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Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  321 ratings  ·  39 reviews
A renowned philosopher of the mind, also known for his groundbreaking work on Buddhism and cognitive science, Evan Thompson combines the latest neuroscience research on sleep, dreaming, and meditation with Indian and Western philosophy of mind, casting new light on the self and its relation to the brain.

Thompson shows how the self is a changing process, not a static thing.
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published November 18th 2014 by Columbia University Press (first published September 30th 2014)
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Piers Moore Ede It's certainly less readable than Deepak Chopra. He's attempting something similar to say Daniel Goleman's Destructive Emotions, if you've come across…moreIt's certainly less readable than Deepak Chopra. He's attempting something similar to say Daniel Goleman's Destructive Emotions, if you've come across that, but it's very cerebral indeed. Beautiful cover and I had high hopes this would be a great book but it's too scientific for me.(less)

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Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Really liked the book, although it wasn't always easy to read and I'm sure 10% of it whooshed right past me. Great mixture of Eastern religion/philosophy mixed with Western neuroscience and psychology. I really liked the discussions of normal waking consciousness compared to other forms of consciousness such as dreams or meditation. Good (not 100% positive) review in the NYT made me want to read this: ...more
Dec 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
I'm always eager to read any book that combines Buddhism, science and philosophy. Love this stuff. Sections of Thompson's book are fascinating, insightful and truly enlightening. But the mind-numbing scientific data and uber-dense analytic language wore me down and became overwhelming and joy-killing. Too bad. ...more
Jason Gregory
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most unique and important books of our time (and maybe beyond our time). I discovered this book in a most unlikely place, it was recommended by Swami Sarvapriyananda. You would never think a Hindu Swami would recommend a book on Western neuroscience. But this is what makes Thompson's book different to the rest. Thompson himself was brought up on Eastern philosophy, especially Buddhism. But the link between Sarvapriyananda and Thompson is that in Waking, Dreaming, Being the org ...more
Piers Moore Ede
Dec 21, 2014 rated it liked it
A curet's egg. While I thouroughly admired the ideas explored here, and the enormous scientific acumen of the author, I think that the task he's set himself - to add scientific weight to some of the key findings of Buddhist and Hindu thought - becomes near impossible at this level. To some extent Daniel Goleman did a better job in Destructive Emotions. His science is less exhaustive, perhaps, but his prose has more heart. ...more
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A challenging read--but also an incredibly original and compelling approach to the question of consciousness and animal minds. There was a great review of this book in the New York Times, in which the reviewer remarked that, "More than evolution, more than inexhaustible arguments over God’s existence, the real fault line between science and religion runs through the nature of consciousness."

I am not sure this is true--since the scientists themselves find
Ted Morgan
This promises to be a terrific reading experience but I have a compliant. The construction of this book by a major university press is dismal. I have encountered shoddy manufacture of scholarly books by other university presses. I paid a lot of money for this work. It is already on the verge of coming unglued. It would not last for long in university or public library. Harvard University Press has also manufactured shoddy hardback books. Their paper editions often are printed on shoddy paper.
Craig Werner
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Triangulating between Buddhism, neuroscience and phenomenology, Thompson offers a thought-provoking, challenging engagement with the fundamental question of whether there's any such thing as "the self." His point of departure is the ongoing conversation between the Dalai Lama and scientists researching the realtionship between brain and various states of consciousness. Thompson foregrounds the Dalai Lama's speculation that, although it would conflict with most traditional Buddhist teachings, it' ...more
“In the Yogācāra model of the workings of consciousness, an individual mental stream that’s capable of conceiving of itself as a subject of experience does so by drawing on a subliminal repository of psychological information about itself while attending to its own mental states and preattentively experiencing itself as the conscious subject of this attentive activity.74 For example, suppose the thought, “I feel anxious,” arises in the mental stream. The thought comes about because there’s an im ...more
Paul Brandwein
Sep 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Being someone who has had a lifelong interest in science and in buddhism, I was fascinated by this exploration of the meeting of neuroscience, philosophy, and meditative practices. The author covers such topics as awareness, dreaming (both lucid and non-lucid), sleep, out of body and near death experiences, and just what is the "self" without overly emphasizing science or buddhism. Not an "easy" read. Frequently dry and academic (there are 60+ pages of notes in the back of the book), but one boo ...more
Sidney Luckett
Mar 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book. A nice mix of personal experience & theory -Buddhist schools & developments in neuroscience.

It requires careful reading because of the fine distinctions drawn throughout, but well worth the effort.

Although Thompson carefully sets out the neuro-nihilist position (i.e. the self is an illusion created by the brain) which he refutes, it did help me to read some of the writings and watch video recordings by Sam Harris who is arguably the most well known neuro-nihilist.
Mar 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Soleil Shah
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly packed and multidisciplinary read that, drawing heavily from Eastern tradition and philosophy, reminds us to not discount the value of phenomenal experience in understanding consciousness and the self. Enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the chapter on lucid dreaming and the illusion of self.
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
011921: Second reading. Still hold this as the go-to book that guides the reader through the various states of consciousness. Will continue to use this as a reference and will likely revisit again in full.

112519: Superb book that will be revisited throughout my lifetime. (Planning to add a deeper review after a reread)

Katharine Rudzitis
Feb 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
Well-researched and packed with information, but I promise that you'll yawn a few times. The chapters begin with engaging stories, but the writing becomes far drier as the chapters go on. ...more
Tiago Faleiro
Mar 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I've known Evas Thompson from The Embodied Mind, which is a classic of cognitive science. I was quite excited to discover he had a new book. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, as the main title is quite vague.

But it is vague if you don't know what he is going to argue, the title does describe the book very accurately. It starts by exploring what consciousness is, mostly from the perspective of Indian Buddhist philosophy. He covers the analogy of consciousness being a "light" in its most basic
Dana Wilde
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is another extremely well-made Lewis unfolding of the facts below the surface, this time of weather information. One reviewer here bewilderingly complains that Lewis "politicizes" the account. Now, the thesis of the piece is that the Trump administration is systematically closing down public access to government information that has always been available to the public; reporting facts you wish were not true about a political situation and making reasonable sense out of them is not "politici ...more
Megan Wight
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
What is consciousness? Are we conscious when we sleep? Is lucid dreaming an extraordinary “pure awareness”? Why is it some of the most beautiful moments are with-in moments when we forget ourselves; when we forget our ego, and sense of self. Has our sense of self always just been an illusion? Evan Thompson gives an alternative to the Buddhist idea of no self, saying “our sense of self is not an illusion but rather a process”. This seemed to be the most important theme he wanted to share from thi ...more
M Spiering
Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an exceptional book. It deftly weaves together Eastern and Western philosophy with neuroscience to explore the nature of the self, mind, and consciousness. It covers areas such as out-of-body and near-death experiences with rigour rarely found in other works. It also discusses how waking, dreaming, and lucid dreaming states can be used in contemplative practice to probe the nature of awareness, attention, and "self-making" (discussed at length in the final chapter).

It's a challenging rea
B Conatus
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Evan’s books are always long, detailed, and challenging. This one helped me to get a better feel for the relationship between his preferred form of enactivism and his approach to neurophenomenology. I can’t say that I agree with him on everything here, but I’ve found many of the ideas from this book continuing to work their way through my thinking. Even more, it’s one of the first books that has helped me to see why consciousness studies is worth pursuing! I definitely recommend this book to any ...more
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
A convincing study of how the self can be neither illusory nor a substantial entity on its own, achieved initially through an overview of what dreams (from lucid dreams to dreamless sleep) expound about our selves. But trust me, this is no Freud. Instead, it is a very clear and comprehensive analysis of contemplative traditions through a cognitive scientific perspective and vice versa. The many references to potential research paths to pursue in the future has made me very excited to witness wha ...more
Doug Erhard

Evan, apparently, although an experienced meditator, is too attached to the structure and form of philosophy to go all the way to enlightenment. Could be, that in his role as a go-between, bridging Buddhism and neuroscience, he is forced to deny himself liberation in order to maintain this role?

He seems the perfect person to pull it off, given his obvious high integrity. I was just hoping for words from a realized master, I guess. Oh well......

Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-journey
Excellent read, if you are interested in the make of human consciousness & interested in a scientific peek into spiritual stuff OR if you are meditation practicioner and wanted to understand how the experience happens to be and scientific understanding of the topic ..
To learn a good theory about consciousness, a lot of enthralling experiences and experiments conducted to understand our conscious make up

Fun read
Read 80% of the book. A lucid analysis of existence and consciousness informed both by 3rd-generation cognitive science as well as Eastern traditions (primarily Buddhist). Nothing revolutionary, but a nice synthesis of an account of consciousness fitting into various perspectives.
John Verghese
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thompson's thesis of the self-as-process is well-argued from a number of different angles. I started this while on retreat at Tushita in India, and found it very inspiring both in my meditation practice and to begin trying to lucid dream. ...more
Feb 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
Very thought provoking. It’s good to explore phenomenology through a neuroscientific lens while still being open to subjective experience and Buddhist philosophy, among many other ways of thinking. I especially love the parts exploring hypnagogic states!
Hal Shanis
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Technical, dry at times, but informative and current.
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A philosophical masterpiece. Evan mixes indian philosophy with science and the outcome is something beyond both traditions a beautiful personal journey through consciousness full of wise insights.
Kartik Subbarao
May 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book covers a wide-ranging gamut of topics around consciousness, including various aspects of perception, awareness, dreaming/lucid dreaming, sleeping, dying, and a theory of the "enacted self" ("I" as a process). The chapters are chock-full of references to neuroscience studies that are quite relevant, presented neatly in context, and highly thought-provoking. The philosophical discussion (mostly Buddhist and some Vedanta) is well integrated and logically presented. The tone is simulanteou ...more
Susanne van Doorn
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Waking, Dreaming, Being builds a bridge between two different worlds: the relative "new" Western world of science and the ancient Vedic wisdom as expressed in the Upanishad. This is a very interesting process wheer Evan talks about his own experiences, his life, experiments he has been through and in doing so he is able to put up a framework for you. You can easily re-arange your own thoughts against this ribcage of states of awareness, waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep and pure awareness.
I had
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Brain Science Pod...: BSP 115: East meets West with Dr. Evan Thompson 3 19 Jan 31, 2015 03:36PM  

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Evan Thompson is a writer and professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He works on the nature of the mind, the self, and human experience. His work combines cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Asian philosophical traditions. He is the author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscie ...more

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