Seeing Red by Nicholas Humphrey

by stephenpalmersf

A slim book, but a brilliant and important one. In Seeing Red, Nicholas Humphrey expands on the ‘private sensory experience’ idea first discussed in his groundbreaking A History Of The Mind. The theme here is the knotty problem of deciding what exactly is the ‘stuff of consciousness’ – what is usually referred to as the hard problem, i.e. of what philosophers of the mind call qualia.

The book is taken from a series of lectures given in 2005, and, as observed in a wry introduction, its text echoes the chatty style of the spoken word. But it’s a terrific read for all that informality. Essentially, it sets out in greater depth Humphrey’s notion of the separation into two ‘channels’ of sensation and perception, with the former being something actually generated by the mind, not simply responded to. Using this theory, Humphrey finds himself able to explain much that otherwise is mysterious about consciousness.

The final two chapters seem a tiny bit rushed compared with the brilliant first few, but that’s a quibble. This is a marvellous, insightful, lucid and superbly argued book.

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