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The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  2,047 ratings  ·  63 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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C.T. Phipps
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Consciousness is the last refuge of the non-religious dualistic thinker. A person who believes reality is more than matter. As Death in Terry Pratchett's Hogfather put it, "TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED."

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
Apr 20, 2008 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
Jana Light
Oct 07, 2016 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.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For a complete laywoman in philosophy and consciousness, this was an enjoyable, interesting read that I could also comprehend.
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Sep 11, 2008 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
Griffin Deutsch
Jun 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
Full disclosure: I did not finish this book, and went into it with a clear physicalist disposition, trying to challenge my own beliefs.

For the first third of the book, Chalmers gives a rigorous exposition on notions of different forms of supervenience as well as possible world semantics. He's quite thorough and there was nothing too objectionable, until he got to p-zombies. This is where it went off the rails quick for me.

Essentially, Chalmers' whole argument for his brand of property dualism hi
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, philosophy
Lets be clear here. David Chalmers offers the view of "Property Dualism", which rejects strict materialism with the idea that though consciousness is produced by the brain, it is not strictly reducible to the brain. This is informed by the idea that materialist theories of consciousness and neuroscience are "leaving something out" when it comes to consciousness, and I must say that the more philosophy of mind I read, the more I'm convinced this is the case.

Now, I'd also like to make it clear t
Elliott Bignell
Apr 12, 2015 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
Nov 06, 2013 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 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 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.
Feb 11, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is a book about what the conscious mind is, how we use it, and is basically a philosiphy book of sorts.
Brian Powell
Chalmers is a thoughtful practitioner well-acquainted with this field. He's by all accounts a grounded, critically-thinking person. Sadly, to paraphrase Rick James, "consciousness is one hell of a drug." It makes reasonable, well-meaning people go tragically off the rails.

Chalmers opens his salvo by claiming that consciousness "does not logically supervene on the physical world". By this he means that once one has fixed all the physical facts about the world, one must add something extra to get
Arno Mosikyan
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy

In this book I reach conclusions that some people may think of as “antiscientific”: I argue that reductive explanation of consciousness is impossible, and I even argue for a form of dualism.

Materialism is a beautiful and compelling view of the world, but to account for consciousness, we have to go beyond the resources it provides.

At the root of all this lie two quite distinct concepts of mind. The first is the phenomenal concept of mind. This is the concept of mind as conscious experience,
John Duff
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When an argument pulls me kicking and screaming from a doctrinaire mindset, it deserves five stars! Chalmers argues carefully and meticulously for a dualist theory of consciousness, abandoning the materialist assumptions of most academicians. While it was difficult to imagine a non-materialistic, physical account of natural dualism, I now realize the strength and importance of such a theory in all discussions of mind and science in general. It’s a complex read for non-academics, but well worth t ...more
Anthony O'Connor
Thorough and detailed. Definitely worth a read.

But as never openly admits he views consciousness as an epiphenomenon. No causal role. And eventually drops into a kind of dualism. Old wine dressed up in fancy jargon. Nothing really new here. Except a solid refutation of Searle’s silly Chinese room nonsense. He even seems to think that the mind-bogglingly stupid idea that consciousness collapses the wave function is a plausible interpretation of ‘measurement’ in quantum mechanics. It was still onl
Sam Funderburk
Jan 04, 2013 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
Skylar Miklus
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
An admirable proposition for a theory that takes consciousness seriously, but doesn't stray into the Cartesian trap of trusting faith over science. An essential text. Chalmers has changed the way that cognitive scientists will think about consciousness.
John Meech
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Important to read as part of the conversation but I don't think Chalmer's work will stand up.
Oct 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Chalmers argues interesting points concerning consciousness, but the investigations of Champagne are better suited to a semiotic theory of consciousness.
Feb 10, 2020 marked it as to-read
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Don't have that many current philosophers that really inspire me, but this book and Chalmers (including the way he lived his life thusfar) is really inspiring and thought-provoking.
Sep 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Not speaking of Henry Bergsons holographic principle of mind is an incredible failing for what is otherwise an excellent book.
Joshua Stein
Jul 24, 2013 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
Apr 08, 2011 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 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 02, 2013 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
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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

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33 likes · 12 comments
“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?” 7 likes
“Materialism is a beautiful and compelling view of the world, but to account for consciousness, we have to go beyond the resources it provides.” 7 likes
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