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of Consciousness, ImantsBaruss, a psychology
professor, examines consciousness, an intriguing and controversial subject in
cognitive science. He discusses eight
different states of consciousness: wakefulness, sleep, dreaming, hypnosis, trance,
chemically induced alterations, transcendent states, and experiences associated
with death. His approach is
multifaceted, and it features three perspectives (physiological, cognitive and
experiential) as frameworks for understanding the study of consciousness. Even though the narrative is slanted towards
the experiential viewpoint, Baruss manages to organize these different
perspectives into an appealing mosaic of research findings and related
commentaries. This is truly a
Baruss' discussion of
consciousness is diligently organized and transparent. He introduces readers to the terms that will
be used to discuss any issue and displays a great deal of sensitivity to the
fact that there are generally different accounts or simply points of view for
each of them. When he presents research
evidence, he invariably does so in a clear, succinct, and organized manner,
avoiding cryptic assertions and obscure references. This approach helps readers to understand even the most complex
issues and appreciate the controversies surrounding some of them.
The cleverest organizational devices that Baruss
uses to discuss consciousness are what he calls "thematic
threads". They are basic
dichotomies or unique perspectives, which are used to remind readers of the
different viewpoints regarding the nature of consciousness and reality. Thus, while readers are engaged in absorbing
the complexities of the states of consciousness that Baruss discusses at
length, they can refer to the thematic threads to clarify and unify their new
knowledge. Furthermore, they can rely
on the threads to understand that these complexities are, by and large, the
reflection of more fundamental issues regarding the study of consciousness. Given the difficulty of the subject matter,
such organizational devices allow readers to turn the last page of the book and
feel that they have acquired a unified, albeit not entirely uncontroversial or
conclusive, set of ideas about consciousness, which can be further explored by
the most motivated readers or simply remembered as interesting by those who
just want to understand the current status of the study of consciousness.
Alterations of Consciousness
product of Baruss' keen insights, his
focus on the ideas behind research, the many theoretical connections that he
successfully makes, and his multifaceted approach to the subject matter. The bookis quite interesting and engaging.
It can intrigue readers who are looking for an introduction to the topic
of consciousness, and still challenge those who have enough background
knowledge to disagree or concur with some of Baruss' claims. This is a book that puts readers on a
pedestal, gives them the tools to understand a complex subject, and then dares
them to think deeply about it. At the
end, readers may not always agree with Baruss' view of things, but they will
undoubtedly savor the realization that they have learned a great deal about
consciousness by reading this book. Of
course, a lot more is to be known, but this is for the future when researchers
will have gained fresh insights into the subject matter.
© 2003 Maura Pilotti
Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Dowling College, New York.
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