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Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  1,422 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
In Conversations on Consciousness, Susan Blackmore interviews some of the great minds of our time, a who's who of eminent thinkers, all of whom have devoted much of their lives to understanding the concept of consciousness. The interviewees, ranging from major philosophers to renowned scientists, talk candidly with Blackmore about some of the key philosophical issues confr ...more
Paperback, 274 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2005)
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Jan 09, 2010 David rated it it was ok
I finished reading Susan Blackmore's Conversations on Consciousness today (aah, the benefit of being under the weather over shabbat). This book is definitely worth reading, because over the course of doing so, I became convinced that none of these thinkers are any closer to understand the central riddle of consciousness than the blind men grasping the elephant. There is not widespread agreement on problem definitions, basic methodologies, or even what the known elements are. I wouldn't say that ...more
Jon Stout
Dec 14, 2010 Jon Stout rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: robo-nerds and lotus-gazers
Shelves: philosophy
This collection of interviews served as a great opportunity to compare various points of view and professional approaches to the study of consciousness. Those interviewed fell into familiar categories: neuroscientists, philosophers, cognitive scientists, those interested in Buddhist meditation, and so forth. Some I was familiar with, such as Ramachandran, the Churchlands, Dennett and Searle. Others had interesting ideas, that I might want to pursue, such as Chalmers and Wegner. Still others I co ...more
Todd Martin
Jul 19, 2008 Todd Martin rated it it was ok
"Conversations on Consciousness" consists of a number of transcribed conversations which Susan Blackmore has had with scientists and philosophers on the question of consciousness. Topics discussed include: what consciousness is, where it resides, how it arises, whether it is separate from the brain, and the 'hard problem' of the existance of subjective experience in an objective world.

The answers are interesting, although the bottom line is that the science of consciousness is in its very early
Dec 30, 2014 Mommalibrarian rated it really liked it
Do you have free will? Is this a psychological, philosophical, or biological question? This book contains interviews of psychologists, philosophers and scientists on consciousness and free will. Some of the interviews are totally baffling (worse than listening to politicians) but most can be followed. The author has pretty good grip on the science and pushes to get the same set of topics covered in each interview. Her past dabblings in parapsychology and interests in meditation and memes only oc ...more
Mar 26, 2009 Malcolm rated it really liked it
Wonderful read. Scientist Susan Blackmore addresses important questions about the nature of consciousness to eminent scientists in the field of neuroscience. Can Zombies really exist, what happens when we die, what is the nature of consciousness - what is it, is it an effect of the brain or something from outside us. I love the little cartoons illustrating important points and the caricatures of the scientists. I was relieved to see that most of the scientist were extremely dubious about the pos ...more
Nov 07, 2010 Dpdwyer rated it it was amazing
Cognitive psychologist and author Susan Blackmore interviews twenty-one eminent thinkers---both scientists (Crick, Gregory, Ramachandran) and philosophers (Dennett, Searle, Chalmers)---about consciousness, free will, and related issues. While the questions are somewhat repetitive, the answers are anything but. I was stunned that many of them do not believe in free will. There are new ideas on every page although the interview format precludes much depth. This wonderful book could spark a hundred ...more
Sep 07, 2010 Patrick rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully interesting book. All the Neuro science "big hitters"...Chalmers, Dennet, Searle etc are here & all concerned are cajoled by Blackmore into giving a clear & concise view of their opinions regarding one of the biggest mysteries in science. Blackmore does an excellent job of getting them to take a clear position on most of the thorny old chesnuts such as freewill, philospher's zombies etc,etc.
Aug 07, 2008 Joe rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books in philosophy of mind. The author sits down and asks the tough questions to cognitive scientists, computer scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, physicists, etc. It's a relatively short read, and a great way to find out what the top theorists are concluding in theory of mind.
Thomas Lindmark
Jan 08, 2017 Thomas Lindmark rated it really liked it
I really liked this book.

At first glance it seemed rather daunting, since it is a collection of interviews on consciousness with scientists and philosophers who have spend a lifetime dealing with the problem of consciousness. But the interviewer has a background in the same field and managed to cut thru some of more esoteric stuff. "But that do you really mean!".

The questions all follow the same general theme. What is consciousness, what it the problem with it, what got you interested, how have
Mar 05, 2015 Rama rated it really liked it
Shelves: biology
The quest for consciousness

Author Susan Blackmore interviews about 20 scientists working in the physics and biology of consciousness, and focuses mainly on the neurobiological aspects of mind, subjective experience, free will and consciousness.

Consciousness is a set of physical processes that give rise to conscious experience. But in order to understand the relationship between consciousness and the physical world, we need to know the nature of physical reality. This leads us to quantum physics
Scott Lupo
Jul 25, 2011 Scott Lupo rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a great read if you are interested in being introduced to the philosphy and science of consciousness. Susan Blackmore converses with 20 of the most well-known scientists and philosophers of our time. She generally asks the same questions to each of them but also uses their answers to go off script and get a deeper understanding of certain subject matter. It really gets to the heart of what makes us human (why did nature give us this ability?). Topics include the hard problem, free will, ...more
Apr 19, 2013 Rick rated it really liked it
This brought me back to my college studies: psychology and cognitive science.
It's a great read if you're interested in either of those topics, but more specifically I'd say this is a 'philosophy of mind' book. It brings up many of the philosophical arguments over the study of the mind and what it means to have consciousness.

That might be intimidating, but this book isn't dense. The couple dozen interviews with philosophers, neuroscientists, neurophenomenologists(!?), etc are lively and bring up
Si Barron
Oct 27, 2014 Si Barron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is quite fun to dip into. Many bite-size chapters of separate conversations with the prime-movers in consciousness philosophising over the last few decades.

There are some interesting angles pursued and I particularly like the insistence on the ‘freewill’ question and also the way such theorising has an impact on the thinkers everyday life.

Unfortunately this will not serve as a great primer on the subject because the nature of conversation is that it rambles from the point and each of
Rob Adey
Jan 04, 2012 Rob Adey rated it really liked it
Shelves: consciousness
Excellent series of interviews with many of the leading/famous figures in consciousness studies (Dennett, the Chalmers zombie guy, Penrose, John Searle, Thomas Metzinger etc.). Blackmore does an excellent job as an interviewer. Although she has her own definite opinions on the subject (she claims to actually experience Dennett's diffuse, bundle-y self), she's open-minded enough to really make sure she her subjects are telling us the truest, clearest explanation of their theories, while still giv ...more
Jul 15, 2011 Sushil rated it really liked it

Take the most complex conundrums in a field and ask its leading thinkers about them in an informal setting. I would love to read more books in this format. Susan keeps the interviewers on their toes without appearing too confrontational or biased even though she does seem to have a preference for "robot-geeks". Ultimately, that small bias seems to be justified since the reader is left with the impression that most thinkers today are leaning towards the view that consciousness and free-will are r
Elisaúl RC
Dec 16, 2012 Elisaúl RC rated it liked it
It's a very interesting book. I confess I had to struggle a lot while reading it, because I just started to familiarize myself with this subject. There were many things I couldn't understand at first. The book has a useful glossary in the back... but I would recommend that you read an introductory book on consciousness. After reading many interviews, I started to understand better what these persons were trying to say. Also, when I started to read Simon Blackburn's book "Think", some things beca ...more
Apr 27, 2014 Marlan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kind of an interesting book, compiling a load of interviews with scientists, philosophers & the like, asking them about their thoughts on what consciousness is.

It's not a perfect book. Susan Blackmore definitely has a bias - you can sense it in her incongruous questions about meditation, for instance. And I felt myself making mental objections to many of the arguments brought up by the interviewees.

But in that it sets out to basically find out what these (imperfect, but experienced and thoug
John Sibley
Jul 16, 2011 John Sibley rated it really liked it
I was most impressed with Professor Thomas Metzinger's Idea of ' consciousness culture ' : the impact of neurobiology , bioethics, on everyday life in the near future. What will be the impact of transcranial magnetic
stimulation, new molecules that can switch on/off certain locus of our consciousness, info smog, Non addictive drugs that will make you happy for decades?
In closing he states that no great minds predicted that the Berlin Wall was going to come anything is possible.
Mar 08, 2014 Peterh rated it really liked it
The conversations in this book serve as short insights into different philosophical viewpoints on consciousness- what it is, where it comes from, and its implications for the self and free will. Susan Blackmore is a researcher and thinker in this field herself, and she easily trades jargon with her interlocutors. A newcomer to the topic might need to repeatedly reference the glossary, but I suspect that anyone with an interest in consciousness will be able to take something away something of val ...more
Aug 21, 2007 Andrew rated it really liked it
I really ewnjoyed this book. It's a very good and creative way of presenting the viewpoints of various different writers/philosophers/neuroscientists, etc. in an informal, conversational way. THey're all asked the same basic questions, so it makes it easy to see where each person stands on the core issues of current consciousness studies. I would recommend this book both to those who are familiar with the debates and arguments behind current cognitive science, and also to those who might want ju ...more
Jan 09, 2013 Holly marked it as to-read
I haven't read enough of it to feel I'm properly able to comment, but I had a hard time getting into it. I'd probably need to either know more about consciousness in all it's scientific, philosophical and theoretical forms before really being able to get into it. The structure of the discussions sounds interesting, in that she asked a number of different leading figures the same questions. It's apparently based or taken from the idea of a Radio 4 show about it, so I'm considering having a look f ...more
Anthony Tenaglier
Aug 23, 2011 Anthony Tenaglier rated it it was amazing
Ever consider the question why am I being myself? Is it your instinctive drives? Is it your ability to think? Maybe its your ability to use a particular language. Does this make you conscious? But what if you considered a rat or a tiger to have consciousness? Then how would you define it now? So the question to ask is how can I look into your head and confirm this? This book reveals the current debate and struggles scientists and philosophers face in defining what consciousness really is. A very ...more
Apr 12, 2012 Peter rated it it was amazing
Lucid and informative conversations on the nature of consciousness, the problem of understanding/explaining it, the possibility of free will, and other topics. Sue Blackmore speaks with Francis Crick, Daniel Dennett, R.L. Gregory, John Searle, Roger Penrose, Stuart Hameroff, and more than a dozen other philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists about the least understandable, perhaps, of all human biological capacities.
Dec 05, 2010 Colin rated it it was amazing
I love books like this; listening to experts in various fields give their opinions on what consciousness means. It's back to philosophy class with questions on whether free will can exist in the material world or if we're really all clockwork, predetermined sets of actions. Also, I found it interesting to hear the answers to the question of how their various researches have changed their own view of the world and their lives.
Sep 20, 2008 Sheryl rated it it was amazing
Fascinating opinions on the nature of consciousness and the limitations of our ability to rationalize it. Some are more dogmatic than others, but this is a great read for anyone interested in how we think, or why we think, or whether indeed, we are even here! A good mix of psychology and philosophy from the leading scientific minds in the field.
Jun 23, 2016 Kailin rated it it was ok
This book can be confusing for a beginner on the topic as it contains many opposing theories and views by experts from various fields. Categorising the book by alphabetical order of their names may not be ideal due to their sometimes antagonistic views. The dissonance can be rather unnerving for a beginner.
Joe Paulk
Apr 01, 2008 Joe Paulk rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is one of the best books on the topic. Ms. Blackmore basically writes this as a pseudo-dissertation of sorts, but her interview style is anything but stodgy. These are interviews, by the way, but the the author does a fantastic job of bringing out their personality by tailoring her questioning to each. This was one of the surprising books for me in 2006.
Kathleen O'Neal
Jun 29, 2013 Kathleen O'Neal rated it liked it
While this book is worthwhile, it could have been greatly improved for me by providing a more accessible introduction to this intriguing but sometimes very technical field of philosophy and neuroscience. I plan to revisit this book after I obtain a stronger philosophy background in this area in the course of my MA program and see what I think about it then.
Apr 17, 2010 Don rated it it was amazing
Wondeful conversations with 21 philosophers, scientists and psychologists about the problem(s) of human understanding of our own "consciousness". It was fascinating to see the range of opinions. A few questions were asked consistently and along the way she roped in the people and really directed questions AT them. Worthy of multiple readings!
Ermina Williams
Jun 05, 2011 Ermina Williams rated it liked it
Reading now. It's ok. Too dumbed-down for my taste. But has some interesting references in it. All in all. Buddhist texts on consciousness address many of the same themes but more eloquently. Will finish it though as it's a quick read.
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The Brain and Mind: Conversations on Consiousness 1 32 Aug 22, 2007 03:15PM  
  • The Mystery Of Consciousness
  • Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness
  • The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self
  • The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory
  • Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind/Brain
  • The Illusion of Conscious Will
  • The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
  • Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind
  • Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language
  • Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain
  • The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds In A Material World
  • Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited
  • Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness
  • Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul
  • Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness
  • Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought
  • A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination
Susan Jane Blackmore is a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She has a degree in psychology and physiology from Oxford University (1973) and a PhD in parapsychology from the University of Surrey (1980). Her research interests include memes, evolutionary theory, consciousness, and meditation. She practices Zen and campaigns for drug l ...more
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“What happens when an animal or person dies? Something seems to have departed--something like a vital spark that makes the difference between life and death. In the nineteenth century, philosophers believed that there really was such a thing and called it the élan vital, or vital spirit. But when twentieth century science began to unravel the mysteries of how living things work and reproduce, the idea was abandoned and people now accept that there is nothing more to being alive than complex, interrelated, biological functions.” 2 likes
“Dan   Philosophy is what you do when you don’t yet know what the right questions are to ask.” 0 likes
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