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Nicholas Humphrey

Seeing Red

The nature of consciousness - what precisely is the 'redness' that we experience when looking at a red object - is one of the 'hard' problems of philosophy. In Seeing Red: A Study in Consciousness Nicholas Humphrey offers some new insights into the question.

Suppose you are looking at a red screen. The usual view is that this produces the sensation of redness, which you interpret as perception of the colour of screen, a fact that we can then use in our interaction with the world around us. Humphrey modifies this. He argues that the perception could take place without the sensation - that the sensation of redness is an added extra. He put forward some convincing arguments, in particular the phenomenon of blindsight, where people can interact with objects without believing that they can see them. His view isn't just the rather doubtful one of epiphenomenalism though, rather he thinks that this sensation can affect our emotions, as well as giving a way of replaying experiences in our mind.

Of course this a book like this isn't going to settle all of the arguments about consciousness, but I feel that Humphrey's idea is important as it gives some structure to the questions involved. It's a short book - no need to wade through pages of obscure philosophy - and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the nature of consciousness.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 160 pages  
ISBN: 0674021797
Salesrank: 2304290
Weight:0.6 lbs
Published: 2006 Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 128 pages  
ISBN: 0674021797
Salesrank: 1324708
Weight:0.6 lbs
Published: 2006 Harvard University Press
Marketplace:New from £25.69:Used from £2.87
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 160 pages  
ISBN: 0674021797
Salesrank: 2944688
Weight:0.6 lbs
Published: 2006 Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 43.65:Used from CDN$ 0.01
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Product Description

"Consciousness matters. Arguably it matters more than anything. The purpose of this book is to build towards an explanation of just what the matter is."

Nicholas Humphrey begins this compelling exploration of the biggest of big questions with a challenge to the reader, and himself. What's involved in "seeing red"? What is it like for us to see someone else seeing something red?

Seeing a red screen tells us a fact about something in the world. But it also creates a new fact--a sensation in each of our minds, the feeling of redness. And that's the mystery. Conventional science so far hasn't told us what conscious sensations are made of, or how we get access to them, or why we have them at all. From an evolutionary perspective, what's the point of consciousness?

Humphrey offers a daring and novel solution, arguing that sensations are not things that happen to us, they are things we do--originating in our primordial ancestors' expressions of liking or disgust. Tracing the evolutionary trajectory through to human beings, he shows how this has led to sensations playing the key role in the human sense of Self.

The Self, as we now know it from within, seems to have fascinating other-worldly properties. It leads us to believe in mind-body duality and the existence of a soul. And such beliefs--even if mistaken--can be highly adaptive, because they increase the value we place on our own and others' lives.

"Consciousness matters," Humphrey concludes with striking paradox, "because it is its function to matter. It has been designed to create in human beings a Self whose life is worth pursuing."