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Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  6,355 ratings  ·  663 reviews

"If you’ve ever wondered how you have the capacity to wonder, some fascinating insights await you in these pages.” --Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals

As concise and enlightening as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, this mind-expanding dive into the mystery of consciousness is an illumina
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by Harper (first published 2019)
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Ryan Boissonneault
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
The argument is familiar. It begins with an honest account of the mystery of consciousness and how there is, as of yet, no adequate or complete scientific explanation for how subjective experience of the material world can arise from the material world. The subjective experience of seeing the color red, for example, is very different from the scientific accounts of wavelengths of light or electrochemical activity in the brain.

It is then pointed out that there is no direct external evidence of c
Diane S ☔
Jun 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5000-2019
Please not that in the title it states that this is a brief history, so one cannot expect lengthy explanations on each point. This is scholarly work, and sometimes I felt I was in over my head, or at least not very familiar with this subject from the beginning. I did find it interesting though, that challenging many beliefs, that our conscious and self may be two totally different entities. That often we do something automatically, and our brain knows before we do. That there are specific condit ...more
Benji Mahaffey
What do quantum physics, the hard problem of consciousness, and time have in common?

They all get a cursory synopsis by Annaka Harris in her very brief Guide.

I was prepared to love this book. While rabid Redditors at r/SamHarris were ready to tear Conscious apart before it even hit the printing press (on account of Ms. Harris's lack of academic qualifications to write the book), I was a fervent defender. On a topic as broad and widely debated as consciousness, a professional writer and journalist
The failure of Annaka Harris’s Conscious to meet the lofty goal of accessibility is apparent in the first chapter.

Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris is promised to be as “concise and enlightening as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”. This is such a brave and ambitious undertaking as consciousness truly is an enigma.

Let me jump to the beginning of Chapter Two: Intuitions and Illusions to confirm what the author wa
Chaunceton Bird
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent examination of our awareness. Delves heavily into ideas about agency and what it means to be along for the ride.
Ross Blocher
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
The one thing we can know for certain is that we are conscious. Maybe you live in a simulation. Maybe we're all brains in vats. Perhaps everybody else only appears to be conscious, and you are sole person with the "lights on". Whatever the underlying reality might be, you can be convinced of your awareness and experience: the very act of thinking about it is the proof. And yet, consciousness remains one of science's most intractable mysteries. We don't know how the tangle of molecules that form ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
I wanted to give this 3 stars, because going in, I had such high hopes for it as a brief introduction to the major questions in the field of consciousness. And, in fairness, it did engage my interest in the topic. But the author’s style was disappointingly opaque. Harris often introduces a new question or idea, but never explores it in depth. And her explanations of complex ideas (especially in quantum mechanics) often leave quite a bit to be desired.

More significantly, the author clearly has a
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
To say this book is thought provoking is an understatement. It will challenge the way you think about yourself, and about the nature of reality, and it may scare the hell out of you, too. Author Annaka Harris brings a lively curiosity, and a welcome humility, to the hard problem of consciousness, and I applaud her for advancing a conversation that too often makes people feel uncomfortable and threatened, and causes them to react dismissively. "Humanity is young," she writes,"and we have barely b ...more
Hiba Arrame
Read this for my Potions O.W.L.s
This proved to be a frustrating read. The advantage being that it managed to illuminate many of my disagreements with Annaka and her husband, Sam Harris.

"Conscious" is supposed to be a 'brief guide to the fundamental mystery of the mind' but all too often ends in up simplifying complex problems. To start off her definition of what is conscious leaves one unfulfilled. She uses Thomas Nagels definition from his essay "what is it like to be a bat" wherein Nagel famously asserts that “an organism h
Alien Reader
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Overall an interesting little book about why consciousness is more mysterious than we may think. It reads like an open essay somewhere between science journalism and a philosophical argument, but it would be stronger if she firmly picked one style rather than straddling between them. In depth review below:

Annaka Harris sets out to illustrate why the nature of consciousness is difficult to define. Her line of inquiry is not focused so much on “what are the neural correlates of consciousness” or
Mark Robison
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A short book whose acknowledgments were so good, they almost caused me to bump it up a star. It's so generous and filled with good will that you can’t help but realize how selfish most other acknowledgment sections are. And the list of scientists and philosophers who offered feedback is jaw-dropping in their prominence.

As for the book, it offers some of the clearest and most concise descriptions of free will and consciousness I’ve ever come across. The book's biggest contribution is a case for p
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
For those of you living on another planet that were unaware of the debate over whether Free Will is real or not, I cannot recommend this book enough. One quote that particularly caught my eye was as follows: “The concept of a conscious will that is free seems to be incoherent—it suggests that one’s will is separate and isolated from the rest of its environment, yet paradoxically able to influence its environment by making choices within it.”
Although it is short read, do not underestimate its co
May 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was a good intro to a very complex subject matter. It’s not a book to fully grasp all material, but to get you curious and explore more.
Moh. Nasiri
What is consciousness and what is not?

Consciousness is a mysterious thing, but being conscious essentially means that you are having an experience. The one thing we know for sure about consciousness is that human beings have it, but that’s about it. Upon closer inspection, however, we find that consciousness isn’t tied to any specific human thoughts or behaviors. When we rule out these human aspects of consciousness, we can begin to speculate as to whether other things in the world also have con
Val Timke
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was so thought provoking. There were so many aspects to consciousness I hadn't considered, such as the idea that it is separate from the "self" (shown through meditation in which someone can remain conscious but lose a sense of self). So, what other forms might consciousness take? Could other things in the universe be conscious but without a sense of self?

This really was a brief guide. It took me less than an hour to read. It touches on ideas without really going in-depth on them. But I wou
Brett Williams
Dec 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book asks one of the most fascinating questions, “Why would any collection of matter in the universe be conscious?” Nobody knows. So, like answers to what is time, matter, or light, some of the answers are just as fun to ponder. Freaky realities are offered from neuroscience that put the source and operation of consciousness in question, but in many cases, only for those with injury, disease, or malfunction. Like a broken machine made to operate, of course, it acts odd. But central to the a ...more
Jasper Götting
A nice, brief overview of consciousness: The problems, the theories, and a tiny bit history. It spends pleasantly little time with blown-up examples and filler content and makes a (to me) surprisingly good case for versions of (post-)panpsychism which I did not anticipate updating towards. Sadly too much focus on the said case and the book glances over other well-developed theories and views: One mention of qualia eliminativism, two-three sentences on Integrated Information Theory, no mention of ...more
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well researched, succinct, lucid. This little book is a must-read for any conscious being wondering what (the fuck) a conscious being is. There may not be that much novel information here if you've spent a while pondering this mystery, but you will certainly enjoy seeing all your favorite names in the consciousness camp- Chalmers, Gazzaniga, Ramachandran, etc etc etc and their ideas organized and explained in language most people can understand. Harris treats the mystery with the respect it dese ...more
Mar 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audible, to-reread
I liked it a lot but it was a mistake to try an audiobook. The guide might be brief but it's referencing other sources and requires time to stop and think deeply about the material. It goes to the to-reread-list ;) The list of the author's friends that contributed to the book is stunning. What a network of thinkers! ...more
Feb 28, 2022 rated it liked it
Interesting thought provoking read. A mix of science, psychology, and philosophy.
What is consciousness, is it a soul, what defines it, what's the purpose of it, can we combine it with other consciousnesses? So many questions...
Is a conscious when you have memories and can feel things, because a Venus fly trap plant has that, does that mean a plant has consciousness? Oh oh vegetarians and vegans :P
Edwin B
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first half of this book de-spiritualizes consciousness, and locates it squarely in our bodies. And so...sigh...there goes that hope of mine for life after death.

But then! the book delves into the scientific basis for what is called “panpsychism” - which is the view that “all matter is imbued with consciousness in some sense.”

It turns out that what dies with death is only the neuronal information processing of the brain, along with the sensations from the five senses, thoughts, emotions, memo
Jacob Bryant
Jun 19, 2022 rated it really liked it
I am going to keep it real with you, I thought this book was only a 3.5. But I checked the comment section and saw so many dudes pretending to know more about consciousness than this woman who has done extensive research on it and I did not want to slip into the same ditch they did. And thus I bumped it up to four stars. In all seriousness, this a excellent introduction to anyone interested in what it means to be conscious, even if it does feel like an apology for panpsychism in a couple of chap ...more
Nov 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this for a book club. This book was a good summary of a lot of the issues in the philosophy of consciousness, though really, really short.

I'm in favor of most nonfiction books being shorter, but it feels a bit weird to me to write a book this short on a topic as complex and challenging as the philosophy of consciousness. (And it's a bit galling to charge full price for it.) I'm not sure where the "interested but not very interested" market is for these ideas (airports? head shops?), but i
Daniel Hageman
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
I rate this book in full recognition that I was predisposed to endure some serious confirmation bias along the way, as Annaka's previous appearances on various podcasts and panels had all but assured me that her views within the realms of 'philosophy of mind', and more specifically consciousness itself, were near full alignment with my own. However, knowing as such, I felt myself reading the book actually hoping to find areas of disagreement, or at least find fault for 'oversimplification' or 'o ...more
Jan 17, 2022 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Narration was done by the author and she was competent, but her voice made me sleepy.

This book brought to mind the saying, "The more we learn the less we know." I certainly felt that way while listening to this. I am fascinated by some aspects of philosophy- like the subject of this book, consciousness, for example-but I am a dabbler. I read a book like this once in awhile, but it's not my usual reading material. That may be why this was so difficult for me to engage with. Some of the ideas Harr
Carlo Garcia
Jun 05, 2019 rated it liked it
If you have never read any other books on philosophy and consciousness then this book is a great introduction. Maybe due to hearing Sam talk this book up as the next big thing in this topic I thought it would be more. It is more of a summary and explanation of other's works put into a small book. ...more
Jul 30, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: society-psyche
Ok, being a psychologist (and a general neeeerd) makes it hard for casual educational content to present ground-breakingly new information. Oftentimes what happens is that I get flashbacks to my university studies or to the time when I first prepared my classes.

So, the thing about consciuosness is that we don't know shit about it. This book doesn't give you new answers, only summarizes some part of the philosophy and a grain of research but it's not comprehensive. In fact, in the second half it
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
My brain hurts. What does it mean to be conscious? Where exactly is consciousness created in the brain? Are only humans conscious since we have language, memory and the ability to combine our experiences into perceptions? Or maybe humans, dogs, cats, and some monkeys? Or are we confusing 'consciousness' with 'complex thought,' and consciousness just appears in different forms in different entities? Is consciousness in fact a characteristic of all matter in the universe...and there is some 'exper ...more
Fern Adams
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was ok
Interesting topic but didn’t feel so greatly written up sadly.
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Annaka Harris is the author of "CONSCIOUS: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind" (HarperCollins, June 2019). She is the author of the children's book "I Wonder," a collaborator on the "Mindful Games Activity Cards," by Susan Kaiser Greenland, and her work has appeared in The New York Times. She is a consultant for science writers and a volunteer mindfulness teacher for the Inner Ki ...more

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26 likes · 3 comments
“Our experience of consciousness is so intrinsic to who we are, we rarely notice that something mysterious is going on. Consciousness is experience itself, and it is therefore easy to miss the profound question staring us in the face in each moment: Why would any collection of matter in the universe be conscious?” 7 likes
“the truth of my situation: I’m floating around the universe on this giant sphere—suspended here by gravity and going for a ride.” 5 likes
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