The best books on consciousness

Christof Koch Author Of The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness Is Widespread But Can't Be Computed
By Christof Koch

The Books I Picked & Why

The Doors of Perception

By Aldous Huxley

The Doors of Perception

Why this book?

The classic account of the author’s encounter with mescaline, a psychoactive substance derived from the peyote cactus and traditionally used by Native Americans for religious purposes. Huxley’s experiences include profound changes in the visual world, colors that induce sound, the telescoping of time and space, the loss of the notion of self, and feelings of oneness, peacefulness, and bliss more commonly associated with religious visions or an exultant state. Mescaline, together with psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, and LSD, are closely related psychedelics whose therapeutic potential is being explored for a variety of psychiatric conditions.


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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

By Oliver Sacks

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

Why this book?

A collection of essays by the world’s favorite neurologist that places the reader inside the minds of neurological patients, describing the idiosyncratic world they inhabit – lost in time, unable to recognize faces, bewildered by an alien leg attached to their hip, or unable to feel their body.  Sacks excels at relating how the seemingly bizarre behavior of these patients is a reasonable response to living with a brain-damaged by stroke, infection, progressive dementia, and so on.


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Mind: A Brief Introduction

By John R. Searle

Mind: A Brief Introduction

Why this book?

A concise introduction to the beating heart of the ancient mind-body problem – consciousness and free will. Searle, famous for his Chinese Room argument that is featured in the book, engages with contemporary scientific theories of consciousness, which is uncommon for philosophers. What is even rarer is that Searle professes himself perplexed when it comes to reconciling his feelings of acting freely with the laws of physics that appear to rule out free will.


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The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul

By Francis Crick

The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul

Why this book?

This book, by the co-discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA, helped kick off the modern research enterprise that seeks to track and identify the neuronal correlates of consciousness, that is the footprints of consciousness in the brain. Crick argues that for tactical reasons, scientists should focus on more accessible aspects of consciousness, such as visual awareness, and provides an easy-to-follow introduction into the mammalian brain.


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Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

By Eliot Weinberg

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

Why this book?

An extraordinary gem of a booklet that considers the many ways that four lines of a single poem, composed by an 8th century Chinese Buddhist, have been translated into modern idiom. It is amazing how a mere twenty ideograms, depicting a mountain and forest scene devoid of people, can illuminate the variety and subtlety of consciousness. I recommend the 2016 edition with additional translations.


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