What is consciousness? How do physical processes in the brain give rise to the self-aware mind and to feelings as profoundly varied as love or hate, aesthetic pleasure or spiritual yearning? These questions today are among the most hotly debated issues among scientists and philosophers, and we have seen in recent years superb volumes by such eminent figures as Francis Crick, Daniel C. Dennett, Gerald Edelman, and Roger Penrose, all firing volleys in what has come to be called the consciousness wars. Now, in The Conscious Mind, philosopher David J. Chalmers offers a cogent analysis of this heated debate as he unveils a major new theory of consciousness, one that rejects the prevailing reductionist trend of science, while offering provocative insights into the relationship between mind and brain.
Writing in a rigorous, thought-provoking style, the author takes us on a far-reaching tour through the philosophical ramifications of consciousness. Chalmers convincingly reveals how contemporary cognitive science and neurobiology have failed to explain how and why mental events emerge from physiological occurrences in the brain. He proposes instead that conscious experience must be understood in an entirely new lightas an irreducible entity (similar to such physical properties as time, mass, and space) that exists at a fundamental level and cannot be understood as the sum of its parts. And after suggesting some intriguing possibilities about the structure and laws of conscious experience, he details how his unique reinterpretation of the mind could be the focus of a new science. Throughout the book, Chalmers provides fascinating thought experiments that trenchantly illustrate his ideas. For example, in exploring the notion that consciousness could be experienced by machines as well as humans, Chalmers asks us to imagine a thinking brain in which neurons are slowly replaced by silicon chips that precisely duplicate their functionsas the neurons are replaced, will consciousness gradually fade away? The book also features thoughtful discussions of how the author's theories might be practically applied to subjects as diverse as artificial intelligence and the interpretation of quantum mechanics.
All of us have pondered the nature and meaning of consciousness. Engaging and penetrating, The Conscious Mind adds a fresh new perspective to the subject that is sure to spark debate about our understanding of the mind for years to come.
Chalmers (philosophy, Univ. of California at Santa Cruz) analyzes the mind-body problem in terms of that elusive relationship between the physical brain and conscious events. Focusing on subjective experience as such, he rejects all reductive (materialist) explanations for conscious experience in favor of a metaphysical framework supporting a strong form of property dualism. His theory is grounded in natural supervenience, the distinction between psychological and phenomenological properties of mind, and a novel view of the ontological status of consciousness itself. Chalmers uses thought experiments (e.g., zombie worlds, silicon chips, a global brain, and inverted spectra) and discusses such issues as causation, intentionality, and epiphenomenalism. Even so, the critical reader is left asking, How can physical facts be relevant to the emergence of consciousness beyond an evolutionary naturalist worldview. Ongoing neuroscience research may provide a sufficient explanation of consciousness within a materialistic framework. Nevertheless, as a scholarly contribution to modern philosophy, this is suitable for all academic and large public libraries.H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.