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Summary

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 light - as 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 functions - as 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.

©1996 David Chalmers (P)2021 Upfront Books

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Tough going but quite interesting

Declamatory delivery, convoluted, drawn out text with heavy use of jargon often obscures the underlying theses, which are a lot simpler than they appear. A thin, rather uncompelling resolution. But a very interesting approach, and insight into a particular methodology.

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  • Oliver
  • 22-09-21

Essential knowledge

I'm giving this book 5 stars because it covers THE keystone contribution to modern consciousness studies. Chalmers' Hard Problem of Consciousness, whether you accept or reject it, forms the epicenter of the field. It is the reference point by which scholars in the field orient themselves. No theory of consciousness is complete unless it contends with the ideas in this book by supporting, refining or rejecting them.

***However, the recording quality of the book is abysmal (the editor often splices takes together so that the transitions are audible, and temporally misaligned). Additionally, the book itself is rather rambling. Chalmers should really write a more condensed and digestible boom about his main claim to fame.**

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-10-21

Lots of problems with the recording.

I don't know if it was corrupted as I downloaded it or if it was a problem of the original recording, but there were a lot of skips, enough that at points the book became hard to follow, which not what you want in a dense philosophy book.

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  • SelfishWizard
  • 16-11-21

Chalmers' search for Consciousness

David Chalmers' extravagant philosophy of consciousness begins with philosophical zombies who do everything we do but are not conscious. This is a fatal flaw. Such philosophical zombies are not only impossible but inconceivable. They are a contradiction in terms. If you could have zombies that can do what humans do without consciousness, then you don't need consciousness because it doesn't do anything. So Chalmers' search for consciousness begins with the fundamental premise that consciousness is epiphenomenal and cannot act on the physical world. This clearly makes no sense. Everything we do is driven by our conscious awareness and our unconscious motivations. That's why we have consciousness. Having dismissed consciousness, Chalmers asserts that consciousness is a great mystery. But the mystery exists only in Chalmers' head. Consciousness is ubiquitous among living beings,. They could not survive without it, because they would not know what to do without it. Consciousness evolved in living things to enable them to navigate the world. Without being aware of the world we could not survive in it.

Chalmers is a mind-body duelist based on his view of the separation between consciousness and the physical world. At the same time he believes that consciousness emerges from the organization of the physical world. He therefore does not limit consciousness to living things that have need of it to survive. He instead believes that mechanical systems such as thermostats may be conscious. It appears to be lost on him that this is self contradictory. If consciousness emerges from the physical world then why should it not be able to interact with the physical world to cause action and behavior in it? Chalmers cannot explain this and does not try to. But he is interested in extending his zombie argument to say that consciousness can be a property of machines. But if consciousness doesn't do anything in humans it would be hard to imagine what purpose it would possibly have in a machine such as a thermostat or computer.

Chalmers can have faith in conscious artificial intelligence because he believes consciousness is ubiquitous not just in living things but in the Universe at large. He therefore is sympathetic to panpsychism (the belief that consciousness is an integral property of the universe) although he seems finally reluctant to fully commit to it,. Chalmers then goes on to say he believes in Everett's interpretation of quantum mechanics that is the basis of the "Many Worlds" interpretation of QM. Yet Chalmers then confusingly says he disagrees with Many Worlds and subscribes to a "one world" interpretation of Everett's hypothesis. Yet every physicist who is an "Everettian (e.g., Sean Carroll) believes in Many Worlds.

And all of this is based on Chalmers' not only flawed but frankly inconceivable philosophical zombie thought experiment. In short, Chalmers is a property duelist, a panpsychist, an Everettian (but one who believes in one world) and a believer in machine consciousness. You can't make this stuff up, Yet Chalmers obviously managed to. Unfortunately, his theory is incoherent, self-contradictory, and based on mere assertions rather than logical argument.

Chalmers is charismatic and a dynamic speaker on the podcast and lecture circuit. People like listening to him even when what he is saying makes very little sense.

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