Conscious: Summary Review & Takeaways

This is a summary review of Conscious containing key details about the book.

What is Conscious About?

In Conscious, the author guides us through the evolving definitions, philosophies, and scientific findings that probe our limited understanding of consciousness. Where does it reside, and what gives rise to it? Could it be an illusion or a universal property of all matter? As we try to understand consciousness, we must grapple with how to define it and, in the age of artificial intelligence, who or what might possess it.

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Who is the author of Conscious?

Annaka Harris is an American author. Her work touches on neuroscience, meditation, philosophy of mind, and consciousness. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind and the children's book I Wonder.

Book details

  • Print length: 144 Pages
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Philosophy, Science

What are key takeaways from Conscious?

Takeaway #1:

Consciousness is a trait we all share, but it can be difficult to define what it means. In Thomas Nagel’s essay, “What is it Like to be a Bat?” Nagel argues that something can be seen as conscious if there is “something that it is like to be that organism…. something it is like for the organism.” Meaning that something must be capable of having an experience, or be sentient, to experience the effect of some event, in order to be considered conscious. Intuition is another elusive trait that human beings have and often experience. Intuition is commonly regarded as a gut feeling, or a visceral sense that you feel internal is true. Our intuitions often trigger our fight or flight impulses. Intuition is usually right, it is still good to question their veracity at times. Though intuition is usually right, it can sometimes lead you astray.

Takeaway #2:

Since we are only able to experience our own consciousness, this could lead us to falsely believe that we are the only entities with consciousness. Studies conducted on trees show that even non-sentient organisms can display humanistic traits. Douglas fir trees and paper birch seem to have an element of consciousness by regularly supplying nutrients to each other when needed. The Venus flytrap is another example of a plant with anthropogenic traits. A Venus flytrap will not shut close on its prey unless both its triggers are set off, which means some form of memory is required to initiate its trigger. This tells us that either plants possess consciousness, or (and what is more likely) certain entities that display conscious-like behavior may not require consciousness after all.

Takeaway #3:

The subconscious parts of our mind may be responsible for more of our actions than you would think. During a typical day, how many of your actions would you describe as being completely ‘conscious’? Most day-to-day actions occur automatically: driving, brushing your teeth, grabbing your keys before heading out the door. Despite what you’d think, many internal thoughts are also from the subconscious. You could be going about your day, as usual, and out of nowhere, a memory from a decade ago pops into your mind. To sum it up, the subconscious plays a big role in the multitudes of human behavior.

Takeaway #4:

It could seem like senses inform our brains instantaneously. It feels like our senses of sight, smell, and touch all occur at the same time. It turns out this is not the case. Our senses operate differently from each other, and they report information at different points. Touch takes longer to deliver information to the brain than hearing. Disjunctive agnosia is a neurological disorder where the senses experience an even greater delay amongst one another in reporting information to the brain. A person’s sense of reality can be distorted with this disorder. Certain substances we consume can also blur the lines between our reality. LSD and deep meditation practices could have this effect.

Takeaway #5:

Does all matter experience consciousness? According to panpsychism, the answer is yes. Panpsychists believe that any material thing (even a pen), has some consciousness. Before jumping the gun (on what seems like a poor hypothesis), it’s true that most organisms on Earth are made of similar matter. Some researchers endorse panpsychism; like biologist J.B.S. Haldene, and Bernhard Rensch. A critical distinction to keep in mind is that they don’t believe all entities experience consciousness to the same degree. Panpsychism mostly encourages the possibility of there being other forms of consciousness besides just human consciousness.

Takeaway #6:

Panpsychism is not a very commonly held belief. It’s not difficult to see why, since some of its implications are hard to accept. The idea that each of our organs possesses ‘consciousness’ seems false. It’s unlikely that each organ experiences consciousness, but it’s possible that our brains are capable of experiencing more than one form of consciousness. Studies have been done on patients recovering from certain brain surgeries, and during recovery, some patients experienced disjointed behavior as a result of the brain surgery.

What are the chapters in Conscious?

1: A Mystery Hiding in Plain Sight
2: Intuitions and Illusions
3: Is Consciousness Free?
4: Along for the Ride
5: Who Are We?
6: Is Consciousness Everywhere?
7: Beyond Panpsychism
8: Consciousness and Time

What are some of the main summary points from the book?

Here are some key summary points from the book:

  • The Complexity of Consciousness: The book delves into the intricacies of consciousness, emphasizing that it's not merely the result of complicated computation or information processing in our brains.
  • The Hard Problem of Consciousness: Harris discusses the 'hard problem' of consciousness – why and how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experiences.
  • Panpsychism: Harris explores various theories of consciousness, including panpsychism - the idea that consciousness could be a fundamental property of the universe, like mass or energy.
  • Meditation and Mindfulness: The book discusses the significance of mindfulness and meditation. Harris argues these practices can help us better understand our conscious experience and potentially shed light on the nature of consciousness itself.
  • The Mystery of Consciousness: Harris emphasizes the current limitations in our understanding of consciousness. She suggests that despite significant advances in neuroscience and related fields, consciousness remains a profound mystery.
  • The Significance of Perception: Harris discusses the nature of perception and how our experiences of the world are shaped not just by the external world, but by the processes of our minds.
  • Consciousness in Non-human Entities: The book also discusses the possibility of consciousness in non-human entities, such as animals or even artificial intelligence.

What are good quotes from Conscious?

"consciousness is in fact the only thing in the universe that is not a mystery—in the sense that it is the only thing we truly understand firsthand."

"the truth of my situation: I’m floating around the universe on this giant sphere—suspended here by gravity and going for a ride.... being on the earth doesn’t separate us from the rest of the universe; indeed, we are and have always been in outer space." (Meaning)

― Annaka Harris, Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind

What do critics say?

Here's what one of the prominent reviewers had to say about the book: "If you’ve ever wondered how you have the capacity to wonder, some fascinating insights await you in these pages.” — Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals

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* The summary points above have been concluded from the book and other public sources. The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways

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Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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