This page contains a list of the best books on consciousness. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on consciousness. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about consciousness. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on consciousness in no particular order.
Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction – Susan Blackmore
Consciousness, “the last great mystery for science,” remains a hot topic. How can a physical brain create our experience of the world? What creates our identity? Do we really have free will? Could consciousness itself be an illusion?
Exciting new developments in brain science are continuing the debates on these issues, and the field has now expanded to include biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers. This controversial book clarifies the potentially confusing arguments, and the major theories, whilst also outlining the amazing pace of discoveries in neuroscience. Covering areas such as the construction of self in the brain, mechanisms of attention, the neural correlates of consciousness, and the physiology of altered states of consciousness, Susan Blackmore highlights our latest findings.
Intended for anyone attempting to find their way through the large and confusingly interwoven philosophical literature on consciousness, this reader brings together most of the principal texts in philosophy (and a small set of related key works in neuropsychology) on consciousness through 1997, and includes some forthcoming articles. Its extensive coverage strikes a balance between seminal works of the past few decades and the leading edge of philosophical research on consciousness.As no other anthology currently does, The Nature of Consciousness provides a substantial introduction to the field, and imposes structure on a vast and complicated literature, with sections covering stream of consciousness, theoretical issues, consciousness and representation, the function of consciousness, subjectivity and the explanatory gap, the knowledge argument, qualia, and monitoring conceptions of consciousness. Of the 49 contributions, 18 are either new or have been adapted from a previous publication.
Consciousness Explained – Daniel C. Dennett
Consciousness Explained is a a full-scale exploration of human consciousness. In this landmark book, Daniel Dennett refutes the traditional, commonsense theory of consciousness and presents a new model, based on a wealth of information from the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and artificial intelligence. Our current theories about conscious life-of people, animal, even robots–are transformed by the new perspectives found in this book.
The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory – David J. Chalmers
What is consciousness? How do physical processes in the brain give rise to the self-aware mind and to feelings as profoundly varied as love or hate, aesthetic pleasure or spiritual yearning? These questions today are among the most hotly debated issues among scientists and philosophers, and we have seen in recent years superb volumes by such eminent figures as Francis Crick, Daniel C. Dennett, Gerald Edelman, and Roger Penrose, all firing volleys in what has come to be called the consciousness wars. Now, in The Conscious Mind, philosopher David J. Chalmers offers a cogent analysis of this heated debate as he unveils a major new theory of consciousness, one that rejects the prevailing reductionist trend of science, while offering provocative insights into the relationship between mind and brain.
Meditations on First Philosophy – René Descartes
Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, the fundamental and originating work of the modern era in Western philosophy, is presented here in Donald Cress’s completely revised edition of his well-established translation, bringing this version even closer to Descartes’s original, while maintaining its clear and accessible style.
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness – Peter Godfrey-Smith
Although mammals and birds are widely regarded as the smartest creatures on earth, it has lately become clear that a very distant branch of the tree of life has also sprouted higher intelligence: the cephalopods, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. In captivity, octopuses have been known to identify individual human keepers, raid neighboring tanks for food, turn off lightbulbs by spouting jets of water, plug drains, and make daring escapes. How is it that a creature with such gifts evolved through an evolutionary lineage so radically distant from our own? What does it mean that evolution built minds not once but at least twice? The octopus is the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien. What can we learn from the encounter?
In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, tells a bold new story of how subjective experience crept into being―how nature became aware of itself. As Godfrey-Smith stresses, it is a story that largely occurs in the ocean, where animals first appeared. Tracking the mind’s fitful development, Godfrey-Smith shows how unruly clumps of seaborne cells began living together and became capable of sensing, acting, and signaling. As these primitive organisms became more entangled with others, they grew more complicated. The first nervous systems evolved, probably in ancient relatives of jellyfish; later on, the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous mollusks, abandoned their shells and rose above the ocean floor, searching for prey and acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so. Taking an independent route, mammals and birds later began their own evolutionary journeys.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Consciousness
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Consciousness
If you’d like to learn more about consciousness, check out:
- this collection of beginner friendly resources on Consciousness
- Some introductory books on the Philosophy of Mind
For more introductory philosophy resources and reading lists check out this collection of Resources and Reading Lists.