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on 30 July 2017
This is a serious work of philosophy that is very detailed and thorough. Consequently is not for the light reader with a general interest in the subject. For the most part I was able to follow all Chalmers' arguments but there are some places (which he indicates in advance) that are particularly technical and include notation of which I was unfamiliar.
Personally, although I find his conclusion that consciousness is on a scale of virtually none all the way through to human consciousness extremely counter-intuitive, it is difficult to refute.
This is something of a classic in its field and I decided to read it prior to thinking about starting a philosophy MA with the OU. I'm glad I did, but I'm not sure about doing the MA tho'!
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on 27 April 2017
comprehensive view of the subject
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on 14 September 2011
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. Chalmers then considers the apparent tension between his view and our judgments of our own experience - how can we clearly consider our own consciousness with our psychological minds, when consciousness arises due to separate, phenomenal properties?

- CHAPTERS 6, 7 AND 8 - Chalmers advances arguments for non-reductive functionalism, his positive theory of the mind in the light of property dualism. Consciousness and cognition (awareness) are shown to cohere, providing a basis for consciousness research in cognitive science. Consideration of cases of fading and dancing qualia reveals that something like the 'principle of organizational invariance' holds - that all it takes for consciousness to arise is for a particular functional system to be instantiated. Finally, Chalmers proposes that phenomenal properties arise due to the world being intimately related to computational information at its base level - a bold and controversial thesis.

- CHAPTERS 9 AND 10 - Chalmers applies his theory (admitted to be only a sketch, a basis for further research) to the topics of AI and quantum mechanics. The view suggests Strong Artificial Intelligence - the possibility that a machine such as a computer is the right sort of system that could be conscious, just like a human being. The section on quantum mechanics puts forward the hypothesis that Chalmers' theory, plus a version of the Everett interpretation of QM, is the most favourable approach to one of the most difficult issues in physics - how can QM be such a powerful tool of prediction when the world it suggests seems so wildly different from how we ordinarily take the world to be? This last section functions on its own as an excellent and readable introduction to some of the issues in QM.

Overall, a stunning work of philosophy, extremely well written on a fascinating subject.
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on 30 December 2016
This is quite a thorough argument against the case for dualism - unfortunate since Chalmers intention is argue for it.

The author spends almost no time at all in the world of actual facts about consciousness, ignoring, for example, that single every aspect of consciousness can be switched off through physical changes in the brain and is clearly therefore dependent upon the physics of the brain for its existence.

Instead, he prefers to waste his intellectual energy putting forward arguments *from* dualism as arguments *for* it. He conveniently forgets, for example, that that we must first hold it to be axiomatically true that consciousness is causally separate from the physical world in order to conceive of phenomenal zombies and inverted spectra. Having forgotten this he eventually gets around to asserting them as proof of dualism.

The circularity of his thesis is both obvious and frustrating.

Chalmers spends a good deal of the middle of the book twisting himself up in the resulting contradictions, obstinately refusing to let go of dualism. On the whole the book is intellectually honest and carefully constructed, but I believe it's corrupted at heart by his own lack of honesty with himself. He claims early on that he has no attachment to the idea of dualism but the dishonesty of this statement is revealed by arguments that run along the lines of, "God could have created things this way... therefore they must be possible." He claims to be atheist so perhaps this language is used for the benefit of his audience, but a fundamental belief in dualism is clear and runs throughout.

The author is thorough and deserves credit for this. He sees through the consequences of dualism all the way to realising the implication that qualia cannot be causal in a dualistic model. But when a philosopher who has spent the opening parts of a book insisting on how awe-inspiring and moving his qualia are (so much so that they drive him to spend most of him time thinking and writing about them) and then tries to argue that they're acausal and not the drivers behind our conscious actions... well, how can we take him seriously? The two facts are in direct contradiction but he holds them simultaneously to be true.

What's also frustrating - and more than a little odd - is that Chalmers happily entertains logically incoherent ideas like phenomenal zombies, yet seems incapable of imagining their counter examples, that perhaps, just perhaps, conscious *is* 'what it is like to be' a system that behaves indistinguishably from us. It seems in the end he just prefers the company of invented facts to actual facts. and no amount of pointing out trees is enough to convince Chalmers of the woods.

Like a blind Egyptologist obsessed with only the top stone of a pyramid (which he feels keenly) he absolutely rejects the importance of the parts played by any of the stones beneath and, because he hasn't felt all of them, resorts to magic to explain how it hangs there.

A frustrating read, but worthwhile for anyone who wants to explore the logical contradictions inherent in dualism.
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on 26 February 2002
The book starts off very well; the first section on fundamentals is very well explained and is useful to anyone studying philosophy.
However to logically supervene, as defined in this book, is impossible, nowhere in the universe is it possible to create exact replicas; the laws of physics deny this, a priori. Many of the arguments, based on Nagel and Searle, have already been demolished by Dennette and Hofstadter, including the old 'Chinese box' argument, or what it 'feels like to be a bat'. See The Mind's I and Consciousness Explained.
The book tells us about the phenomenal as opposed to the psychological, and assumes that the reader knows what is being referred to. After pulling this magic rabbit out of a hat, the author goes on to say it not logical, I agree with him.
In section two he digs up the old discredited zombie argument, and states that he thinks that they should be possible, two identical entities with different conscious experiences. This is obviously not true, if they were identical they would, by definition, have the same experiences. Our memories have a physical bases; the brain physically depends on its environment. How could two identical entities have opposite experiences for the same stimuli? The book didn't convince me, and it is certainly not the materialists' nightmare as some have implied, it just the same old dualist arguments wrapped up in a new suite.
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on 1 December 1998
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. Few would deny that there is indeed a correlation between neural states and subjective experience, but anyone who has actually experienced pain knows that it is more than a matter of definition -- your pain won't go away just because everybody else on the planet has redefined your neural state as pleasure.
Finally, substance dualism, for good reasons not considered seriously by most philosophers, doesn't solve any of the problems but merely hides them behind a black screen.
Chalmers recognizes the absurdities inherent in all theories of consciousness. He refuses to sweep the problems under a rug; he argues for a form of property dualism while being honest enough to point out that it leads to the bizarre conclusion that we puzzle about the nature of consciousness for reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that we actually *are* conscious. Like me you probably won't be willing to go as far as Chalmers wants to take you, but his book makes it plain that all the apparent avenues of escape lead to pitfalls at least as bad as the ones on the road he takes. If Chalmers is right, and consciousness must be added as an "extra feature" in our description of reality, it is devilishly hard to see how we will ever have a good theory of it. How will we be able to convincingly determine whether that poor robot really hurts?
The book is very clearly written; you don't need a formal education in philosophy to follow his arguments. Overall this is one of the best books on the mind-body problem I've read.
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on 20 December 2003
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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Philosopher and author David J. Chalmers makes an ambitious, daring attempt to expand the understanding of consciousness. Although he admits that his sympathies are with materialism, he concludes that materialist (physical) explanations cannot account for the existence of consciousness. His theory of consciousness is based in the natural world, but he proposes that consciousness has both physical and nonphysical properties. He suggests that a set of psychophysical laws are needed to explain the how and why of consciousness. Although parts of this book are densely technical and call for readers with a thorough background in mathematics, physics and philosophy, Chalmers has taken pains to make his material as accessible as possible to the average well-educated person. He even puts asterisks beside sections that lay readers are likely to find too daunting, and notes those sections general readers might most productively read, skim or ignore. We suggest this book to well-schooled readers who are interested in the philosophy of the mind, cognition or psychology.
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on 15 September 1997
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the philosophy of mind or even for anyone who has ever puzzled over the phenomenon of consciousness. Chalmers argues that consciousness is a fact over and above any physical/functional brain processes. His position has the feel of cogency. After all, prima facie it is difficult to conceive of two more different states of affairs than (say) the smelling of a rose and some neural/chemical brain activity. The problem is that when Chalmers delineates the implications of his view one can't avoid the impression that he has reduced himself to absurdity. For example, he ends up with an epiphenomealism of sorts according to which our consciousness states don't affect our behavior. On this point, I, at least, had to ask myself whether I had more faith in Chalmer's arguments or more faith in mental causality.

Nonetheless, I really liked the book. It is (with the exception of chapter 2) easy and fun to read, and Chalmers has a wealth of really cool ideas. I enjoied it more than just about anything else on the philosophy of mind that has crossed my path.
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on 10 April 2012
This is the definite treatment of the physicalism vs dualism question, in which David Chalmers develops his famous Zombie argument against physicalism. This is also Chalmers' earliest exposition of his two-dimensional semantics, which is critical to making the case against physicalism maximally clear. This book is still the best introduction to the Zombie argument and two-dimensional semantics.
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