The Science of Consciousness:

Chapter 1: The Problem of Consciousness

What is consciousness, and why is it such a difficult subject to study?


Further reading

Bayne, T., Cleeremans, A., & Wilken, P. (2011). The Oxford Companion to Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kindle version available. ISBN: 978-0198569510.

There are several "handbooks" and "companions" to consciousness, and they're very useful things to have to, hopefully summarising the field. How do they line up?

The first thing to note about Bayne et al. is that there is confusion about the publication date. Inside my hard copy it says 2009; the website says the online version is 2010; Amazon gives the date as a reprint version in 2014. However I'm hard pressed to find any citations to work after 2006, so I assume most of the entries were finished in 2005 and 2006. This point is more than pedantry: it's important because consciousness research is a fast moving field. Therefore I consider this book to now be pretty dated.

It's massive, nearly 700 hard pages long, and made up of entries in alphabetical order on just about anything and everything related to consciousness, each written by an expert in the field. Multiple authorship means a huge variation in the readability and ease of understanding. Reflecting my expertise, I found the psychology entries straightforward, the neuroscience ones OK but a few more diagrams would have helped, and the philosophy ones more hard going, although there were exceptions. The entries written by Susan Blackmore and Daniel Dennett were exemplary, and the work would have been stronger if it had been edited so that all the entries were of the same standard. The editors have my sympathy though because putting it together must have been, as the saying goes, like herding cats as it was.

It's not a book for someone new to consciousness, such as undergraduate student taking an option in the subject. I read it like a novel, from start to finish, and it took me ages. I did know much more at the end than at the beginning, however. It is most useful as a work of reference, for people who want to learn more about individual topics. It is worth browsing though because there are some pleasant surprises in the entries. I'd completely forgotten about the refridgerator light problem, for example. Overall the entries individually and collectively are pretty balanced. Each entry has an excellent if now dated set of references for yet more detail and further reading.

There is a e-book available, but it doesn't have the colour plates of the hard version, which is a shame.

Overall then a useful addition to the overview literature on consciousness. The main problem is that it is now too dated.