On the Trail of Consciousness
Adventures in the latest studies on consciousness, from bestselling non-fiction writer Tim Parks
Adventures in cutting-edge ideas about consciousness, from bestselling non-fiction writer Tim Parks.
Hardly a day goes by without some discussion about whether computers can be conscious, whether our universe is some kind of simulation, whether mind is a unique quality of human beings or spread out across the universe like butter on bread. Most philosophers believe that our experience is locked inside our skulls, an unreliable representation of a quite different reality outside. Colour, smell and sound, they tell us, occur only in our heads. Yet when neuroscientists look inside our brains to see what’s going on, they find only billions of neurons exchanging electrical impulses and releasing chemical substances.
Out of My Head tells the gripping, highly personal, often surprisingly funny, story of Tim Parks' quest to discover more about this fascinating topic. It frames complex metaphysical considerations and technical laboratory experiments in terms we can all understand. Above all, it invites us to see space, time, colour and smell, sounds and sensations in an entirely new way. The world will feel more real after reading it.
“By describing his efforts to understand the phenomenon of consciousness in the form of a candid and entertaining journal-cum-memoir, Tim Parks has made a difficult subject interesting and accessible. He is an amateur in this crowded field but he presents professional neuroscientists with some challenging questions.”
“An exceptionally witty and compelling look at the nature of consciousness... In tackling consciousness, the full frontal assault, as often practised by philosophers and, in a different way, by neuroscientists, can only get us so far. Tim Parks' new book is a refreshing attempt to creep up on the hard question obliquely; and to take the argument deeper into the very realm of our embodied experience than it usually goes. The result is lucid, witty and engaging: a deft philosophical juggling act providing, in an honourable tradition, more questions than answers... A confessed outsider to both academic philosophy and neuroscience, Parks demonstrates the truth that sometimes the outsider sees most of the game. And he has done his homework... Parks is not only excellent company, but a worthy debating partner. He is a delight to read.”
Ian McGilchrist, The Tablet
“Parks, who is best-known for his Toujours Provence-like memoirs of life in Italy, succeeds admirably in bringing difficult ideas down a level. Eleanora Gallitelli, his Italian partner, who accompanies him to a psychiatric hospital in Heidelberg for research purposes, also helps. Gallitelli recently told me that she is deaf in one ear. The story of her sudden irreparable deafness — how her brain began to develop a mind of its own, playing tricks with spatial awareness and balance — is quite brilliantly told here. Parks writes well enough to appeal to the layman and the mind boffin alike. Out of My Head is pleasurably nutty, self-regarding and at times quite hilarious.”
“[A] fantastic journey into the human brain...Parks makes an excellent point about what he calls the "internalist" position (that our picture of reality is just that: a subjective one, concocted by our brains), which is that it flatters our sense of our own importance, making of us creators of our own effectively unique worlds.”
Will Self, New Statesman
“Tim Parks considers midlife crisis, a Pixar cartoon and ‘spread mind’ theory in his thoughtful quest to understand consciousness....Consciousness is weighty philosophical and scientific ground, yet Parks plots a chatty, accessible path through impenetrable academic papers and conferences on his quest to understand more about being human”
“With wit, humanity and insight… [Parks] tackles a question that the greatest philosophical and scientific minds have struggled with for centuries: what is consciousness?... Parks is an entertaining companion throughout”
Mail on Sunday
“A lucid investigation into the nature of experience and its grounding in the brain. Many readers will delight in Parks’s vivid rendering of complex ideas. He has a masterful capacity to entertain theories of the nature of consciousness not as abstract objects of academic scrutiny but as living concerns. These concerns illuminate from within his personal reflections on meditation, love, age, and dreaming.”
Australian Book Review
“A brisk, chatty and light-hearted account of Parks’s encounters with neurologists and philosophers looking for the location of consciousness”
Alan Ryan, New Statesman, *Books of the Year*