Ye Olde Natural Philosophy Discussion Group

Reviews and comments on
Stanislas Dehaene: Consciousness and the Brain [2014]

Although not everyone in our group had finished reading this book at the time of our discussion, we had a generally quite positive view of it. Our tentative group average rating (on a scale of 0 to 10) was 7.8.

Kirby, who had not yet finished the book, said that he got bored at times despite learning a lot. He wants to know more about what the full implications of the many reported experiments are. He felt that in the portion of the book he had finished so far there was too much data and not enough interpretation.

Barbara thought the last chapter was especially informative and insightful. Vicki said she was not at all bored although she had not yet had enough time to finish the book. She was especially interested in the chapter on the medical implications of this theory of consciousness since she has a friend who was in something like a coma or possibly the “minimally conscious” state that Dehaene describes. She considered Dehaene’s writing style as quite good.

Scott was especially enthusiastic about this book, and views it as one of the very most important books that our science book club has read over the past 35 years. While he became convinced of the validity of Dehaene’s theory of immediate consciousness as “brain-wide information sharing”, he does still feel that this is only part of the story of “what consciousness is”, and that in particular Dehaene’s theory needs to be combined with the broader notion of consciousness as meaning that a person has an internal (mental) model of the world. Scott wrote up his own 5-page review of the book which elaborates on this, which is available at:

Ron read the whole book though he felt it required a certain amount of slogging through a large amount of data. But he said the last chapter summarizes the book well and applies all that data. Kevin also felt the book was a bit of a “slog”, and switched over to an audio version of the book to finish it. He describes the book as a well-structured argument and very meticulous. But Kevin also thought that Dehaene’s conception of consciousness was too narrow and was disappointed that the book did not develop a broader view of consciousness and self-consciousness.

Our other book club members may well have some additional comments when they finish reading this book.

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