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  • Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consciousness
  • Robert Pepperell
Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consciousness edited by Bernard J. Baars, William P. Banks and James B. Newman. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 2003. 1,163 pp., illus. ISBN 0-262-52302-7.

Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consciousness is a massive compendium of articles and papers spanning some 50 years of scientific research into the nature and operation of human consciousness. Within the nearly 1,200 pages and almost 70 chapters a huge range of issues are given detailed discussion, including perceptual consciousness, attention, memory, internal data, unconsciousness and dreaming. All the papers are in some way significant to the developing history of consciousness studies, and have been drawn from some of the key journals in the field.

In contrast to many other books on this subject that take a philosophical line of inquiry, the papers here are almost exclusively empirical and experimental in nature, although a selection of more theoretical articles are included from contributors such as Gerald Edelman, Antonio Damasio and Bernard J. Baars. In fact, Baars, one of the editors and best known for his "global workspace" theory of consciousness, is a prominent presence, providing not only the introductory text but also four other papers.

In his comprehensive introduction (which in itself would serve as a useful set text for a wider audience) Baars argues for consciousness to be treated as a variable rather than as an absolute state. By this he means that consciousness can be measured as being more or less present in relation to other states, such as between wakefulness and sleep, alertness and coma, new and habituated events, and so on. In this way, and in opposition to those who deny consciousness can be scientifically (that is, experimentally) studied at all, Baars and his colleagues propose that hard empirical data can be reliably gathered about the processes of consciousness, and thus contribute to the building of a coherent scientific theory of this most enigmatic of human attributes. The favored methodological approach seeks to correlate internal, subjective experiences with objective experimental techniques so that, as Baars says, "in modern science we are practicing a kind of verifiable phenomenology" (p. 8).

This volume would be a highly useful reference and source book for any serious scholar of the science of consciousness, which nowadays includes many from beyond the purely scientific community. [End Page 70]

Robert Pepperell
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