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Conscious

A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind
Written by: Annaka Harris
Narrated by: Annaka Harris
Length: 2 hrs and 22 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (70 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 illuminating meditation on the self, free will, and felt experience.

What is consciousness? How does it arise? And why does it exist? We take our experience of being in the world for granted. But the very existence of consciousness raises profound questions: Why would any collection of matter in the universe be conscious? How are we able to think about this? And why should we? 

In this wonderfully accessible audiobook, Annaka Harris guides us through the evolving definitions, philosophies, and scientific findings that probe our limited understanding of consciousness. Where does it reside, and what gives rise to it? Could it be an illusion or a universal property of all matter? As we try to understand consciousness, we must grapple with how to define it and, in the age of artificial intelligence, who or what might possess it. 

Conscious offers lively and challenging arguments that alter our ideas about consciousness - allowing us to think freely about it for ourselves, if indeed we can.

©2019 Annaka Harris (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers

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Fascinating!

great topic. I hope that she writes another as I would love to explore this in more depth.

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Diving into the mysteries of the mind

A great dive into the mystery that is conciousness. A clear and understandable explication and exploration of the ideas and theories around what conciousness really is and where it may lay.

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  • Tom Horan
  • HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA
  • 2019-06-29

Good Introduction to the Hard Problem

If you are familiar with Sam Harris' work or with philosophy of mind, this book will seem fairly elementary. It basically summarizes some of the more basic mysteries surrounding consciousness and doesn't have much in the way of new ideas.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • RGO
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 2019-06-10

This is a great spring board...

A huge fan and member of Sam Harris’ “Making Sense/Waking Up” podcast/website... so of course I was curious after their recent podcast together.

So that was my catalyst... I have not yet gone too deep into what is “conscious” for all the reasons plus my own anecdotal experiences.

As one who has just become a new convert as an “hopeful agnostic” I have stirred away from this subject on purpose... I am still going through the “grieving process” as I continue to progress through my faith/human development.

This was a fantastic, coherent— just what I needed to help me gain more insight... I want to now go deeper and start to ask questions I have shelved.

I highly recommend this quick, broad and very rational perspective!

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew Buist
  • Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • 2019-06-04

A great book

Equal measures accessible and important. You need this book. It's of such a high quality that it's hard not to resort to hyperbolic cliches when describing it. It's a wonderful synthesis of both the science and philosophy of consciousness, laid out in clear and concise language. It's seriously great.

13 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Dee Goulet
  • 2019-08-23

Easy Listening

This book was very easy to listen to. While the subject matter is complicated Annaka makes understanding less so by her honest straightforward assessments.
However, I will need to buy the book in order to continue my research into consciousness as there is a lot of references contained in this work that warrant reading for sure!
Thank you for this brief but extremely cogent treatment of consciousness.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Philip Martin Sugg
  • 2019-08-17

Fascinating Subject

Annika Harris does an intriguing job reporting on and describing the various aspects of and cultural conceptions we have concerning the elusive concept of consciousness.
However, I was disappointed to find that she falls into the trap of stating certain hypotheses stated by well known scientists as unquestionable fact when they are just as likely to be hubris. Her fundamental theories, related to free will and the self, stated as ultimate truth are, in truth, still open to question.
These self-evident propositions (are they?) are the ideas on which science builds logical structures which, unfortunately, often take the leap of presenting themselves as gospel. As a result these so called 'facts' limit the vast implications of being we are only just beginning to gain an inkling of.
All that said, overall her book is interesting, thought provoking, and well worth listening to.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-08-09

Mind expanding

Short but good read, part about split brains was really fascinating. Narrator/author is excellent. Not sure if I agree with the author on everything, but I still liked it and would recommend it

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • Reno, NV, United States
  • 2019-07-07

Truly thought-provoking

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 panpsychism — the idea that everything contains an element of consciousness, including the keys of my keyboard that I’m typing this with. Of course, she's not suggesting that all matter is capable of complex thought, just bits of consciousness, because otherwise, it's difficult to explain how consciousness appears. She takes apart the pieces of what we consider consciousness and explains how those traits are seen in things we don’t normally attribute consciousness to, such as how a "mother" tree can tell the difference between her genetic kin and unrelated trees of the same species — and can actively help them.

One especially intriguing part brings together the way a conscious observer today has the power to affect the path of a particle 10 billion years ago. And if you think this sounds absurd, Harris will agree with you and then offer convincing evidence to indicate it just might be true anyway.

Grade: A-

Narration: Clear, doesn't get in the way of the text.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2019-06-14

Fascinating!

A really great introduction to and overview of the subject of consciousness! Although I thought I knew already a lot about the subject, it gave me some new insights to ponder.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Allan
  • 2019-06-05

A great primer on consciousness

While not adding so much new to my burgeoning understanding of consciousness it presents a great summary of the leading thinking in the field and is a highly recommended listen.

9 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Jiri Klouda
  • 2019-07-13

Missing some fairly obvious counterpoints...

First, this is a very decent short summary of the current state of the discussion around consciousness, which by itself is worth the short time spent in first half of the book. It is well researched and well read and time well spent if you don't know it. If you do, skip to the second half for a proposal to take seriously and examine the theory of panpsychism as related to consciousness. The author, without good reason or argument essentially argues that it should not be dismissed out of hand for consciousness to be a basic property of matter itself. She also argues, with much better arguments that human centric definitions of consciousness are counterproductive. So in the rest of the review, I'm going to mention the arguments author has missed or did not think of.

First of all, the basic definition of consciousness has a clear flaw. It does not allow to determine if anyone at all is conscious. A definition of predicate that does not lend itself to determining if the predicate is true for anything is just useless.

Now author's argument that consciousness is property of matter will reveal itself as absurd if you replace the word consciousness with the word chair. "If you remove a small piece of wood from a chair, it will still be a chair. If you have a little piece of wood, it clearly is yet not a chair, somewhere between it turns from not chair to a chair. Maybe that means that chair is the property of matter itself and it is distributed even in the smallest bit of matter." It is pretty obvious that chair is a property of the ordering of the atoms. That is the part that the author is missing. Something can be missing in every single bit of matter as it is a property of the pattern, not the substrate.

Why cannot be consciousness property of matter? Well it sort of depends on circumstances. Let me explain. For something, anything to have experience - so there can be something the thing is like - it has to change state. Somewhere locally has to occur a change in entropy. The smaller the matter is, the more difficult the conditions are for there to be a change in entropy at that level of matter. Quarks could only change entropy until 1 / 1,000,000th of a second from Big Bang. Hadrons until about a second, leptons until about 3 minutes. It takes a Large Hadron Collider and extreme amounts of energy to change entropy of single Hadrons. We can possibly talk about consciousness of atoms inside huge stars, but in normal conditions the smallest matter we can consider are molecules and crystals, in particular organic molecules are good candidates because of wide range of possible changes. That's just limitations from physics.

Now if there should be something that it is to be like, you imply that some experience can be recognized while repeated, other wise there is nothing but ever changing chaos with no pattern and there is nothing distinct from it to point to as that something. For that you need the local entropy of the open system to decrease, at the expense of the environment as total entropy will always increase due to 2nd thermodynamic law. So there has to be some process, which decreases local entropy of a system, increases the ordering of the matter. That is your best minimal candidate for consciousness, the process by which matter is ordered. Not just the ordering itself. That also gives you clear distinction as even ordered matter with no process to change entropy is not conscious. There might be other conditions on the process, but at minimum there has to be one. Outside of singularities like Big Bang, Black Holes and Large Colliders consciousness can naturally exist as low as organic molecules, but there is nothing preventing its existence in orderings of carbon nanotubes or movement of electrons in silicon matrices. But it is decidedly not the property of the matter itself.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful