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Zen and the Art of Consciousness Paperback – 1 Mar 2011


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Review

"Sue Blackmore's "formidable intellect and clarity of approach is complemented by a warm and self-deprecating sense of humour." (Psychologist,The)

"Should be compulsory reading for anyone in consciousness studies and certainly on every psychology course." (The Scientific and Medical Network)

"I do recommend this book both to Susan Blackmore's many admirers and her detractors." (Journal of Consciousness Studies)

Review

"Combines the intelligence of the philosopher and the mindfulness of a Buddhist practitioner, with the rigour of a scientist. A thought-provoking book and essential for anyone wanting to answer the eternal questions, Who am I? and What is it all about?" (Peter Fenwick - Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry and Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at t)

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Amazon.com: 6 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
You Are Your Thoughts 1 July 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Let me start this review with a quote from the introduction: "I am not a Buddhist. I have not joined any Buddhist orders, adopted any religious beliefs, nor taken any formal vows. I say this now because I do not want anyone to think I am writing under false pretenses. Nothing I say here should be taken as the words of a Zen Buddhist...This book is an exploration of ten of my favourite questions and where they took me...This book describes my own attempt to combine science and personal practice in the investigation of consciousness." As someone with a passing interest in philosophy, Buddhism, and the study of consciousness, I found the book quite interesting. My only real complaint is that perhaps Ms. Blackmore could have included a bit more "science." To be fair though, there is brief mention of familiar folks like Antonio Damasio [Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain], Daniel Dennett, Benjamin Libet, Christof Koch, Alva Noe, and Richard Wiseman [59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute (Vintage)], to name of few. On the plus side, I found myself agreeing completely with her general opinions, which she derives by the end of the book, on what consciousness is: "There is nothing it is like to be me. I am not a persisting conscious entity. I do not consciously cause the actions of my body. Consciousness is not a stream of experiences. Seeing entails no vivid mental pictures or movie in the brain. There is no unity of consciousness either in a given moment or through time. Brain activity is neither conscious nor unconscious. There are no contents of consciousness. There is no now."

The ten questions that Ms. Blackmore asks are: 1) Am I Conscious Now? 2) What Was I Conscious Of A Moment Ago? 3) Who Is Asking the Question? 4) Where Is This? 5) How Does Thought Arise? 6) There Is No Time. What is Memory? 7) When Are You? 8) Are You Here Now? 9) What Am I Doing? 10) What Happens Next?

In sum, this book makes a great prelude to her newer book, Consciousness (A Brief Insight), and for an introduction to the study of consciousness, this pair can't be beat. Lastly, I would say that everything neuroscience is telling us now-a-days, [for example: Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, or The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human] was presaged in many Buddhist writings, which makes this particular line of attack on consciousness studies very unique indeed. Highly recommended.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Zen and the Art of Consciousness 7 Nov 2011
By S. Faupel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Susan Blackmore bravely reveals her own stream of consciousness that is continuously being interrupted by chance sense-data experiences. It is a journey of the conscious into the unconscious that tackles important issues that, in a materialistic world, many might prefer to deny altogether, rather than contemplate head on - issues such as memory, knowledge, thought, agency, responsibility and free will. She writes from the point of view of the retrospective observer who judges the performance in accordance with the rules of the game, rather than as the player who performs it. Unfortunately though, these rules are constructs of the conscious mind and are being altered by our sense-data experiences all the time. The Zen experience itself, however, goes some way towards dissolving them altogether. Perhaps we have spent too much time trying to define how we should play this game and too little trying to understand what made us want to bother in the first place. Reading this little book is an excellent therapeutic process that might help dissipate the `what it's like to be me' in the machine and find our answers in the questions instead.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Interesting and useful 30 Mar 2011
By Ellen Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are very few students who have given a detailed report of what it actually is like to practice zazen and to wrestle with all the distractions, idle thoughts, and false steps that arise. Good for Susan Blackmore for trying to give a brave and honest account of her experiences. I agree with her teacher that there was too much intellectualization and thinking going on-but that's who Ms. Blackmore is. (She's a scientist.) I'm wondering if the person who gave Ms. Blackmore's book one star even bothered to read it. Ms. Blackmore doesn't claim to be a Buddhist. Where is the compassion for a beginner?

This book is useful and fascinating, but I have a couple of questions. Did Ms. Blackmore take notes and transcribe her experiences later or is she reporting from memory? If she's doing it from memory, the account loses it's usefulness as she's reporting events that took place many years previously. If she took notes in the evening or wrote in a journal, wouldn't that have affected her practice during the day? It seems to me that this would add another level of complication to her practice. The temptation to rehearse for a reading audience or nail the right words to describe what was going on would be almost overwhelming. And wouldn't this be a barrier to having a full and immediate experience?
A unique exploration by Susan Blackmore 3 Dec 2014
By Roy Waidler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Zen and the Art of Consciousness
Susan Blackmore
Oneworld, Oxford 2011

For decades now, British psychologist Susan Blackmore has been writing about consciousness, about Zen Buddhism and numerous other subjects. As a young person she'd taken an interest in parapsychology but was put off when one of the researchers for whom she worked asked her to fudge the results [1]. She came around to being a skeptic of claims for paranormal experiences, although in her years of investigating people making such remarkable statements she became convinced that almost all of the people who make them weren't deliberate frauds, rather, that they believed that what was happening in their lives was genuine; but she has yet to be convinced of any such claims. Over the years her work has focused on things like consciousness studies, memes and tremes; and it is a running comment throughout her work that she practices Zen meditation. Better than a decade ago Oxford University Press published her Conversations on Consciousness, which was a delightful romp of visits with the leading-edge researchers in consciousness studies. Daniel Dennett, Sir Francis Crick, Patricia and Paul Churchland, Christof Koch among numerous others sat with her and her recorder and discussed with what is still a hot topic in science.

Zen and the Art of Consciousness was originally published by Oneworld in 2009 as a hardcover with the title Ten Zen Questions; her publisher suggested the change of title when it came time to re-release it in paperback, to which she agreed. This is a highly personal and unique account of her pursuit of Zen meditation practice under the guidance of British Zen Master John Crook. She details her visits to Crook's meditation center in Maenllwyd, Wales, a rustic farm where Crook leads retreats for his students and practitioners. I should point out that while she practices Zen meditation, Susan Blackmore is not a Buddhist, preferring not the taking of vows and all of the things which entail entering a sangha, or Buddhist community.

She began going to retreats at Maenllwyd in the early 1980s and each visit was a protracted consideration of a number of koans and koan-like statements given to her and the other participants by Crook. When are you? What were you conscious of a moment ago? There is no time. What is memory? Sitting on her mat day after day, Blackmore turned the 'challenge' of each koan over and over in her mind, in an intellectually curious way that most everyone might, but with the certain knowledge that if the koan were to "do" anything, it would not come about through discursive thought. Eventually her "analytic self" grew quiet and, in her words, each koan began working on her. She came away with numerous insights about the Self, that anxious, nervous worry-wart which we all have within - one of the aims of Zen - but more importantly from her viewpoint, she was gradually in a better place to understand just how far astray 'consciousness studies' have gone. To detail some of her conclusions would constitute a spoiler; let me grin and just say that her ideas are most congenial with those of Daniel Dennett.

[1] This story is told in detail at Blackmore's website:
http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/Chapters/Kurtz.htm

and is an excerpt from 'Skeptical Odysseys: Personal Accounts by the World’s Leading Paranormal Inquirers', Amherst, New York, Prometheus Books, P.Kurtz, ed. 2001
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Hummm... 5 Feb 2013
By Delinda Chapman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was shocked by the review by her roshi at the end of the book, which I read about halfway through then thought I didn't need to read the rest. I was surprised she included it. Glad she did however. Her heart and practice is in the right place.
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