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A Place for ConsciousnessReview - A Place for Consciousness
Probing the Deep Structure of the Natural World
by Gregg Rosenberg
Oxford University Press, 2004
Review by Toni Tochel
Oct 4th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 40)

In A Place for Consciousness, Gregg Rosenberg presents a detailed examination of the link between consciousness and causation, arguing that it's through an examination of causation that the philosophical problems surrounding consciousness can be tackled.

In part one of the book he argues that physicalism, the view that mental facts are physical facts, is false and leaves no place in the world for consciousness.  Rosenberg's aim is to find a place for consciousness but to do so in a way that fits with physical science.  Using the physics of a simple digital world as a starting point, Rosenberg argues that physics can't account for the phenomenal properties of consciousness.  As physics deals exclusively with structure, there's no possible foothold for content that will be necessary for any account of conscious experience.  In his discussion of physicalism, Rosenberg presents various arguments made against anti-physicalist positions and shows how his theory of Liberal Naturalism either defeats or escapes these arguments.

Whilst reading this section I was sometimes left unconvinced by Rosenberg's arguments, not because of any fault with the arguments themselves or the way they were presented, but simply because the position he was adopting was contrary to some very deeply held beliefs. I had the impression that the arguments were wrong, I just couldn't see how.  It was in the second section of the book, where he tackles causation that I let go of those prejudices.

Rosenberg's treatment of causation in the second part of the book is original and he makes a convincing case for his claim that consciousness is a product of the nature of causation. Rosenberg argues that contemporary theories of causation, in their focus on the effective, overlook the fact that causation has both effective and receptive features. It's in his examination of how entities are receptive to one another that Rosenberg is able to find solutions to philosophical problems surrounding consciousness in the intrinsic nature of causation. 

This is not really a book for a general audience.  Rosenberg offers a short tour through the work that skips the more technical chapters. This tour is well worth taking. Chapters 4 and 9 are interesting overviews of consciousness and causation respectively, outlining some of the current issues and debate in these fields as well as some historical background.  However, the short tour misses out more than half of the book and is not completely free of technicality. Given that it's in the rigorous technical arguments that this work is at its best, it seems a shame to bypass them. 

Even someone with a background in philosophy may found this hard going and a grounding in neuroscience, physics or computer science would be an advantage if the reader is to get the most out of this work.  For anyone with a background in philosophy but who isn't too comfortable with physics, it's probably worth taking the short tour before embarking on the book as a whole to get an overview of the central arguments and a taste for the enthusiasm with which Rosenberg approaches his subject. The work that's needed to get to grips with the material is worth the effort and there are frequent summaries and definitions to keep the reader on the right track.  Rosenberg also lays out his intentions and arguments with clarity so you know exactly what the argument in a particular section is and what place it has in the general architecture of his theory.  The straightforward writing style makes comprehension easier which is essential in a book where the arguments are so densely packed.

 

© 2005 Toni Tochel

 

Toni Tochel is a graduate of Glasgow University where she gained a degree in philosophy.  She is now studying for the B.Phil in philosophy at Oxford University. 


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