The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind)

The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind)

The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind)

What is consciousness? How does the subjective character of consciousness fit into an objective world? How can there be a science of consciousness? In this sequel to his groundbreaking and controversial The Conscious Mind, David Chalmers develops a unified framework that addresses these questions and many others. Starting with a statement of the “hard problem” of consciousness, Chalmers builds a positive framework for the science of consciousness and a nonreductive vision of the metaphysics of consciousness. He replies to many critics of The Conscious Mind, and then develops a positive theory in new directions. The book includes original accounts of how we think and know about consciousness, of the unity of consciousness, and of how consciousness relates to the external world. Along the way, Chalmers develops many provocative ideas: the “consciousness meter”, the Garden of Eden as a model of perceptual experience, and The Matrix as a guide to the deepest philosophical problems about consciousness and the external world. This book will be required reading for anyone interested in the problems of mind, brain, consciousness, and reality.

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  1. Paul L. Nunez "brain physics" said,

    Wrote on March 17, 2012 @ 1:32 am

    48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    More on the Mind, November 2, 2010
    By 
    Paul L. Nunez “brain physics” (Covington, Louisiana and Solana Beach California) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

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    This review is from: The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind) (Paperback)

    Chalmers’ earlier book The Conscious Mind. In Search of a Fundamental Theory (1996) was widely reviewed and praised. This new book may be viewed partly as a sequel; however, much of it consists of essays published earlier but updated to incorporate changes in Chalmers’ ideas over the years, as well as providing smoother transitions between the 14 chapters. Some readers may be put off by this duplication, but I was happy to have everything easily available in one place and to hear of Chalmers’ latest thoughts. I awarded five stars based on his excellent in-depth treatments of several areas of central interest to me even though other parts of the book may be read only by professional philosophers. Warning: If you are new to consciousness studies, this book is probably not the place to start.

    Neuroscientist Christof Koch suggests that scientists should pay close attention to questions posed by philosophers, but not take their answers too seriously. This may be good general advice, but for me, Chalmers does an excellent job of presenting a plausible spectrum of prevailing metaphysical views labeled Types A-C (reductionist) and D-F (non reductionist) with his strongest arguments favoring the latter. He suggests, for example, that information may play a critical role in a theory of consciousness in addition to its known importance in the physical sciences (more on this later). Related to this informational conjecture is a chapter employing the popular movie The Matrix to address issues concerning our knowledge of the external world. Several additional themes run throughout (in my words), consciousness seems to be a fundamental property of our universe, reductive theories don’t seem to work, one should not confuse neural correlates of consciousness with consciousness itself, such correlations fail to even come close to “explaining” consciousness, and science is essentially correlative rather than reductive. As a scientist (brain physics), I especially welcomed this latter idea, which seems to be poorly understood by many, including some scientists.

    Chalmers also provides a plausible argument supporting “the principle of organizational invariance” meaning that any two systems with the same fine grained functional organization will have qualitatively identical experiences, implying that a silicon isomorph (say a computer yielding a one-to-one functional correspondence of all parts at all spatial scales) of a human must be conscious. While I accept Chalmers’ basic logical argument, its conclusion may be highly misleading. For example, some believe that connecting 10 billion or so neuron-like artificial elements following appropriate input-output rules can produce a conscious entity. The problem with this conjecture is that the construction of true artificial isomorphs may be fundamentally impossible. Even single neurons are incredibly complex systems involving fine grained interactions down to (at least) quantum scales, and cross scale interactions are a hallmark of complex systems. This idea is discussed in Al Scott’s Stairway to the Mind: The Controversial New Science of Consciousness(1995) and my new book (2010), which also explores the conjecture that information (or a broader category, Ultra-Information) may underlie both the physical and mental worlds, an idea apparently consistent with Chalmers’ suggestion.

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  2. Joe J. Kern said,

    Wrote on March 17, 2012 @ 1:53 am

    30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    A Defense of Non-Materialism, But Not An Introduction, October 31, 2010
    By 
    Joe J. Kern (Tokyo, Japan) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind) (Paperback)

    First of all, this book is not the place to start if you’re just getting into the field. It’s an expansion on and updating of Chalmers’ first book, 1996’s The Conscious Mind, which largely consisted of his PhD dissertation after only four years of studying philosophy, and was somewhat hastily rushed into publication after he accidentally attained celebrity for elucidating the difference between the “hard” and “easy” problems in consciousness at a conference in 1994. The Character Of Consciousness is a more definitive statement of his views as a mature philosopher, a compilation and updating of separate pieces he has published since the first book, often times delving much deeper into the arguments and answering specific criticisms.

    So, while The Character Of Consciousness may make gains in clarity, breadth, organization, and soundness of argument, Chalmers has lost some of the fervor that made parts of the first book such a thrill to read, and much of his connection to the layman. The ideas were new to him back then, and he was excitedly explaining them to himself as much as he was hoping to share them. He hasn’t altered his views radically since that time, and The Character Of Consciousness loses some energy in its careful planning and execution, and due to the disparate origins of many of the sections.

    But if you are sufficiently interested in philosophy of mind that you are prepared to read several books to get a deep understanding of a variety of perspectives and arguments, then I’d say Chalmers should certainly be one of them, as he is still a (if not the) leading non-materialist, and his earlier book (The Conscious Mind) rather than this one would be the one to start with. That said, he does provide a reading guide in the introduction and as you go along in both books, helpfully letting you know which parts you should read and which parts you can skip, depending on your interest and previous exposure. (The most interesting addition in the new book for the newcomer would probably be his analysis of The Matrix.)

    If it helps, I can give you a report of my own experiences of the two: Consciousness Explained was the first real book I read in the field, and following his instructions to skip certain parts, I had a blast reading it. In reading The Character Of Consciousness and trying to imagine what a first-time reader would think of it, I wasn’t so sure the text would compel one along as strongly.

    The 4 stars here isn’t a criticism. I’d just like to fight against grade inflation and reserve 5 stars for things that blow my mind beyond what I could have reasonably expected. And it’s also not a reflection of how much I agree with Chalmers’ thesis; I am much more on Chalmers and the non-materialists side in this, for reasons similar to the logic Chalmers gives, but I also think Chalmers’ chief adversary, the materialist Daniel Dennett, argues pretty persuasively that all us non-materialists don’t really understand what he is saying, and Chalmers doesn’t succeed in ridding me of that nagging feeling here. Chalmers focuses more on logical argumentation based on introspection to support his claims about what we can and cannot believe, and I find the arguments can get esoteric and tenuous, almost to the point of being word games rather than anything of import. In contrast, Dennett is more scientific, which seems more respectable, even if I tend to more often agree with Chalmers’s introspection. So I’d give Dennett’s Consciousness Explained 4 stars too, even though I remained cautiously confident of non-materialism after reading it.

    Finally, I’ll note that the field of consciousness studies is so fundamentally divided between materialists and non-materialists that any single book is only really good as an introduction to one view or the other, and you can’t trust a writer’s characterization of an opponent’s view in this field. My best recommendation for a general introduction would be Susan Blackmore’s 2006 book of interviews with leading figures in the field, Conversations On Consciousness, which gives most of the major players a brief space to explain and defend their views in a casual verbal style. Read the interview with Chalmers and the interview with Dennett, and then as many of the others as sustain your interest.

    The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Philosophy of Mind Series)
    Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human
    Consciousness Explained

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  3. Godwin Fernando said,

    Wrote on March 17, 2012 @ 2:45 am

    1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    An amazing unity of physical and metaphysical, June 25, 2011
    By 
    Godwin Fernando (Attidiya, Dehiwela, Western Province, LK) –

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    This review is from: The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind) (Paperback)

    I am an authour researching on the conflicts / reconciliations between science and theology – mainly Christian. I do not read “The Character of Consciousness” – I study it with copious sidelining and refferal notes. I have gone through only about 75% of the book. The lucid insight that David Chalmers gives on a most difficult topic – consciousness is amazing. The manner David Chalmers have logically and cogently explained how a metaphysical entity like consciousness arise from a physical entity like the brain is incedible. From a reductive approach (physical) he advances to the non-reductive (metaphysical)aspect clearly and coherently elucidating the unity of consciousness and the external world. Without detailing too much on the neurophysiology of brain circuitry and the neurobiology of a mental force he dwells more on the philosophy of science (physics in particular)and appeals to a wide range of readers – like myself.

    A truly great intellectual enterprise.

    Shall present a more detailed critique once I have finished studying the book

    Godwin Fernando

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