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Customer Review

29 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great scientist takes a wrong turning, 12 Aug. 2007
This review is from: Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
I first encountered Blackmore when, after searching long and hard for a scientific explanation of out-of-body experiences, I came across her book Beyond the Body. It was astonishingly well researched and offered a rational, convincing explanation for phenomena that were usually neglected by the scientific community. I became an instant fan and have followed her work ever since. But now, alas, she has aligned herself with the Dawkins/Dennett axis of drivel, and my loyalty to her is badly shaken. In this book (a shorter version of her Consciousness: An Introduction) she follows Dennett by denying the existence of consciousness and then indulging in much speculation about the properties and evolutionary history of this non-existent entity. Consciousness, she maintains, is an 'illusion', which she defines as something that exists but does not have the properties it appears to have. She then proceeds to discuss it as if it does not in fact exist, and slips into calling it a 'delusion', which she apparently regards as a synonymous term. So far, so Dennett. She follows Dawkins by labeling just about everything a 'meme' (as Poe might have said 'All that we see or seem is but a meme within a meme'), unless she happens not to approve of it, in which case it is 'a virus of the mind'. As an example, she indulges in a quite intemperate and completely irrelevant rant against religion, in which Roman Catholicism is described as a parasitic infection. Like Dennett and Dawkins, she leaves no axe unground.

So why do I give the book 5 stars if I disagree with so much of it? Well, I guess you can't keep a good scientist down, and Blackmore is still a great scientist. She brings considerable knowledge and erudition to the subject, presents fair summaries of opposing views, and gives excellent descriptions of odd phenomena like Libet's Delay and the Cutaneous Rabbit. And her style is as readable as ever. I was suspicious when I saw that her son Jolyon had contributed many of the illustrations - it smacked of nepotism - but I have to say his drawings are really charming and add greatly to the text. The other illustrations are useful too - with the possible exception of a photograph of the author opening a fridge door - which isn't always the case with this series. The book ends with a very useful Further Reading list. It's thus an excellent introduction to the subject (although I think John Searle's The Mystery of Consciousness is still the best place to start).

So, I shall keep the faith and continue to read everything Susan Blackmore publishes. I just hope that one day, just as she once abandoned a belief in the paranormal, she sees the light and abandons the axis of drivel.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Jul 2010 18:07:15 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 21 Oct 2011 08:23:44 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jul 2010 01:39:40 BDT
Peter Reeve says:
I explained in the second paragraph why I think the book is worth reading, despite my reservations, and why I gave it 5 stars. But you seem to have missed that entirely. Bizarre.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jul 2010 14:02:37 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 21 Oct 2011 08:23:44 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jul 2010 22:04:51 BDT
Peter Reeve says:
To restate what is already in my review: I believe that Blackmore is fundamentally wrong to follow Dennett and Dawkins on the pseudoscience of memetics. I believe also that she shares Dennett's confusion about the ontological status of consciousness and Dawkins' lack of understanding of the psychological and social functions of religion. She remains a fine writer and scientist, and this book is, due to its lucidity, scope and scholarly content, a good introduction to its subject.

I hope that my 5-star rating helped highlight what a good introductory text this is and will encourage people to read it. I further hope that my negative comments alert readers to the contentious aspects of Blackmore's thesis. And I hope finally that you will now go and troll elsewhere, for I have humoured you enough.
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