Can conscious experience be described accurately? Can we give reliable accounts of our sensory experiences and pains, our inner speech and imagery, our felt emotions? The question is central not only to our humanistic understanding of who we are but also to the burgeoning scientific field of consciousness studies.
Consciousness is a wonderful thing. But if we are fully to appreciate the wonder of consciousness, we need to articulate what it is about consciousness that makes it such an interesting and important phenomenon to us. In this book, Harold Langsam argues that consciousness is intelligible—that there are substantive facts about consciousness that can be known a priori—and that it is the intelligibility of consciousness that is the source of its wonder.
The presence of sentience in a basically material reality is among the mysteries of existence. Many philosophers of mind argue that conscious states and properties are nothing beyond the matter that brings them about. Finding these arguments less than satisfactory, Gerald Vision offers a nonphysicalist theory of mind. Revisiting and defending a key doctrine of the once widely accepted school of philosophy known as emergentism, Vision proposes that conscious states are emergents, although they depend for their existence on their material bases.
This sequel to the widely read Zen and the Brain continues James Austin’s explorations into the key interrelationships between Zen Buddhism and brain research. In Zen-Brain Reflections, Austin, a clinical neurologist, researcher, and Zen practitioner, examines the evolving psychological processes and brain changes associated with the path of long-range meditative training. Austin draws not only on the latest neuroscience research and new neuroimaging studies but also on Zen literature and his personal experience with alternate states of consciousness.
In Mental Reality, Galen Strawson argues that much contemporary philosophy of mind gives undue primacy of place to publicly observable phenomena, nonmental phenomena, and behavioral phenomena (understood as publicly observable phenomena) in its account of the nature of mind. It does so at the expense of the phenomena of conscious experience. Strawson describes an alternative position, "naturalized Cartesianism," which couples the materialist view that mind is entirely natural and wholly physical with a fully realist account of the nature of conscious experience.
In The Crucible of Consciousness, Zoltan Torey offers a theory of the mind and its central role in evolution. He traces the evolutionary breakthrough that rendered the brain accessible to itself and shows how the mind-boosted brain works. He identifies what it is that separates the human’s self-reflective consciousness from mere animal awareness, and he maps its neural and linguistic underpinnings. And he argues, controversially, that the neural technicalities of reflective awareness can be neither algorithmic nor spiritual--neither a computer nor a ghost in the machine.
Building a person has been an elusive goal in artificial intelligence. This failure, John Pollock argues, is because the problems involved are essentially philosophical; what is needed for the construction of a person is a physical system that mimics human rationality.
Many philosophers and cognitive scientists dismiss the notion of qualia, sensory experiences that are internal to the brain. Leading opponents of qualia (and of Indirect Realism, the philosophical position that has qualia as a central tenet) include Michael Tye, Daniel Dennett, Paul and Patricia Churchland, and even Frank Jackson, a former supporter.
The "hard problem" of today's consciousness studies is subjective experience: understanding why some brain processing is accompanied by an experienced inner life. Recent scientific advances offer insights for understanding the physiological and chemical phenomenology of consciousness. But by leaving aside the internal experiential nature of consciousness in favor of mapping neural activity, such science leaves many questions unanswered.
This volume of Ned Block's writings collects his papers on consciousness, functionalism, and representationism. A number of these papers treat the significance of the multiple realizability of mental states for the mind-body problem—a theme that has concerned Block since the 1960s. One paper on this topic considers the upshot for the mind-body problem of the possibility of a robot that is functionally like us but physically different—as is Commander Data of Star Trek's second generation.