Sentience: The Invention of Consciousness
Humphrey (Nicholas)
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Amazon Book Description

  1. We feel therefore we are. Conscious sensations ground our sense of self. They are essential to our idea of ourselves as psychic beings: present, existent, and mattering. But is it only humans who feel this way? Do other animals? Will future machines?
  2. To answer these questions we need a scientific understanding of consciousness: what it is and why it has evolved. Nicholas Humphrey has been researching these issues for fifty years.
  3. In this extraordinary book, weaving together intellectual adventure, cutting-edge science, and his own breakthrough experiences, he tells the story of his quest to uncover the evolutionary history of consciousness: from his discovery of blindsight after brain damage in monkeys, to hanging out with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, to becoming a leading philosopher of mind.
  4. Out of this, he has come up with an explanation of conscious feeling - 'phenomenal consciousness' - that he presents here in full for the first time. Building on this theory of how phenomenal consciousness is generated in the human brain, he turns to the morally crucial question of whether it exists in non-human creatures.
  5. His conclusions, on the evidence as it stands, are radical. Contrary to both popular and much scientific opinion, he argues that phenomenal consciousness is a relatively recent evolutionary innovation, present only in warm-blooded creatures, mammals and birds. Invertebrates, such as octopuses and bees, for all their intelligence, are in this respect unfeeling zombies. And for now, but not necessarily for ever, so are man-made machines.

Cover Blurbs
  1. We feel, therefore we are. Conscious sensations ground our sense of self. They are crucial to our idea of ourselves as psychic beings: present, existent, and mattering. But is it only humans who feel this way? Do other animals? Will future machines?
  2. Weaving together intellectual adventure and cutting-edge science, Nicholas Humphrey describes his quest for answers: from his discovery of blindsight in monkeys and his pioneering work on social intelligence to breakthroughs in the philosophy of mind.
  3. The goal is to solve the hard problem; to explain the wondrous, eerie fact of ‘phenomenal consciousness’ — the redness of a poppy, the sweetness of honey, the pain of a bee sting. What does this magical dimension of experience amount to? What’s it for, and why has it evolved?
  4. He presents here, in full for the first time, a plausible solution. It implies that phenomenal consciousness, far from being primitive, is a relatively late and sophisticated evolutionary development. The implications, for the existence of sentience in non-human animals, are startling and provocative.
  5. Nicholas Humphrey is a theoretical psychologist based in Cambridge, who studies the evolution of intelligence and consciousness. His interests are wide-ranging. He was the first to demonstrate the existence of ‘blindsight’ after brain damage in monkeys, did research on mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey in Rwanda, proposed the celebrated theory of the ‘social function of intellect’, and has investigated the evolutionary background of religion, art, healing, death awareness, and suicide. His honours include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, the Pufendorf Medal, and the International Mind and Brain Prize. His most recent books are Seeing Red and Soul Dust.
  6. ‘The great object of life is sensation: to feel that we exist even though in pain.’
    → Lord Byron
  7. Nick Humphrey has been a hugely influential figure across the fields of experimental psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy for half a century, and, for my money, is the most inventive psychological thinker of his generation.
    Paul Broks, author of The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars
  8. ‘It takes a special kind of person to write illuminatingly about consciousness — a person who is not only steeped in cognitive science, biology, and philosophy but who also has a fertile imagination, an openness to new ideas, and a sensitivity to the richness and variety of experience in humans and other animals. Nicholas Humphrey is such a person, and in his new book he cements his claim to be one of the most insightful writers on this notoriously difficult topic. Sentience is a beautifully written book, full of engaging vignettes, original ideas, and intriguing suggestions. It will fascinate general readers and inspire academic researchers.’
    Keith Frankish, author of Mind and Supermind
  9. ‘Nobody has thought more deeply, originally or poetically about animal sentience and the notion of consciousness. In this bold and persuasive book, he lays out how he came to his conclusions in a lifetime of studying animal and human minds.’
    Matt Ridley, author of "Ridley (Matt) - The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature" and other books

    Prologue – vii
  1. Sentience and consciousness – 1
  2. Foothills – 13
  3. The touch of light – 16
  4. Blythe spirits – 21
  5. What the frog’s eye tells the monkey’s brain – 32
  6. Blindsight – 40
  7. Sight unseen – 50
  8. Red sky at night – 54
  9. Nature’s psychologists – 67
  10. On the track of sensations – 77
  11. Evolving sentience – 101
  12. The road taken – 105
  13. The phenomenal self – 114
  14. Theoretical misprisions – 125
  15. Coming to be: Sentience and body sense – 130
  16. Sentience all the way down? – 134
  17. Mapping the landscape – 145
  18. Getting warmer – 148
  19. Testing, testing – 153
  20. Qualiaphilia –
  21. The self in action – 175
  22. Taking stock – 202
  23. Machina ex deo – 207
  24. Ethical imperatives – 214
    Acknowledgements – 219
    References and notes – 221
    Index – 239

Book Comment

OUP Oxford; 1st edition (27 Oct. 2022). Hardback.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2022
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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