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explaining consciousness: the hard problem

edited by Jonathan Shear

This book is a collection of articles on the "hard problem" of consciousness. It consists of my article "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness", 26 responses to this article from all sorts of directions, and my lengthy response to all these in turn. Most of the articles were originally published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. The book (edited by Jonathan Shear) was published by MIT Press in July 1997. It has 422 pages.

I think this is an excellent collection of articles by an extraordinary set of contributors. The book as a whole gives a very rich picture of the state of play on the central problem of consciousness, from many different disciplines and philosophical positions.

The various responses include both critiques of my arguments and positive proposals for addessing the problem. They are divided into six broad categories:

  • "deflationary" approaches (e.g. Dan Dennett, Pat Churchland),
  • nonreductive analyses (e.g. Colin McGinn, David Hodgson),
  • neuroscience or cognitive science approaches (e.g. Francis Crick & Christof Koch, Bernard Baars),
  • physics-based perspectives (e.g. Stuart Hameroff & Roger Penrose, Henry Stapp),
  • new fundamental ontologies (e.g. Benjamin Libet, Piet Hut & Roger Shepard),
  • phenomenological approaches (e.g. Francisco Varela, Max Velmans).

My response addresses the various objections to my arguments and positions, and also tries to provide some sort of integrative perspective on the various approaches, mapping out the logical geography of the central issues.

I’m not wild about the external packaging of this book, but the internal design is very nice, and of course the contents are very worthwhile. The book’s availability in bookstores is patchy, but you can order it from its web page at The book also has its own web page at MIT Press.

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