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The thinking machineConsciousnessby Rita Carter319pp WeidenfeldThe science of consciousness is like a car revving loudly while stuck in neutral Just a decade ago mind researchers were bright with confidence Neuroscientists had scanners with which they could take intimate snapshots of the human brain Psychologists were getting together with philosophers to hammer out a common intellectual ground At conferences speaker after speaker proclaimed that science was now ready to take on the ultimate mystery But despite all this noisy racing of engines the quest looks as though its still stuck on the starting lineThe problem for consciousness studies appears to be conceptual Too much of the thinking the theorising has a stale feel The mind is a kind of a machine The mind is a kind of field The mind is ineffable These ideas have already been around the block a few times so its not surprising that even in a shiny new vehicle - consciousness studies has had some big money invested in it - the latest go-round is in troubleIn this light Rita Carters Consciousness is an excellent introduction for those who want to glimpse the state of play The book is glossy richly illustrated and enthusiastic - a welcoming text for a difficult subject And through the clever ruse of interspersing frequent two- or three-page mini-essays penned by the big-name philosophers and neuro-scientists in the field it accurately mirrors the somewhat confused rabble of voices that is consciousness studies The reader can overhear the sound of querulous passengers waiting for their journey to get goingIn the main text of the book all the bases are well covered Carter an experienced medical journalist begins by gently shaking up the naive belief that we actually know what our own consciousness is really like She shows that perception is a construction that depends more on networks of meaning and expectation than on a TV-screen-like recreation of the world outsideThe central philosophical problem of how any material
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