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The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  1,536 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
What is consciousness? How do physical processes in the brain give rise to the self-aware mind and to feelings as profoundly varied as love or hate, aesthetic pleasure or spiritual yearning? These questions today are among the most hotly debated issues among scientists and philosophers, and we have seen in recent years superb volumes by such eminent figures as Francis Cric ...more
Paperback, 1st edition Philosophy of Mind Series, 432 pages
Published September 25th 1997 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1996)
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I enjoy challenging my beliefs, especially the calcified ones. I knew before starting this book that Chalmers would challenge my philosophic materialism, and in a slightly self-punishing way I wish he would have done a better job. He is a brilliant man, and plays in a fucking panpsychic-themed band, and is one of the people I wish were in my circle of friends, but my margin notes became increasingly hostile before abandoning this book altogether.

This quote (from a recent Atlantic article wherein
Jana L.
Oct 07, 2016 Jana L. rated it liked it
I go back and forth on this one. I'll need to take a bit to let what I really think about the work bubble to the surface. Review to come.
May 08, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing
This book can be separated into two parts: 1) A criticism of a materialistic view of consciousness and 2) David Chalmers' foundations for a fundamental theory of mind.

The first part is clear, powerful and very convincing. He is organized and thorough, answering the reader's every question. DC covers all of the major arguments against a materialistic view of consciousness, with his conclusion being that mental facts do not logically supervene on physical facts. In other words, it is logically pos
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Nov 26, 2008 Joshua Nomen-Mutatio marked it as started-but-stalled-for-now
I just returned it to the library. Someday I will finish it. I'm just currently and strongly persuaded by the physicalist and eliminativist end of the spectrum so much so that I simply lost interest. I know of Chalmers reputation as having made great contributions to the subject of consciousness. I think where I most differ with property dualism (anomalous monism being the most persuasive version for me so far) is with regards to the problematic notion of epiphenomenal mental states (which Chalm ...more
Chris Naylor
In this book David Chalmers presents a case against materialist reductionist accounts of consciousness, and in favour of a non-interactionist dualist account. I don’t think his case stands up.

Chalmers bases his theory very heavily on the conceivability – and therefore, in his view, the logical possibility - of zombies. Chalmers also believes in epistemic asymmetry – that one needs to have experienced consciousness to understand what it is and believe in it. These two positions are incompatible.
Joshua Stein
Aug 01, 2013 Joshua Stein rated it liked it
So, there's a lot to be said about The Conscious Mind. The most important thing is that it is stylistically and structurally very strange. Chalmers argues for his version of property dualism from an angle that is not well represented or well appreciated in philosophy of mind: theoretical metaphysics. There is something wonderfully (in my opinion) anti-metaphysical about most of the literature in philosophy of mind; most of the folks in this field (Block, Damasio, Paul Churchland, Dennett, etc.) ...more
Nov 06, 2013 Neal rated it really liked it
Both a great window into the world and questions of philosophy of mind and consciousness and a very detailed and thought-out picture of one philosopher's answers to those questions. Probably not the best book to read first if you haven't delved into the area much before, but it is well written, often funny, and argued with clarity. Chalmers tells you what he's going to argue for, argues for it, then reminds you what he just argued for. He is very systematic, and there is no question that he beli ...more
Oct 06, 2007 Bilgewater rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: philosophy addicts, challenge seekers
A really fun read. Complex and mentally demanding, this book is sort of like living in the author's mind or listening to him as he thinks out loud. There's a whole lot to think about here, and if you're serious about trying to understand, organize, and digest the ideas presented within, then this book is a very long meal indeed. Split each chapter up as necessary and take it slow; this book does not disappoint.
Mar 15, 2007 Jafar rated it really liked it
He rejects materialism and subscribes to property dualism. A great book by a mathematician turned philosopher.
Probably the most important philosophy book of the 1990s.
Sam Funderburk
Apr 17, 2013 Sam Funderburk rated it it was amazing
David Chalmers’ The Conscious Mind is an interesting turn in the search for a fundamental theory of mind. It may come as a surprise that a fundamentally dualist approach underlies a current, academic theory. That said, this book, as has been noted elsewhere, can be divided into two more or less self-contained sections. The first section offers a firm refutation of the reductive materialistic approach that seems to dominate the field. The second section represents Chalmers’ attempt to propose his ...more
Elliott Bignell
Apr 12, 2015 Elliott Bignell rated it liked it
The middling star-rating indicates that I was faced with a real dilemma in reviewing this book. Chalmers' conclusions towards the latter half are unobjectionable and would seem a coherent contribution to the problem of consciousness taken on their own. The problem is that the route he takes to get to them is one extended exercise in question-begging, and ultimately self-defeating. Subtly or not so subtly, Chalmers again and again builds arguments based on the assumption of what he seeks to demon ...more
Apr 08, 2011 Rachael rated it it was amazing
Chalmers make a strong and accessible case for the view in the philosophy of mind known as dualism, specifically, property dualism. Whereas many want to retain their metaphysical materialism Chalmers argues that given the nature of experience as qualitatively different this is impossible and we are forced into accepting some kind of dualism- either substance (physical and mental substances which instantiate properties) or property (one substance which instantiates two different kinds of properti ...more
Jan 04, 2014 Pavel rated it did not like it
Masochistic experience. The book seriously shattered with my illusions about advances of philosophizing mankind. What is more disturbing – the fact that someone feels necessary to scientifically defend existence of consciousness or the intellectual milieu from which this feeling grows and where ignoring consciousness is standard?
From this point of view, I could be sympathetic with author’s effort, for he defends the sound intuition. However, the intuition alone could be expected from a thoughtfu
Joseph Sverker
Well, this was a long read. I was suppose to read it in a much shorter period of time, but it got sidelined a bit by other reading projects. The slow reading pace meant that it was difficult to follow his line of argument in some sections of the book. And also because some sections really were complex. I should really take time to write a proper review of this, but I wonder if I have the time and energy for that. There are many, many profound insights and thoughts in this book.

The primary insigh
Julian Lewis
Feb 12, 2013 Julian Lewis rated it did not like it
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. 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
Mohit Virmani
May 14, 2016 Mohit Virmani rated it it was amazing
Chalmers' ingenuity to disapprove the reductionist approach towards finding a fundamental theory of consciousness so diligently, is amazing. Anyone who believes that we don't ever need a totally radical and non-reductionist approach to finding answers to consciousness and that the present day approaches of neurosciences will answer all questions related to the existence of consciousness and the mysteries of the mind should read this book. If you are interested in first having a glimpse of what t ...more
Jul 27, 2009 Chris rated it it was amazing
I think Chalmers is brilliant, and likewise, this book is amazing. I don't know what I think about his arguments, but it seems that - at base - it amounts to this: Two-D semantics is a plausible intensional semantics (a child of Frege's *sense and reference*-style semantics) and that this view is inconsistent with physicalism with regard to the mind, and hence, one of them has to go, and Chalmers argues that it is physicalism. He is notorious for the Conceivability argument, which is often misre ...more
Adeeb Hossain
Aug 29, 2013 Adeeb Hossain rated it it was amazing
This book, along with Stranger in a strange Land was the catalyst for the paradigm shift I underwent in June. Consciousness is ubiquitous! (though, as a disclaimer, I should add that the ubiquity of consciousness (or panpsychism, to put it succinctly) is not what he's arguing for. Rather, he's arguing that consciousness cannot emerge simply by looking at the interaction of neurons in the brain. The arguments are quite convincing though I have problems grokking how exactly zombies (beings which s ...more
Jeffrey Backlin
Jan 20, 2016 Jeffrey Backlin rated it really liked it
A fine work from a naturalist who rejects materialism. His distinction between the psychological nature (causal explanations, memory, attention, etc.) and the phenomenal (the subjective "feel" of you inner world p. 6-10) was very helpful. Often, the philosophy of mind can be difficult to follow, but reading Chalmers I feel I have a better understanding. His rejection of materialism is based, and he says as much (p. 140), on the notion that phenomenal experience does not have to follow (Zombie wo ...more
Feb 08, 2008 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
One of the best treatments of the subject of human consciousness in the world today. While David sometimes gets bogged down in his own rhetoric, I find his thoughts and study of the subject to be superior in nearly every category. I was fortunate enough to have engaged David in a brief correspondance after reading the book, and his generous response to my inquiries confirmed for me that he is one of the most important champions of expanding our views of just what might be responsible for the ric ...more
Fin Moorhouse
Aug 29, 2016 Fin Moorhouse rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, favorites
Chalmers argues clearly and convincingly that the 'hard problem of consciousness' will not go away- consciousness is fundamental and irreducible to physical processes. He then spends the rest of the book working overtime to deal with the crazy consequences and problems associated with this dualism. We go from some quite dry discussion of metaphysics to zombies, panpsychism and quantum physics in what feels like no time. Brilliant!
Sep 15, 2008 Bill rated it really liked it
Shelves: mind, philosophy
An extended exploration of the premise that consciousness does not reduce to its physical correlates. Chalmers is brilliant, relentless, and comprehensive in grappling with his physicalist critics, yet to defend consciousness he must ultimately reduce it to utter impotence.

Best argument: zombies!
Polly Petersen
Dec 07, 2009 Polly Petersen rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Extremely logical investigation into consciousness. David Chalmers gives strong arguments in support of dualism. His project is to encourage more people to think about consciousness in stead of writing it off as just another brain function. I found his idea's on the role of information in consciousness quite intreging.
Mar 30, 2011 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Excellent introduction to the topic with a well-reasoned argument, that Chalmers smartly does not push too far. He is setting up what he considers the beginning of a philosophy of consciousness. Here is the now famous "hard problem"--we written and enjoyable to read...without shying away from technical philosophy.
Oct 18, 2016 Leonardo marked it as to-keep-ref
Shelves: own-digital
David Chalmers propone que la base de la conciencia deberá fundarse en una fuerza de la naturaleza nueva, adicional, fundamental -primordial e irreductible-, como la gravedad o el electromagnetismo, o algo así como una (auto)coinciencia o autopercepción...

Visión de Paralaje Pág.202-203
Aug 07, 2008 Joe rated it it was amazing
David Chalmers' seminal work is considered a masterpiece in philosophy of mind and a game changer in contemporary metaphysics. It's also a generally accessible read for those who have not read much philosophy, and will get you thinking hard about the hard problems in theory of mind.
Apr 10, 2008 Scott rated it it was amazing
This book is breathtakingly well-argued. Chalmers admits few of the ideas are original to him, but his careful method of complete explication of the relevant philosophical problems and solutions, followed by detailed analysis of every possible counterargument, is in itself inspired.
Keith Mcintosh
Aug 20, 2012 Keith Mcintosh rated it liked it
I wrote an answer on the contrast between this book and Dennet in my last Philosophy exam and, to be honest, I am still not sure that I understand it properly! Got a good mark though. I should read it again. I wrote the author a thank you email and he wrote back too which was nice.
Jeremy Ellington
Oct 13, 2012 Jeremy Ellington rated it liked it
This book is interesting, in that I had never before heard a contemporary, educated academic argue in favor or dualism. It's a little dense, especially the beginning, as Chalmers is trying to create a serious book and is meticulous in his deconstruction of materialism.
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David J. Chalmers is a philosopher at the Australian National University. Officially: Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Centre for Consciousness, and an ARC Federation Fellow. Works in the philosophy of mind and in related areas of philosophy and cognitive science and is especially interested in consciousness and in philosophical issues about meaning and possibility, in the foundations of c ...more
More about David J. Chalmers...

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“Why should there be conscious experience at all? It is central to a subjective viewpoint, but from an objective viewpoint it is utterly unexpected. Taking the objective view, we can tell a story about how fields, waves, and particles in the spatiotemporal manifold interact in subtle ways, leading to the development of complex systems such as brains. In principle, there is no deep philosophical mystery in the fact that these systems can process information in complex ways, react to stimuli with sophisticated behavior, and even exhibit such complex capacities as learning, memory, and language. All this is impressive, but it is not metaphysically baffling. In contrast, the existence of conscious experience seems to be a new feature from this viewpoint. It is not something that one would have predicted from the other features alone. That is, consciousness is surprising. If all we knew about were the facts of physics, and even the facts about dynamics and information processing in complex systems, there would be no compelling reason to postulate the existence of conscious experience. If it were not for our direct evidence in the first-person case, the hypothesis would seem unwarranted; almost mystical, perhaps. Yet we know, directly, that there is conscious experience. The question is, how do we reconcile it with everything else we know?” 2 likes
“Conscious experience is at once the most familiar thing in the world and the most mysterious. There is nothing we know about more directly than consciousness, but it is far from clear how to reconcile it with everything else we know. Why does it exist? What does it do? How could it possibly arise from lumpy gray matter? We know consciousness far more intimately than we know the rest of the world, but we understand the rest of the world far better than we understand consciousness. Consciousness can be startlingly intense. It is the most vivid of phenomena; nothing is more real to us. But it can be frustratingly diaphanous: in talking about conscious experience, it is notoriously difficult to pin down the subject matter. The International Dictionary of Psychology does not even try to give a straightforward characterization: Consciousness: The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means. Many fall into the trap of confusing consciousness with self-consciousness—to be conscious it is only necessary to be aware of the external world. Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written about it. (Sutherland 1989)” 1 likes
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