- Matter and Consciousness, Third Edition by Paul M. Churchland
by Paul M. Churchland. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 2013. 288 pp.
Trade. ISBN: 978-0-2625-1958-8.
When I read the second edition of Matter and Consciousness (1988) sometime in the 1990s, consciousness was a blossoming field of study. There was much excitement around the topic and I was delighted to find a short and well-organized overview. The pivotal year was 1994, when the group now known as the Center for Consciousness Studies  at the University of Arizona organized their first conference on the subject, “Tucson I.” (The Toward a Science of Consciousness [TSC] conference in April 2014 celebrated 20 years since that inaugural event.) One outgrowth of “Tucson I” was the formation of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC). This group, which is still active today, saw itself as a forum for transdisciplinary research, comprised of researchers who were directed toward understanding the nature, function and underlying mechanisms of consciousness. Thus, ASSC aimed to encourage research on consciousness in cognitive science, neuroscience, philosophy and other relevant disciplines in the sciences and humanities. The Journal of Consciousness Studies also began publication in 1994. Moreover, these events were not happening within a vacuum. In the United States, for example, the growing interest in consciousness and cognitive studies was increasingly connected with the rapid expansion of brain research. Indeed, it was common to hear people associate the developing consciousness awareness with President George H.W. Bush’s call for The Decade of the Brain (1990–1999) “to enhance public awareness of the benefits to be derived from brain research” through “appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities” .
Many have jumped onto the consciousness bandwagon in the 25 years since the second edition of Matter and Consciousness was published. Since consciousness is not my primary academic interest and I have not really kept up with all the ins and outs in the field, I was excited to see that an updated version of Paul Churchland’s 1988 Matter and Consciousness was available. The book had become a classic introductory text due to its clear, concise and readable format. It seemed like a perfect way to see what the field now looks like.
The new book retains the structure of previous editions. Since Churchland is a well-known philosopher and consciousness specialist, it is probably not surprising that he begins with a philosophical discussion. Here Churchland is concerned with traditional philosophy of mind topics as they relate to ideas about consciousness. These include: the Ontological (Mind-Body) Problem, the Semantical Problem, the Epistemological Problem, and the Methodological Problem. Sections on artificial intelligence and neuroscience follow, with a closing chapter on expanding our perspective. All of the philosophical chapters follow a similar pattern: Each chapter has sections providing overviews of each topic, followed by sub-topical sections that offer the pros and cons of each argument. There are short bibliographies after most sections, each with about five or six references. The chapters on artificial intelligence (AI) and neuroscience are also organized topically but, rather than offering pros and [End Page 88] cons, the discussions are expository in nature, with useful diagrams to enhance the text. Like the philosophical chapters, those on AI and neuroscience are divided into sections, with suggested readings at the end of most of the sections. The book also includes a five-page index.
As Churchland states in the short preface, he has added notations about key thought experiments that have tried to move the debate forward since the last edition was published. These additions are an important update in the book. They include more text on Thomas Nagel’s bat, entries about Frank Jackson’s neuroscientist Mary who studies colors but cannot see them, David Chalmers’s humanlike zombies and John Searle’s Chinese room. In addition, Churchland has also deleted some of the discussion on Behaviorism and there are a few paragraphs about Siri and AI, including a nice comparison of Weizenbaum’s Eliza and Siri. The sections on artificial intelligence and neuroscience now include new sections on Churchland’s work with...