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Works by Anil Seth


Common Knowledge




Anil Seth does a very good job at telling the story of the history of consciousness study in the most essential beats. He does not get bogged down in discussion that would require seperate whole texts but also does not leave much out. In fact he dives in to some rather technical details at the risk of losing his audience and recounts some of the most interesting research experiements in clear terms.

When it comes to philosophy he is learned and clear but the arguments are so much more complex that i would have liked a separate text on this rather that quick reolutions on huge questions.

The philosophical transitions to broad considerations about the future that are left without enough of a grounding. It would have been nice if the book was longer and his final points taken with consideration of views opposite his.

Nevertheless a unique and interesting book, one to read more than once if interested in this area of study.
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yates9 | 4 other reviews | Feb 28, 2024 |
Materialist neuroscientist Seth adopts a tripartite framework (Level, Content, Self) for consciousness. In the Level part, he defines what he calls the "real problem" as a substitute for David Chalmers's "hard problem" and a tractable basis for formulating alternatives to Integrated Information Theory (which, however, he admires). In the Content part, he likens perceptions to controlled hallucinations and argues that brains are constantly calculating Bayesian probabilities. In the Self part, his important chapter on "the beast machine theory" left me benumbed and little the wiser. In a final part, without formally disclaiming his "agnosticism" on the question, he clarifies his doubt that consciousness can be hosted on a non-biological substrate material. Here he sprinkles the sneer term "techno-rapture" in the vicinity of his long-delayed mention of mind uploading. Writing-wise, overall, he greatly overuses "which" instead of "that" as a restrictive relative pronoun.… (more)
fpagan | 4 other reviews | Mar 31, 2023 |
I liked a lot of things about the book, most of it was interesting and Seth has an engaging style with plenty of humor and humility. But I didn’t find many of his explications to be things I could really follow. Is the problem with his explanation, or with me? Who knows, but I suspect others will find large chunks of the text confusing, even though the rest of it is perfectly clear.

And I was disturbed by one section, in chapter 4, where he posits that the concept of “color” is fully subjective. Maybe I misunderstood, I agree that much about color is subjective, but he seemed to be pretty absolute about it. No wiggle room! But I think that if you assign a certain range of frequencies of light to be “red” and you measure the reflected light from a “red chair” (his example) with a light source similar to the Sun in daytime, using a spectrophotometer, you will measure a preponderance of reflected light in the red frequencies. How is that subjective?… (more)
steve02476 | 4 other reviews | Jan 3, 2023 |
I'm usually leery of reading articles or books on consciousness, because the science is so poorly developed. But this book had amassed such positive reviews…

Unfortunately, Seth does not spend much time describing his own experiments testing aspects of consciousness. There is much more philosophizing, much of it unsupported and going nowhere.

> Can you imagine an A380 flying backwards? Of course you can. Just imagine a large plane in the air, moving backwards. Is such a scenario really conceivable? Well, the more you know about aerodynamics and aeronautical engineering, the less conceivable it becomes. In this case, even a minimal knowledge of these topics makes it clear that planes cannot fly backwards. It just cannot be done. It’s the same with zombies. In one sense it’s trivial to imagine a philosophical zombie. I just picture a version of myself wandering around without having any conscious experiences. But can I really conceive this?

> Not so long ago, life seemed as mysterious as consciousness does today. Scientists and philosophers of the day doubted that physical or chemical mechanisms could ever explain the property of being alive. The difference between the living and the non-living, between the animate and the inanimate, appeared so fundamental that it was considered implausible that it could ever be bridged by mechanistic explanations of any sort. This philosophy of vitalism reached a peak in the nineteenth century. It was supported by leading biologists like Johannes Müller and Louis Pasteur

> the rubber hand illusion might be largely or entirely driven by suggestion effects. Unless studies of embodiment illusions take individual differences in suggestibility into account, which by and large they haven’t, it is difficult for them to say anything specific about the mechanisms involved. This holds whether we’re talking about rubber hands, out-of-body-like experiences, body swap illusions, or any other situation in which people are led – implicitly or explicitly – to expect a particular body-related experience.

> Imagine a system subject to an entirely new form of suffering, for which we humans have no equivalent or conception, nor any instincts by which to recognize it. Imagine a system for which the distinction between positive and negative feelings does not even apply, for which there is no corresponding phenomenological dimension. The ethical challenge here is that we would not even know what the relevant ethical issues were
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breic | 4 other reviews | Mar 27, 2022 |

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