The best books to start exploring consciousness

Who am I?

I was hooked on brain science from the moment in the 1980s when I saw the first blurry images that revealed the physical markers of thought. I set out to find out all I could about this astonishing new area of discovery, but there was practically nothing to be found – neuroscience as we know it barely existed. I pounced on every new finding that emerged and eventually wrote what was one of the first books, Mapping the Mind, that made brain science accessible to non-scientists. There are hundreds of them now, and these are some of the best.


I wrote...

Consciousness

By Rita Carter,

Book cover of Consciousness

What is my book about?

Is consciousness merely an illusion, a by-product of our brain's workings, or is it, as the latest physics may suggest, the basis for all reality? Your perception of the world around you, your consciousness, should be the one thing you could talk about with absolute confidence. But nothing about consciousness is clear-cut and understanding it is perhaps the hardest problem facing modern science.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Oxford Companion to the Mind

Rita Carter Why did I love this book?

This is the one to get if you are shipwrecked on a desert island – or forced into another lockdown. Or, for that matter, if you need a doorstop that happens to contain fascinating essays on aspects of brain and mind from Abacus to Wittgenstein. Dip into it for a guaranteed good read or use it as a superior Google when you want to know things like why mirrors only reverse one way or the origin of the phrase “mad as a hatter”. It won’t disappoint.

By Richard L. Gregory,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Oxford Companion to the Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Oxford Companion to the Mind,edited by Richard L. Gregory, is a classic. Published in 1987, to huge acclaim, it immediately took its place as the indispensable guide to the mysteries - and idiosyncracies - of the human mind. In no other book can the reader find indiscussions of concepts such as language, memory, and intelligence, side by side with witty definitions of common human experiences such as the 'cocktail-party' and 'halo' effects, and the
least effort principle.

Richard Gregory again brings his wit, wisdom, and expertise to bear on this most elusive of subjects. Research into the mind and…


Book cover of The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness

Rita Carter Why did I love this book?

Warren takes his brain off for a trip to the extremes of experience and comes back to tell us all about it. But instead of rambling incoherently about insights into the state of the Universe like most psycho-tourists, Warren describes, analyses and sometimes explains how our minds produce “alternative” experiences such as “pure” consciousness, ego-dissolution and bizarre hallucinations. You’ll be grateful he’s done it for you

By Jeff Warren,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Head Trip as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book will change the way you think, sleep, and dream for good. It is a book of psychology and neuroscience, and also of adventure wherein the author explores the extremes to which consciousness can be stretched, from the lucid dream to the quasi-mystical substratum of awareness known as the Pure Conscious Event. Replete with stylish graphics and brightened by comic panels conceived and drawn by the author, The Head Trip is an instant classic, a brilliant and original description of the shifting experience of consciousness that's also a practical guide to enhancing creativity and mental health. This book does…


Book cover of The Human Brain Coloring Book

Rita Carter Why did I love this book?

This title is designed to help student neuroscientists grasp the staggeringly complicated anatomy of the brain by -literally – coloring-in its parts in a way that shows up their connections. Colouring- will take you straight into the Zone, and using this book will allow you to do it in public without people looking around for your carer. If it leaves you with a better idea of how the bits join up, count it as a bonus.

By Arnold B. Scheibel, Marian C. Diamond,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Human Brain Coloring Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Developed by internationally renowned neurosurgeons, this unique book is designed for students of psychology and the biological sciences, and medical, dental, and nursing students.


Book cover of Conscious Mind in Search of a Fundamental Theory

Rita Carter Why did I love this book?

Chalmers is the philosopher who first called Consciousness the “Hard Problem” and this is his attempt to solve it. It’s a hugely ambitious work that puts up an entirely new theory then tests it so hard that he leaves nothing for his critics to do. You may not swallow the theory, but it’s worth reading just to follow the meticulous thinking and imaginative leaps of a terrific brain.

By David J. Chalmers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Conscious Mind in Search of a Fundamental Theory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is consciousness? How do physical processes in the brain give rise to the self-aware mind and to feelings as profoundly varied as love or hate, aesthetic pleasure or spiritual yearning?

David J. Chalmers unveils a major new theory of consciousness, one that rejects the prevailing reductionist trend of science, while offering provocative insights into the relationship between mind and brain. Writing in a thought-provoking style, Chalmers proposes that conscious experience must be understood as an irreducible entity similar to such physical properties as time, mass, and space that exists at a fundamental level and cannot be understood as the…


Book cover of Stumbling on Happiness

Rita Carter Why did I love this book?

Happiness was all the rage a couple of decades ago and book stores had whole shelves devoted to it. This is the only one I found that induces the state it writes about – Gilbert actually makes you laugh out loud as he explains the science behind feeling good. Makes you wish you’d been one of his Harvard students.

By Daniel Gilbert,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Stumbling on Happiness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bringing to life scientific research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, this bestselling book reveals what scientists have discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, and about our capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there. 

• Why are lovers quicker to forgive their partners for infidelity than for leaving dirty dishes in the sink?

• Why will sighted people pay more to avoid going blind than blind people will pay to regain their sight?

• Why do dining companions insist on ordering different meals instead of getting what they…


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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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