The best books on consciousness beyond the brain

Who am I?

I am a teacher and professor of psychology and consciousness studies. I have been fascinated by the enigma of consciousness my entire adult life. Over the years I have written and taught in a number of different fields including biology, psychology, history, art, and philosophy, always looking to the nature of consciousness, and always exploring its spiritual dimensions. My writings include the present selection, Consciousness Explained Better, described by Ken Wilber as “the finest book on consciousness in modern times, bar none” and The Radiance of Being, that shared a book of the year award with Nobel laureate Roger Penrose’s book, The Emperor’s New Mind. 

I wrote...

Book cover of Consciousness Explained Better: Towards an Integral Understanding of the Multifaceted Nature of Consciousness

What is my book about?

This book is about the nature of consciousness. I wrote it at the suggestion of my friend Ken Wilber. It is an effort to write a highly readable yet sophisticated book on consciousness. In it, I follow Wilber’s integral model of “all quadrants all levels.” This approach divides our perspectives of the world into inner or subjective vs. outer or objective, and into singular vs. plural. For example, my view of my own inner life is subjective and singular, whereas my perspective on my relationship with those I love most is subjective and plural.

On the other hand, if I am a scientist studying a particular example of a butterfly, I see it in a singular objective way, whereas a flock of butterflies is seen as objective and plural. Most scientific investigations are on the objective side of the fence, but much of psychology, and especially consciousness studies, is on the subjective side. In addition to the above, living things including minds and consciousness tend to grow over time through developmental stages. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Consciousness Unbound: Liberating Mind from the Tyranny of Materialism

Allan Combs Why did I love this book?

This is the third and most important of three recent volumes that have come out of Esalen Institute’s Center for Theory and Research. Together they explore dimensions of experience that extend beyond the limits of traditional materialistic science. In Alfred Korzybski’s famous words, “The map is not the territory,” and nowhere are these truer than regarding the territory of consciousness.

This book explores topics such as reincarnation, out-of-the-body experiences, precognition, and more, offering metaphysical and spiritual models of the place of consciousness in the cosmos. It is remarkable for drawing together an enormous amount of research and scholarship hitherto largely ignored. Michael Murphy, co-founder of Esalen Institute, likens it to the Lewis and Clark expedition into the previously unknown territory of western North America.

By Edward F. Kelly (editor), Paul Marshall (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Consciousness Unbound as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Building on the groundbreaking research of Irreducible Mind and Beyond Physicalism, Edward Kelly and Paul Marshall gather a cohort of leading scholars to address the most recent advances in the psychology of consciousness. Currently emerging as a middle ground between warring fundamentalisms of religion and science, an expanded science-based understanding of nature finally accommodates empirical realities of spiritual sorts while also rejecting rationally untenable overbeliefs.

The vision sketched here provides an antidote to the prevailing postmodern disenchantment of the world and demeaning of human possibilities. It not only more accurately and fully reflects our human condition but engenders hope and…

Book cover of You Are the Universe: Discovering Your Cosmic Self and Why It Matters

Allan Combs Why did I love this book?

This book presents a deeply spiritual inquiry into human consciousness, set in the context of a wonderfully clear explanation of up-to-date ideas about cosmology, quantum physics, and the nature of the universe. The authors explore the idea that we as human beings are integral to the fabric of the universe, and that consciousness itself is an undergirding feature of that universe. They point out again and again that everything we know about the universe is intimately connected to conscious experience.

At first glance, this may appear simply a latter-day version of classic idealism, but for these contemporary authors, consciousness is inexorably tied into quantum uncertainty and the collapse of the wave function. For readers with a scientific eye to spiritual experience, this book is a delight.

By Deepak Chopra, Menas C. Kafatos,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked You Are the Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Deepak Chopra joins forces with leading physicist Menas Kafatos to explore some of the most important and baffling questions about our place in the world. 

"A riveting and absolutely fascinating adventure that will blow your mind wide open!" —Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi
What happens when modern science reaches a crucial turning point that challenges everything we know about reality? In this brilliant, timely, and practical work, Chopra and Kafatos tell us that we've reached just such a point. In the coming era, the universe will be completely redefined as a "human universe" radically unlike the…

Book cover of Is Consciousness Primary?

Allan Combs Why did I love this book?

This book includes essays by some of the foremost thought leaders of our time, on the topic of consciousness seen through the eyes of postmaterialist science. Each seeks a scientific understanding of consciousness that is not reducible to physical processes in the brain. Their intention is not to exclude traditional science and its reliance on neurology and the brain, but rather to reach for a broader view of reality, one that includes well documented nonphysical dimensions of conscious experience, including phenomena such as out-of-the-body and near-death experiences, as well as telepathy, precognition, and more.

Each of these authors is well known and respected in their own field and presents here the cream of a lifetime of research in these areas.

By Stephan A Schwartz (editor), Marjorie H Woollacott (editor), Gary E Schwartz (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Is Consciousness Primary? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences is publishing an Advances in Postmaterialist Sciences book series to educate scientists, students, and science-minded readers about postmate-rialist consciousness research and its applications. Our intent is that each volume combines rigor and creativity, expresses first person (inner expe-riences) as well as third person (external observations), and facilitates the betterment of humanity and the planet. Some volumes will address spe-cific topics or themes, others will be wide ranging and diverse collections of research topics. Collectively they will help define and advance the evolution of postmaterialist theory, research and applications.

Book cover of Transcendent Mind: Rethinking the Science of Consciousness

Allan Combs Why did I love this book?

This book, published by the traditionally conservative American Psychological Association, is one of the first scholarly works coming out of the new look of consciousness. It goes beyond the taken-for-granted assumptions of traditional materialism. After addressing the limitations of the materialist view, it organizes its chapters into broad topics such as shared mind, the nature and experience of time, interactions with discarnate beings, separation from the brain, and direct mental influence.

In later chapters, the authors examine what all this tells us about the essential nature of consciousness itself and its relationship to physical phenomena. 

By Imants Baruss, Julia Mossbridge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Transcendent Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Where does consciousness come from? For most scientists and laypeople, it is axiomatic that something in the substance of the brain - neurons, synapses and grey matter in just the right combination - create perception, self-awareness, and intentionality. Yet despite decades of neurological research, that ""something"" - the mechanism by which this process is said to occur - has remained frustratingly elusive. This is no accident, as the authors of this book argue, given that the evidence increasingly points to a startling fact: consciousness may not, in fact, reside in the brain at all.

In this wide-ranging and deeply scientific…

Book cover of The Principles Of Psychology

Allan Combs Why did I love this book?

In my view, this is the finest book on consciousness ever written. William James was one of the leading minds of late 19th and early 20th century America. His book, published in 1890, was written as a textbook for his psychology class at Harvard. At that time “psychology” was understood to be the study of consciousness. Here James introduces consciousness as a “stream of thought,” an idea that later influenced many 20th century thinkers, including American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead and early quantum physicist Niels Bohr. It is written with an elegance and clarity of style to match that of his brother, the writer Henry James.

James’ broad interests in consciousness, seen in this book, is consistent with the fact that he was an original co-founder of The American Society for Psychical Research, and was deeply interested in mediumship and questions regarding mind beyond the brain.

By William James,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Principles Of Psychology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This edition of William James' masterwork, The Principles of Psychology, contains his original notes, illustrations, tables and charts which clarify the theory described and arguments made.

Appearing in 1890, The Principles of Psychology was a landmark text which established psychology as a serious scientific discipline. William James' compiled a convincing, lengthy and broad thesis, devoting detail and vigorous analysis in every chapter. The text's comprehensiveness and superb presentation played a pivotal role in bringing the science of mental health closer toward the scholarly mainstream.

The entire book is set out intuitively: there are two volumes, each of which has a…

You might also like...

An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

By Clifford A. Wright,

Book cover of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

Clifford A. Wright Author Of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Philosopher Historian Researcher Gastronomer Bibliophile and reviewer

Clifford's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

An Italian Feast celebrates the cuisines of the Italian provinces from Como to Palermo. A culinary guide and book of ready reference meant to be the most comprehensive book on Italian cuisine, and it includes over 800 recipes from the 109 provinces of Italy's 20 regions.

An Italian Feast is a gastronomy about Italian culinary history and consciousness, about how Italians cook, eat, and how their food is an intimate part of their culture. It is the first book in any language to comprehensively explore the gastronomy and cuisine not just of Italy, and not just the regions of Italy, but all 109 provinces of Italy, linking each with each other in terms of history, agriculture, economics, and the material culture of creative food illustrated with recipes.

An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

By Clifford A. Wright,

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in consciousness, psychology, and the brain?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about consciousness, psychology, and the brain.

Consciousness Explore 76 books about consciousness
Psychology Explore 1,647 books about psychology
The Brain Explore 143 books about the brain