A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness Reviews

A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness

This book is a tour-de-force on how human consciousness may have evolved. From the “phantom pain” experienced by people who have lost their limbs to the uncanny faculty of “blindsight,” Humphrey argues that raw sensations are central to all conscious states and that consciousness must have evolved, just like all other mental faculties, over time from our ancestors’bodily responses to pain and pleasure.
“Humphrey is one of that growing band of scientists who beat literary folk at their own game”-RICHARD DAWKINS
“A wonderful bookbrilliant, unsettling, and beautifully written. Humphrey cuts bravely through the currents of contemporary thinking, opening up new vistas on old problems offering a feast of provocative ideas.” -DANIEL DENNETT

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3 Comments so far »

  1. Bradley P. Rich said,

    Wrote on September 12, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    19 of 20 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    An Interesting Attempt to Explain Consciousness, May 30, 2002
    By 
    Bradley P. Rich (Salt Lake City, UT USA) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness (Paperback)

    Surely the phenomena of consciousness is one of the most intractable problems in the universe. Legions of very bright people have taken a stab at the problem, to little or no avail. Sadly, I am unable to resist the temptation to read yet another discussion on the subject, even though I know I will come away frustrated.

    My reservations notwithstanding, this book turned out to contain some genuinely interesting, as well as sensible, thinking on the operation of the human brain. His theory is well grounded in common sense, and is developed carefully. Humphrey’s approach is a good one: How might the human brain have evolved to create consciousness from primitive antecedents?

    Central to Hamphrey’s theory is the distinction between sensation and perception, that is to say the difference between the subjective sensations that we experience versus the awareness of some external object. This argument takes a considerable length of time for Humphrey to unpack, and there were moments where I doubted that the distinction was worth the care that Humphrey lavished upon it. However, at the end of the day, it is worth wading through this discussion in order to fully understand this key element of Humphrey’s idea.

    The critical leap occurs when Humphrey postulate the existence of “reverbatory feedback loops.” Under this theory, consciousness arises when sensory information is shuttled between the nervous system and the brain repeatedly. This mechanism would give temporal continuity to sensation and might well be the foundation for consciousness.

    Whether or not you buy this theory, you will be interested to follow Humphrey through the steps that allow him to get to the conclusion. There are numerous simple examples drawn from a broad range of disciplines, that will give you insight into the human brain, even if you resist the final conclusion. However, once you see the theory in its final form, it is pretty beguiling. In fact, Humphrey actually concludes with a discussion of whether the theory is “too simple.”

    If this is an area that appeals to you at all, this is a book worth reading!

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  2. M. DiSpirito "mentored1" said,

    Wrote on September 12, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    14 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Excellent Craftsmanship, August 22, 2005
    By 
    M. DiSpirito “mentored1” (Rhode Island) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness (Paperback)

    As stated by others here this book is an easy read, done in one or two sittings (if your interested in the topic you’ll consume it quickly)… That is perhaps the only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars: I would have enjoyed another 100 pages that could have expanded some of his explanations and illustrations… That, however, is the only flaw…

    Other reviews have noted that his theory is flawed because it falls into the Cartesian Theater mode (ref. Daniel Dennet) – at this I can only scratch my head and wonder if they read the same book that I did. Others have mentioned that this book is “speculation” and has no ‘scientific’ basis (I believe in neuroscience and so forth)… Again I must only puzzle at these statements: science can indeed show us the quantitative “facts” about brain hardware but the experience of being conscious won’t be found under the microscope and that is the core of this book…

    Perhaps reading the book with a certain predisposition creates these misinterpretations? Which, oddly enough, Humphrey mentions in this work. From within each discipline studying consciousness a tendency to favor one’s own ideas emerges – it’s a fact of humanity.

    All that being said this book represents only a partial theory – a journey through areas that are still unknown… But it provides (if not a map) at least a partially functioning compass! Enjoy with an open mind…

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  3. Carlos Camara "marrorris2" said,

    Wrote on September 12, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Good., January 5, 2002
    By 
    Carlos Camara “marrorris2” (Monterrey, Mexico) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness (Paperback)

    I liked the evolutionary focus, especially the proposed theory on how perception/sensation diferentiations evolved. But it is implicitly assumed that consciousness=sensation, and I doubt this is the case. Also, considering the purposes of the book, there is not much neurology. It would be nice if the author could go all the way and propose clearer neurological correlates for sensation, in hte sense described in the book. However, seen in present consciousness studies context, this is a highly valuable volume, that certianly could become a classic. Great prose.
    There is a reviewer who mentions Dennett, and I would like to say something in Humphrey’s behalf. First, it is not evident that Dennett has it right (see Crick and Kotch’s paper ‘the unconscious homonucolus” for a possibility). Second, I do not see what reading of Humphrey’s would show a cartesian theather fallacy in his model.(Humphrey is close, and has collaborated with, Dennett. I would think he is aware of his work). Whithout spoiling it, consciousness for Humphrey (or qualia) are “as-if” bodily activity loops in the brain. There is no place where it all “comes together”, and the activity is refered back to itself, so does not need to be read out by a homonuculus. Humphrey’s free from the cartesian theather.

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