A conscious effort

Expected to hit the shelves in summer of 2005, A Unified Theory of Consciousness, a new book by the Director of the Institute of Cognitive Science and Professor of Philosophy, Andrew Brook, is sure to be popular among students and researchers alike.

Co-authored with Paul Raymont with a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the book tries to do two interconnected things. The first is to show that consciousness is not unique. It is just a part of cognition – indeed, a very important part. The second is to develop a single unified theory that can account for all the main kinds of consciousness.

Before they develop their own analysis, Brook and Raymont first tackle the opposition. “In order to argue that consciousness is simply part of processing information, we need to show those who think it’s totally different from anything else in mind that they do not have a sound case,” says Brook. In particular, they show that some famous ‘thought-experiments’ do not show that consciousness is unique, unlike anything else in the mind.

Brook has studied consciousness throughout his academic career. The idea for this book was conceived while writing his first book, Kant and the Mind in the late 1980s. Writing the book crystallized Brook’s own thoughts on consciousness and gave him a vision of how the current book should be structured. When Raymont joined him as a post-doc, many chapters were already drafted but Raymont made such substantial contributions to the project that he was brought on board as co-author.

Why study consciousness? “Consciousness is at the centre of nearly everything distinctively human,” says Brook. “Pathologies of consciousness (anxiety, mood disorders, dissociative disorders, disorders of affect, and so on) are central in most mental illness. Treatments that work through consciousness are equally central; this is true of virtually all psychotherapy. Yet there is no agreement on something as basic as what consciousness is.” A Unified Theory of Consciousness aims to tackle this problem head on.

From – http://www.now.carleton.ca/2005-1/650.htm

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