My favorite books to get your head around consciousness

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an educator at heart and have been teaching in high schools for over thirty years now. I get a kick out of helping young people see the world anew and think about ideas in ways that at first seem strange and challenging to them, both in the classroom and through my novels. Of course, to be any good at that, I have to be inquisitive and open myself, and there’s nothing like the topic of consciousness to make you feel feeble-minded and ill-informed. It’s such a wondrous topic because it sits at the precise meeting point of so many of our scientific, cultural, artistic, religious, and philosophical traditions.


I wrote...

Book cover of Genesis

What is my book about?

Anax thinks she knows history. Her grueling all-day Examination has just begun, and if she passes, she’ll be admitted into the Academy—the elite governing institution of her utopian society. But Anax is about to discover that for all her learning, the history she’s been taught isn’t the whole story. And the Academy isn’t what she believes it to be. In this brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity, Anax’s examination leads us into a future where we are confronted with unresolved questions raised by science and philosophy.

Centuries old, these questions have gained new urgency in the face of rapidly developing technology. What is consciousness? What makes us human? If artificial intelligence were developed to a high enough capability, what special status could humanity still claim? Outstanding and original, Beckett’s dramatic narrative comes to a shocking conclusion.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Freedom Evolves

Bernard Beckett Why did I love this book?

The issues of free will and consciousness are, to my limited mind, inextricably linked. And so, while Dennett somewhat overpromised and underdelivered with his well-known Consciousness Explained (tremendously hard not to underdeliver with a title like that) here I think he’s much more on the money. I think of all the books that I’ve read which address, either directly or tangentially, the issue of how the mind works, this is the one that gave me the clearest new insight into how we might think about, well, thinking. Dennett is a fine thinker and an excellent communicator but he tends to lose nuance when he goes combative. This is one of his gentler books, and all the better for it.

By Daniel C. Dennett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Can there be freedom and free will in a deterministic world? Renowned philosopher Daniel Dennett emphatically answers "yes!" Using an array of provocative formulations, Dennett sets out to show how we alone among the animals have evolved minds that give us free will and morality. Weaving a richly detailed narrative, Dennett explains in a series of strikingly original
arguments-drawing upon evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, economics, and philosophy-that far from being an enemy of traditional explorations of freedom, morality, and meaning, the evolutionary perspective can be an indispensable ally. In Freedom Evolves, Dennett seeks to place ethics on the foundation it…


Book cover of The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human

Bernard Beckett Why did I love this book?

This guy’s got genuine chops when it comes to thinking practically about the way the brain works. I love reading about the way various biological oddities affect how people perceive the world because of the insights it offers into the tricks all of our brains are playing. But I can never escape the suspicion that story tellers like to over-extraoplate from a small number of over-hyped cases. What I love about Ramachandran is that his work in the field means he’s considering stories he’s had first hand experience with.

By V.S. Ramachandran,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Tell-Tale Brain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this landmark work, V. S. Ramachandran investigates strange, unforgettable cases-from patients who believe they are dead to sufferers of phantom limb syndrome. With a storyteller's eye for compelling case studies and a researcher's flair for new approaches to age-old questions, Ramachandran tackles the most exciting and controversial topics in brain science, including language, creativity, and consciousness.


Book cover of What Is This Thing Called Science?

Bernard Beckett Why did I love this book?

Bookshelves groan under the weight of highly skilled science communicators, and through them those of us with no specialist knowledge can learn about evolution, quantum mechanics, neuroscience et al, and then bore people to death with our newfound knowledge. There is, however, a world of difference between the things science discovers and the stories we tell about these discoveries. I love this book because it makes the reader do the hard yards, thinking not just about the breathless new discoveries, but also the very nature of this knowledge, and hence its limits.

By Alan F. Chalmers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Is This Thing Called Science? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Co-published with the University of Queensland Press. HPC holds rights in North America and U. S. Dependencies.

Since its first publication in 1976, Alan Chalmers's highly regarded and widely read work--translated into eighteen languages--has become a classic introduction to the scientific method, known for its accessibility to beginners and its value as a resource for advanced students and scholars.

In addition to overall improvements and updates inspired by Chalmers's experience as a teacher, comments from his readers, and recent developments in the field, this fourth edition features an extensive chapter-long postscript that draws on his research into the history of…


Book cover of The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Mending the Gap between Science and the Humanities

Bernard Beckett Why did I love this book?

I do enjoy a good argument, especially when it’s between highly articulate experts in their field. Gould is a fine science writer who always flew the flag for caution when it came to over-interpreting our findings. Here he makes the case for different ways of knowing, and as a committed philosophical pragmatist myself, in the style of William James, I’m all for his insistence that we avoid the lure of crass reductionism, no matter how smart and superior this might make us feel. Ever so important when it comes to thinking about the big issues like consciousness.

By Stephen Jay Gould,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In his final book, Gould offers a surprising and nuanced study of the complex relationship between our two great ways of knowing: science and the humanities, twin realms of knowledge that have been divided against each other for far too long.


Book cover of I Am a Strange Loop

Bernard Beckett Why did I love this book?

I think glorious failures are far more interesting than modest successes, and let’s face it, any book that attempts to explain consciousness is bound to fail on so many levels. What I love about Hofstadter’s work is its boldness and reach. He’s as happy in the world of abstract metaphor as he is speaking of science or mathematics, and understands that we need new metaphors of consciousness just as badly as we need new scientific models. And even though he flounders at times, it kind of doesn’t matter, because of the sheer energy and verve of his quest: sort of Don Quixote with a calculator. For the math geeks amongst you, there’s an unusually clear and careful discussion of the incompleteness theorem as well. What’s not to like?

By Douglas R. Hofstadter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Am a Strange Loop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Can thought arise out of matter? Can self, soul, consciousness, I" arise out of mere matter? If it cannot, then how can you or I be here? I Am a Strange Loop argues that the key to understanding selves and consciousness is the strange loop",a special kind of abstract feedback loop inhabiting our brains. The most central and complex symbol in your brain is the one called I." The I" is the nexus in our brain, one of many symbols seeming to have free will and to have gained the paradoxical ability to push particles around, rather than the reverse.…


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Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

By Edward Benzel,

Book cover of Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

Edward Benzel Author Of Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Coming from the perspective of a neurosurgeon, I have witnessed many successes and failures over more than four decades. I recognized decades ago that communication with patients at a level that involves emotions is a necessary part of being a complete physician. This involves being empathetic and, henceforth, digging deep to find the strength to be transparent, vulnerable, compassionate, understanding, and, when needed, forceful (some would call this paternalism). Although the five books I have chosen to highlight vary widely in content, they have one common theme – finding within us the will and wherewithal to succeed.

Edward's book list on awakening of the strengths that are hidden deep inside each of us

What is my book about?

My book is a collection of monthly Editor-in-Chief letters to the readership of World Neurosurgery, a journal that I edit. Each essay is short and sweet. The letters were written for neurosurgeons but have been re-edited so that they apply to all human beings. They cover topics such as leadership, empathy, vulnerability, stress, burnout, and on and on…. These essays are relevant for all who strive to craft a better version of themselves.

Life lessons learned by the author during his 40+ year neurosurgery career are shared and translated into real-life scenarios. Between the covers are many lessons that are derived from the experiences of the author and then applied to all humans. The mastering of these lessons should translate into a sense of pride and satisfaction. In keeping with the theme of the book, this process should culminate in the feeling at the end of the day that ‘Today was, indeed, a good day.’

Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

By Edward Benzel,

What is this book about?

About the Book
Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon features many topics that pertain to how neurosurgeons interact with others and how each of us can use introspection to modify how we are using tools and strategies such as empathy, respect, stress management, and much more.
This book provides some insights into leadership, effective communication, and fulfillment from the perspective of a neurosurgeon, and it causes the reader to think about and consider many, many attributes of a leader.
We all want to have a good day. This book provides strategies…


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