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Do advances in neuropsychological studies of consciousness demonstrate it to be just a state or function of the brain? A review of Stanislas Dehaene (2014) Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes our Thoughts. New York: Viking Penguin.
This online version of my review of Stanislas Dehaene’s (2014) book on Consciousness and the Brain adds a descriptive title, but is otherwise as it appears in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. In it, I conclude that the book offers an excellent introduction to the neuropsychology of consciousness that focuses largely on developments that have taken place over the last 15 years or so. The book ranges widely, starting with an account of how the processes that support consciousness in the brain have become increasingly open to experimental study, giving a fresh analysis of the extent of preconscious/unconscious processing, moving on to suggest what consciousness is good for when it appears, how to detect its presence by use of third-person observable neurophysiological signatures, incorporating these signatures into a version of the currently popular “global workspace model” of consciousness—and finally, suggesting some clinical application of the emerging research and some speculations about new frontiers, for example how the emerging science might be applied to the assessment of consciousness in babies and non-human animals. Dehaene also does not shy away from fundamental philosophical questions, adopting an unashamedly materialist-reductionist view of the nature of consciousness and mind, which, he believes, follows naturally from the advances in research that he surveys. In my review I accordingly address the book’s three central themes: (a) the advances in neuropsychological understanding of the conditions for consciousness in the human brain, (b) whether the emerging research leads naturally to a materialist-reductionist view of the nature of consciousness and mind, and (c) the scope and possible limits of the global workspace model of consciousness. Overall, I applaud the science that the book describes, but unravel the problems associated with Dehaene’s materialist reductionism.