Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental History of the Mind

I woke up this morning dreaming about a book I finished three weeks ago. That’s the highest praise I can give a book, to still be contemplating the ideas within the text long after I’ve finished. That’s the case with Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris, a consultant to science writers who specializes in neuroscience and physics. The book offers concepts you’ll chew on for a long time, and rather than in the laborious way of gnaw on gristle, what Harris serves up is a trippy feast I had to step away from occasionally, then rejoin, to make sure I got the full flavor of dishes far outside anything I’ve had before.

Comfort food, this is not!

All of that, yet the book is only about a hundred pages. That’s because, as Harris explains, while scientists have launched forward in the study of how the brain works, especially in the last decade, there are few experiments on human consciousness. Why? Because consciousness is so hard to grasp. What is it? Where does it reside? In the brain? A gene? Did consciousness evolve, so that after billions of beta versions, humans get the honor of running the official first release of the software? Or has consciousness always existed and we humans are simply incapable of getting our heads around the fact we share a commonality with other matter, but experience the feature in a different way? Are we really behaving out of free will born of consciousness, or are our actions at the mercy of a parasite, bacteria or other life form that needs us to do something so that it can continue to exist?

Perhaps the best question, though, is the one Harris asks in the book’s first paragraph:

Why would any collection of matter in the universe be conscious?

As a writer, I love these questions because I’ve never felt humans are the top bananas in the universe and love the idea of other forms of consciousness. I’m also a huge science buff and am not scared by explorations that question the idea of souls and humans’ place in the universe and other questions our specie grapples with. Even so, certain theories put forth in the book — especially those relating to our concept of time — had me holding my head in complete inability to imagine the theory or implication.

Which is exactly why I’ll encourage you to read the book. Taste a little, step back, clear your palate, then taste a little more. Then consider allowing the ideas to shift your world view — your universal view — because that’s what such books are meant to do: push humans farther down the celestial road.

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