The best philosophy of mind books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about philosophy of mind and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Mind

By John R. Searle,

Book cover of Mind: A Brief Introduction

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.


Who am I?

I am a neuroscientist best known for my studies and writings exploring the brain basis of consciousness. Trained as a physicist, I was for 27 years a professor of biology and engineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena before moving to the Allen Institute in Seattle, where I became the Chief Scientist and then the President in 2015. I published my first paper on the neural correlates of consciousness with the molecular biologist Francis Crick more than thirty years ago.


I wrote...

The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness Is Widespread But Can't Be Computed

By Christof Koch,

Book cover of The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness Is Widespread But Can't Be Computed

What is my book about?

In my latest book,The Feeling of Life Itself (2019), I define consciousness as any subjective experience, from the most mundane to the most exalted. How can the brain, three pounds of highly excitable matter, a piece of furniture of the universe, subject to the same laws of physics as any other piece, give rise to subjective experience? I argue that what is needed is a quantitative theory that starts with experience and proceeds to the brain. I outline such a theory, based on integrated information, and describe how it has been used to build a clinically useful consciousness-meter. The theory predicts that many, and perhaps all, animals experience the sights and sounds of life; consciousness is much more widespread than conventionally assumed. Contrary to received wisdom, however, programmable computers will not be conscious. Even a perfect software model of the brain will not be conscious. Its consciousness is fake. Consciousness is not a special type of computation—it is not a clever hack. Consciousness is about being.

Supersizing the Mind

By Andy Clark,

Book cover of Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension

There are many relevant books that preceded Andy Clark’s Supersizing the Mind and that followed it. For example, Raymond Gibbs’s Embodiment and Cognitive Science, Louise Barrett’s Beyond the Brain, and Lawrence Shapiro’s Embodied Cognition have made important contributions to the field’s understanding of the role that the body plays in cognition. But Andy Clark’s treatment of this topic stands out because of the range of disciplines that he includes in marshaling of evidence for embodied and extended cognition.

Unlike many of the proponents of embodied and extended cognition, Andy Clark relies heavily on state-of-the-art robotics for his evidence. As a philosopher, Clark’s first instinct is to use thought experiments to help “pump” the reader’s intuitions out of the ground like subterranean insights. A good thought experiment can actually help you realize that you have a different opinion about something than you thought you had. But Clark also clearly…


Who am I?

Over the past 25 years, I have spent half of my time as a professor of psychology at Cornell University and the second half as a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Merced. The interdisciplinary field of cognitive science invites a much wider range of methods, theories, and perspectives in studying the mind. My work employs dynamical systems theory, neural network simulations, eye-tracking, and other dense-sampling measures of cognitive processes to reveal how the brain, body, and environment cooperate to generate mental activity. In 2010, I was awarded the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement from the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society. I have authored two books, The Continuity of Mind, and Who You Are.


I wrote...

Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness

By Michael J. Spivey,

Book cover of Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness

What is my book about?

In Who You Are, I draw primarily on cognitive neuroscience and psychology experiments to show that you are more than a brain, more than a brain-and-body, and more than all your assumptions about who you are.

Each chapter incrementally expands a common definition of the self. After first helping you discard your tacit assumptions about who you are, the next chapters describe research that reveals the back-and-forth flow of information between all the regions of the brain and the interaction between the brain and body. The scientific evidence supports a view of mind that is embodied and extended. In fact, you may already feel in your heart that something outside your body is actually part of you—a child, a place, a favorite book. Who You Are confirms this intuition with scientific findings.

Matter and Desire

By Andreas Weber,

Book cover of Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology

This book stopped me being scared of death – well almost. It is a wonderful read about how we are embodied creatures of planet Earth. Our very being is relationship. Take breathing for example. As you sit there you breathe in oxygen, nitrogen, and a little carbon dioxide. When you breathe out you release extra carbon dioxide – with that carbon coming from your body itself. You gift a little of your being in exchange for the oxygen - fragments that may end up in that tree outside your window. Once we understand that exchange is the essence of life, it helps us live well on our shared planet. As Weber explains, joy comes when we sense that life is increasing – for us and for others.

Our task then becomes to nurture life – the creative striving of all living things to become themselves and connect with others. Weber…


Who am I?

As a psychologist with environmental interests people often ask me about hope. It goes something like this: “Climate change is pushing us toward disaster! What is your source of hope?”  I finally figured out that I only have one source of hope. It is that we, as people, are able to work together just well enough to keep it all afloat. There’s a lot involved in working together – learning to listen with compassion, run good meetings, empower everyone to give of their best, and rebuild trust when it starts to break down. I’ve been researching these topics in community settings for the past 15 years. 


I wrote...

Psychology for a Better World: Working with People to Save the Planet

By Niki Harré,

Book cover of Psychology for a Better World: Working with People to Save the Planet

What is my book about?

Psychology for a Better World is for people who believe it is worth trying to make a world in which both ourselves and the ecological systems we are part of can flourish. It is based on the latest research in psychology and is jam-packed with action strategies. It offers new ways to think about how people interact in social settings, and how the same characteristics that keep us hooked into unsustainable practices can be used to move us forward. It includes a guide to help you analyse what you can do to contribute to a better world while simultaneously increasing your personal wellbeing.

Our intuitive approaches of arguing more aggressively with our perceived opponents, and telling others how wrong they are, are often not effective ways to get lasting behavioural change. Instead, Niki provides a wide range of evidence to show that boosting positive emotions, role modelling, understanding the power and dynamics of identity, and moral context all need to be authentically applied if we are to be effective change agents.

Essays on the Aristotelian Tradition

By Sir Anthony Kenny,

Book cover of Essays on the Aristotelian Tradition

Readers seriously interested in the continuing influence of Aristotle on Western and global thinking will find the short book of Sir Anthony Kenney’s essays both useful and enjoyable. The author, a well-known authority on the history of Western philosophy, Thomas Aquinas, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, writes with panache on a wide variety of topics relevant to Aristotelian thought and modern intellectual and social life.      


Who am I?

I’m a professor of conflict resolution at George Mason University and have been working for years trying to understand the causes of and methods of resolving religious conflicts. I studied the Middle Ages thinking that I’d find a story about Catholic fundamentalists persecuting innovative thinkers like Copernicus and Galileo. Instead, I found a story about religious leaders such as Pope Innocent III, Peter Abelard, and Thomas Aquinas borrowing ideas from the Greeks, Muslims, and Jews, revolutionizing Catholic thought, and opening the door to modern ideas about the power of reason and the need for compassion. What a trip!            


I wrote...

Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages

By Richard E. Rubenstein,

Book cover of Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages

What is my book about?

Conventional history tells us that the Middle Ages were a time of backwardness and superstition. Schoolchildren are still taught that modern science wasn’t born until late in the Renaissance, when innovators like Copernicus and Galileo challenged the ancient view of the cosmos embraced by the Roman Catholic Church. But wait! The Church actually sponsored a revolution in theology, ethics, and science beginning in the 1100s, when Aristotle’s lost works were discovered in Arab Spain, translated into Latin, and taught in Europe’s new universities.

Remarkably, the Church allowed its own worldview to be transformed by these challenging discoveries, laying the foundations for modern Western consciousness.  This book shows that religion does not have to be “fundamentalist” or anti-science. In important ways, we are all Aristotle’s children.          

Free

By Alfred R. Mele,

Book cover of Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will

In order to be moral and responsible agents, our will must be free in the sense that we make choices animated by our individual consciences. Much of the neoliberal consumer world uses big data sets and our personalized digital fingerprints in order to cater to our every wish and desire, and to sell merchandise. Research shows that individuals disregard ethical responsibility when they believe that humans are not free, and that we are instead governed by innate drives and biological functions. Mele challenges recent research that uses cognitive science to argue that the human will is not free and instead exists as an illusion. This book provides a deep analysis of why we have grounds to be confident that we can act freely, governed by our internal beliefs, commitments, and goals.


Who am I?

I have been studying neoliberal political economy and its future transformations since I wrote Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy. One major insight has been the deep entanglement of neoliberal political-economic practices with de facto power relations. The liberal normative bargaining characterizing Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations yields to coercive bargaining in which threats of harm are the surest and best means to get one’s way. If one seeks to understand how systems will evolve when governed by strategic competition, then orthodox game theory is useful. However, if one seeks to live in a post-scarcity society in which genuine cooperation is possible, then we can enact solidarity, trust-based relationships, and collective moral accountability. 


I wrote...

Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy

By S.M. Amadae,

Book cover of Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy

What is my book about?

Is capitalism inherently predatory? Must there be winners and losers? Is public interest outdated and free-riding rational? Is consumer choice the same as self-determination? Must bargainers abandon the no-harm principle? Prisoners of Reason recalls that classical liberal capitalism exalted the no-harm principle. Although imperfect and exclusionary, modern liberalism recognized individual human dignity alongside individuals' responsibility to respect others. Neoliberalism, by contrast, views life as a ceaseless struggle. Agents vie for scarce resources in antagonistic competition in which every individual seeks dominance. Money becomes the medium of all value. Solidarity and goodwill are invalidated. Relationships are conducted on a quid pro quo basis. However, agents can freely opt out of this cynical race to the bottom by embracing a more expansive range of coherent action.

The World Beyond Your Head

By Matthew B. Crawford,

Book cover of The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

This is a moving and profound book about how to reclaim our sense of self through meaningful activities and relationships. Crawford carefully studies how our attention is manipulated in various modern contexts, and what we can do to reclaim our sense of individuality. It is a book that underscores the importance of dealing with the real world—the people we encounter and the objects we use. This is the book that might convince you to take up knitting or the guitar. At the very least, it will help you understand some of what you gain by doing those things.  


Who am I?

As an interdisciplinary scholar with professional musical training, I surveyed the literature in cognitive science for conceptual frameworks that would shed light on tacit processes in musical activity. I was tired of research that treats the musician either as a “lab rat” not quite capable of fully understanding what they do or as a “channel” for the mysterious and divine. I view musicians as human beings who engage in meaningful activity with instruments and with each other. Musicians are knowledgeable, skilled, and deeply creative. The authors on this list turn a scientific lens on human activity that further defines how we make ourselves through meaningful work and interactions.


I wrote...

Grounding the Analysis of Cognitive Processes in Music Performance: Distributed Cognition in Musical Activity

By Linda T. Kaastra,

Book cover of Grounding the Analysis of Cognitive Processes in Music Performance: Distributed Cognition in Musical Activity

What is my book about?

This book presents four case studies of expert thinking in instrumental music performance. It draws uniquely on dominant paradigms from the fields of cognitive science, ethnography, anthropology, psychology, and psycholinguistics to develop an ecologically valid framework for the analysis of cognitive processes in musical activity. By presenting a close analysis of activities, including instrumental performance on the bassoon, lessons on the guitar, and a group rehearsal, Kaastra provides new insights into the person/instrument system, the musician’s use of informational resources, and the organization of perceptual experience during a musical performance. Engaging in musical activity is shown to be a highly dynamic and collaborative process invoking tacit knowledge and coordination as musicians identify targets of focal awareness for themselves, their colleagues, and their students.

The Body in the Mind

By Mark Johnson,

Book cover of The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason

When I was a musician encountering theory in cognitive science for the first time, this book really moved me. I was searching for conceptual lenses on cognition in instrumental practice and this book is aimed at grounding the study of cognition in the body. I can still see myself sitting at a huge ugly desk under a tiny window thoroughly absorbed in this thrilling page-turner in the philosophy of mind. The book moved me so profoundly that I cried when I approached the last page, and gently closed the back cover. It is a precious book. It changed my world. 


Who am I?

As an interdisciplinary scholar with professional musical training, I surveyed the literature in cognitive science for conceptual frameworks that would shed light on tacit processes in musical activity. I was tired of research that treats the musician either as a “lab rat” not quite capable of fully understanding what they do or as a “channel” for the mysterious and divine. I view musicians as human beings who engage in meaningful activity with instruments and with each other. Musicians are knowledgeable, skilled, and deeply creative. The authors on this list turn a scientific lens on human activity that further defines how we make ourselves through meaningful work and interactions.


I wrote...

Grounding the Analysis of Cognitive Processes in Music Performance: Distributed Cognition in Musical Activity

By Linda T. Kaastra,

Book cover of Grounding the Analysis of Cognitive Processes in Music Performance: Distributed Cognition in Musical Activity

What is my book about?

This book presents four case studies of expert thinking in instrumental music performance. It draws uniquely on dominant paradigms from the fields of cognitive science, ethnography, anthropology, psychology, and psycholinguistics to develop an ecologically valid framework for the analysis of cognitive processes in musical activity. By presenting a close analysis of activities, including instrumental performance on the bassoon, lessons on the guitar, and a group rehearsal, Kaastra provides new insights into the person/instrument system, the musician’s use of informational resources, and the organization of perceptual experience during a musical performance. Engaging in musical activity is shown to be a highly dynamic and collaborative process invoking tacit knowledge and coordination as musicians identify targets of focal awareness for themselves, their colleagues, and their students.

Extended Consciousness and Predictive Processing

By Michael D. Kirchhoff, Julian Kiverstein,

Book cover of Extended Consciousness and Predictive Processing: A Third Wave View

Where Andy Clark leaves off, claiming that cognition is extended into the environment via the tools that we use, Kirchhoff and Kiverstein take up claiming that consciousness itself may also be extended into the environment under certain circumstances. Consider that moment when you and someone close to you are both trying to remember the name of some actor from a movie. You both feel like the name is on the tip of your tongues but can’t quite come to a realization. You manage to blurt out the first name but nothing else and then your partner blurts out the last name. As per Andy Clark, this is clearly a case of extended cognition between two people. But is it perhaps also a case of a momentary shared consciousness? 

Kirchhoff and Kiverstein first provide a scholarly analytical philosophical treatment of recent iterations of the extended cognition hypothesis primarily to draw the…


Who am I?

Over the past 25 years, I have spent half of my time as a professor of psychology at Cornell University and the second half as a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Merced. The interdisciplinary field of cognitive science invites a much wider range of methods, theories, and perspectives in studying the mind. My work employs dynamical systems theory, neural network simulations, eye-tracking, and other dense-sampling measures of cognitive processes to reveal how the brain, body, and environment cooperate to generate mental activity. In 2010, I was awarded the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement from the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society. I have authored two books, The Continuity of Mind, and Who You Are.


I wrote...

Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness

By Michael J. Spivey,

Book cover of Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness

What is my book about?

In Who You Are, I draw primarily on cognitive neuroscience and psychology experiments to show that you are more than a brain, more than a brain-and-body, and more than all your assumptions about who you are.

Each chapter incrementally expands a common definition of the self. After first helping you discard your tacit assumptions about who you are, the next chapters describe research that reveals the back-and-forth flow of information between all the regions of the brain and the interaction between the brain and body. The scientific evidence supports a view of mind that is embodied and extended. In fact, you may already feel in your heart that something outside your body is actually part of you—a child, a place, a favorite book. Who You Are confirms this intuition with scientific findings.

Chasing My Cure

By David Fajgenbaum,

Book cover of Chasing My Cure: A Doctor's Race to Turn Hope Into Action; A Memoir

Imagine being a medical school student in the best of health and full of spirit and ambition, and suddenly being engulfed by a strange and mysterious illness that even the best of doctors in the most renowned hospitals are unable to appropriately diagnose, let alone treat. This chilling story of a doctor who literally chases his own cure is a great example of the much-needed patient advocacy that may often be required to diagnose and treat rare and complex conditions effectively. The author’s passion for finding the underlying cause of his disease (Castleman’s disease) and experimenting with innovative unlikely combinations of drug therapies makes his story memorable and truly inspiring.

Who am I?

Life caught me by surprise when our youngest son was born with a birth defect that launched our family into the world of surgeries, and treatments. After experiencing the management of chronic care for our child firsthand, I realized how important it is to share personal stories and experiences. It enables empathy and a deeper understanding and appreciation of what patients and families go through. Autobiographical accounts of patients and families are still very limited. We need more people to come forward and share their own patient/family experiences in order to promote the betterment of healthcare and healing through relating with others and learning from others’ experiences.



I wrote...

The 5000th Baby: A Parent's Perspective and Journey through the First Year of Life

By Devesh Dahale,

Book cover of The 5000th Baby: A Parent's Perspective and Journey through the First Year of Life

What is my book about?

A story of the first year of life of a baby who was born with a rare birth defect which occurs with a frequency of one in approximately 5000 babies born. A vivid description of the journey of a family that was shocked and overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown, and the perils of the surgeries and treatments that would follow. The story is a detailed account of the medical aspects (surgeries, recoveries, complications, infections, and treatment regimens) while often encountering a “not so friendly” medical system at times as well as dealing with psycho-social aspects of life.

The book provides valuable tips and suggestions so that others may benefit from the author’s experience. Learn about the journey with its trials and tribulations as experienced through the patient / parent’s perspective and appreciate the blessing of a normally functioning healthy human body.

Insights of Genius

By Arthur I. Miller,

Book cover of Insights of Genius: Imagery and Creativity in Science and Art

Visual representations are not the only pathway to creative acts in art and science, but they are responsible for large territories of creativity – including, and surprisingly, the mathematical. Arthur Miller shows how ‘seeing the unseen’ becomes possible from atoms to the conservation of energy in science, and from modernism to cubism in art. The book itself is as visually striking as its contents and helped me to think through why the visual metaphor – ‘Oh, I see!’ – becomes the standard description of the moment of insight.


Who am I?

I have worked in scientific research and teaching for over 30 years, and maintained a love of art and music as well, but am saddened when I hear statements, especially from high-school pupils, that ‘there is no room for creativity or imagination in science.’ Like all working scientists, I know that imagination is the most important faculty for a scientist. The Poetry and Music of Science is my project to tease out the creative threads in the scientific process, and also to find the buried pathways that link science with the arts and humanities. The journey of discovery has been full of surprises and delights for me.


I wrote...

The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art

By Tom McLeish,

Book cover of The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art

What is my book about?

What human qualities make scientific discoveries, and which great art? Many would point to 'imagination' and 'creativity' in the second case but not the first. This book challenges the assumption that doing science is in any sense less creative than art, music, or fictional writing and poetry, and treads a historical and contemporary path to their shared creative process. Personal stories of scientists and artists reveal their common desires for a creative goal, experiences of failure, periods of incubation, moments of sudden insight, and the experience of the beautiful or sublime. Themes weaving through both science and art emerge.

A new paperback edition of The Poetry and Music of Science is being published on Feb 13th, completely revised and with a new chapter on Poetry and Theoretical Science.

Or, view all 11 books about philosophy of mind

New book lists related to philosophy of mind

All book lists related to philosophy of mind

Bookshelves related to philosophy of mind