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The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Philosophy of the Mind) Hardcover – 31 Oct 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc (31 Oct. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195105532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195105537
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 3.6 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 896,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"The book is very well argued, thorough, sophisticated, honest, stimulating... It is certainly one of the best discussions of consciousness in existence, both as an advanced text and as an introduction to the issues." -- Times Higher Education Supplement

About the Author

About the Author: David J. Chalmers is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Born in Sydney, Australia, he has been a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford and a McDonnell Fellow at Washington University. His article "The Puzzle of Conscious Experience" appeared in the December 1995 issue of Scientific American.


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Format: Hardcover
The basic problem with any materialist theory of consciousness is that there is no room for consciousness to *do* anything -- it is caused by certain material processes but does not itself cause anything. The firing of a neuron can always be explained in terms of the firing of other neurons, the impingement of a photon on a photoreceptor, or some other objectively observable cause. At no point is it necessary to say that "this neuron fired because the brain it was part of had such-and-such a subjective experience". Thus consciousness is not logically necessary in our objective description of the material world, so we can at least conceive of a world where David Chalmers' zombie twin writes papers and books about the mind-body problem without ever having any subjective experience itself. This seems absurd but the absurdity is inherent in all the various flavors of functionalism or property dualism. And "new physics" won't change the picture at all -- string theory, quantum gravity, quantum multiverses, and any as yet unconcieved of physical theory are all simply more of the same kind of "ontological stuff" that we already have -- objective procedures for predicting the behavior of objectively measurable things.
Some functionalists attempt to make the problem go away simply by declaring conscious states a matter of definition -- "pain" is some set of states of an information processing system, "pleasure" is some other, etc. Thus whether a robot that makes a convincing whine when you hit it actually experiences pain is a matter of definition.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a philosophy student already interested in the philosophy of Mind when I began this fantastic work, I can only say that I have been bowled over by the lucid exposition of its arguments, its wide-ranging scope, and its wit.

There is something useful to be found in this work for many people, from the interested general reader to the academic. The arguments are persuasive, clear, and so helpfully laid out - at no point was I lost, or seeking extra clarification. Chalmers is an extremely gifted writer, and the cohesion and exposition of his views are astounding. Here is a brief synopsis of the book:

- CHAPTERS 1 AND 2 - Chalmers introduces the mind as having, simply put, two aspects - the psychological (desires, beliefs), and the phenomenal ('feels', and the 'what it is like' element). The two categories may overlap, with the latter including some of the former. The phenomenal aspect of mind is what poses the hard questions about consciousness. Chalmers cashes out his notion of 'supervenience', which he uses to define physicalism and dualism. The reductive physicalist position is that the mental (inc. the phenomenal aspects) logically supervene on the physical.

- CHAPTERS 3, 4 AND 5 - Chalmers argues, persuasively, that the logical supervenience required for reductive physicalism fails. The arguments presented are a mix of new and previously existing ones, all presented clearly and forcefully. Chalmers proposes his view - naturalistic property dualism - using primarily the argument from the logical possibility of zombies: physically identical beings to us that nevertheless lack qualia. The possibility of such entities is hard to rule out, and that is all Chalmers needs for his argument to go through.
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Format: Paperback
Along with Erwin Schrodinger's 'Mind and Matter', this ranks as one of the best writings about consciousness I have read. Chalmers does not evade the problem of subjective experience, but faces it directly and acknowledges that materialistic science cannot explain the subjective phenomenon of consciousness. It is rare to find a work that faces up to the problem so honestly, without having to resort to accounts of structure and dynamics that do not bear any meaning when explaining the nature of subjective experience. I would thoroughly recommend this book to those who are interested in consciousness, and are dissatisfied with contemporary writings on it.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Chalmers does not ignore sentience and subjective experience like most people who claim that subjectivity is unscientific, on the contrary, objectivity has no meaning if it has nothing to be contrasted with.

Chalmers is a genuine metaphysician desperately trying to understand consciousness. He is very patient and modest in addressing materialism and has a high respect for it as a framework, especially in physics. He clearly understands how materialism is incredibly useful at accounting for the emergence of biochemical phenomena from low-level mechanics. He is not in anyway hostile to science he does not jump to conclusions without careful consideration and analysis of arguments and he has no affiliation with being anti-materialistic insofar as the traditional biological mechanics are concerned. He has no bias nor religious agenda and does not deny the success of mainstream, reductionist science. It is very comfortable to read and has a pleasant tone, just as Chalmers does in his interviews.

However...

It is interesting to see someone finally address qualia and phenomenality as a real problem. It is probably the best explication of consciousness I've ever read insofar as it helps us define and understand the nature of what-it's-like-to-be-sentient, even though it doesn't provide an explanation for how or why phenomenality exists - still it is the best explication.

Nevertheless it is the best philosophy of mind literature I have read so far.

Great book 5/5.
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