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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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2015

James Harrington
Time: A Philosophical Introduction
(Bloomsbury 2015)

Two central problems define the philosophy of time. The ancient problem is the tension between being and becoming. Is being the fundamental truth of the universe or is it more accurate to say that the universe happens, continuously renewing itself? The modern problem is the apparent lack of coherence between contemporary physics and our conception of a universe evolving in time. See Bloomsbury | Amazon | Google

Jimena Canales
The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time
(Princeton 2015)

On April 6, 1922, in Paris, Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson publicly debated the nature of time. Einstein considered Bergson’s notion of time to be soft and psychological, irreconcilable with the realities of physics. Bergson, already famous for arguing that time should not be understood exclusively through the lens of science, criticized Einstein’s theory for being a metaphysics grafted onto science, one that ignored the intuitive aspects of time. Canales tells the remarkable story of how this explosive debate transformed our understanding of time and drove a rift between science and the humanities that persists today. See Princeton | Amazon | Google

Ross P. Cameron
The Moving Spotlight: An Essay on Time and Ontology
(Oxford 2015)

Cameron argues that the flow of time is a genuine feature of reality and suggests that the best version of the A-Theory is a version of the Moving Spotlight view, according to which past and future beings are real, but there is nonetheless an objectively privileged present. He also defends an account of the open future—that what will happen is, as yet, undetermined—and argues that this is a better account than that available to the Growing Block theory. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

Sy Montgomery
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness
(Simon & Schuster 2015)

Scientists have only recently accepted the intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees but now are watching octopuses solve problems and are trying to decipher the meaning of the animal’s color-changing techniques. With her joyful passion for these intelligent and fascinating creatures, Montgomery chronicles the growing appreciation of this mollusk as she tells a unique love story. Funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, this book reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds. See Simon & Schuster | Amazon | Google

Nicholas Jolley
Locke’s Touchy Subjects: Materialism and Immortality
(Oxford 2015)

In seventeenth-century philosophy the mind-body problem and the nature of personal immortality were two of the most controversial and sensitive issues. Nicholas Jolley seeks to show that these issues are more prominent in Locke's philosophy than has been realized. He argues further that Locke takes up unorthodox positions in both cases. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

Andy Clark
Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind
(Oxford 2015)

How can thoroughly physical material beings such as ourselves think, dream, feel, create and understand ideas, theories and concepts? How does mere matter give rise to all these non-material mental states, including consciousness itself? Clark explores exciting new theories that reveal minds like ours to be prediction machines - devices that have evolved to anticipate the incoming streams of sensory stimulation before they arrive. These predictions initiate actions that structure our worlds and alter the very things we need to engage and predict. Clark takes us on a journey in discovering the circular causal flows and the self-structuring of the environment that define “the predictive brain.” See Oxford | Amazon | Google

Colin Klein
What the Body Commands: The Imperative Theory of Pain
(MIT 2015)

Klein proposes and defends the novel theory that pains are imperative: they are sensations with a content, and that content is a command to protect the injured part of the body. He argues that such “imperativism about pain” can account for two puzzling features of pain: its strong motivating power and its uninformative nature. He develops his account to handle a variety of pain phenomena and to solve a number of historically puzzling cases. Klein defends the imperativist view in a pure form—without requiring pain to represent facts about the world. See MIT | Amazon | Google

Hubert Dreyfus & Charles Taylor
Retrieving Realism
(Harvard 2015)

“A picture held us captive,” writes Wittgenstein, describing the powerful image of mind that underlies the modern tradition from Descartes onward. Dreyfus and Taylor offer a radical critique of this picture and restore a realist view affirming our direct access to the everyday world. Once we deconstruct Cartesian mediationalism, the problems that Hume, Kant, and many of our contemporaries still struggle with—trying to prove the existence of objects beyond our representations—fall away, as does the motivation for nonrealist doctrines. We can then describe the background everyday world we are absorbed in and the universe of natural kinds discovered by science. See Harvard | Amazon | Google | Peter Godfrey-Smith review

Peter Hankins
The Shadow of Consciousness: A Little Less Wrong
(CreateSpace 2015)

In the latter part of the twentieth century, leading scientists and philosophers embarked on a remarkable venture into one of the last dark places on the intellectual map: the problem of consciousness. The quest proved more difficult than the venturers had hoped: in different ways and in different places they ran into unexpected obstacles. The dragon of consciousness seemed unslayable. Now Peter Hankins, author of the popular Conscious Entities blog, has written this intriguing account of what went wrong to shed light on the problems and suggest new ways forward. See Amazon | Google

Mohan Matthen (ed.)
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception
(Oxford 2015)

A 45-entry contemporary survey by leading philosophical thinkers in the philosophy of perception. Includes sections on the history of the subject, introductions to the epistemology, ontology and aesthetics of perception, treatments of the individual sense modalities and of the things we perceive by means of them, and a consideration of how perceptual information is integrated and consolidated. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

M. Joshua Mozersky
Time, Language, and Ontology: The World from the B-Theoretic Perspective
(Oxford 2015)

Mozersky argues that it is possible to reconcile the human experience of time, which is centred on the present, with the objective conception of time, according to which all moments are intrinsically alike. He defends a temporally centreless ontology along with a tenseless semantics that is compatible with - and indeed helps to explain the need for - tensed language and thought. The theory helps to elucidate the nature of change and temporal passage, neither of which need be denied nor relegated to the realm of subjective experience only. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

Mark Eli Kalderon
Form without Matter: Empedocles and Aristotle on Color Perception
(Oxford 2015)

Empedocles conceives of perception as a mode of material assimilation, but this raises a puzzle about color vision, which seems to present colors that inhere in distant objects. But if colors inhere in distant objects how can they be taken in by the organ of sight? Aristotle purports to resolve this puzzle by construing perception as the assimilation of sensible form without the matter of the perceived particular. This definition has long puzzled commentators. Kalderon shows how, read in the light of Empedocles’s puzzle, Aristotle’s definition can be better understood. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

M. Chirimuuta
Outside Color: Perceptual Science and the Puzzle of Color in Philosophy
(MIT 2015)

Is color real or illusory, mind independent or mind dependent? Does seeing in color give us a true picture of external reality? The metaphysical debate over color has gone on at least since the seventeenth century and Chirimuuta draws on contemporary perceptual science to address these questions. Her account integrates historical philosophical debates, contemporary work in the philosophy of color, and recent findings in neuroscience and vision science to propose a novel theory of the relationship between color and physical reality. See MIT | Amazon | Google

Uriah Kriegel
The Varieties of Consciousness
(Oxford 2015)

Is there a sui generis, irreducible cognitive phenomenology - a phenomenology proper to thought? Is there a sui generis phenomenology of agency? How many types of sui generis, irreducible, basic, primitive phenomenology do we have to posit to just be able to describe the stream of consciousness? Kriegel develops a unified framework for addressing these questions and applies it to six controversial types of phenomenal experience, namely, those associated with thought and judgment, will and agency, pure apprehension, emotion, moral thought and experience, and the experience of freedom. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

A. A. Long
Greek Models of Mind and Self
(Harvard 2015)

A wide-ranging study of Greek notions of mind and human selfhood from Homer through Plotinus. What happens when we die? How is the mind or soul related to the body? Are we responsible for our own happiness? Can we achieve autonomy? Long demonstrates how ancient thinkers grappled with what is closest to us and yet still most mysterious—our own essence as singular human selves—and how the study of Greek thought can enlarge and enrich our experience. See Harvard | Amazon | Google

Elijah Chudnoff
Cognitive Phenomenology
(Routledge 2015)

Phenomenology is about subjective aspects of the mind, such as the conscious states associated with vision and touch, and those associated with emotions and moods, such as feelings of elation or sadness. These states have a distinctive first-person ‘feel’ to them and are often taken to be radically different from mental states and processes associated with thought. This is the first book to fully question this orthodoxy and explore the prospects of cognitive phenomenology, applying phenomenology to the study of thought and cognition. See Routledge | Amazon | Google

John Searle
Seeing Things as They Are: A Theory of Perception
(Oxford 2015)

A comprehensive account of the intentionality of perceptual experience. The central question concerns the relation between the subjective conscious perceptual field and the objective perceptual field. Everything in the objective field is either perceived or can be perceived. Nothing in the subjective field is perceived nor can be perceived precisely because the events in the subjective field consist of the perceivings, whether veridical or not, of the events in the objective field. See Oxford | Amazon | Google | Josh Armstrong review

Paul Coates & Sam Coleman (eds.)
Phenomenal Qualities: Sense, Perception & Consciousness
(Oxford 2015)

What are phenomenal qualities, the qualities of conscious experiences? Their problematic nature is what makes it hard to understand how the mind is related to the physical world. Fourteen original papers, written by a team of distinguished philosophers and psychologists explore the ways in which phenomenal qualities fit in with our understanding of mind and reality. See Oxford | Amazon

Michael Pelczar
Sensorama: A Phenomenalist Analysis of Spacetime and Its Contents
(Oxford 2015)

How does the modern scientific conception of time constrain the place of the mind in nature? On the scientific conception, it makes no sense to speak of the duration of a pain, or the simultaneity of sensations occurring in different parts of the brain. Such considerations led Henri Poincaré to conclude that consciousness does not exist in spacetime, but serves as the basic material out of which we must create the physical world. Pelczar’s central claim is that Poincaré was substantially correct. See Oxford | Amazon | Google

Bradford Skow
Objective Becoming
(Oxford 2015)

Skow presents an original defense of the ‘block universe’ theory of time, on which – in a certain sense – time does not pass. Along the way, he provides sympathetic and substantial discussions of alternative theories of time, including those which feature a ‘robust passage’ of time or ‘objective becoming’ – presentism, the moving spotlight theory, the growing block theory and the ‘branching time’ theory. See Oxford | Amazon | Google