousness and selfhood, but the writing left something to be desired. I hope Annaka Harris continues writing on these topics. I would be interested to see where she will go with these topics.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mark Robison

    A short book whose acknowledgments were so good, they almost caused me to bump it up a star. It's so generous and filled with good will that you can’t help but realize how selfish most other acknowledgment sections are. And the list of scientists and philosophers who offered feedback is jaw-dropping in their prominence. As for the book, it offers some of the clearest and most concise descriptions of free will and consciousness I’ve ever come across. The book's biggest contribution is a case for p A short book whose acknowledgments were so good, they almost caused me to bump it up a star. It's so generous and filled with good will that you can’t help but realize how selfish most other acknowledgment sections are. And the list of scientists and philosophers who offered feedback is jaw-dropping in their prominence. As for the book, it offers some of the clearest and most concise descriptions of free will and consciousness I’ve ever come across. The book's biggest contribution is a case for panpsychism — the idea that everything contains an element of consciousness, including the keys of my keyboard that I’m typing this with. Of course, she's not suggesting that all matter is capable of complex thought, just bits of consciousness, because otherwise, it's difficult to explain how consciousness appears. She takes apart the pieces of what we consider consciousness and explains how those traits are seen in things we don’t normally attribute consciousness to, such as how a "mother" tree can tell the difference between her genetic kin and unrelated trees of the same species — and can actively help them. One especially intriguing part brings together the way a conscious observer today has the power to affect the path of a particle 10 billion years ago. And if you think this sounds absurd, Harris will agree with you and then offer convincing evidence to indicate it just might be true anyway. Grade: A-

  13. 5 out of 5

    LUCAS H. GOLDING

    For those of you living on another planet that were unaware of the debate over whether Free Will is real or not, I cannot recommend this book enough. One quote that particularly caught my eye was as follows: “The concept of a conscious will that is free seems to be incoherent—it suggests that one’s will is separate and isolated from the rest of its environment, yet paradoxically able to influence its environment by making choices within it.” Although it is short read, do not underestimate its co For those of you living on another planet that were unaware of the debate over whether Free Will is real or not, I cannot recommend this book enough. One quote that particularly caught my eye was as follows: “The concept of a conscious will that is free seems to be incoherent—it suggests that one’s will is separate and isolated from the rest of its environment, yet paradoxically able to influence its environment by making choices within it.” Although it is short read, do not underestimate its content. It’s packed with real world experiments and thought experiments that back up its claims. As for what Consciousness is, it’s a bit more complicated. Annaka Harris goes into detail about the concept of panpsychism- basically it states that consciousness may be Inherent in everything, including energy itself.(I know, it’s sounds crazy but after reading the book I’ve come to understand that this theory is one of the most agreed upon speculations amongst neuroscience and philosophers.) She by no means says that we have all the answers, but uses the knowledge on hand to make the clearest explanation of Consciousness that I’ve seen as of this writing. A must read for anyone interested in philosophy/ neuroscience.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Moh. Nasiri

    What is consciousness and what is not? Consciousness is a mysterious thing, but being conscious essentially means that you are having an experience. The one thing we know for sure about consciousness is that human beings have it, but that’s about it. Upon closer inspection, however, we find that consciousness isn’t tied to any specific human thoughts or behaviors. When we rule out these human aspects of consciousness, we can begin to speculate as to whether other things in the world also have con What is consciousness and what is not? Consciousness is a mysterious thing, but being conscious essentially means that you are having an experience. The one thing we know for sure about consciousness is that human beings have it, but that’s about it. Upon closer inspection, however, we find that consciousness isn’t tied to any specific human thoughts or behaviors. When we rule out these human aspects of consciousness, we can begin to speculate as to whether other things in the world also have conscious experiences. The theory of panpsychism goes even further, claiming that consciousness is an intrinsic element of all matter(blinkist summary)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Narration was done by the author and she was competent, but her voice made me sleepy. This book brought to mind the saying, "The more we learn the less we know." I certainly felt that way while listening to this. I am fascinated by some aspects of philosophy- like the subject of this book, consciousness, for example-but I am a dabbler. I read a book like this once in awhile, but it's not my usual reading material. That may be why this was so difficult for me to engage with. Some of the ideas Harr Narration was done by the author and she was competent, but her voice made me sleepy. This book brought to mind the saying, "The more we learn the less we know." I certainly felt that way while listening to this. I am fascinated by some aspects of philosophy- like the subject of this book, consciousness, for example-but I am a dabbler. I read a book like this once in awhile, but it's not my usual reading material. That may be why this was so difficult for me to engage with. Some of the ideas Harris presented were definitely interesting (ex: does one need complex intelligence to be considered "concscious" like humans or dogs have? Or can plants be considered conscious? What about inanimate objects?) but after a brief introduction of each interesting idea, Harris became defensive, anticipating criticism and arguing against it. I was left with the feeling like I had walked into a room where very knowledgeable people are arguing about concepts I don't understand the way they do. Like an interloper, I felt like I was not the intended audience for this book. Sometimes it was the concepts themselves that seemed to go over my head, other times I'd just tune out losing interest. I liked the concept of the book, the questions Harris asked, but I had a hard time remaining "conscious" and awake for the answers. "D+"

  16. 4 out of 5

    Val Timke

    This was so thought provoking. There were so many aspects to consciousness I hadn't considered, such as the idea that it is separate from the "self" (shown through meditation in which someone can remain conscious but lose a sense of self). So, what other forms might consciousness take? Could other things in the universe be conscious but without a sense of self? This really was a brief guide. It took me less than an hour to read. It touches on ideas without really going in-depth on them. But I wou This was so thought provoking. There were so many aspects to consciousness I hadn't considered, such as the idea that it is separate from the "self" (shown through meditation in which someone can remain conscious but lose a sense of self). So, what other forms might consciousness take? Could other things in the universe be conscious but without a sense of self? This really was a brief guide. It took me less than an hour to read. It touches on ideas without really going in-depth on them. But I would love to keep reading about this topic in the (near) future.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brett Williams

    This book asks one of the most fascinating questions, “Why would any collection of matter in the universe be conscious?” Nobody knows. So, like answers to what is time, matter, or light, some of the answers are just as fun to ponder. Freaky realities are offered from neuroscience that put the source and operation of consciousness in question, but in many cases, only for those with injury, disease, or malfunction. Like a broken machine made to operate, of course, it acts odd. But central to the a This book asks one of the most fascinating questions, “Why would any collection of matter in the universe be conscious?” Nobody knows. So, like answers to what is time, matter, or light, some of the answers are just as fun to ponder. Freaky realities are offered from neuroscience that put the source and operation of consciousness in question, but in many cases, only for those with injury, disease, or malfunction. Like a broken machine made to operate, of course, it acts odd. But central to the author’s message is that consciousness is a universal illusion. The author makes much use of things like “binding.” Light reflected off an object—like a tennis ball hitting a racket—and the sound from it hitting impinge on our senses at different times. Waiting for the last stimulus, our brain “binds” them together in time, providing the illusion of simultaneity. But the speed of light is about 1-foot per nanosecond. Sound travels at about 1-foot per millisecond, while nerve signals run about three times slower than sound. That optic signal first to reach our eyes will reach our brains about two milliseconds before the sound hits our ears, which arrives at our brain about a millisecond after that—a three-millisecond separation. Does it matter? I’ve toiled with lasers that produce femtosecond pulses. To these circuits, 3-milliseconds feels like an eternity. One femtosecond is to a single second as 1-second is to 32 million years. But to the world humans live in, a few millisecond separation is the same as simultaneous. What illusion? More doubt is cast on free will, “consciousness being the last to know.” We flinch at some startling noise before we recognize it. It’s asserted that “we” are our consciousness. That other thing, the subconscious or autopilot or whatever, is something not “me.” Says who? The book ends courageously with ponderings of the hot-potato notion that consciousness (not self) may be a fundamental aspect of the universe like charge and matter, called panpsychism. Kooky as it sounds, the author does a reasonable job of considering it. Though the author’s a little miffed that physicists take seriously ten quantum dimensions, but not panpsychism. The reason being that quantum dimensions fall out of mathematical analysis, not mere speculation alone. Just because both are analogously whacky doesn’t mean both have equal validity. While there are interesting morsels to ponder, and the author poo-poos complexity theory (which seems to be the most likely answer), for me, the book was more a pleasant muse than a revelation.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kammy

    This book was a good intro to a very complex subject matter. It’s not a book to fully grasp all material, but to get you curious and explore more.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jasper Götting

    A nice, brief overview of consciousness: The problems, the theories, and a tiny bit history. It spends pleasantly little time with blown-up examples and filler content and makes a (to me) surprisingly good case for versions of (post-)panpsychism which I did not anticipate updating towards. Sadly too much focus on the said case and the book glances over other well-developed theories and views: One mention of qualia eliminativism, two-three sentences on Integrated Information Theory, no mention of A nice, brief overview of consciousness: The problems, the theories, and a tiny bit history. It spends pleasantly little time with blown-up examples and filler content and makes a (to me) surprisingly good case for versions of (post-)panpsychism which I did not anticipate updating towards. Sadly too much focus on the said case and the book glances over other well-developed theories and views: One mention of qualia eliminativism, two-three sentences on Integrated Information Theory, no mention of Global Workspace Theory; you see what I mean. Should've had panpsychism in the title, really. But I see why this would kill the sales, so I'm sympathetic. Nonetheless, 3.5 stars since I really liked the format, style and overview.

  20. 4 out of 5

    ar

    Well researched, succinct, lucid. This little book is a must-read for any conscious being wondering what (the fuck) a conscious being is. There may not be that much novel information here if you've spent a while pondering this mystery, but you will certainly enjoy seeing all your favorite names in the consciousness camp- Chalmers, Gazzaniga, Ramachandran, etc etc etc and their ideas organized and explained in language most people can understand. Harris treats the mystery with the respect it dese Well researched, succinct, lucid. This little book is a must-read for any conscious being wondering what (the fuck) a conscious being is. There may not be that much novel information here if you've spent a while pondering this mystery, but you will certainly enjoy seeing all your favorite names in the consciousness camp- Chalmers, Gazzaniga, Ramachandran, etc etc etc and their ideas organized and explained in language most people can understand. Harris treats the mystery with the respect it deserves without lapsing into what some would call 'woo', but is also willing to step outside the box and consider perspectives that are not yet mainstream.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    Interesting thought provoking read. A mix of science, psychology, and philosophy. What is consciousness, is it a soul, what defines it, what's the purpose of it, can we combine it with other consciousnesses? So many questions... Is a conscious when you have memories and can feel things, because a Venus fly trap plant has that, does that mean a plant has consciousness? Oh oh vegetarians and vegans :P Interesting thought provoking read. A mix of science, psychology, and philosophy. What is consciousness, is it a soul, what defines it, what's the purpose of it, can we combine it with other consciousnesses? So many questions... Is a conscious when you have memories and can feel things, because a Venus fly trap plant has that, does that mean a plant has consciousness? Oh oh vegetarians and vegans :P

  22. 4 out of 5

    Edwin B

    The first half of this book de-spiritualizes consciousness, and locates it squarely in our bodies. And so...sigh...there goes that hope of mine for life after death. But then! the book delves into the scientific basis for what is called “panpsychism” - which is the view that “all matter is imbued with consciousness in some sense.” It turns out that what dies with death is only the neuronal information processing of the brain, along with the sensations from the five senses, thoughts, emotions, memo The first half of this book de-spiritualizes consciousness, and locates it squarely in our bodies. And so...sigh...there goes that hope of mine for life after death. But then! the book delves into the scientific basis for what is called “panpsychism” - which is the view that “all matter is imbued with consciousness in some sense.” It turns out that what dies with death is only the neuronal information processing of the brain, along with the sensations from the five senses, thoughts, emotions, memories, and sense of “self,” that such brain activity generates. But, according to panpsychism, consciousness itself lives on after the death of the brain! And this is because consciousness does not just emanate from the brain’s information processing, but is intrinsic to matter itself! Why? Because, to begin with, consciousness-as-a-basic-property-of-matter makes more sense than trying to explain why at some point early in the development of the human embryo in the uterus (sometime between the sperm-egg union and its culmination in a newborn infant) consciousness should suddenly and inexplicably emerge from the same collection of formerly unconscious atoms. It turns out that my understanding of consciousness has to be corrected in that it is not the same as having a sense of self, or having familiar human sensations, thoughts, emotions, and memories. Instead, matter, by its very self alone, is inherently conscious — because “there is something that it is like to be” that piece of matter (or collection of matter). This is true for single-cell organisms, for a plant, for my table, and even for an atom! This “something-that-it-is-like-to-be” must not be confused with the human experience of being (having physical sensations, thoughts, emotions, memories, and selfhood), which arises due to the interjection of biological processes. We must not imagine that we have some sense of the something-that-it-is-like-to-be that tree standing in our neighborhood park, simply from our experience of being human. (Although, we alive humans do have some inkling of this general “something-that-it-is like-to be” that is inherent in all matter, because we ourselves are composed of matter.) And then dig this, brain is matter engaged in information processing – and so is a computer. Which means that we can wonder in awe about a computer’s something-that-it-is-like-to-be. Or in what way is artificial intelligence conscious? “Consciousness stands alongside the other fundamental forces and fields that physics has revealed to us,” and “perhaps consciousness is another property of the universe itself that we have yet to discover,” the book concludes. Blows my mind.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lucas

    I read this for a book club. This book was a good summary of a lot of the issues in the philosophy of consciousness, though really, really short. I'm in favor of most nonfiction books being shorter, but it feels a bit weird to me to write a book this short on a topic as complex and challenging as the philosophy of consciousness. (And it's a bit galling to charge full price for it.) I'm not sure where the "interested but not very interested" market is for these ideas (airports? head shops?), but i I read this for a book club. This book was a good summary of a lot of the issues in the philosophy of consciousness, though really, really short. I'm in favor of most nonfiction books being shorter, but it feels a bit weird to me to write a book this short on a topic as complex and challenging as the philosophy of consciousness. (And it's a bit galling to charge full price for it.) I'm not sure where the "interested but not very interested" market is for these ideas (airports? head shops?), but it's a NY Times bestseller, so clearly I'm the one who's out of touch. It seems like it would fit in with the "very brief introduction" series, but those are usually written by top experts in the field rather than an editor who seems to be most famous for being married to Sam Harris. It was also a bit too short for its argument in favor of panpsychism to go anywhere aside from stating that the book is arguing in favor of it. A number of other key ideas were explored very, very briefly, like philosophical zombies (and the intriguing though unexplored idea that David Chalmers can't actually believe they're possible). In the acknowledgements, she describes this as something that evolved from an "obsessive interest to a long article to a short book", and maybe it should've stayed a long article. One nice thing I will say about this book is that it takes Buddhist ideas on consciousness, selfhood and free will seriously, especially the idea of carefully introspecting through mindfulness meditation. I think a lot of writing on these topics (even by noted philosophers!) totally ignores a philosophical tradition that has thought deeply about these issues and arrived at quite radical (and in my opinion correct) ways of approaching them.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Hageman

    I rate this book in full recognition that I was predisposed to endure some serious confirmation bias along the way, as Annaka's previous appearances on various podcasts and panels had all but assured me that her views within the realms of 'philosophy of mind', and more specifically consciousness itself, were near full alignment with my own. However, knowing as such, I felt myself reading the book actually hoping to find areas of disagreement, or at least find fault for 'oversimplification' or 'o I rate this book in full recognition that I was predisposed to endure some serious confirmation bias along the way, as Annaka's previous appearances on various podcasts and panels had all but assured me that her views within the realms of 'philosophy of mind', and more specifically consciousness itself, were near full alignment with my own. However, knowing as such, I felt myself reading the book actually hoping to find areas of disagreement, or at least find fault for 'oversimplification' or 'old news' content, merely so I could avoid the idea that my appreciation for the book would indeed be biased. But to the demise of my ego’s will for bipartisanship, I had no such luck, finding no serious qualms worthy of mention. Annaka really does accomplish her goal of exploring a difficult-to-discuss topic in a succinct manner that not only avoids oversimplification but includes sufficient details of relevant studies, fascinating thought experiments, and citations to the views/work of professionals in the field, all while maintaining a tone of curiosity and 'wonder' (perhaps homage to her first book) throughout every page. For a topic that is too often overladen with philosophical jargon or new-age mysticism (I personally prefer to sit with dictionary in hand than deal with the latter), ‘Conscious’ discusses many of the questions that have surrounded the issue for decades on end, and does so in a digestible and awe-inspiring style, making this the perfect recommendation for anyone new to the topic, or for any philosophical juggernaut looking for a refreshingly clear and understandable take on the mystery that is consciousness.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carlo Garcia

    If you have never read any other books on philosophy and consciousness then this book is a great introduction. Maybe due to hearing Sam talk this book up as the next big thing in this topic I thought it would be more. It is more of a summary and explanation of other's works put into a small book. If you have never read any other books on philosophy and consciousness then this book is a great introduction. Maybe due to hearing Sam talk this book up as the next big thing in this topic I thought it would be more. It is more of a summary and explanation of other's works put into a small book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    esztereszterdora

    Ok, being a psychologist (and a general neeeerd) makes it hard for casual educational content to present ground-breakingly new information. Oftentimes what happens is that I get flashbacks to my university studies or to the time when I first prepared my classes. So, the thing about consciuosness is that we don't know shit about it. This book doesn't give you new answers, only summarizes some part of the philosophy and a grain of research but it's not comprehensive. In fact, in the second half it Ok, being a psychologist (and a general neeeerd) makes it hard for casual educational content to present ground-breakingly new information. Oftentimes what happens is that I get flashbacks to my university studies or to the time when I first prepared my classes. So, the thing about consciuosness is that we don't know shit about it. This book doesn't give you new answers, only summarizes some part of the philosophy and a grain of research but it's not comprehensive. In fact, in the second half it focuses on a hypothesis that is kinda fishy - panpsychism - which sounds BS to me. Harris tries to position herself as someone with a scientific approach but she's not really convincing. Her writing tends to jump in logic (or the points are not clear enough??) and biased towards panpsychism, so If I were you, I'd pick up a cognitive psychology textbook and read the chapters on consciuousness instead. (But it's so short that you won't waste much time on it anyway)

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    My brain hurts. What does it mean to be conscious? Where exactly is consciousness created in the brain? Are only humans conscious since we have language, memory and the ability to combine our experiences into perceptions? Or maybe humans, dogs, cats, and some monkeys? Or are we confusing 'consciousness' with 'complex thought,' and consciousness just appears in different forms in different entities? Is consciousness in fact a characteristic of all matter in the universe...and there is some 'exper My brain hurts. What does it mean to be conscious? Where exactly is consciousness created in the brain? Are only humans conscious since we have language, memory and the ability to combine our experiences into perceptions? Or maybe humans, dogs, cats, and some monkeys? Or are we confusing 'consciousness' with 'complex thought,' and consciousness just appears in different forms in different entities? Is consciousness in fact a characteristic of all matter in the universe...and there is some 'experience' in the existence of a molecule or an electrical system or a planet, that WE can't recognize as consciousness because it is so different than ours? Now you know why my brain hurts. The answer to all of these questions (according to the author and the neuroscientists and philosophers with whom she has actually had long conversations about these topics) is, we don't know, and very probably will never know. But as a reader and learner, sometimes it's good to open an unfamiliar door, and look out, and say, WOW, I didn't know ANY of this was going on!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Gow

    Kinda snuck up on me because I didn’t know anything about this book before it was given to me. She makes a good case for panpsychism (everything has consciousness). And if you agree with her definition of consciousness, it’s hard to avoid her conclusion. However, I don’t think I agree with her definition of consciousness :)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Fern Adams

    Interesting topic but didn’t feel so greatly written up sadly.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Przemek

    I liked it a lot but it was a mistake to try an audiobook. The guide might be brief but it's referencing other sources and requires time to stop and think deeply about the material. It goes to the to-reread-list ;) The list of the author's friends that contributed to the book is stunning. What a network of thinkers! I liked it a lot but it was a mistake to try an audiobook. The guide might be brief but it's referencing other sources and requires time to stop and think deeply about the material. It goes to the to-reread-list ;) The list of the author's friends that contributed to the book is stunning. What a network of thinkers!

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