208 pp., 5 x 8 in, 10 color illus., 30 b&w illus.
- Published: September 25, 2018
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: August 31, 2018
- Publisher: The MIT Press
Demystifying consciousness: how subjective experience can be explained by natural brain and evolutionary processes.
Consciousness is often considered a mystery. How can the seemingly immaterial experience of consciousness be explained by the material neurons of the brain? There seems to be an unbridgeable gap between understanding the brain as an objectively observed biological organ and accounting for the subjective experiences that come from the brain (and life processes). In this book, Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallatt attempt to demystify consciousness—to naturalize it, by explaining that the subjective, experiencing aspects of consciousness are created by natural brain processes that evolved in natural ways. Although subjective experience is unique in nature, they argue, it is not necessarily mysterious. We need not invoke the unknown or unknowable to explain its creation.
Feinberg and Mallatt flesh out their theory of neurobiological naturalism (after John Searle's biological naturalism) that recognizes the many features that brains share with other living things, lists the neural features unique to conscious brains, and explains the subjective–objective barrier naturally. They investigate common neural features among the diverse groups of animals that have primary consciousness—the type of consciousness that experiences both sensations received from the world and affects such as emotions. They map the evolutionary development of consciousness and find an uninterrupted progression over time, without inserting any mysterious forces or exotic physics. Finally, bridging the previously unbridgeable, they show how subjective experience, although different from objective observation, can be naturally explained.
“The subjective nature of consciousness used to be a matter for philosophical debate, outside any approach from the objective methods of the natural sciences. No longer: emboldened neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists are making a determined effort to bring this last mysterious refuge into the realm of the natural. In their previous book, The Ancient Origins of Consciousness, Feinberg and Mallatt show how consciousness arises as an emergent evolutionary phenomenon with the growth of nervous systems and brains; now they go further, showing how their theory of neurobiological naturalism can resolve the 'hard problem' of subjectivity itself.”
Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience, Open University, UK
“Essential reading for anyone wanting insight into consciousness as a natural, evolved function of vertebrate life. As in the authors' previous book, The Ancient Origins of Consciousness, the emphasis is on the diverse nature of different types of sensory experience, their early origin in the vertebrate lineage, and the multiplicity of brain regions responsible for producing them. This conceptual approach is already stimulating renewed interest in the relevant behavior and neurocircuitry of lower vertebrates, as a means of examining some of the more mysterious aspects of consciousness in a simpler, less mammalian-centric context. A digression on the habits and behaviors of lampreys will surprise those not familiar with these remarkable animals.”
Thurston C. Lacalli, Biology Department, University of Victoria, Canada
“In Consciousness Demystified, Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallatt argue convincingly that the perceptual and emotional forms of consciousness originate early in vertebrate evolution, and that they are a prerequisite for the complex integration of visual scenes with other senses required for the dynamic planning of action, as when a predator is hunting down prey. A thoughtful and interesting read.”
Sten Grillner, Professor, Nobel Institute for Neurophysiology, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
"Compared to The Ancient Origins of Consciousness, Consciousness Demystified is more condensed, less technical and accessible to a wider range of readers interested in understanding consciousness. This agile book, with its armamentarium of useful tools (Glossary, Notes, References, Index), undoubtedly contributes to the enduring appeal of the neuroscientific study of consciousness."
British Journal of Psychiatry-International
"Serious scholars are likely to find their appetite whetted.... a worthwhile read."