Just Finished Reading: Consciousness – A Very Short Introduction by Susan Blackmore
Consciousness is a very strange beast indeed. In this slim and fascinating volume the author attempts to discover just what kind of beast it is by examining our own beliefs about it and looking at ways to distinguish unfounded beliefs from actual knowledge.
The odd thing about consciousness is that although we all seem to understand that we have it, it has proven very difficult to actually pin down. Once questions relating consciousness to brain function are asked we starting hitting what has been called ‘the hard problem’. It seems clear that brain activity has something to do with it and that brain damage can result in consciousness issues. But there does not appear to be anywhere in the brain that is in control of things. There is no core where consciousness lives. There is no physical inner ‘self’ that is consciousness itself. The idea of an ‘inner theatre’ watched by a single self is untenable. No part of the brain corresponds to that ideal. Blackmore very successfully calls into question the standard model of the Self and undermines it to the extent that I have moved further along the road to being sceptical about its existence (already being on that road probably helped).
Blackmore also successfully, at least in my largely ignorant opinion, calls into question the major explanations we have to date relating to consciousness and the existence of the Self. One by one she sets up the explanations and one by one she knocks them down. However, although I applaud her conclusion that we don’t really understand consciousness at all (yet) she goes a little too far in her concluding remarks – or at least too far for me at the moment. To get around all of the problems outlined in this book Blackmore proposes something quite radical (IMO) – that conscious itself is a complete illusion. She puts forward the idea that we are not actually conscious beings! The consciousness we apparently feel and live with every day is a fabrication of the brain and, the moment we stop looking for it or at it, it simple vanishes as if it had never existed only to be recreated the next time we ‘look’ in its direction. This idea I will have to give considerably more thought and more book time. The Self being an illusion I can go with. I’m probably already half way there. But Consciousness being an illusion? That I can’t accept, at least not yet.
This was a fascinating read. People at work roll there eyes when they see me reading books like this in my lunch break. What they fail to realise is that such books both expand my mind and engage my emotions. They stimulate my intellect as well as exercise my ability to feel awe at the incredible universe we live in. Knowledge contained in books such as this is the best and only mind expanding drug I’ll ever need. People who can’t see that are missing out on so much. Which is why I’ll continue smiling through their comments and raised eyebrows. If you want to mess with your mind a little then read this book.