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Last revised 31 August 2017
Books on consciousness

A list of books relating to the hard problem of consciousness. Regularly updated cos I keep finding new stuff all the time.

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Gideon Manning (ed.)
Matter and Form in Early Modern Science and Philosophy
(Brill 2012)

Matter and form have been fundamental principles in natural science since Greek Antiquity and their apparent rejection during the 17th century typically has been described as a precursor to the emergence of modern science. This volume reconsiders the fate of these principles and the complex history of their reception. By analyzing work being done in physics, chemistry, theology, physiology, psychology, and metaphysics, and by considering questions about change, identity, and causation, the contributors show precisely how matter and form entered into early modern science and philosophy. The result is our best picture to date of the diverse reception of matter and form among the innovators of the early modern period. See Brill | Amazon | Google

Giulio Tononi
Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul
(Pantheon 2012)

An exploration of consciousness unlike any other, as told by ‘Galileo,’ who ushered in the objectivity of science and is now intent on making subjective experience a part of science as well. Galileo first learns why certain parts of the brain are important and not others, and why consciousness fades with sleep. He then sees how these facts can be unified in a scientific theory, one that links consciousness to the notion of integrated information (or phi). Finally, he meditates on how consciousness is an evolving awareness of ourselves in history and culture—that it is everything we have and everything we are. Not since Gödel, Escher, Bach has there been a book that interweaves science, art, and the imagination with such originality. See Pantheon | Amazon | Google

Fernando Cervero
Understanding Pain: Exploring the Perception of Pain
(MIT 2012)

Pain is the most common reason for people to seek medical attention, but it remains a biological enigma. It is protective, but not always. Its effects are not only sensory but also emotional. There is no way to measure it objectively, no test that comes back positive for pain; the only way a medical professional can gauge pain is by listening to the patient’s description of it. The idea of pain as a test of character or a punishment to be borne is changing; prevention and treatment of pain are increasingly important to researchers, clinicians, and patients. In this book, Cervero brings us closer to understanding the meaning of pain. See MIT | Amazon | Google

Olivier Darrigol
A History of Optics from Greek Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century
(Oxford 2012)

A long-term history of optics from early Greek theories of vision to the nineteenth-century victory of the wave theory of light. It shows how light gradually became the central entity of a domain of physics that no longer referred to the functioning of the eye; it retraces the subsequent competition between medium-based and corpuscular concepts of light and details the nineteenth-century flourishing of mechanical ether theories. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

David Hodgson
Rationality + Consciousness = Free Will
(Oxford 2012)

In recent years, discussions of free will have focused largely on whether free will is compatible with determinism. Hodgson takes a fresh approach, however, contending that human rationality and consciousness together give us free will in a robust and indeterministic sense. In particular, they enable us to respond appositely to feature-rich gestalts of conscious experiences in ways not wholly determined by laws of nature or computational rules. Hodgson contends that this approach is consistent with science and considers its implications for our responsibility for our own conduct, the role of retribution in criminal punishment, and the place of human beings in the wider scheme of things. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

Paul M. Churchland
Plato’s Camera: How the Physical Brain Captures a Landscape of Abstract Universals
(MIT 2012)

Churchland offers a novel account of how the brain ‘takes a picture’ of the universe’s timeless categorical and dynamical structure. This process, which begins at birth, yields the enduring background conceptual framework with which we subsquently interpret our sensory experience. But, as even Plato knew, singular perceptual judgments require the possession of an antecedent framework of abstract categories to which any perceived particular can be assimilated. How that background framework is assembled is the motivating mystery and primary target of this book. See MIT | Amazon | Google

Jim Holt
Why Does the World Exist?
(Profile Books 2012)

‘Why is there a world rather than nothing at all?’ remains the most curious and most enduring of all metaphysical mysteries. Moving away from the narrower paths of Christopher Hitchens, Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking, the celebrated essayist Jim Holt now enters this fascinating debate with his broad, lively and deeply informed narrative that traces all our efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. See Profile Books | Amazon | Google | Dwight Garner review | Michael Roth review | Freeman Dyson review

Duncan Pritchard
Epistemological Disjunctivism
(Oxford 2012)

Epistemological disjunctivism is a view on which perceptual knowledge is paradigmatically both factive and reflectively accessible to the agent. By the lights of contemporary epistemology, such a view is close to incoherent. Pritchard argues however that epistemological disjunctivism offers a way through the impasse between epistemic externalism and internalism, and also provides the foundation for a distinctive response to the problem of radical scepticism. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

Rocco J. Gennaro
The Consciousness Paradox: Consciousness, Concepts, and Higher-order Thoughts
(MIT 2012)

A current statement of Gennaro’s version of the higher-order thought (HOT) theory of consciousness, which he has been developing over the last fifteen years. The book is organized around defending seven allegedly inconsistent theses, which form the paradox of the title. Gennaro’s integration of empirical and philosophical concerns will make his argument of interest to both philosophers and nonphilosophers. See MIT | Google | Richard Brown review

Christian Coseru
Perceiving Reality: Consciousness, Intentionality, and Cognition in Buddhist Philosophy
(Oxford 2012)

Combining insights from Buddhist phenomenology and epistemology, but also drawing on the work of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and recent analytic philosophy of mind and phenomenology, Coseru argues that perception is a direct mode of apprehension that is intentionally constituted and, under certain circumstances, represents a type of implicit knowing that precludes the possibility of error. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

Oliver Sacks
(Picador 2012)

With his usual elegance, curiosity, and compassion, Oliver Sacks weaves together stories of his patients and of his own mind-altering experiences to illuminate what hallucinations tell us about the organization and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture’s folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is a vital part of the human condition. See Picador | Amazon | Google

Alva Noë
Varieties of Presence
(Harvard 2012)

The world shows up for us – it is present in our thought and perception. But, as Noë contends, it doesn’t show up for free. The world is not simply available; it is achieved rather than given. As with a painting in a gallery, the world has no meaning – no presence to be experienced – apart from our able engagement with it. We must show up, too, and bring along what knowledge and skills we’ve cultivated. This means that education, skills acquisition, and technology can expand the world’s availability to us and transform our consciousness. See Harvard | Google

D. Smithies & D. Stoljar (eds.)
Introspection and Consciousness
(Oxford 2012)

The topic of introspection stands at the interface between questions in epistemology about self-knowledge and questions in the philosophy of mind about consciousness. Until recently, these questions were pursued largely in isolation from one another. In this collection, fourteen new essays and one reprinted essay investigate the relation between the two. See Oxford | Google

Jonardon Ganeri
The Self: Naturalism, Consciousness, and the First-Person Stance
(Oxford 2012)

What is it to occupy a first-person stance? Is the first-personal idea one has of oneself in conflict with the idea of oneself as a physical being? Ganeri recommends a new way to approach these questions, finding inspiration in theories about consciousness and mind in first millennial India. His is the first book to draw together the Indian philosophical tradition with current philosophical work on the self. See Oxford | Google

JeeLoo Liu & John Perry (eds.)
Consciousness and the Self: New Essays
(Cambridge 2012)

“I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.” These famous words of Hume set the stage for Liu and Perry’s collection of essays on self-awareness and self-knowledge. This volume connects recent scientific studies with traditional issues about the self explored by Descartes, Locke and Hume. See Cambridge | Google

Thomas Nagel
Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False
(Oxford 2012)

Thomas Nagel argues that the widely accepted world view of materialist naturalism is untenable. The mind-body problem cannot be confined to the relation between animal minds and animal bodies. If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. The conclusion is that physics cannot be the theory of everything. See Oxford | Google | Nagel’s summary (The Stone) | H. Allen Orr review

Igor Aleksander & Helen Morton
Aristotle’s Laptop: The Discovery of Our Informational Mind
(World Scientific 2012)

Aristotle’s philosophy is likely to have shaped many of our current beliefs, prejudices and attitudes to life. This includes the way in which our mind appears to elude a scientific description. This book is about a scientific ingredient that was not available to Aristotle: the science of information. Would the course of the philosophy of the mind have been different had Aristotle pronounced that the matter of mind was information? See World Scientific | Google

William Hirstein
Mindmelding: Consciousness, Neuroscience, and the Mind’s Privacy
(Oxford 2012)

William Hirstein argues that it is possible for one person to directly experience the conscious states of another, by way of what he calls mindmelding. This would involve making just the right connections in two peoples’ brains. Drawing on a range of research from neuroscience and psychology, and looking at executive functioning, mirror neuron work, as well as perceptual phenomena such as blind-sight and filling-in, this book presents a highly original new account of consciousness. See Oxford | Google

Fabio Paglieri (ed.)
Consciousness in Interaction
(John Benjamins 2012)

An interdisciplinary collection revolving around the idea that consciousness emerges from, and impacts on, our skilled interactions with the natural and social context. The collection also traces the roots of the contemporary notion of consciousness in early modern philosophy. See John Benjamins | Google

Daniel Bor
The Ravenous Brain
(Perseus 2012)

Neuroscientist Daniel Bor argues that consciousness evolved as an accelerated knowledge gathering tool, effectively an “idea factory.” This explains our brains’ ravenous appetite for information and its constant search for patterns. A controversial view of consciousness, Bor links cognition to creativity in an ingenious solution to one of science’s biggest mysteries. See Perseus | Google

Christof Koch
Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist
(MIT 2012)

This engaging book – part scientific overview, part memoir, part futurist speculation – describes Koch’s search for an empirical explanation for consciousness. Koch recounts not only the birth of the modern science of consciousness but also the subterranean motivation for his quest – his instinctual (if “romantic”) belief that life is meaningful. See MIT Press | Google | MIT audio interview

Jesse Prinz
The Conscious Brain
(Oxford 2012)

Synthesizing decades of research, Prinz advances a theory of the psychological and neurophysiological correlates of conscious experience. In the first part of the book, he argues that consciousness depends on attention. In part two, he argues that all consciousness is perceptual. In part three, Prinz argues that attention (hence consciousness) arises when populations of neurons fire in synchrony, and responds to those who deny that consciousness could be a process in the brain. See Oxford | Google

Luca Malatesti
The Knowledge Argument and Phenomenal Concepts
(Cambridge Scholars 2012)

Responding to Frank Jackson’s knowledge argument, Malatesti develops a version of physicalism called modest reductionism, according to which the knowledge argument cannot prove that there are non-physical facts, but only that there are ways of thinking about colour experiences that are based on phenomenal concepts, different from scientific concepts. He argues for the superiority of this phenomenal concept strategy and develops his own distinctive theory of these concepts. See Cambridge Scholars | Google