The Problems of Consciousness


This is still completely under construction. The idea is to have a good solid bibliography of useful papers and books, with annotations where possible and appropriate. What's here right now is just placeholder.

David Brooks, A Predictable Inexplicability

"What I have presented so far is a programme which should allow the physicalist to sleep easily at night without worrying about qualia. It is not a mathematical demonstration that qualitative states are physical. Given the logical possibility of dualism such a proof is not available. Nor will it silence my opponents. But I hope that it shows the way forward. I have given some preliminary considerations in favour of the truth of the various contentions along the way. When these preliminaries are consolidated physicalism should be secure."

David Chalmers, Online papers on consciousness

A list of more than two thousand online papers on the philosophy and science of consciousness and the general philosophy of mind. A good resource.

Daniel Dennett, "Consciousness Explained", Little Brown & Co, 1992.

Something of a bait-and-switch: appears to acknowledge at the beginning that existing science does not seem able to touch subjectivity, but ends by implying that once science gets really good at explaining the motions of atoms, subjectivity will come along for free.

Daniel Dennett, The Myth of Double Transduction

"That idea at first seems preposterous to many people, I know. Both David Chalmers and Michael Lockwood remarked in their sessions today that although they acknowledge that there are people who maintain this view, they think it is simply a non-starter. That 'the subjective point of view' can somehow be captured in the third person resources of the structure of this functional network strikes them as inconceivable. Not to me it isn't. When people declare to me that they cannot conceive of consciousness as simply the activity of such a functional network, I tell them to try harder."

Ito, Miyashita & Rolls (eds), "Cognition, Computation and Consciousness", Oxford, '97

A useful survey of cognitive approaches to the problems of consciousness, introduced by a summary of the philosophical background, and cognizant of contributory external issues such as language. Not so technical as to discourage the layperson, this collection of essays provides a unique peek of what's currently going on inside the heads of cognitive scientists. (from David Haan)

Frank Jackson, "What Mary Didn't Know", Journal of Philosophy, LXXXII, 5 (May 1986): 291-295.

Brings up, in a slightly different context, the idea of a person who knows all the physical facts about what happens when a person sees colored things, but has never seen anything but black and white herself.

Jaron Lanier, "You Can't Argue with a Zombie"

An eloquent, thought-provoking, and humorous essay on the general subject of consciousness and its computer-implementatability. Major flaws: a good deal of "argument by satire", and the incomprehensibility of the proposed "qualia dial" theory.

Thomas Nagel, "What is it like to be a bat?", The Philosophical Review, LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974), 435-450.

Struggles adroitly with the question of subjective experience, and (among other things) why it's so hard to find a name for it.

Roger Penrose, "The Emperor's New Mind", Oxford University Press, 1990.

Penrose discovers by introspection that he cannot be an ordinary machine, and concludes that he must be a machine with way-cool quantum devices in it instead.

John Searle, "Minds, Brains, and Programs", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (1980) 417-424.

A classic essay on the subject of what has consciousness, most famous for the "Chinese Room" argument, and for strongly suggesting that the only way to tell if a given system has consciousness is to ask John Searle.

and so on...

We eagerly solicit help in this endeavor; suggestions, corrections, ideas, and references may be sent via email to

David Chess accepts all the blame, but Steve White gets some of the credit. If you're lost, see the site map. This page last updated March 6th, 2005.