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The Current Scene:

Reviews of Recent Books on Consciousness

Culled Mostly From the Pages of The New York Review of Books


Interest in consciousness really took off in the early 1990s, especially with the publication of Dan Dennett's Consciousness Explained (1991) and John Searle's The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992). Life may be too short to read all of these books oneself, but the flavor of the debate over consciousness can be gleaned by reading the reviews of these books, which have appeared in various issues of the New York Review of Books -- perhaps America's leading intellectual journal. UCB's John Searle has been an especially prominent contributor to these reviews.

All of these articles are available online through the UCB Llibrary website, and other venues, including the NYRM itself.

Items marked with an asterisk (*) were reprinted in Searle's The Mystery of Conciousness (1997).


Chomsky's Revolution in Linguistics

by John R. Searle

New York Review of Books, June 29, 1972.


Not on consciousness, exactly, but still an important critique of an important trend in psychology and cognitive science. But still relevant to consciousness, in a sense, given Chomsky's view that language is mediated by "deep" grammatical rules that operate outside phenomenal awareness. Reviews a number of books by Chomsky, including Reviews a number of books by and about Chomsky, including his groundbreaking Syntactic Structures (1957), Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), and Cartesian Linguistics (1966); and Language and Mind (1968, 1972), in which Chomsky discusses the relationship between his theory of language and his views on human nature. The review also covers Searle's early work on speech acts, including Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (1969).


Deep Language

by George Lakoff

NYRB, February 8, 1973.


Details Lakoff's disagreements with Chomsky.


The Sleeping Chess Player

by Alan Gewirth

NYRB, February 22, 1973.


On Chomsky's "innatism", with a reply by Searle.


Chomsky Replies

by Noam Chomsky

NYRB, July 19, 1973.


More to Lakoff than to Searle. Chomsky wrote a longer response to Searle in Reflections on Language (1975), reviewed by Bernard Williams in NYRB, November 11, 1976).


The Myth of the Computer

By John R. Searle

NYRB, Volume 29, Number 7, April 29, 1982


Review of The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul composed and arranged by Douglas R. Hofstadter, by Daniel C. Dennett.  Basic Books, 501 pp., $16.95. An early statement of the "Chinese Room" argument against Strong Artificial Intelligence.


The Myth of the Computer: An Exchange

By Daniel C. Dennett, Reply by John R. Searle

NYRB, Volume 29, Number 11, June 24, 1982


In response to "The Myth of the Computer"). 


Artificial Intelligence and the Chinese Room: An Exchange

By Elhanan Motzkin, Reply by John R. Searle

NYRB, Volume 36, Number 2, February 16, 1989




Body, Mind, and Machine

by David Joravsky

NYRB, October 21, 1982


Reviews a number of books on psychology and neuropsychology, including The Question of Animal Awareness by Donald R. Griffin.



The Case of the Colorblind Painter

By Oliver Sacks, Robert Wasserman

NYRB, Volume 34, Number 18, November 19, 1987


Reviews classic works on visual sensation and perception, including Some Uncommon Observations About Vitiated Sight by Robert Boyle (1688); "Disorders of Complex Visual Processing" by by Antonio R. Damasio. in M-Marsel Mesulam, ed., Principles of Behavioral Neurology; Caspar Hauser by Anselm von Feuerbach (1834); The Intelligent Eye by Richard L. Gregory (1971); Physiological Optics by Hermann von Helmholtz (1856–1867); "The Retinex Theory of Color Vision" by Edwin H. Land (1977); Vision: A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information (posthumous, 1982); "Retinex Theory and Colour Constancy" by J.J. McCann (1987); "Colour Vision: Eye Mechanisms," W.A.H. Rushton (1987); " Remarks on Colour" by Ludwig Wittgenstein (his last work, 1950); "The Construction of Colours by the Cerebral Cortex" by S. Zeki (1984); "Selective Disturbance of Movement Vision after Bilateral Brain Damage" by J. Zihl et al. (1983); "Colourful Notions" in the film series The Nature of Things (1984).



Matter Over Mind

by Roger Penrose

NYRB, February 1, 1990.


Reviews Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence by Hans Moravec.



What Can't the Computer Do?

by John Maynard Smith

NYRB, March 15, 1990.


Reviews the Emperor's New Mind: concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics by Roger Penrose.


The Emperor's New Mind: An Exchange

by John R. Searle and John Maynard Smith

NYRB, June 14, 1990.


Mostly about the "Chinese Room" argument.



Neurology and the Soul

By Oliver Sacks

NYRB, Volume 37, Number 18 · November 22, 1990


Discusses a number of books and articles on cognition and consciousness, including Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology by Frederick C. Bartlett (1932); Neural Darwinism: The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection by Gerald M. Edelman; The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness by Gerald M. Edelman; The Mystery of the Mind by Wilder Penfield; The Invention of Memory: A New View of the Brain by Israel Rosenfield; La Conscience: Une Biologie du Moi Knopf by Israel Rosenfield ; "A Critique of Artificial Intelligence" by Israel Rosenfield; Man on his Nature by Charles Sherrington; The Integrative Action of the Nervous System by Charles Sherrington; Migraine by Oliver Sacks; Awakenings by Oliver Sacks; A Leg to Stand On by Oliver Sacks; The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks; and Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks.



By Oliver Sacks

NYRB Volume 37, Number 19 · December 6, 1990


Corrects and expands on Neurology and the Soul* (November 22, 1990)



By Gregory Ludwig, Reply by Oliver Sacks

NYRB, Volume 38, Number 1 & 2 · January 17, 1991


An amusing (and instructoive) correction of another error in Neurology and the Soul* (November 22, 1990)



The Last Hippie

By Oliver Sacks

Volume 39, Number 6 · March 26, 1992


Reviews a number of books and articles on consciousness and memory, including The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness by Gerald M. Edelman; "Human Autonomy and the Frontal Lobes" by F. Lhermitte, B. Pillon, & M. Serdaru; Human Brain and Psychological Processes by A. R. Luria; The Neuropsychology of Memory by A. R. Luria; "Long-lasting Perceptual Priming and Semantic Learning in Amnesia: A Case Experiment" by Endel Tulving, C.A.Gordon Hayman, & Carol A. Macdonald; Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion by Mickey Hart; "The Medial Temporal Lobe Memory System" by Larry Squire and Stuart Zola-Morgan; Sound and Symbol: Volume I, Music and the External World, and Volume II, The Musician by Victor Zuckerkandl; The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten: An Anatomy of Consciousness by Israel Rosenfield; "

The Mind Wins!

By Thomas Nagel

NYRB, Volume 40, Number 5 · March 4, 1993


Reviews The Rediscovery of the Mind by John Searle Searle gets as good as he gives.



Making Up the Mind

by Oliver Sacks

NYRB, Volume 40, Numer 7, April 8, 1993


Reviews Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind by Gerald M. Edelman



The Mystery of Consciousness*

By John R. Searle

NYRB, Volume 42, Number 17 · November 2, 1995


ReviewsThe Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul by Francis Crick; Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett< The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness and Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind by Gerald Edelman; Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness by Roger Penrose; and The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten: An Anatomy of Consciousness by Israel Rosenfield.




The Mystery of Consciousness: Part II

By John R. Searle

Volume 42, Number 18 · November 16, 1995


Continues the reviews in Part I.


'The Mystery of Consciousness': An Exchange

By Daniel C. Dennett, Reply by John R. Searle

Volume 42, Number 20 · December 21, 1995




Consciousness & the Philosophers*

By John R. Searle

NYRB, Volume 44, Number 4 · March 6, 1997


Reviews The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory by David J. Chalmers



'Consciousness and the Philosophers': An Exchange

By David J. Chalmers, Reply by John R. Searle NYRB, Volume 44, Number 8 · May 15, 1997

In response to Searle's review of The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (March 6, 1997)



I Married a Computer

By John R. Searle

NYRB, Volume 46, Number 6 · April 8, 1999


Review of The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil

'I Married a Computer': An Exchange

By Ray Kurzweil, Reply by John R. Searle

Volume 46, Number 9 · May 20, 1999


In response to I Married a Computer (April 8, 1999)



Can We Ever Understand Consciousness?

By Colin McGinn

Volume 46, Number 10 · June 10, 1999


Reviews Mind, Language, and Society:Philosophy in the Real World by John R. Searle and On the Contrary: Critical Essays, 1987-1997 by Paul M. Churchland and Patricia S. Churchland.



"Love on a Laptop"

by John Lanchester

NYRB, 48(13), 08/19/2001.


Review of Thinks... by David Lodge.



In the Stream of Consciousness

by Thomas Nagel

NYRB, 49(6), 04/11/2002.

Review of Consciousness and the World by Brian O'Shaughnessy. 



In the River of Consciousness

by Oliver Sacks

NYRB, Volume 51, Number 1 · January 15, 2004 


Reviews a variety of books and articles on consciousness, including The Principles of Psychology by William James; Creative Evolution by Henri Bergson; The Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychological Theory by Donald Hebb; Neural Darwinism: The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection; by Gerald M. Edelman; Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness by Gerald M. Edelman; The Physiology of Truth: Neuroscience and Human Knowledge by Jean-Pierre Changeux; The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul by Francis Crick; The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach by Christof Koch; and A Natural History of Vision by Nicholas J. Wade.


'In the River of Consciousness': An Exchange

By Benjamin Libet, David Ingle, Ph.D., Steve J. Heims, Reply by Oliver Sacks

Volume 51, Number 6 · April 8, 2004

In response to In the River of Consciousness* (January 15, 2004)



Consciousness: What We Still Don't Know

By John R. Searle

Volume 52, Number 1 · January 13, 2005


Reviews The Quest for Consciousness by Christof Koch.



By Stevan Harnad, Reply by John R. Searle

Volume 52, Number 11 · June 23, 2005

In response to Consciousness: What We Still Don't Know* (January 13, 2005)



Remembering Francis Crick

By Oliver Sacks

NYRB, Volume 52, Number 5 · March 24, 2005


A memorial tribute, written on the occasion of Crick's death, but focusing mostly on the Crick-Koch "40 Hertz" theory of consciousness.




Minding the Brain

by John R. Searle

NYRB, Volume 53, Number 17,11/02/2006


Reviews Seeing Red: A Study in Consciousness by Nicholas Humphrey



The Mystery of Consciousness Continues

By John R. Searle

NYRB, Volume 58, Number 10, 06/09/2011


Reviews Self comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio.


The Mystery of Consciousness, con't.

By Barclay Martin; Resonse by John Searle

NYRB, Volume 58, Number 14, 09/29/2011


Response to Searle's review of Damasio's Self Comes to Mind.



Can Information Theory Explain Consciousness?

by John R. Searle

NYRB, Volume 60, Number 1, 01/10/2013


Reviews Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist by Christof Koch. Here's a sample: "Chrstof Koch describes his book as the 'Confessions of a Romantic Reeuctionist.' But this is misleading. His book is expliicitly and aggressively antireductionist, it contains no confessions, and if you are looking for a romantic book -- this is not it."


Can a Photodiode Be Conscious?

by Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi; response by John Searle

NYRB, Volume 60, Number 4 - 03/07/2013


In response to Searle's review of Koch's book.



Awaiting a New Darwin

By H. Allen Orr

NYRB, Volume 60, Number 2, 02/07/2013


Reviews Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel. Nagel has doubts about the theory of evolution as a complete theory of human nature, but much of his book details his problems with materialist approaches to consciousness.




by Colin McGinn

NYRB, Volume 60, Number 5, 03/21/2013


Reviews How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil. The "secret" is the Pattern Recognition Theory of the Mind (PRTM), apparently an unconscious revival of the old "pandemonium" theory of perception. Contains a chapter on consciousness and free will, which doesn't really fit with the PRTM, and relies on the Turing Test to determine whether a machine is conscious.


"How to Create a Mind"

by Joe Herbert; response by Colin McGinn

NYRB, Volume 60, Number 9, 05/23/2013


Responds to McGinn's review of Kurzweil's book.



The Hallucinators Among Us

by Michael Greenberg

NYRB, Volume 60, Number 6, 04/04/2013


Reviews Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, which focuses on the "organic" hallucinations associated with brain imjury or psychedelic drugs -- not the "functional" hallucinations associated with major psychoses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.



Most of Us Are Biased, After All

by Leonard Mlodinow

NYRB, Volume 60, Number 6, 04/04/2013


Reviews Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. Greenwald is the inventor, and he and Banaji, the most vigorous promoters, of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) as a measure of unconscious bias and prejudice. This book, intended to summarize research on the IAT for a general audience, is short on criticism of the IAT. The title assertion might be true -- but for reasons discussed in class and the Lecture Supplements on Explicit and Implicit Motivation and Emotion, the IAT gives us no good reason to think that our biases are unconscious.


What Can Your Neurons Tell You?

by Colin McGinn

NYRB, Volume 60, No. 12, 07/11/2013


Reviews the Good, the True, and the Beautiful: A Neuronal Approach by J.-P. Changeux. France's foremost living cognitive neuroscientist -- hell, he's Frances foremost cognitive neuroscientist of any age or era! -- makes an argument for neural reductionism; the founder of The Mysterians is having none of it.

"Neuroscience & Philosophy: an Exchange"

by Jean-Pierre Changeux; response by Colin McGinn

NYRB, Volume 60, Number 13, 08/15/2013


Changeux objects to McGinn's review of his book; McGinn lets him have it again.

Storm Over the Brain

by Colin McGinn

NYRB, Volume 61, No. 7, 04/24/2014


Reviews Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain by Patricia A. Churchland, and McGinn is haviing none of her "intertheoretic reductionism", either. 

"Of Brains and Minds: an Exchange"

by Patricia Churchland; response by Colin McGinn

NYRB, Volume 61, Number 11, 06/19/2014


Churchland continues to insist that "if you want to understand the mind, you need to understand the brain", and accuses McGinn of nostalgia.  McGinn parries effectively, but then he slips a little bit, arguing that knowledge of the brain may be necessary for understanding the mind (which it is not), but that it is not sufficient (which Churchland seems to be claiming it is).

Listening to Reason

by Thomas Nagel

NYRB, Volume 61, No. 15, October 9, 2014.


Reviews Being Realistic about Reasons by T.M. Scanlon.  Argues that the truths of mathematics and morality are not the same as the truths of physics and chemistry.  Perhaps more relevant to a course on Social Cognition, but it does have a flavor of immaterialism about it, so it's relevant to a course on Consciousness, as well.

"What Your Computer Can't Do"

by John Searle

NYRB, Volume 61, No. 15, October 9, 2014.


ReviewsThe 4th Revolution: How the Infosphere Is Reshaping Human Reality, by Luciano Floridi, and Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Nick Bostrom.  revives Searle's arguments against Strong AI, and -- to my reading, at least -- implies that no computer, no matter how powerful, could become conscious simply by virtue of its function as an information-processing machine.

"Is Consciousness an Illusion?"

by Thomas Nagel

NYRB, Volume 64, No. 4, March 9, 2017.


Reviews From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel Dennett, in which Dennett essentially restates the his position he took in consciousness Explained -- which, of course, is totally opposed to Nagel's.  NYRB does this a lot, and it often really illuminates the controversy.  But this time, Nagel is surprisingly mild-mannered, essentially letting Dennett speak for himself.

"The Consciousness Deniers"

by Galen Strawson

NYRB Daily, March 13, 2018.


In an essay adapted from a chapter in his new book, Things That Bother Me: Death, Freedom, the Self, Etc. (2018), the philosopher starts out with the following:

"What is the silliest claim ever made? The competition is fierce, but I think the answer is easy. Some people have denied the existence of consciousness: conscious experience, the subjective character of experience, the “what-it-is-like” of experience. Next to this denial—I’ll call it “the Denial”—every known religious belief is only a little less sensible than the belief that grass is green".

"Magic, Illusions, and Zombies: An Exchange"
by Daniel Dennett; Response by Galen Strawson

A major target of Strawson's complaint is, of course, Daniel Dennett, and the two of them had an exchange of views in the NYRB Daily, 04/03/2018.


This page last updated 05/02/2017.