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Soul Dust:
The Magic of Consciousness
Nicholas Humphrey

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2011: Top 25 Books

Paperback | 2012 | $18.95 / £12.95 | ISBN: 9780691156378
Hardcover | 2011 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691138626
256 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 17 halftones. 1 table. | SHOPPING CART

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"The Uniqueness of Humanity" debate
at The Institute of Arts and Ideas

How is consciousness possible? What biological purpose does it serve? And why do we value it so highly? In Soul Dust, the psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, a leading figure in consciousness research, proposes a startling new theory. Consciousness, he argues, is nothing less than a magical-mystery show that we stage for ourselves inside our own heads. This self-made show lights up the world for us and makes us feel special and transcendent. Thus consciousness paves the way for spirituality, and allows us, as human beings, to reap the rewards, and anxieties, of living in what Humphrey calls the "soul niche."

Tightly argued, intellectually gripping, and a joy to read, Soul Dust provides answers to the deepest questions. It shows how the problem of consciousness merges with questions that obsess us all--how life should be lived and the fear of death. Resting firmly on neuroscience and evolutionary theory, and drawing a wealth of insights from philosophy and literature, Soul Dust is an uncompromising yet life-affirming work--one that never loses sight of the majesty and wonder of consciousness.

Nicholas Humphrey has held posts at Oxford and Cambridge universities, and is now professor emeritus of psychology at the London School of Economics. His many books include A History of the Mind and Seeing Red.

Review:

"Soul Dust, Nicholas Humphrey's new book about consciousness, is seductive--early 1960s, 'Mad Men' seductive. His writing is as elegant, and hypnotic, as that cool jazz stacked on the record player. His argument feels as crystalline and bracing as that double martini going down, though you might find yourself a little woozy afterward. And his tone is as warm and inviting as that big, crackling fire, even if the dim flicker does leave things a bit obscure in the corners. . . . [Soul Dust] is not only thoroughly enjoyable but genuinely instructive too."--Alison Gopnik, New York Times Book Review

"[E]loquent. . . . Scientists are often accused these days of overlooking the awe and wonder of the world, so it's exciting when a philosopher puts that magic at the very heart of a scientific hypothesis."--Matt Ridley, Wall Street Journal

"Humphrey, the psychologist who discovered blind sight, combines the latest research on neurology and psychology with age-old philosophical questions about the nature of perception and sensation."--PublishersWeekly.com

"Humphrey begins where Crick and others have left off. . . .[He] has laid out a new agenda for consciousness research."--Michael Proulx, Science

"How is consciousness possible? In Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness, psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, a leading figure in consciousness research, proposes a startling new theory. Consciousness, he argues, is merely a magic show we stage inside our heads. This show has allowed humans to become aware of themselves and their surroundings."--Victoria Stern, Scientific American Mind

"[Nicholas Humphrey's] new book is a beautifully written and highly original essay. . . . He is right to focus on the notion of the soul, and to emphasize the degree to which we humans are 'connoisseurs of consciousness'. . . . [F]ew consciousness enthusiasts have succeeded so well."--Adam Zeman, Standpoint

More reviews

Table of Contents:

Invitation ix
Prelude
Chapter 1: Coming-to Explained 3

Part One
Chapter 2: Being "Like Something" 27
Chapter 3: Sentition 42
Chapter 4: Looping the Loop 53

Part Two
Chapter 5: So What? 69
Chapter 6: Being There 80
Chapter 7: The Enchanted World 104
Chapter 8: So That Is Who I Am! 125
Chapter 9: Being Number One 140

Part Three
Chapter 10: Entering the Soul Niche 155
Chapter 11: Dangerous Territory 165
Chapter 12: Cheating Death 177

Envoi 203
Acknowledgments 215
Notes 217
Index 239

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