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  1- Reincarnation: A Critical Examination by Paul Edwards
  2- The End of Certainty by Ilya Prigogine
  3- Demon-Haunted World by Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan
  4- Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution by Gary Cziko
  5- Psi Wars: Getting to Grips with the Paranormal by James E. Alcock, Jean Burns, and Anthony Freeman (Editors)
  6- Immortal Remains by Stephen Braude.
  7- Has Science Found God? by Victor Stenger.
  8- Light and Death. by Michael Sabom.
  9- Entangled Minds. by Dean Radin.
10- God, the Failed Hypothesis. by Victor Stenger.
11- Thinking about Consciousness. by David Papineau.
12- Consciousness Explained, by Daniel Dennett
13- Irreducible Mind, by Edward Kelly et al.
14- Sweet Dreams, by Daniel Dennett
15- Quantum Gods, by Victor Stenger
16- The New Atheism, by Victor Stenger
17- The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind), by David Chalmers.

Book: Reincarnation: A Critical Examination
by Paul Edwards (1996)

Warning to True Skeptics: Beware of This Book! - August 2003

    When I read this book, I understood why it took about three years for CSICOP to publish a favourable review of it. A typical case of tacit disowning...

    Edwards devotes to much space to irrelevant issues, or to irrelevant authors. For example, he talks a lot about Near-Death Experiences. But instead of performing a deep analysis of the works of highly respected authors in the field, like Kenneth Ring and Michael Sabom, he prefers to make lots of jokes and fun of the works of Kübler Ross and Moody Jr., who are considered very weak even by their own peers. Susan Blackmore, in "Dying to Live" (1993), did exactly the opposite, performing high quality skeptical analysis of the works of these authors. An update on that would be highly informative, but Mr. Edwards decided to give us only laughs instead.

    In fact, it seems that Edwards' phobia of analyzing empirical evidence is a long lasting illness. He was criticised by philosopher Robert Almeder for this in 1997, and had already received this very same criticism by Almeder in 1990. Another lingering disease of his is his "reluctance to engage primary source material" (that is, he doesn't read and cite scientific papers, but popular books mostly), as anthropologist James Matlock put it in 1997 and again back in 1990. Both these 1990 comments refer to Edwards' four-chapter article published in the "Free Inquirer" magazine, in 1986-87, on the reincarnation hypothesis. That is where his book came from, apparently with very few additions, and possibly with no improvements... (easy money, huh?).

    Edwards' analysis of the works of Ian Stevenson is a complete failure. Actually, his analysis "seems" to have some basis. The first time I read chapter 16 (on Stevenson), I thought: "Wow, that's devastating!". By the fourth time I read it, I would be saying: "This man (i.e. Edwards) is a fake!". If you read it really carefully, you will notice that he doesn't actually analyze the cases, or their empirical content, or the arguments for and against them. Strangely enough, he does make some deeper analysis of the weakest case reports, which led me to the conclusion that his problem is not incompetence, but unwillingness.

    Some specific points are especially revealing. On page 140, he makes some unrespectful and uninformed comments about Stevenson's research on birthmarks. If Edwards were really a scholar (or even a decent popular writer), he would have made a review of the bibliography instead, and would have found an introductory article on this issue by Stevenson (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 1993). There, he would really have spotted a very serious statistical mistake that Stevenson commited, and that seems to have remained uncriticized by skeptics until 2002 !!! (by Leonard Angel). Again, looking for information about reincarnation "researcher" Banerjee, I could only find jokes, laughs, and gossip in Edwards' book. But when I read Matlock's (supposedly a "believer") bibliography review of Past Life Memory Case Studies (1990), I found the following comment about Banerjee: "Banerjee...was caught tampering with experimental data, (and) must be considered unreliable...(and) he has been written out of serious parapsychology.". Wow! So, who is the "skeptic" and who is the "believer" after all?

    And what has Edwards to say about the so called "best cases" studied by Stevenson and colaborators? Are they really good? What are their weaknesses and strengths? Did he read them? The "answer" is on page 277. There, Edwards says: "Better perhaps; but not good enough.". So that is all our "Awesome Scholar" (as Martin Gardner labelled him) has to say? "Perhaps"!!?? The man simply didn't even read the cases! Again, on page 256, where he comments on Leonard Angel's critique of the Imad Elawar case, he only says that he "does not have the space to comment much on it". Of course he does not. He used up all his space with gossips and jokes about Kübler Ross and etc! Even the apparently stronger arguments that he seems to have (from "insiders who have dissented", Barker and Ransom) turned out to be very weak and even imprecise in light of my further readings on the subject.

    Edwards' main theoretical and logical objection to reincarnation is the "modus operandi" problem. "How could reincarnation possibly happen?" The answer is given by Edwards himself, when he confortably decides to throw away any "modi operandi" concerns when talking about his own philosophical persuasion, that is, materialism: "How could the brain create counsciousness?" "Why not?" he answers!!! (page 294). Possible "modi operandi" constraints is an intellectually stimulating and most relevant issue. But it has to be approached in an informed, coherent manner, and not a là "Jimmy Swaggert on the Pulpit".

    To me, the most revealing (and shocking) passage in this book is when, on page 134, Edwards brutally disrespects Scott Rogo, in a rude comment about his murder in 1991, still unsolved then, saying how Rogo might solve it by calling the police station himself! Rogo was almost an informant of Edwards. Many of the gossips Edwards used in his book he learned from Rogo. And Rogo still had relatives alive that might feel hurt by these crude comments from Edwards. That is basically the mistake many skeptics-materialists commit. They get so desperate to wipe out the very idea of life after death that they end up forgetting that there is indeed life "before" death. And also, there are feelings and hearts that deserve to be respected and cared for.

    This book, therefore, is very good if you want material for criticizing the pathological phenomenon of pseudo-skepticism. It is also of some value for giving a frame for criticism on reincarnation research, but then you will have to read much further if you really want to have a good idea of what are the strengths and weaknesses in the empirical evidence for reincarnation. I have done this. And I have concluded that the evidence seems to be weak. But it is certainly there!

Book: The End of Certainty by Ilya Prigogine (1997).

Tightening the Science Net Meshes. But Still Missing Much! - March 2002.

    In a world gone crazy with Bohr's "observer-driven collapse of the wave function", Everett's surreal "many-worlds theory", and Einstein's discomforting "reversibility of time-flow direction", Prigogine stands as possibly the sole (or last?) defender of commonsensical notions of time in physics (which equals to say, of sanity!). He is the Champion of Time, bow, arrow, and all! His weapon: a "bow" of decades of successes (including a Noble Prize) in nonequilibrium thermodynamics. His ammunition, a quite peculiar arrow: the arrow of time. But just as happens with many literary characters, not only his virtue but also his vice may spring out of the very same source; in his case, his "sane" notions about Nature...

    This book will very likely prove readable by most general readers, like myself, provided the technical parts are carefully skipped, and the central ideas are correctly spotted. It truly presents essential insights to issues like: the emergence of complexity; self-organization; the nature of matter; determinism vs probability; and the validity of time symmetry in both quantum mechanics and classical mechanics equations. As to issues like the actual existance of a flow and arrow (direction) of time (which, by the way, is the very subject of the book) and the existence of free will, the book may be too far from conclusive...

    It seemed to me (only top experts could really tell for sure) that Prigogine showed compelling evidence supporting the idea that, contrary to the prevailing notions in the field of physics, there is time asymmetry both in quantum mechanics and in classical mechanics. And also, that reality at both these levels is not deterministic, but truly probabilistic. He further showed that determinism should be replaced by a probabilistic account of events both in situations where we have finite knowledge about the initial conditions and in situations where we have infinite knowledge (we are done with Laplace's Demon at last!). This alone is already a breakthrough, even though probably not news to well-informed members of the physical sciences community.

    I found Prigogine a little bit contradictory (it might be that Nature itself is contradictory in this regard) when talking about determinism/time-reversibility. Sometimes, I got the impression that it only exists in idealized (non-real) situations, and sometimes I understood it as if it does exist in certain specific (real) situations.

    I also found his rejection of Gödel's time-reversible interpretation of Einstein's equations far too emotional, instead of being based on experimental-mathematical grounds. As far as I know, this viewpoint, too, has experienced considerable growth over the last 10 years or so (the studies about CTC - closed timelike curves), and it seems to be a quite respectable field of inquiry. Time-flow reversibility does not seem less crazy to me than the fact that we have to use imaginary numbers (that is, numbers that do not exist at all!) in theories that deal with some very basic properties and behaviors of matter, like quantum mechanics and chaos.

    Even though physicists usually equal time symmetry (in physical equations) to time-flow reversibility, and asymmetry to irreversibility, I don't see why this has to be so. Nor does this book clarifies this issue any further to the layman (it is interesting to point out in this regard that even the probabilistic collapse of the wave function is considered by the prevailing views of physicists to be symmetrical/reversible, according to Penrose in The Empreror's New Mind). Our suspicions and complaints about the mysterious nature of time are very much justified: space gives us 3 dimensions, bidirectional and with no compulsory flow. Time, on the other hand, gives us just 1 dimension, unidirectional and with compulsory flow. At best, we can slow it down, by traveling close to the speed of light (quite comforting, isn't it?).Time alone is responsible for most of our losses in life (unless you get exiled or something...). I think that, interpreting "time symmetry" as "time reversibility", scientists have actually tried to solve the unsolvable.

    In our quest to understand the Universe, we often find three kinds of questions: first, those that can be proved or disproved, like the old statements "The Sun revolves around the Earth" (disproved), and "The Moon revolves around the Earth" (proved). Second, questions that can be proved, but not disproved, like the existance of God or of life after death. Third, questions that cannot be either proved or disproved, like the existance of consciousness in other human beings than ourselves (or in dogs) and (to me) the actual existance of time flow.

    Prigogine says that in this book he tried to follow (or discover?) a "narrow path" between utter determinism and total randomicity, probably hoping to find room for free will in between. Although I think he did a brilliant work, I feel that he got stuck in this Narrow Path. His work refutes determinism, but instead of presenting phenomena or advancing mechanisms to support free will, it only casts us into the depths of utter chance. In spite of that, when talking about self-organization in dissipative structures, Prigogine passes on the idea of "choice", even saying (more than once) that "matter begins to see" and that "the system chooses". This might ascribe to nature at its most basic structure the properties of "life" and maybe even of "consciousness", which might mean that we are at the verge of a revigorated return to the ancient ideas of hilozoism and panpsychism. Furthermore, this blurs the limits between emergence and reductionism, for it is very difficult to take a sound reductionist stand (or emergencionist stand) if we don't know what to expect of the world around us (we can't tell if something is emerging or just "arising").

    Prigogine's appeal for sanity is both his virtue and his weakness, in a Universe that pays little heed to human's logic and causality. A Universe in which, regardless of being dictated by an authoritarian God or determined by blind and cold laws of nature, the only theory that may account for all that there is is the familiar and provincial B.I.S.O. theory. Namely: Because I Say So!

Book: Demon-Haunted World by Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan (1997).

Seemingly informative, but actually narrow-minded. - December 2001.

    Carl Sagan's books and writings were responsible for a great revolution in my relationship with Science. But the more I read him, the more I started to see his weaknesses, and I think his greatest weakness has always been the way he treats the paranormal and the like.

    He has always been very superficial when criticizing the so called "pseudosciences", a term that, by the very way he uses it, only shows how his outlook on Science and on human Knowledge is short-sighted. Sagan sees Science as the supreme method for looking at and for understanding the Universe we live in, looking with despise on other ways of understanding reality (presently, I prefer to see Science as just one out of many different ways of grasping Nature's mysteries).

    I thought that in "The Demon-Haunted World" he would do a better, deeper work, because that was the very purpose of the book: criticizing the pseudosciences and naive beliefs. But to my deep disappointment, he just repeated his superficial approach.

    He does give some valuable information, like when he shows how hypnosis can be misleading (in cases of remembering allien abduction, recalling sexual abuse in childhood, or remembering having engaged in satanic rituals). But he fails to analyse the "pseudosciences" deeper. Only Astrology receives some concrete and sound criticism, when he says that it takes into consideration the precession of the equinox in certain situations and does not take it into consideration in others, and that Astrology does not take into account more recent findings of Astronomy, like pulsars and quasars.

    Another very bad and dissappoint comment in the book (another example of superficiality!) is when he lists three things that he thinks might have some true basis: reincarnation; human mind influencing computers' processing; and telepathy (apparently, the skeptical readers missed that...!). He simply does not give any further information on that at all.

    I now consider Carl Sagan a very superficial, uninformative, and misleading writer when arguing either for or against "pseudosciences" or any of our "Demon-Haunted World's" beliefs.

    If you really want to get a true skeptical analyses on issues like these, Susan Blackmore's works are far more satisfactory. Spare Sagan's works for the very first (and clumsy) steps in scientific initiation...

Book: Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution by Gary Cziko (1995).

A Must! But far from flawless... - November 2001.

    This book is surely a must for anyone interested in phylosophical discussions concerning "darwinian" (or better, neo-darwinian) evolution theory, and its potential to explain other fields where any kind of innovation is created. The author describes these innovations as "puzzles of fit" of an organism or of a system to another organism or system, and he brilliantly equals all these "fits" to "knowledge". Cziko reached a good level of quality in his transdisciplinary approach, putting together data from fields like evolutionary biology, immunology, neurobiology, animal and human learning, human thought and language, scientific knowledge growth, and cultural adaptation. For this, he no doubt deserves a four-star ranking. But then, there come the flaws...

    The central issue in the book is that just any kind of innovation, puzzle of fit, knowledge growth, or whatever you call it, can only be achieved through a process very much like biological evolution as accepted by the neo-darwinian paradigm: cumulative blind variation followed by the survival of the fittest. Cziko also shows how explanations for these puzzles of fit have evolved in all fields from providential explanations (like in the book of Genesis, where things happened to achieve a pourpose previously devised), through instructionist ones (like Lamarck's "Use and Disuse" plus "Inheritance of Acquired Characters", where the environment would "force" the individual creatures to change just in the right, successful way, and then the creatures would pass these changes on to their offsprings), and finally to selectionist ones (Darwin's Selection Theory). He says that only selectionist explanations can give truly "scientific" and "naturalistic" accounts for these fits, without recoursing to miraculous schemes. In short: Cziko brings us the good news that not only are we merely machines (like we have feared ever since the mechanical physics of Newton), but we are blind ones too!

    The starting point of his reasoning is evolutionary biology, and Cziko's understanding of it seems to me too narrow-minded, with a strong bias toward the old notions of New-Darwinism. Consequently, his report and deductions on it are misinformative. Evolution was (and, to a large extent, still is) thought to be based on "variation and survival of the fittest". But in the past the view of the causes of these variations were believed to be basically errors: DNA damage by the environment, and failure of the organism to correct damages or to make precise copies of the DNA. It's been a long time now that this view has changed dramatically, and organisms, even as simple as bacteria, are now known (from before 1990) to possess amazing control over the ways and the contexts in which these variations happen. They can trigger DNA mutation under appropriate conditions (stress, threats to survival), and even control which areas of the genome will be subject to change. This renders organisms much more "smartly" interactive with the environment as might be expected from reading Cziko.

    So, what Cziko did not tell about the process of antibody creation by B-Lynphocytes is that when they undergo somatic hypermutation to fine tune their antibody production to the antigen, this hypermutation is, first, triggered by the interaction with the very antigen, and second, it is far from blind: the mutation happens only in a very restricted area of the chromosome, changing only the areas of the antibody molecule that interact with the antigen (and not even the whole molecule!). So this is a very "thematic" kind of mutation-variation; maybe "short-sighted", but surely not "blind"!

    When he comments on the phenomenon of "directed mutation", the strange capability of many procarionts (like bacteria) to seemingly direct their mutation to the desired result, he takes a rather cynical and slightly arrogant stand, apparently rejecting the existance of the phenomenon itself, even saying "But let us continue to imagine for a moment that a bacterium was able to change just those genes regulating metabolism in just the right way to allow for the digestion of a foreign sugar". It seems that he read only two research articles on this, and not quite well, and draw much of his attitude towards the phenomenon from his academic-environment prejudiced and uninformed criticism. By the time he was writing his book , directed mutation had been fully demonstrated by many researchers, and not only by Cairns. Actually, even as early as 1984, four years before Cairns revolutionary and controversial paper on it, J.A. Shapiro had already shown the phenomenon fully (Observations on the Formation of Clones Containing araB-lacZ cistrons fusions. Molecular & General Genetics 1984;194(1-2):79-80), only in a much more discreet maner. By 1995, a wealth of information was already available, from researchers like Shapiro and B.G. Hall, among others, and now even eukariotes (yeast) are known to perform "directed mutation" (Hall BG. Adaptive Mutagenesis: a Process that Generates Almost Exclusively Beneficial Mutations. Genetica 1998;102(103):109-125.). Strikingly, this process shows some resemblance to human B-lynphocyte somatic hypermutation!

    When Cziko moves on to the other areas, scientific knowledge growth, etc, the already "short-sighted" (and not blind) variation seems to have undergone a surgical operation on its eye and starts to see almost sharply. Also, the second step, that is, the survival of the fittest (in biology, through killing the non-fit) seems to change to a true "selection" process (choosing one among many, by identifying its desirable qualities, which is quite different from "survival of the fittest"). Even Campbell and Pinker, which he defines as fully (or almost) selectionists, seem to turn to rather providential viewpoints, like "innativism" and "constraints", for triggering and orienting the variation, and guiding the selection, not succeding in solving Meno's providential dilema: "...if you don't already possess the knowledge you are looking for, how will you know when you have found it?"

    Cziko, like many, wrongly equals "scientific" and "naturalistic" explanations to "mechanical" ones, and since our mechanistic view of nature is basically deterministic, he only sees lamarckism as an instructionist process, not a "freely-willed" one, failing to address vital phenomena like human consciouness and apparent free-will.

Book: Psi Wars: Getting to Grips with the Paranormal by James E. Alcock, Jean Burns, and Anthony Freeman (Editors - 2003).

Not Getting to Grips With Our Fears and Unwillingnesses. - January 2004.

    For anyone that might be interested in buying and trying to read this book it is important to know the following:

    This book is a collection of articles, scholarly articles, from the Journal of Consciousness Studies, a special issue of the year 2003. The 15 authors (including the 3 editors) wrote these articles specifically for this issue, and the idea of the editors were to have both sides present as fully and as clearly as possible their views. The "both sides" are: Psi researchers (that is, parapsychology researchers), and researchers that are skeptic about Psi phenomena (that is, Psi research critics). Some of the articles may be a little difficult for the lay reader (like myself) to fully understand.

    I have bought this book because I wanted an update on the current status of the Psi research, as well as an update on the major criticism towards it. I myself have a skeptical site (in portuguese, Brazil) where I perform a deep scientific critical analysis of my own "faith", that is, spiritualism, mediumnistic abilities, and the like. I am a biologist with interests in mind-brain studies, physics, species evolution theories, artificial inteligence, and phylosophy of science (among other related interests). Parapsychology actually came as a "by-product" of my critical interest in life-after-life studies. For almost twenty years I had not paid much heed to parapsychology, precisely because it is mainly concerned with extrasensory perception and psychokinesis. I do not think (and I have never thought) that proving that ESP-PK exists can give any support to life-after-life hypotheses. To me, the current status of the scientific hipothesis of life-after-life is extremely weak (even though not negligible). On the other hand, I have come to know, during the last two years, that the current status of paranormal research (ESP-PK) is unimaginably strong.

    This came to me as an enormous surprise, as the "interest" of mainstream science for parapsychology research (and "respect" too...) seems to be close to zero.

    I have read many scientific Psi research papers (Dean Radin, Jessica Utts, Dick Bierman, Daryl Bem, Richard Shoup, etc), and I have also carefully analyzed the criticism of top skeptics like Susan Blackmore, Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Victor Stenger, Michael Shermer (and also of  lesser skeptics like Robert Todd Carroll, Paul Edwards, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker - I left out James Randi for want of a clear classification...). I don't mean to say that Psi exists. But "avowed skepticism", the way it has been practiced during the last twenty years or so, is clearly Bunk (to use the very same expression that Richard Dawkins used in his 1998 article What's Wrong with the Paranormal?: "The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to sell it to us are fakes and charlatans, and some of them have grown rich and fat by taking us for a ride." - Incidentally, this uncivilized utterance came right after Dean Radin's wonderful, even though not flawless, parapsychology book: The Conscious Universe - 1997).

    Again, in this book, history repeats itself. I have found the skeptics' criticism in Psi Wars very weak (the articles by James Alcock, Stanley Jeffers, and Brugger & Taylor), even though respectful, respectable, and very much worth reading.

    At this point I must ask: What the hell is happening in this World of ours? I mean, I don't really care if Psi exists or not. If it does exist, I find it something very exciting, a true scientific revolution. But if it does not, I am not going to cry or even be just a little bit sad because of that (By the way, the very opposite happens with the life-after-life hypothesis. If it is false, I am surely going to feel very depressed: a true existential breakdown...). But how can the mainstream scientific community, universities, and governments (especially the very very rich US government) not support and fund research on this issue given the extremely sophisticated corroborative level of the current Psi research?

    The answer to me seems to be that we are not dealing with a scientific issue here. We are dealing with religous-like feelings, and also social-cultural-anthropological dispositions and unwillingness. In that, I must say that I am a little bit disappointed with Psi researchers. They are usually very bad at marketing strategies and at psychological-political strategies. They (and all of us too) do not understand why Psi research is being neglected. Therefore, it seems unlinkely that they can effectively alter this scenario. In a way, Adrian Parker's Psi Wars article ("We Ask, Does Psi Exist? But Is This the Right Question and Do We Really Want an Answer Anyway?") deals with it. But even he does not seem to fully understand what is going on (and, again, all of us too).

    Meanwhile, we are missing out on two priceless opportunies, which lie surely within our grasp: First, we could settle once and for all if Psi exists or not; and if the answer turns out to be "No", we could fight much more effectively the excesses of the so called "irrational beliefs". Second and foremost, if Psi exists, we could learn to control it and amplify its effect size, and by doing so harness a power that might bring enormous benefits for mankind (Sounds preposterous? But that is precisely what happened with electricity and antibiotics). Either way we would gain.

    Adrian Parker kind of foresees that Psi research will be soon cast out of consciousness studies, in a repetition of what has happened many times before. I suspect that too. Until we can better understand why we hold this most strange blend of fear and apathy for Psi research, there may be not much hope that we will gain from it what we deserve: understanding and existential fulfillment.

Julio Siqueira - Biologist and editor of the site Criticando Kardec

Book: Immortal Remains, by Stephen Braude. (2003).

Incompleteness Remains... - October 2004

    Stephen Braude did an excellent work in this book. Since this topic is amazingly vast, there is no escape from making a highly "incomplete" work. Nonetheless, he managed to achieve a level of quality that, in my view, makes this book a must in the field. It did help me enormously, both with its empirical feedbacks and with its theoretical ones. The main strength of it is its deep and detailed evaluation and comparison of the "life after life hypothesis" (also known as "survivalist hypothesis") vs the "super paranormality hypothesis" (usually known as super psi or super ESP).

    I would like to comment on some flaws, however.

    The first chapter, "Preliminaries", gives a theoretical background of the issues involved. It is a good chapter indeed, but I think it should have been better. Braude makes a witty distinction between "epistemological survival" vs "ontological survival" (a distinction that, curiously, I myself had come to some time ago, in the form of "objective survival" vs "subjective survival"). But I think he should have dealt more deeply with what is meant by "survival", and especially HOW we survive both after death and BEFORE death (probing these issues leads one to curious and insightful conclusions...). Tightly linked to this previous issue is the question of "identity" or "what we really ARE and what makes each one of us really US" (that is: what is it to be an "individual"?). Further, I found him lacking for not dealing with the problem of "what is consciousness?". There is a huge body of discussion, both in phylosophy and in science, about the true nature of consciouness; that is: is consciousness really produced by the brain (materialism) or is it a fundamental element of the Universe (Brahmanist Panpsychism)? Many, like me, claim that materialism is on very poor and even self contradictory theoretical and logical grounds, and on rather cracked empirical grounds too: almost a "Paradigm Lost". Also, some background on the current discussion about the possibility of "machine consciousness" would have been handy.

    Braude could have made his work more "acceptable" to skeptical readers. For example, he treats ESP (extra-sensory perception) as a proved fact (something with which I fully agree!), but he does not show WHY it is already proved. It would have been easy to give a concise exposition of, say, the current status of the experiments on "telepathy" using Ganzfeld protocols, and therefore show why ESP is so strongly based and why and how skeptics (CSICOP et al) have simply nothing to say contrary to it (James Randi, Susan Blackmore, and Ray Hyman included...).

    In the chapter on reincarnation and possession (chapter 6), Braude says that Ian Stevenson has 33 cases of the "strongest" type suggestive of reincarnation (page 182), which Braude called "early bird cases" (cases with written records made BY THE RESEARCHER before attempts to identify the previous personality). I believe this figure is wrong, and actually it refers to the slightly weaker cases (maybe not so slightly...) where there are written records before identification of the previous personality, but not written down BY THE RESEARCHER: these records were in these instances written down (and the previous personality found) usually by members of the families involved. He comments on the Schouten & Stevenson 1998 article as if it compared only the strongest case types with the "weakest" (cases with NO written records made by anyone before identification of the previous personality), but actually this article does include the "slightly weaker" case types that I mention above!

    I didn't very much like the chapter 8 on "out-of-body experiences" (including near-death experiences). Braude did not analyze very well the data from Near-Death Experiences, both in its possible strengths and in its possible weaknesses! He says, on page 274, that Pam Reynolds had a flat EEG (and also no blood in her brain plus body temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit - 15 degrees Celsius - and no brainstem activity) FOR ABOUT AN HOUR. Also, he says that she did have veridical perceptions WHILE IN THIS EXTREME STATE. Both these statements are incorrect. A careful reading of the very same book that Braude cited for this (Light and Death, Michael Sabom, 1998, chapter 3) clearly indicates that this extreme condition probably did not last longer than half an hour (I guess it actually lasted about 20 minutes or less) and that she had ABSOLUTELY NO verifiable perception while in this state! Surprisingly enough, this misreporting of the Pam Reynolds case is extremely ubiquitous on the internet (including www near-death com). Braude's is not the only scholarly work that misreports it. Van Lommel et al's article (The Lancet, 2001), also does! (But Emily Kelly, Bruce Greyson, and Ian Stevenson reported the case correctly in 2000, Omega Jounal of Death and Dying, vol 40(4) pp. 513-519, 1999-2000). At the same time, Braude did not mention some potential strengths pointed out both by van Lommel et al (The Lancet, 2001) and by Sam Parnia et al (Resuscitation, 2001). Further, I think Braude downplays the significance of NDE cases for the survival issue. It is true that NDE is not about "after death", but about "during dying" instead. However, it is the only empirical data in this field that can possibly move us from the "epistemological (objective) survival" arena into the "ontological (subjective) survival" scenario.

    Braude even comes to the extreme of considering that the evidence from NDE-OBE "gives us no reason to believe that the mind is more substantial, resilient, and self-sustaining than a fart" (page 276). I think it is too extreme a comparison because he is comparing the mind with what we have of most disorganized, volatile, and short living (gases). I know of no case of anyone ever reporting being able even to sense (see, hear, etc) through his/her farts...

    Despite all these comments above, it is necessary to stress that Braude's book is indeed a must in the field, and that although naturally incomplete, it is a work that deserves to be... Immortal!

Book: Has Science Found God? by Victor Stenger. (2003).

The Breath of God vs The Breath of Stenger. - August 2005.

    Well, I just want to warn the possible readers of this book of some problems with some of the "information" that Stenger conveys...

    One good thing in this book is the fact that it fights the notion (the wrong and dangerous notion) that science HAS ALREADY proved the existance of God. The bad thing is that Stenger decided to transcend the boundaries of rationality, and ended up concluding that science HAS ALREADY proved that God does not exist! This is pseudoscience from him. (The very last thing that he says, on page 349, is: "The universe is not populated by mysterious forces, beyond our comprehension, that control our lives and destinies for some unseen purpose. Rather, thanks to science, humanity is in control and defines its own purpose.").

    Chapter ten is by far the worst. It is entitled "The Breath of God", and in it Stenger decided to give an "informed" criticism about parapsychological research... I was amazed to see that Stenger didn't even read the very abstract of an article that he cited, about micro-PK and human influence on random event generators (Correlations of Random Binary Sequences with Pre-Stated Operator Intention: A Review of a 12-Year Program - PEAR, 1997). He says: ..."they find no difference between their data taken with (presumably) true random numbers generated by quantum noise and pseudorandom numbers generated by computer algorithms.". Actually, the authors claim, at the very abstract, precisely the opposite!

    Also amazing, and disrespectful, is the careless way in which he comments on the book by parapsychological researcher Dean Radin, "The Conscious Universe" (1997). Stenger says that Dean Radin performed the metanalysis wrong in this book (which implies statistical incompetence from Radin and severly undermines all the arguments advanced in Radin's book); but actually, even the source for this information (renowned statistitian I. J. Good, writing in the journal Nature) withdrew this charge as back as 1998!

    Further, Stenger clearly only read the abstract (!) of the article by Sam Parnia et al (journal Resuscitation, 2001), about their prospective study on Near-Death experiences in cardiac arrest patients, and as a result he ended up stating precisely the opposite of what the researchers actually claimed (again...).

    There are many passages where Stenger strays from the truth:

1- He says that parapsychological research is not made with high-tech equipment (untrue).

2- He says that "No cognitive data or theories currently require the introduction of either supernatural forces or immaterial substances such as 'spirit" (untrue or misleading: consciousness is still the major weak point of the materialistic framework of science, which has prompted many "weird" theories or viewpoints from highly respected thinkers, like Erwin Schroedinger, Roger Penrose, Stan Franklin, David Chalmers, Benjamin Libet, etc).

3- He says that "No scientific field except parapsychology has experienced over 150 years of exclusively negative results without being dismissed as a lost cause.". Untrue: parapsychology is actually less than 150 years old, and, yes, it may be described as having mostly INCONCLUSIVE results (despite its many positive results, even by skeptic researchers like Stanley Jeffers in 2003 - Journal of Scientific Exploration), but it cannot be described as having exclusively NEGATIVE results.

4- He propagandizes that Susan Blackmore "has managed to maintain her good name", but actually Rick Berger caught her in serious fraudulent conduct ("A Critical Examination of the Blackmore Psi Experiments", year 1989, available on the internet), and Stenger quotes her "trustworthy conclusions" that "Just a few years of careful experiments changed all that. I found no psychic phenomena only wishful thinking, self-deception, experimental error and, occasionally, fraud. I became a sceptic..." (Blackmore words in year 2001!). But actually, in her response to Rick Berger (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, vol 83, April 1989), Blackmore admitted that no conclusion should be drawn from her "Just a few years of careful experiments". She said then: "Nevertheless, I am glad to be able to agree with his final conclusion—'that drawing ANY conclusions, positive or negative, about the reality of psi that are based on the Blackmore psi experiments must be considered unwarranted'". If her experiments had indeed been "careful", we could draw negative conclusions from them. ( I carefully contrasted her response of 1989 with Berger's exposé in the same journal. Blackmore frauded indeed...).

    With so much sloppy reading and faulty reporting in Stenger's work, I end up not being able to tell the difference between Stenger and the New Age Crackpots or the Intelligent Design Wedge Movement folks. And it makes me highly wary about the rest of the book, the parts about which I do not have the expertise to spot problems in...

    As a matter of fact, Stenger seems to be engaged in some sort of Jihad-Materialism War against spiritualism. To me, it is clear that he is driven not by reason, but by blind emotion. The worst in it all is that he calls it science, when actually it is not...

    I presented this criticism to him, in his email discussion group avoid-L. His feedback was very meager, to say the least (his actual words were: "I will check out the one or two items that are matters of fact. The rest is simply your opinions with nothing to back them up.". That is how Stenger evaluates pieces of evidence that he does not like...). I will post a page about it in the near future, in my site "Criticizing Skepticism" (page entitled: Criticizing Victor Stenger).

Julio Siqueira - microbiologist
Full critique at this link.

Book: Light and Death. by Michael Sabom. (1998).

A  Book  to  Read  Really  Carefully... - August 2005.

Well, first about the book as a whole: many reviewers have complained that in this book Sabom decided to fight for his religion using material he gathered from his studies on NDE's. Someone even pointed out that it was Zondervan publishing stuff, etc. That is an important point. Anyone buying this book should be warned about this. It is important to stress, though, that Sabom has all the right in the world to take this approach. What is a must is that the reader should know what he or she is buying.

So, I bought and read the book, and not because I like Sabom's approach. I bought and read it because of one case in the book. The case of Pam Reynolds (pseudonym). Chapter three and ten deal with this case, from a strictly descriptive and scientific point of view. No religious stuff. I didn't even bother to read any other passages of the book. The case is amazing. It is a strong challenge to the orthodox materialistic interpretation of the biological and neurological data available to science. Sabom describes the case in minute detail. And he discusses it, and NDE's in general (in chapter ten), very deeply and informatively too. He discusses the points advanced by Susan Blackmore in her 1993 book on the subject ("Dying to Live" - I have read this one too), and convincingly shows them to be very lacking. (It is a pitty that she has retired from these issues. She even commented about the Pam Reynolds case incorrectly in the recent years, seemingly not having read Sabom's book).

I have had the pleasure and the honor to discuss the content of this case both with "skeptics" and with "non skeptics". I discussed the strengths and weaknesses of this case with skeptic Keith Augustine and with parapsychology researcher Titus Rivas. The case is strong indeed.

Yet, it is important to warn the readers to read the report very carefully. Many people have misread it, and have concluded that Pam Reynolds had a veridical (that is, corroborated by others) out of body experience during a moment when her brain was shut down (with flat EEG and no brainstem activity). Even Stephen Braude, in his book "Immortal Remains" (2003), and van Lommel et al, in their article in The Lancet (2001), put it this way, as if she had had veridical experiences during the so called "standstill" phase of her operation. Actually it did not happen this way. It is clear from the report in the book that her veridical out of body experience happended BEFORE her brain was flat-lined (and before it was without brainstem activity).

But as to this veridical experience that she indeed had before the flat-lined phase, it seems almost impossible to find normal explanations to it. Sabom's report is detailed enough to make us confident that fraud is highly unlikely. Misreporting or malobservation, from the part of the chief surgeon (Dr. Spetzler) also seems to be highly unlikely. Further, it is almost impossible that she could see the things that she described so well (medical equipment that even Sabom himself, a cardiologist doctor, did not know) if she was relying only on her traditional "five senses". The possibility that her hits were only lucky guesses looks like a feeble joke...

My position is that it is NOT IMPOSSIBLE to explain this case by conventional neurological data and materialistic worldviews. But it is VERY HARD INDEED to do it so... (putting it in a statistical way, informally, I would say that it has a statistical significance value of p < 0.001).

As to the conclusions that we can take from this case, I can only say: we need more research. And we need to put aside both our materialistic worldview prejudices and our spiritualistic worldview prejudices too.

Book: Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. by Dean Radin. (2006).

Not Flawless. But Still a Must!  - June 2006.

I have known a little of Dean Radin's work (through the internet) for four years now, and I greatly admire his competence and the excellence of many of his papers. He is definitely doing true science, like many other psi researchers that I have come to know of, people like Jessica Utts, Adrian Parker, John Palmer, Stanley Krippner, Ian Stevenson, Jim Tucker, and many others. I remember marvelling at one of Radin's papers, "Time-reversed human experience: Experimental evidence and implications", especially the section "Detecting the Arrow of Time" (search with Google to find it...).

His previous book, "The Conscious Universe" (1997), aroused rather hostile controversy, which included a flawed book review on prestigious scientific journal Nature, that Nature, suspiciously enough, refused to correct for months long (despite criticism from many highly respected academics - search with Google for "Unfounded criticism of a parapsychology book in Nature"). This kind of extremely high quality parapsychological research that has been done by Radin and fellow psi researchers has raised some forms of psi to the status of truly scientifically proved phenomena, IMHO. Skepticism against this kind of research has, sometimes, been very misleading and even dishonest, especially by "Organized Avowed Skeptics", including some (but not all!) CSICOP members and related people. In this "Psi Wars", even I myself ended up getting an internet site started debunking pseudoskepticism, a site named "Criticizing Skepticism".

So, "Entangled Minds" presents a comprehensive (and compelling) overview of the experimental evidence for psi, a good historical outline of the psi research, an informative description of several theories of psi (arguably the weakest area of psi research), and some good hints for the psi research's sociological and pragmatic relevance. In a word: a Must!

Still, problems remain...

I do not agree with a previous reviewer in that Radin fell in the trap of "explaining one mystery (psi) with another (quantum theory - entanglement phenomenon)". Radin seems fully aware of the limitations of his approach, as he clearly states on page 235 ("Quantum entanglement as presently insufficient to explain psi."). However, I do think Radin was rather "weak" in other points.

I did not like the way "consciousness" was discussed. Concepts and terminology regarding "consciousness" and "mind" seemed ill defined and sometimes confused with one another. This is very bad, because Radin's central thesis is that psi is our "experience" (Subjective perception? If not, what else?) of the entanglement of our minds with the universe and with other minds. So, what is a mind? What is consciousness, in his view? Is it a necessary component of his psi-entangled mind? Authors like Chalmers, Penrose-Hameroff, Crick, and Libet seem to make a better distinction between "mind" (an organized and functioning entity-agent) and "consciousness" (subjective experience, qualia, Chalmer's "Hard Problem", etc). Radin doesn't. See, for example, page 240, and we get the impression that "mind" and "consciousness" are different concepts (first paragraph). Then, last paragraph on page 241, "mind" and "consciousness" seem to be the same thing. Then, on page 243, I just cannot tell whether "mind" and "consciousness" are being considered the same thing or not... And worse, Radin ends up getting a little bogged down in this definition confusion to the point that he states, twice (!), on page 243, that "Mind...(is) interplay between brain and mind." So, Mind = Brain interplaying with Mind? Put another way: Mind = Brain + Mind (i.e. 2 = 1 + 2 ...). Definitely, there seems to be something slightly strange in here...

Further, we get to know that "...clockworks are not conscious..." (page 257). Well, I never thought they were. But how did Radin conclude that they are not? Stan Franklin has a splendid book on "Artificial Minds" (1995), and a more recent paper on possible consciousness in a software (IDA - Journal of Consciousness Studies/Machine Consciousness - 2003). Would Radin also declare that IDA is not conscious? (Franklin himself does not take sides on this issue). And, on page 265, talking about how psi processing may work, we read "...your unconscious mind pays attention...". So we have conscious minds, unconscious minds, unconscious matter, conscious matter (page 235). Too much talk about it all for too little philosophical insights into it.

Then, page 219, Radin says "Few of us believe that...we have absolutely no free will." Well, I happen to be one of these "few ones", and I do not think we have any theory (or logical reasoning) for accounting for free will or for choice. What we do have are theories for determinism and for randomness (the latter, with or without bias). Not for choice. Not yet. Linked to it, on page 257, we get the feeling that classical physics cannot account for consciuousness and that quantum mechanics (Stapp) accounts for it. Again IMHO, quantum mechanics is just as feeble as classical physics in trying to account for this mystery (qualia).

I disagree, too, with the concept that psi may not involve information transfer. Page 264: "Maybe psi is purely relational and manifests only as correlations." With this, Radin sidestepped a needed in-depth discussion about what is correlation, what is causation, and how can two things be correlated via psi without transfering information.

Anyway, none of these flaws belittle the importance and the strength of Radin's book. And I present them just as constructive criticism to a work that is already excellent.

Book: God, the Failed Hypothesis. by Victor Stenger (2007).

Oh My, This Time He Cited Wrongly Even the US Declaration of Independence... - February 2007.

[emoticons will be used]- I have been stalking poor old Mr. Stenger for sometime now :-) , and as I have depicted in my review of his last book, "Has Science Found God?" (a true Bible of the Jihad Pseudoskeptics...), Stenger has the bad habit of not reading the things that he cites. But this time he managed "to boldly go where no man had gone before" (see my review's title above), together onboard with a crew of at least three of his Golden Boys from his Avoid-L internet forum (fellow Amazon reviewers down below).

Now, being serious: I fully sympathize with Stenger's motives in writing this book. I understand that the situation in the USA, and in many other countries as well, is one where Religion in general is excessively hostile towards atheist-materialists (besides harmfully encroaching on State matters). I am a believer, both in God and in the afterlife. But I have come to greatly admire materialism and materialists, and I really feel that, on average, materialists tend to be "better people" than spiritualists (at least this is my own life experience here in Brazil). The virtues of materialism and of materialists are so remarkable that they were even recognized by the "Guiding Spirit" (Emmanuel) of Brazil's most prominent Medium (Chico Xavier), when he once said that "These last years, the only souls to come to Heavenly Spheres are those of materialists, who do good things with no intentions of being rewarded afterwards." However, Stenger's approach to this delicate social and scientific issue is, to put it mildly, counterproductive and disastrous. Not to mention, highly misinformed and immature...

Wrong citations et. al.: #1- Stenger says (page 10): "In a 1998, only 7% of...the elite of the American scientists (US NAS) said they believed in a personal God." (Larson, 1998 - Nature). Wrong. These scientists did not say this, because this was not the question they were asked. Stenger only took a brief look at the title, table, and first lines of the article. Just like Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer have done too... Not satisfied, Stenger decided to worsen what was already too bad (see my following phrase). #2- Stenger says (page 21) "the overwhelming majority of prominent American scientists has concluded that God does not exist" (again, Larson 1998). Believe it or not, but, by "overwhelming majority," what Stenger means is exactly: 36.1% ! (if he had read Larson's two-page article, he would know why... - by the way, three of the six columns in the table of Larson's article sum up more than 100%! Definetely an authoritative and reliable source of information... The article also has three big lies, in light of its own data: one at the beginning, one in the middle, and one in the end; definetely "balanced" info ;-) ). #3- Stenger says, commenting on a text by the Pope (page 84): "a wealth of empirical data now strongly suggests that mind is in fact a 'mere epiphenomenon of this matter'." Now, either Stenger did not understand what the Pope said, or Stenger does not know what an epiphenomenon is (professor of philosophy...). Many current neurological views of mind take it as an *emergent* phenomenon, but one that is *meaningful* to the organism, therefore not being an epiphenomenon. #4- Stenger says (page 247): "Although American Christians have been led to believe that the 'Creator' mentioned here (Declaration of Independence) is their God, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote these words, was not a Christian but a deist." Here Stenger "forgot" to mention that we can also read on this very same document that "We... ...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions," and also that "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence." Definetely this is not the God of deism... Not to mention that we cannot say of a deist God that "He *creates* all men equal" ("all men are created equal," by their Creator, of course), because this implies the constant presence of God in this world (theist God). #5- Stenger says (page 200): "the US Constitution... (has) no reference to God, Jesus, Christianity, salvation, or *any other religious teaching*." (the emphasis is mine). However, we read at the Preamble of the Constitution: "in order to... secure the Blessings of Liberty" (with capital letter!) The word "blessings" may be used figuratively, but hardly so if on a document co-signed by highly religious States. Even the most "liberal" of the original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania, which was the first State to stop state-supported religion (in 1790), had in its constitution of 1776 the following phrase (that members of the House of Representatives should say): "I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked." This looks hardly deist to my eyes...

His definition of matter vs supernatural (actually the scientific core of the book) is utterly flawed. Matter kicks you back when kicked. And what about the supernatural? It kicks you back too! (e.g. You pray - i.e. "kick" - and get what you asked for - i.e. "get kicked back") Genius. He keeps ignoring the depth of the dualism issue, claiming religiously that there can be no ghost in the machine, and so on. But even his "Muse," Susy Blackmore, pays close and serious attention to "dualist-like" thinkers like Penrose, Chalmers, Libet, and countless others. Actually I see more and more that Stenger does not read much those who do not side with his ideas. Chalmers and Penrose are not in the bibliography, but Dennett and the Churchlands are... His sources for NDE are unwarranted (Blackmore 1993, dated info. Mark Fox 2003, weak subject review). About Parapsychology, he repeats his decades-long misinformation against it.

Stenger, with his poor and faulty knowledge of history, sociology and politics, joins the bandwagon of those who believe religion is responsible for the September 11 attack and for countless similar situations. He forgets that atheist-materialists, too, have a long and hideous tradition of massive slaughter, mostly (but not only) during Stalinism, Maoism and the Khmer Rouge (tens of millions of deaths). At a lower level, fanatic atheists like Richard Dawkins offend religious people gratuitously in many of their writings, like Dawkins apparently did to an unnamed woman-astronomer in "Is Science a Religion?," by punning "but the astronomer was a supposedly respectable astronomy writer, and yet she went along with this! All along the route, she talked about the portents of when Saturn and Jupiter were in the ascendant *up Uranus* or whatever it was." (The emphasis is mine. This was his speech when receiving the title "The Humanist of the Year!" Perhaps the title "The Humanist of Uranus" would suit him better). This kind of nonsense is co-responsible for things like Guantanamo human-rights violations now, and to State crimes like the one the British police did to an innocent Brazilian (murdered) rather recently in London. "Looks like an arab. Arabs are muslims. Muslims are irrational (so says Bush and Dawkins et al). Shoot first, ask later!"

Stenger concludes: "an atheist lacks any compulsion to blow himself up." Perhaps he should have added: "and also lacks any regret for having blown up someone else..."

I conclude: good and bad exist in everyone.

For my full analysis of this book, click here.

Book: Thinking about Consciousness, by David Papineau (2004).

Why Dolphins are Panpsychists... - February 2008.

I give four stars (out of five) to this book because I think consciousness is a topic that deserves a lot of attention, and reflections on it, when dealt with in a scholarly manner, deserve full support. Also because this book does bring priceless contributions in some topics (especially in Papineau's "history of the completeness of physics," and in his "pessimism" about brain research finding the precise "spot" of consciousness). On the other hand, I cannot help directing (regretfully) acid criticism towards this work, for I think Papineau failed in many different fronts.

The Four Cardinal Sins of this work, IMO, are:

1- Papineau denies consciousness property status. He embraces ontological monism (i.e. "everything" is matter), conceptual dualism (material concepts are different from experiential/phenomenal concepts; i.e., not everything is part of the afore mentioned "everything"...), and, above all, no dualism of property! So, water may have the property of being (1) transparent, (2) fluid, (3) electro-conductive, and these properties may have different ontological histories, different structures, and different places in the Universe's causal-effect chain. Similarly, a living human body may have the property of being (1) opaque, (2) "hot" (i.e. somewhat above zero degrees Celsius), and (3) not liquid (I avoided saying "solid"...), but this very same body does not have the property of (4) having its brain-cortical neurons acting in ABC manner and (5) being conscious. Properties 4 and 5 are not different properties. They are the same!...

2- Papineau does not analyze the "turning on" of consciousness, and its "turning off." To me, this is the most mysterious thing about consciousness, and it deserves an in-depth analysis, especially in its bio-physical dynamics (biology, physiology, physics). That is, what happens to a physical system at the very moment it becomes conscious? We have physical accounts for similar transitions: liquid to solid; opaque to transparent; cold rock to hot rock; etc. What about the moment when consciousness sparkles?

3- Papineau does not deal with the issue of why consciousness came to be in this Universe of ours to begin with. That would be essential for trying to understand, from the point of view of evolutionary biology, why Humans are conscious and why Chips are not (yes, I meant chips, and not chimps ;-) ). What is the evolutionary advantage that consciousness bestows upon those who have it? As far as anyone knows, none whatsoever... Add to it that even Papineau himself does not trust the "mouthings" of those claiming to have consciousness (except when they are humans, though I am not sure why he accepts human mouthings in this regard...) and we are just up "rose" creek in our attempt of an evolutionary account of the emergence of consciousness!

4- He does not theorize solidly and compellingly on the main thesis of his book, that is, explaining why the intuition of distinctness (i.e. brain is different from mind) is false. His hunch is that phenomenal (experiential) concepts (like "the redness of the red color") instantiate the things they refer to (that is, we bring to mind the very experience of seeing the red color), whereas material concepts (like "neurons in A-K-W arrangement") do not instantiate their referents. But in fact, he says (in my terms), "the redness of the red color" and "neurons in A-K-W arrangement" are one and the same material property! (though they are two different CONCEPTS). I think it is hardly plausible that this is the key to the intuition of distinctness. Water has many very different properties: it is fluid, it is cold sometimes, it is electro-conductive, it is made of H2O, and, in a very robust way, I do instantiate some of these properties (in my imagination) while thinking about them. Yet, I have no difficulty in merging all these "properties" into one entity. If I can easily merge two very different PROPERTIES into one identity (water), how come I have such difficulty in merging two different CONCEPTS? (of just one property!).

It is easy to be a materialist if we sweep under the carpet these four items above... But, as it seems, even Papineau himself is having some trouble in hiding under his carpet the mighty dust and the dust mites (he too claims to be still kind of haunted by the intuition of distinctness).

I think Papineau was weak or wanting in many other items too. I really missed actual brain-research data, and deep reflection upon this data, for instance: the bizarre dissociations reported by Susan Blackmore in mindfulness states, or in OBE states too (Dying to Live, 1993); and a deeper analysis of Libet's findings, and of Libet-like findings (Claxton, 1999, The Volitional Brain). His categorization of concepts as "referring directly" vs "referring by description" seemed to me somewhat artificial and mistaken. I felt a "begging-the-question flavour" when he said that no amount of book learning would make Mary "know" (experience) the redness of red, and in this I ended up (much to my own surprise!) agreeing with... Dennett!!! (that is, Dennett's view is, IMO, more coherent than Papineau's). Again I scented "begging the question" when he used as one of his three premisses (of his Definitive Materialist Argument) the idea that conscious states (volition) cause physical states (free willed behaviour).

Some other times I found him rather incoherent or shallow. For instance, in his chapter on zombies, it seems that he declares zombies impossible because phenomenal concepts refer directly and there would, then, be no actual possibility that a being would have all my physical properties and yet lack my phenomenal ones. That would be ok for perfect clones. Anything less than "Godly crafting cloning perfection" would be, arguably, left out of this "impossibility"... In one curious passage, he claimed God Almighty Himself (omniscient) could not tell if an octopus has phenomenal consciousness (agreed), just as God can't tell whether he, Papineau, is...bald! (bewilderment!). (many pages onward he softened his claim, saying the Lord cannot tell who is balder, Papineau or his neighbour). In another instance we have, on the one hand, Papineau saying that phenomenal concepts are not associated with causal roles, and, on the other hand, him saying that phenomenal concepts are tools to track human experience (tools, but not role-performing...). A little bit confusing. Also, we get to learn that phenomenal concepts are vague, to the point of making it probably impossible to pinpoint what is the exact neuronal counterpart of them. However, these concepts are not so vague as to make the idea of human zombies possible... Philosophers!

The bottom line is that I ended up not being able to get past my present panpsychist persuasion. It seems to me that there is a difference in a physical system (brain or whatever) before vs after it gets conscious. Consciousness is, then, something new in the scenario. Something rather like 1 + 1 = 3. And I am left with the feeling that the materialist account of consciousness leads us to a violation of energy conservation, or perhaps to something even worse than that...

That is why I think we have only two options to keep our hearts at ease. Either we deny the existence of consciousness altogether, or we claim that it never comes or goes, it is always present. The latter view is that of panpsychism. However, beings like us, who "experience" interruptions of consciousness (by the way: how on Earth can anyone experience unconsciousness??!!...) are not likely to be fans of panpsychism. Perhaps it takes the wisdom of creatures like dolphins, that never sleep (they always keep half brain awake, in turns), to fully appreciate the virtues of this philosophy. As to its being the correct answer to the puzzle of consciousness, well, that is another story...

Book: Consciousness Explained, by Daniel Dennett (1991).

Disappointing, Empty, and Agenda-Biased. -  December 23, 2008

I give this book zero stars out of ten, and I do not recommend it to anyone. As a matter of fact, I am utterly shocked that so many "enlightened minds" (scientists and philosophers) give just any credit to this book.

Dennett seems to be driven by a sole agenda, namely: to wage war against dualism, and to enshrine monist-materialism. Curiously enough (but just so very typical...), this attitude prevents him from seeing, or better, from reporting, the true fatal flaw of dualism, since this flaw also applies heavily to...monist-materialism itself!

Right at the beginning of the book, we are led by the author to believe in two "facts" (as Dennett puts it) that actually are quite incorrect: 1- It is impossible that we are brains in vats (or, in twentieth-first century "terminology," it is impossible that we are slaves living in the Matrix); 2- This is so because, as Dennett teaches us, "strong hallucinations are impossible." Now, anyone with even a mild ability to induce lucid dreams knows number 2 is incorrect. Dreams are extremely like the real objective world of ours in terms of its perceptual qualities (though most people do not notice/remember it). And I never believed that we live in "the Matrix"; but to claim that this is impossible is definitely beyond the capabilities of present-day science and philosophy. Dennett believes number 1 and 2 are correct based on his ill-conceived notion of how combinatorial explosion would necessarily work in computer-like World simulations. He was ready for Donkey Kong 1990 graphics reasoning, not for present-day (year 2008) computer world simulations, and even much less so for the powerful virtual world machine that we have in our skull. As a matter of fact, even the Mandelbrot algorithm would show Dennett's weak reasoning in this regard (and that is computing of the sixties, twentieth century!).

Dennett then uses this "rock solid basis" above as the grounds for his further advances in fancy reasoning. He demonizes and promptly exorcizes anything that could even remotely bring back any form of dualism. The notion of a Cartesian Theater in the brain is banned. The poor Homunculus is chased down mercilessly. The idea that the brain has any representation of the external world is similarly chased, presumably because it would entail a Re-Presentation to an audience, to a Homunculus.

Next, we meet Dennett's three-front strategy in tackling the consciousness issue: first, he warns us not to fall in the "trap of thinking that first we must figure out what consciousness is for" (page 275). He masterly succeeds in not falling in this trap (that is, he comes to the end of the book without advancing just any single function whatsoever that might be performed by consciousness itself. What a mighty intellectual feat of his, huh! - just check page 277 for that). Second, he creates a brand new field (sadly, already deceased now) of philosophy, christened "heterophenomenology." This so suspicious "homo" phobia of Dennett's (phobia of "homophenomenology", that is, of phenomenology) is supposed to be a more scientific third-person perspective on phenomenology. That is, instead of accepting that people have subjective conscious experience, we accept that they believe they have subjective conscious experience. People's report of their subjective experiences is to be treated as a fiction, just like fictional stories (Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter). This is a rather complicated and tricky issue, the way Dennett treats it. But it seems that his point is that we should not really trust what people are reporting because they may be adding or subtracting or twisting what is in them. We come then to the third front of his strategy, which is his self-defeating "theory" for the way the mind functions, which is the Multiple Drafts Model. Basically, it states that there is no single definitive stream of consciousness in the mind (or in the brain), and things are in a constant and ever changing process of revision. This theory is not actually self-defeating per se. But, damagingly, it renders the possibility of spotting neural correlates of consciousness (Francis Crick's NCCs) virtually impossible. Since NCCs is a concept Dennett himself cannot do without in his attempt to craft a theory for consciousness, with NCCs' downfall Dennett, too, goes down the drain.

What Dennett keeps brushing under the carpet throughout his book is the true mystery of consciousness. Just as is plainly stated in a recent scholarly book, Irreducible Mind (year 2007), it can be put this way: "we do not in fact have anything even remotely resembling a full causal account of consciousness, let alone an account that we can understand in the way we understand the freezing of water" (Irreducible Mind, pg 25-26). This "causal account" is the very basis of just any scientific explanation of phenomena. And this is precisely what Dennett labels, weirdly, as "a trap." (Dennett's fans will abhor it, but it seems that he considers being rational a severe trap for materialists. I have long suspected so...). Anyone intending to write a book entitled "consciousness explained" is supposed to deal, at least introductorily, with this causal account of consciousness, and therefore to delineate how consciousness could possibly have come to emerge in a Universe previously devoid of it. Dennett didn't even come close to addressing this prerequisite.

As a corollary of the above failures, Dennett becomes impotent to present an enlightening evolutionary description of consciousness. In his chapter 7, The Evolution of Consciousness, he ends up not talking about this evolution at all; that is, how and why consciousness appeared, in light of what we know of darwinian mechanisms. Similarly, Dennett shows a good level of acquaintance with information from and with concepts from computing, neuroscience, and some additional topics relevant to the consciousness debate; nevertheless, he seems quite clumsy in weaving all these branches of knowledge into a masterly fabric that could boost our thinking about this intellectual challenge.

Despite these devastating handicaps, Dennett then sets out to lay down his "theory for consciousness." On page 210, we see him saying that "what we need to understand is how human consciousness can be realized in the operation of a virtual machine created by memes in the brain." Then, page 214, he states that "What we have to understand is how a Joycean (or, as I have said, `von Neumannesque') serial phenomenon can come to exist, with all its familiar peculiarities, in the parallel hubbub of the brain." Note that, thus far, what "we" have is "what we need to understand" and "what we have to understand." Therefore, "we" are still not understanding anything at all at this point in the book... Then, on pages 280-282, our beloved Albus Dumbledennett waves his wand and gives birth to a theory out of thin air. Presto, we have it at last! A full theory that renders consciousness explained. It goes like this (page 281): "And so I hereby declare that my theory is a theory of consciousness. Anyone or anything that has such a virtual machine as its control system is conscious in the fullest sense, and is conscious because it has such a virtual machine."

What Dennett is saying is that, [1], the brain is a parallel computer (granted); and that, [2], this computer runs in it a kind of virtual machine software that equals to a serial computer or Turing Machine or von Neumann machine (accepted); and that, [3], this von Neumannesque machine is created by memes in the brain (maybe, but debatable); and that, [4], the version of a von Neumannesque machine that we, humans, have running in our brains is a "Joycean Machine", after its resemblance to James Joyce's descriptions of streams of consciousness in his novels (well, any "serial" processor is supposed to have one and only one stream of something, be it pieces of data with consciousness or without consciousness; at least only one stream going through its von Neumann bottleneck. So, what is the big deal about this Joycean gizmo?); and finally, [5], Joycean Machines are conscious (contrary to the other von Neumannesque ones...) because they are the object of their own elaborate perceptual systems (see page 225-226). [ I may be having a strong hallucination, but it seems to me that the concept of a serial Joycean virtual machine in the brain/mind is a little bit at odds with the concept of a parallel Multiple Drafting mechanism in this very same brain/mind...]

In a phrase: you are conscious because you look at yourself...

But why on Earth does looking at yourself triggers this popping up of consciousness in a hitherto unconscious Universe? Without a true causal account of it, at least even a very introductory-rudimentary one, we just cannot have a theory that will lawfully tell (or even vaguely indicate) a conscious system from a non-conscious one, be it an E.T., a refrigerator, a dog, or your own dear relatives. That is the emptiness that, in the end, Dennett has left us with. He laughs at the idea of philosophical zombies (page 95) and he laughs at the idea of consciousness as an epiphenomenon in the strong sense (page 404). But the point is not whether some philosopher believes in zombies or not. The point is that zombies are the inescapable corollary of the materialist account of the emergence of consciousness. We, as scientists and philosophers, should not be laughing at the idea of zombies. We should be improving our materialist theories instead. Thus far, consciousness stands as an almighty anomaly to materialist theories of physics and biology. And Dennett's reaction to it is, sometimes, utterly pathetic; as in page 281, where he replies to the statement that "I can imagine all brain activities without consciousness happening alongside" with the gem "Oh, can you?... ...How do you know you've imagined `all that'... ...with sufficient attention to all the implications?"

Well, there was a time we could imagine/believe in inheritance of acquired traits in mammals evolution... This was so because we did not know the causal chain of the issue, its causal account. Not anymore. Just give us a rudimentary-introductory causal account of consciousness, and you will see no zombie believer anymore. Until then, disbelief in zombies is just as good a belief (and just as rational a belief) as any other...

And just by the way: the true fatal flaw of dualism is not fanciful violations of the conservation of energy, or delusional impossibilities of interaction between matter stuff and mind stuff. The true fatal flaw of dualism is that, even though it is born out of our attempt to explain consciousness, it ends up explaining nothing. A conscious ghost is just as unexplained as a conscious brain. Just the same, no causal account whatsoever.

Book: Irreducible Mind, by Edward Kelly et al (2006).

Consciousness & Will = Nil. -  December 30, 2008

First of all, I give only four stars out of ten to this book. This is because I really think there are lots of problems in it. I must say, however, that the authors are worthy of great scientific respect (and, similarly, this book is worthy of deep respect and attention by the scientific community), that they are among the best in the field, and that, IMO, they are among the top-quality members of the world scientific community. Also, I must stress that I myself believe in the afterlife. But... getting to the problems:

The title of this book is "Irreducible" "Mind." For a book with such a title, I would like to have seen a deeper analysis of (reflection on) the concept of reducibility vs irreducibility. And also a deeper discussion of the possible concepts of mind. There are some tricky issues related to both terms that deserve deep analyses, and I do not know how much the authors are aware of these, or even if they consider these relevant or not. For instance, how come one thing is reducible to another in the first place? (e.g. ice to water through heat). And in what sense is a brain a mind, and is a cell not a mind (or a piece of rock)? If the brain is not a mind, what is the definition of mind? We must bear in mind (in mind...) that mind is an objective thing; what is subjective is consciousness (qualia, etc). Similarly, on page xvii in the Introduction, we see this opening statement by Edward Kelly: "The central subject of this book is the problem of relations between the inherently private, subjective, 'first-person' world of human mental life and the publicly observable, objective, 'third-person' world of physiological events and processes in the body and brain." So, the central subject of this book seems not to be the Irreducible Mind, but the Irreducible Consciousness instead... (David Chalmers' "Hard Problem").

Nevertheless, we do see, all along the book, a deep treatment of the "irreducible mind" issue. It is perhaps best summarized/introduced on page 28: "There exist certain kinds of empirically verifiable mental properties, states, and effects that appear to outstrip in principle the explanatory potential of physical processes occurring in brains." These, presumably, would include memory, binding, prodigies, secondary or alternate centers of personality, mystical experiences, stigmata (and similar influences of the mind on the body), plus, on the more controversial side of this front, psi (paranormality), DMILS (direct mental interaction with living systems), and afterlife survival. The authors are aware of the different evidential status of each one of these phenomena, and they do report it faithfully. They continue, on page 28: "Facts of this sort, moreover, can often be accommodated more naturally within an alternative interpretation of the mind-brain correlation, one already developed in abstract form by William James (1898/1900)." So they present, in this book, a set of mind-related irreducible (or seemingly irreducible) phenomena plus an introductory theory for them.

The theory is the filter/transmission theory, "developed in its fullest version thus far by" Friedrich Myers towards the end of the nineteenth century. It was also supported, to a great extent, by highly renowned psychologist William James (contemporary with Myers). A good way to put this theory is the "visible light vs prism" metaphor (one may include the infrared and the ultraviolet in this metaphor too). Just as the red light is not created by a prism out of white light, but only filtered ("transmitted") by it, consciousness, in all its forms (and all modes and intensities of human consciousness), is not created by the brain/body but merely filtered by it instead. Now, this is pretty bizarre. And I must add that this is, also, my own theory for consciousness (in a maybe-not-slightly different shape)...

But how did this theory come to be? (And there are versions of it tracing back to ancient Greece!). What is being filtered, and how, and by what exactly? What happens when the filter... dies? And what is the dynamics of this filtering?

On page 83/84, we meet Myers's notion of the "Permeable Boundary," according to which "evolution of consciousness involves the shifting of the supraliminal segment up the spectrum into the ultraviolet region, as more and more psychological processes are mastered and then relegated to the infrared region, while, simultaneously, latent psychological capacities or processes are drawn out of the ultraviolet region and into the supraliminal range." I got the impression that according to Myers's view (and according to the authors' view) we have a, say, "spectrum of psychological processes" and, in parallel, an accompanying "spectrum of modes of consciousness." So, I conclude, we might have the following spectrum of "psychological" processes (brain processes?): 1- Heart-beating commands. 2- T.V. watching. 3- Telepathy communication. So, frogs, humans, and E.T.s., all have these three psychological processes (brain processes) above. But in frogs, the filter (brain/body) enables consciousness (awareness) of number 1 (heart beating); in humans, the filter allows awareness of number 2 (T.V. watching); and in E.T.s, the filter permits awareness of number 3 (telepathy). But E.T.s wouldn't be conscious when watching T.V., I guess (what a regrettable loss... :-) ).

And "Myers" adds: "this evolutionary model of a larger Self whose latent capacities gradually emerge and whose emergent manifestation grows increasingly complex in response to the demands of the environment," (page 80). The modes of consciousness, thus, become "higher" through the demands of the environment... Also, page 79, "Myers suggested, there had been a 'primitive simple irritability', or 'undifferentiated sensory capacity of the supposed primal germ', which he called panaesthesia." William James held similar views (he is quoted as having said: "If evolution is to work smoothly, consciousness in some shape must have been present at the very origin of things.").

The bottom line is this: there is, throughout the evolution of the universe, a shifting of the waking consciousness (i.e. supraliminal consciousness, consciousness, etc) into the "ultraviolet region" of the full spectrum of consciousness-modes available in the universe, and this shifting is brought about by the demands of the environment, that is, by natural selection. Note also that Myers's theory "requires that there be some global creative tendency in the universe, however slight, that results over time in increasing richness and complexity of biological forms" (page 601/602). Add to it that things at the beginning of times where kind of "primal germ / undifferentiated sensory capacity." So here is my list of perplexities with Myers's model (as it was presented, and as I could understand it):

1- If what we have at the beginning is a primal germ of consciousness, a primitive irritability, still undifferentiated, then this thing should, IMHO, better be described not as a panaesthesia stuff/state, but rather as an "anaesthesia" stuff/state.

2- If "bodies" end up (through natural selection) bringing about this differentiation of the primal consciousness germ, then, actually, bodies can be said to create consciousness (just as fairly as an electron jump to a lower energy level in an atom can be said to create a photon, which, thus far, had been "undifferentiated" together with the higher-energy electron).

3- We know that bodies change (evolution) by the demands of the environment (natural selection), and we know the mechanics of it. But we do not know the mechanics of the shifting of consciousness to the so called "higher levels." So, we may as well just say that bodies change through the demands of the environment, and consciousness merely comes along with the bandwagon...

4- The "global creative tendency in the universe" seems to be in something of a mismatch with all the rest of Myers's theory. (But not necessarily with his data! Also, lots of phenomena do point in this direction, like the spontaneous symmetry breaking, though we must be very cautious when pondering over these matters...). We might expect this creative tendency from a true panaesthesia primitive plenum (Hyperconscious/Omniconscious), but much less so from a primitive "anaesthesia" (as I see it).

Conclusion - In my humble opinion, Myers's theory, as presented by the authors and as understood by me, is just as insightful as all the other theories attempting to explain consciousness and to put it into a scientific framework, that is: it explains absolutely nothing whatsoever...

Similarly, the authors just put together the problems of consciousness, volition, teleology, and free will. I think this is very wrong, and I see consciousness and volition as belonging to the same sort of phenomena (qualia/Chalmers' Hard Problem, basically), free will as non-existent, and teleology (depending on how we see it) as easily explainable. The authors, on the other hand, believe the theories they have presented (and favored) - F. Myers's and, more recently, physicist Henry Stapp's - "ratify, rather than reject, our everyday experience of ourselves as purposeful, causally effective, conscious agents" (page 640). But at the same time they acknowledge that (on page 629) "We still have no real understanding of the ultimate nature of the relationship between brain processes and mental activity, and certainly no solution of Chalmers' 'hard problem' - why conscious experiences with their specific qualitative characteristics should arise at all in connection with the associated patterns of brain activity," which renders the central subject of the book (as depicted by Edward Kelly, quoted in the second paragraph of this review) as virtually untouched...

The authors point out, about Henry Stapp's theories for quantum mechanics and consciousness, that "As Stapp (2004a) remarks, his model 'makes consciousness causally effective' " (page 614), and that "Stapp and his quantum-theoretic allies have already successfully undermined the basic-science foundations of presentday materialist-monist psychology and neuroscience" (page 616). It may be so. But although I am highly sympathetic to Stapp's views, I doubt it... The place for consciousness in quantum mechanics is still a highly debated and far from settled issue, and the ontological interpretation of quantum mechanics is even more so. We, non-physicists, had better be attentive and respectful to all informed points of view, I think.

The authors finish this book with a paragraph quote from Myers, which ends like this: "Never was there a harvest so plenteous with labourers so few." As a matter of fact, I think we are still at a much previous "biblical quote" phase:

"It is necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff"...

For a lengthier analysis of some points of this book, click on this link.

Book: Sweet Dreams, by Daniel Dennett (2005).

Again, Zero Stars for Mr. Dennett. - March 2, 2009.

Dennett came as a huge and surprising disappointment to me. For years I had thought (and feared...) he would be THE great challenger to spiritualist views concerning the philosophy of the mind. I was so shocked when I finally read Consciousness Explained (zero stars) that I simply had to check out how his views might have evolved during the ensueing 15 years or so till the present day (from 1991 to 2005, and then to try to imagine how it might be now, in 2009). The answer is: failure is still alive... How it can be that so much attention and serious consideration is given to Dennett's views is something that I simply cannot grasp. But it is certainly not due to the quality or to the depth of his reasonings on these matters of philosophy/science of cognition.

Some "improvements" seem to have happened (though, since they were not explicitly acknowledged, I cannot really tell if, instead, I am just being delusional in these perceptions of mine). Dennett's "heterophenomenology" now seems to have lost almost completely all of its emphasis on the "conclusion" that the "subject's report is merely an illusion, a fiction like any other fiction and nothing more than it (like Sherlock Holms and Harry Potter)." It was almost a hundred percent clear (i.e. present) in Consciousness Explained (1991) that the subject's report was merely an illusion; and this view is almost a hundred percent absent now in Sweet Dreams (2005). Quite a change... Another absence that I noticed is his previous ill-conceived idea that it is impossible that we are slaves living in The Matrix (he actually put it as "we cannot be brains-in-vats surrounded by illusory reality created by aliens"). Obviously I don't think we are slaves in The Matrix, or brains-in-vats either. But to claim that this is IMPOSSIBLE (like Dennett did in 1991) is simply nuts. He seems to have grasped it at last, fortunately. (My hunch is that he got overwhelmed by the very movies The Matrix 1, 2, and 3 plus the various computer software available nowadays). Another welcome absence is his previous unreasonable notion that the brain does not fill in for the background color in the eye blackspot experiment (picture on page 324, Consciousness Explained - Performing the experiment myself on me, I found it quite surprising that this "not filling in" was red when the background was red, was blue when the background was blue, and so on. I could never have dreamed of a "not-filling-in" that actually was... coloured!).

On page 1 (! nice start, ain't it?), we find a bad factual mistake. He says "Most of the cells that compose your body are descendants of the egg and sperm whose union started you (there are also millions of hitchhikers from thousands of different lineages stowed away in your body)." Actually, we have about 10 trillion human cells in our body (zygote descendant), and ten times as much hitchhikers... (bacteria mostly). Also faulty is Dennett's description of the experiment with the deck cards in the peripheral vision: actually you can identify indeed the color and even the number of the deck card far away from the center of your vision; provided it is only some seven centimeters away from your eye! (in Consciousness Explained he described this experiment faithfully, though; if you hold out your arm, then it gets very hard to do this task, as Dennett correctly put it back in 1991).

Key points where he failed miserably (despite my fellow reviewers' disagreement...) were, 1-the zombies issue, 2-the qualia issue, and, 3-the locked Mary issue. Looking closer on these:

1- On page 92, Dennett sets out to destroy the zombie hunch. He says: "I doubt that anybody who gets the idea of a zombie, an agent without qualia, in its full implications, can fail to recognize that it is an irreparably incoherent idea. To bring out the covert contradictions in the very idea of a zombie... ...I want to explore..." What stuns me is that some people simply do not realize that Dennett ended up not showing absolutely any contradiction/incoherence in the idea of a zombie whatsoever in the following ten pages up to the end of that chapter! I was so shocked at it that I had to read it three times to triple check it. I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise (Dennett included - we now have a comment section in Amazon reviews). As a matter of fact, I think philosophers are too light on the defence of the idea of zombies. Zombies - according to the correct materialist interpretation of our knowledge of physics and biology - are not a possibility: they are an inevitability! They do not make sense in a spiritualist or dualist view of reality. But in a materialist view, they are the necessary conclusion. If you put together what we know about physics and biology, especially about neo-darwinism and natural selection, plus what we really know about consciousness, then we must conclude that most of the people around us are zombies. What we need, then (if we want to stick to materialism), are better materialist theories. And Dennett has provided none.

2- Regarding qualia, Dennett is correct in pointing out people's (non philosophers and even philosophers, especially when drinking in bars with Dennett...) misunderstandings regarding the use and the very notion of this term. In fact, Dennett himself is rather poor in his "handling" (understanding) of this notion (I could make a big list of instances of his feebleness on that). But the fact is that subjective experience exists, no matter what you call it (qualia, Hard Problem, whatever). If you read his book carefully, you will notice that the answer "no," on page 85 of Sweet Dreams (to a specific question Dennett challenges the reader with), actually survives unharmed to Dennett's scrutiny. And "no" has always been my answer. (Oh My, checking it right now, even the answer "yes" goes unharmed. What a fiasco! Only the answer "don't know" would be problematic).

3- I agree with Dennett that the hypothetical cognitive scientist Mary, who knows all that there is to be known about colors but that has never seen colors for herself, would, when shown true colors for the first time, come to know absolutely nothing new. She wouldn't be surprised and actually she, IMO, would already have had the subjective experience of the colors. But Dennett goes to bizarre lengths in defending his idea on this. He makes Mary create in her own mind a replica of herself that would have subjective experience (he does this with "Locked RoboMary," on page 126). This is quite bizarre coming from the man who would so dogmatically deny that we can be brains-in-vats (or slaves in The Matrix) back in 1991. Incoherence and lack of rational thinking remains... (just check out on page 118 for the same reasoning, but coming from dreams inducing subjective experience).

Getting to the core of Dennett, the "Heart of Darkness" (i.e. of his theory), we see that he has fallen in love with the Global Neuronal Workspace Model. On page 132, he presents a summary of it (after Dehaene and Naccahe, 2001): "At any given time, many modular cerebral networks are active in parallel and process information in an unconscious manner. An information becomes conscious, however, if the neural population that represents it is mobilized by top-down attentional amplification into a brain-scale state of coherent activity that involves many neurons distributed throughout the brain. The long distance connectivity of these 'workplace neurons' can, when they are active for a minimal duration, make the information available to a variety of processes including perceptual categorization, long-term memorization, evaluation, and intentional action. We postulate that this global availability of information through the workplace is what we subjectively experience as a conscious state." And Dennett adds on page 171 (coincidently, my "home country's number" for deceit... ;-)  ), "I have ventured the empirical hypothesis that our capacity to relive and rekindle contentful events is the most important feature of consciousness - indeed, as close to a defining feature of consciousness as we will ever find; and the empirical hypothesis that this echoic capacity is due in large part to habits of self-stimulation that we pick up from human culture, that the Joycean machine" (i.e. a computer software that "thinks" about itself - reviewer's note) "in our brains is a virtual machine made of memes." Also, on page 136, ..."it is the specialist demons' accessibility to each other... ...that could... ...explain the dramatic increases in cognitive competence that we associate with consciousness"

Well, I get the feeling (from the above extracts) that Dennett et al have put in the place of The Homunculus a House of Mirrors, where it is the screen (or screens) itself that is conscious (rather than the audience) whenever anything "looks" at it. Also, a lion's (or your mother's) moment of pain, when briefly stung by a thorn (or by a needle), is not to be considered consciousness... (not echoic enough, as it seems). Surely something seems to be amiss. Now add to it this quote from Dennett, on page 102, "Is there anything it is like to be a tree? Most of us, I suppose, will be inclined to answer in the negative, but if we then cast about for a reason for our judgement, there will be little to present." Well, now we just end up stunned and lost. What the hell does Dennett think?

The key point, nonetheless, is this: nowhere in Dennett's writings is one to find just any explanation whatsoever of How and Why consciousness emerges, and What For (that is, what is the benefit it brings). Those are the keystones of materialistic explanatory protocol. And Dennett's house is one made out of empty stones.

I repeat what I have said in my recent review of Consciousness Explained: consciousness is an Almighty Anomaly in light of our materialitic interpretation of our physical and biological knowledge of the universe. It brings down altogether the Huge Cathedral of Materialism. This does not mean that materialism IS wrong (and this does not mean that we will survive our deaths). It just means that, presently, materialism cannot account for the emergence of consciousness (dualism can; panpsychism can; solipsism can; but it does not mean necessarily that any of these views IS correct). Maybe one day it will. But then it will take true theoretical breakthroughs, and not Albus DumbleDennett's Hocus Pocuses & Wand Wavings. We should expect and demand more from philosophers and scientists. They are in on a public endeavour. And they must always bear that in mind.

As for Dennett himself, he definetely needs to learn more about subjective experiences, ordinary and anomolous. His previous clumsly knowledge regarding dreams (in 1991) led him astray into remarks that he now forswears (the impossibility of The Matrix - Wake up, Dennett; There is No Spoon! :-)  ). And he needs to make a choice as to whether he is going to deal with these matters following his political/anti-religious agenda or if he is going to try to bring to us true advances in the philosophy and science of cognition. Both paths are precious. But only once an honest and true choice is made...

When, at last, Dennett has chosen, then he may be able to overcome his simplemindedness in regards to issues like "illusions", "miracles", "magic", "mechanics", and "causation." I will be most eagerly looking forward to witnessing this day come...

Book: Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness, by Victor Stenger (2009).

Will Anyone Let Go of their Gurus to Embrace This Gorilla?  -  June, 2009.

Well, this is actually the very first amazon review for this "new" Stenger book, and I give him ZERO Stars out of Ten. I have meticulously analyzed Stenger's writings before, and my analyses can be found at my site "Criticizing Skepticism." I have repeatedly called people's attention to the fact that Stenger often seems not to have read what he cites (check out my comments to Bob Zannelli's "review" - right above - for updates on that...), that he often falls in logical and factual contradictions, and that he often misreports things, both due to faulty reading and to agenda-driven deliberate lying. Last but far from least, he does not face those who have true information against his pseudoscientific assertions. Twice have I entered his internet discussion group, avoid-L (the last time I stayed there for many many months), and he just kept hiding from me all the while. This is important to be said in this review because Stenger mentions this discussion list in his book, so the reader should be aware of what to expect from such place and from those that Stenger acknowledges as important contributers to him there... (check out page 21).

That said, I can summarize this book with this phrase: it presents almost nothing new (in relation to Stenger's previous books), the only exception, arguably, being the fact that Stenger acknowledges that IT IS POSSIBLE that a God exists that acts in the world through the indetermination of quantum mechanics...!!! (check out page 243 for that) So, I did not find much arguments AGAINST the quantum gurus in this book. But I did find some arguments FOR quantum deities, so to speak. That might be (so I hope) a tiny sparkle of honesty in Stenger's writing. A light at the end of the tunnel after so many years! But then again, he tries to distort this in such a way that the unwary reader is likely to think he is saying the opposite... But he is not.

Anyway, let's make some loose (and numbered) comments on this new "easy money." Let's label those as "problems":

1- Stenger does not understand evolution theory. He believes (page 17, and several other, like page 228 and 230) "the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution is based on a combination of random mutations and natural selection." It is not. I told him in his forum: "Stenger, go read James Shapiro to overcome this disability of yours!" He did not listen. Ostriches...

2- On page 200, he says the many-worlds interpretation is deterministic. Then, on page 206, he says that only the Bohmian interpretation is deterministic. And then, on page 261, he again says that the many-worlds interpretation is deterministic. Looks like Gorilla-Bouncing... And it is us readers that go bananas!

3- On page 261, he says the laws of physics are human inventions. He repeats this on page 262. Then, right on page 263, he asures us that the laws of physics (just as the structure of the universe, and the very universe itself) came from nothing (next time he will be adding that the universe is a human invention...). This is more "erratic" (polite term for lunatic) than anything I have thus far heard from Quantum Gurus (and I have heard many a "gem" from them...).

4- On page 160, he decides to be more well informed in thermodynamics than Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine... I myself cannot take sides in this dispute since I am not a physicist.

5- He terribly distorts Gosmani's words on pages 38 and 39, plus doesn't understand the difference between solipsism and "brahmanism" (i.e. the notion of a cosmic consciousness to which our individual consciousnesses are connected). I keep wondering how come Stenger is now teaching... philosophy!!

6- He also misunderstands what the Dalai Lama said, as we can clearly see on page 53. What the Dalai Lama said is exactly what many philosophers at the Journal of Consciousness Studies talk about in many instances.

7- He repeatedly lies about psi research (parapsychological research), on pages 176 to 180, and elsewhere). During my stay in his web list, I could witness that he receives considerable "help" from both Bill (William) Jefferys and from Brent Meeker in this lying scheme (both cited in the book). The former fled in terror after hearing the name "Jessica Utts." The latter asked me to buy a book (by Rhine, from 1940) for him to analyze the evidence for paranormality in that book, and fled after I made the book available to him. Owes me now 50 bucks! Pseudoskepics... Always swindling us out of our time and out of our money.

8- Stenger is feeble in his treatment of the issues of free will and of causation.

9- He lies about things that affect the cherished believes of many people, when he says (among other similarly twisted assertions) that the omnipotent God can be shown not to exist beyond a reasonable doubt. That is mere pseudoscience from him (and I must add that I myself do not believe in this kind of God; but I do not go around lying that this god has been disproved by science: I have scientific and social responsabilities to abide by). Just look at this gem, page 239: "observational data and mathematical theory demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that no spirit world exists." Reminds me of that guy who said he had found a way to prove mathematically that God exists... The same counterfeit coin. Just the other side of it...

10- On page 260, on another faint sparkle of intellectual honesty, Stenger admits that key "reasonings" of his are not "mainstream," though he swears that "All I have done is give an unconventional _philosophical_ interpretation to otherwise well-established theory." I have seen many a Guru guaranteeing the same...

11- On page 18, and also more elaborately on page 154 onwards, we see a reductionist Stenger claiming that "emergence is real, but the whole is still the sum of its parts." However, on page 243, the whole miraculously is not the sum of its parts anymore... For even if God Almighty controls all the particles of a system, that "would still not guarantee a predetermined outcome on the macroscale."

So this is the "Message" - or "science" - that is to "replace" the Gurus' Message. A "science" that hides deep in the sand when well informed oponents come to HIS web forum. A "science" that changes the alleged "facts of the world" as it pleases, according to its (i.e. Stenger's) mysterious vested interests, even though Stenger may be harming the cherished beliefs of unwary readers. A "science" that falls in contradiction far too often to the point of having us wonder why on Earth it is so. All we can say is that this is a very weird "science" indeed. And this is the "science" of Stenger.

But the reader should rest assured: it is HIS science alone, and no one else's.

As a last nail, on page 14 we meet a would-be science writer that claims "I am not finished." Just one minor correction this time: Yes, you are, Sir. And you were from long before the moment this book started. All we can say now is:

Ashes to Ashes...

Book: The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, by Victor J. Stenger (2009).

Misinformative, Irrational, and Dishonest - December, 2010.

[Zero Stars again to Mr. Stenger. Tsc, Tsc, Tsc]

Robert B. Zannelli, Brent Meeker, Yonatan Fishman. What do these guys have in common? The answer is that they all gave five stars to Victor Stenger's book "The New Atheism" in their review of it; and... they are all cited on page 263 of this book, acknowledgments' section...(to his credit, Meeker mentions this). They are hard-core members of Stenger's email discussion list, avoid-L. So this question comes to my mind: if they know so God dammed well the weaknesses in Stenger's work (and they surely do), how come they do not have a constructively critical stand towards his book? (actually, Fishman did present some critical outlook, though seemingly pretty much "restrained"...). I very much respect the works of parapsychological researcher Dean Radin. Yet, when reviewing his book "Entangled Minds," not only did I NOT give him five stars, but I showed problematic spots in the book as well (similarly with the book "Irreducible Mind," by other highly respectable authors).

So, where is the "Taking a Stand for Science and Reason" (as the subtitle of Vic's book falsely advertises) in this behaviour above? Nowhere. And, as a matter of fact, I just could not find either Science or Reason in this book. But I did find incorrect information, prejudicedly biased attitude, emotionally driven blind beliefs, and corrupt conduct. Smells like a new (bad) religion is born...

The book begins with "dedicated to..., no-one-ever-heard-of, Paul Kurtz, who has contributed more to the advance of science and reason than any other of his generation." (what an offense to those who were truly the ones who did the most to the advancement of science and reason!). What Stenger really means is that Kurtz crafted (together with other cunning fellows like Martin Gardner - religious man... - and James Randi - debunker and cheater) CSICOP, CFI, and Prometheus Books publishing company (also Skeptical Inquirer magazine), therefore publishing aplenty Stenger's dubious "works" (books). I also suspect Kurtz helped (directly or indirectly) Stenger get a position as... adjunct professor of philosophy (???!!!) at the University of Colorado, even though Stenger knows nothing of philosophy to qualify for that; when Stenger mistakenly used the word "epiphenomenon" to mean "side effect" instead of its true meaning in modern philosophy of the mind (which traces back at least to renowned psychologist William James, more than a century ago!), Stenger replied, at avoid-L, that his dictionary did not list it the way I said. I only replied asking him what his dictionary was (and by that I meant that Webster's Dictionary already has the definition that philosophers of mind use, epiphenomenon being roughly an effect that does not act back on its causal source). He did not reply.

This book is so intricately flawed that I will have to comment on it through sections:


On page 11, we get to know that the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, was the primary motivator for the birth of the so called New Atheism. Sam Harris was the crackpot mostly responsible for it (not for the attack on WTC, but for the birth of New Atheism), as it seems (Sam Harris is also known as Sammy the Nuker, and Harry Pothead, for his defense of obtaining confessions through torture and of preemptive nuclear attacks on weaker nations - typical atheist...). The untold history is that the Organized Skeptic Movement (the nest of Vic Stenger and Paul Kurtz, headquarters at CSICOP) needed new fresh air. They tried it, unsuccessfully, some years before with the Brights Movement, a silly idea endorsed by the silly Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (check it out on page 37). September 11 was the bell that got these guys back on their successful money-seeking path, and so they decided to harness all the hatred against Islam so that they could profit as much as they could. I see very little true idealism and social concern in their actions, Vic Stenger included. That is why I consider them, their actions, so despicable. They are like vultures feeding on corpses that should be respected. So, if religion was not responsible for September 11, what was the cause?

To begin with, religion is not a monolith, and must not be treated as such. It is silly, it is irrational, it is unscientific, to treat religion this way. And, topmost, it is counterproductive to do so. And that is precisely what New Atheists do. The excesses of one subset of a specific creed did have some part in the attack on the WTC. It was not Islam as a whole: it was a subset of it. It was not all this subset: it was a group of people who embrace it. And this group of people was motivated by several reasons for attacking the WTC. Religion, i.e., their very specific way of embracing their religion, was only one ingredient of the explosive mixture. Trustworthy and enlightening insights into September 11 and its many facets can be garnered through authors like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. So, if a simple question is asked this way, "Was Religion Responsible for September 11"?, the answer would have to be a straightforward NO. That is why I think that the true motivation of these "New Atheists" is to twist facts to get money pumped into their pockets.

So the pumping goes on...: we are told, on page 15 (and also elsewhere) that faith is always foolish. Always. Also, that Judaism, Islam, and Christendom have done little (little) to alleviate the sufferings in the world (never built a single hospital, as it seems...). On page 22, we get to know that it is immoral (so Vic thinks) to be born of a virgin... (yes, he truly said that!). On page 51, not only do we get to know that "under the spell of the theocons, George W. Bush relied for eight years on faith rather than reason to make decisions, such as invading Iraq," we also learn that Bush was convinced by these guys (theocons) that he was doing God's work... Wow! Does Stenger really believe all this? Bush invaded Iraq based on faith, believing to be doing God's work? Question: where is Science in all this above? Where is Reason in all this above? I can only see Stenger's foolish beliefs, probably targeted at cashing in on easy money... Not satisfied with so much "trustworthy teaching," Stenger tells us, on page 115, that the popes during the Dark Ages (actually Mediaeval Times) were people "whose motives can surely be attributed, partly or wholly, to religion." This man is a mighty Historian! (popes' motivations were rather earthly greed and political ambitions). Last but not least, we read Stenger hallucinating these words on page 116: "Perhaps some insight into how killing in the name of God comes so easy to true believers can be gained by looking at" (blah blah blah). If you are a true believer, killing comes easy to you. Again, unscientific hasty generalizations.


Surprisingly enough, the other side of the coin is not to be taken at face value. That is, believers err due to religion (or strongly influenced by it), whereas atheists might err, but they do so *despite* the beneficial influence of atheism, as it seems...

Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot committed atrocities *despite* being atheists. Also, the aggressiveness of Diderot is, I believe, justified, when quoted by Stenger as having said (page 107): "Men will never be free until the last king is strangled in the entrails of the last priest." Could at least have been a little more merciful and have them all smashed (leveled actually) under Stenger's "light" weight... Then we have a quote (page 159) from Thomas Edison: "Nature made us...not the gods...religion is all bunk..."; so nice from the maniac inventor (and enthusiast...) of the electric chair who would fry countless animals alive, including an elephant, testing his invention. All this to win his private war against Westinghouse... All *despite* atheism.

And it just gets worse: Victor Stenger and his fellows at avoid-L email discussion list have...condoned racism! Where the hell is Science and Reason in this? Telling the story: first, James Watson (non avoid-L member) said all scientific studies show black people are less intelligent than whites (which is a lie, to begin with, for not ALL studies show it), and that bosses should promote whites instead of blacks other things being equal... This assertion from this atheist was neither scientific nor ethical. Then comes Richard Dawkins. He says Watson may be wrong scientifically (MAY be... - that is a lie to begin with, because Watson IS wrong. Not ALL tests show blacks to be less intelligent than whites!), but Watson is not wrong ethically (it seems Dawkins finds it ok to prefer whites being promoted, other things being equal). Then come the avoid-L fellows. Not a single one of them agreed with me that Dawkins was endorsing racist views with his assertions. Instead, some of them even mocked me! Where is Science in all this? Where is Reason? All the while, Victor Stenger himself remained...silent! Why didn't they just say Dawkins was wrong? Well, because of corrupted reasons. They were to have a meeting with him and other new atheists in the near future (NYC Conference on Secularism; November 9, 2007). Imagine if Dawkins heard one of them had said Dawkins' assertions amounted to endorsement of racist attitude...

So just as in Religion (Yes) and in Politics (Yes), New Atheism is prone to corruption. So what is the source of our social problems? Religion itself? It doesn't seem like. Politics per se, or money? I guess not. Atheism, old or new? I do not believe it. The problem lies elsewhere, in many different places. And silly oversimplifications are only sure to make things worse.


I have been saying for years now that Stenger simply does not read what he cites. As a consequence, he often cites things wrongly. one cares! And I ask: is this Science? Is this Reason? Let me now comment on some mistakes from him in this book.

On page 21, Stenger says that technically atheist is someone who is not a theist. The name of this mistake that he is committing is "Folk Etymology." If one was to follow Stenger's "technical" assumptions, one would conclude that "theist" and "deist" are perfect synonyms (both terms trace back to Greek, though the latter through Latin).

Worse still, on page 23, Stenger decides to equate "nonreligious" with "nonbeliever." That is because he did not read the source that he cited. He's been doing it often, over the last years. And no one cares. (Science and Reason...). His source is Had Stenger read his source, he would not be surprised that half of his supposed "nonbelievers" would say YES to the question "Do you believe in God?" (last phrase of the second paragraph in "Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist" from religions by adherents). What a philosopher...

Even worse still (!), on pages 69 and 75 Stenger mentions the article by Larson (1998), which I had demonstrated to him and to his fellows at avoid-L (back in 2007! - readers can check it out on my review of "God the Failed Hypothesis," on to be a highly faulty article. Stenger says of it, wrongly, again, that "Only 7 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in a personal God, with the remainder either nonbelievers or agnostics." (page 69). Then, wrongly too, he says "on a survey of the 517 members of the National Academy of Sciences." The correct statement that can be made based on Larson study is that "At least 10% of NAS Members do not believe in a God in *intellectual* and *affective* communication with humanity." NAS does not have 517 members; it has more than 2000 (at the time Larson made his study, in 1998). 517 were polled, but only about 50% replied! And the question they were asked was: "Do you believe in a God in *intellectual* and affective communication with humankind"? (emphasis mine). Stenger disregarded all my meticulous and painstaking analysis and presentation to him at his own turf (avoid-L) and keeps bringing in highly faulty information (and his fellows know it!). Is this Science? Is this Reason?

Continuing, on page 81, Stenger decides to cremate Popper and falsificationism by declaring that Einstein's Relativity has not proved Newton's Mechanics wrong (philosopher, at Colorado...).

Then, on pages 146/147, Stenger concludes that "reincarnation is falsified beyond a reasonable doubt" because no one "remembers something from her previous life that she could not possible (misspelling of possibly) have known and that is verified as correct by other, objective means." He forgets completely about the works of Ian Stevenson and followers (acknowledged even by Carl Sagan as early back as 1995), instead of beginning a true scientific investigation of the subject by, for example, reading the following recent high quality citation: "Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives: Past, Present, and Future Research. Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 543-552, 2007. Jim B. Tucker." Again, where is Science? Where is Reason?

Similarly, Stenger does not present any feedback whatsoever about the best studies (and the best results) from the parapsychological research, including the results from "telepathy" studies using the Ganzfeld protocol. These have been published somewhat regularly on prestigious mainstream scientific journals.

On page 212, Stenger tells us that "(Fritjof) Capra does not tell us to turn inside," even though, at the very first paragraph of the epilogue of "The Tao of Physics," Capra explicitly talks about it...

On page 107, Stenger decides to believe that polytheism is good, while monotheism is bad (???).

And on page 152, he desperately tries to belittle the "Love Thy Enemy" breakthrough in true humanism from Jesus (or "Jesus," if you will...) by saying it is similar to the Taoism concept he mentioned a little above it, when actually it is very different! (they mention something like "Love the Bad Guys" and not "Love the Bad Guys who Bully You" - that is very different).

Finally, on page 183, Stenger, again, refuses to acknowledge the discussions that took place in his own email list (avoid-L), by saying that "experts in statistics uncovered a number of errors in Radin's (Dean Radin) analysis, rendering his conclusions useless." He cites for that Stokes and I.J.Good. Since 2005 I have been telling Stenger that this is wrong information. First, Radin has incorporated Stokes criticism in his analysis, and found his results still robust. Second, Radin replied to Good in Nature scientific journal, correcting the wrong numbers Good had worked with. We had a heated discussion over that in the avoid-L email list. Main contenders in this instance were William Jefferys and Brent Meeker. The former, a renowned statistician, referred to Radin's works as "*shiHhHhHhnonsense*." I asked him to indicate two scientific articles by Radin with problems. He never presented any... As to Meeker, he told me "Interesting that data in a sixty year old book (Rhine's) which is supposedly at the foundation of a whole field of research is not available in the public domain. Why don't you just buy the book and tell the list exactly what these results are that Radin says imply odds of 10^21 or 10^2000"? And so I did exactly this. I bought the book by Rhine (U$ 50,00) and gave it for free to both Meeker and Jefferys. Can you believe what they did? Absolutely nothing whatsoever! All the while I had been in contact with Dean Radin, who was always offering to help in the analysis if and when Meeker and Jefferys did their part or seemed willing to. Jefferys decided to close his email account to me (!?). And Meeker...fled. Vic Stenger saw all that. And did, and said, nothing. Now, he just...forgets (reminds me of Ronald Reagan on the Contras affair...).

So this is all that the New Atheism is about: lies and deceit. Where are the scientific studies that show that *religion* (or *faith*) is evil? Nowhere. Where are the scientific studies that show that *atheism* is beneficial? Nowhere. Similarly, where is Science and Reason in the New Atheism movement?

Needless to answer...

Additional feedbacks on this "book" at this link

Book: The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind). By David Chalmers (2010).

A Must. Yet, Much to My Own Surprise, I Did Not Like It...  -  June 23, 2012.

How can a reader consider a book a *must* and still acknowledge that he (me...) did not like it? In highly "tricky" unsolved areas of mankind's intellectual endeavours, it is often better to have "bad answers with possibly fruitful reasonings," than to have "good answers with most likely (or, to a great extent) sterile reasonings." Just take a look at Copernicus' splendid answer to the Earth vs Sun "what is the center of our planetary system" dilemma. At the time he advanced his "good answer," it was close to good-for-nothing. It simply did not work; not until Kepler worked out the math right. Compared to that, Ptolomy's 1300 year old "bad answer" was pretty much fruitful: not only did it work (with amendments...), but it also inspired and gave people a working framework to think about better alternatives (because of the very amendments...). Most likely (IMHO) Chalmers is wrong. Yet, his reasoning can greatly help in boosting the thinking of those involved in this quest for the Holy Grail of the human intellect: The Answer to the Mystery of Consciousness.

I particularly appreciated some aspects of Chalmers' stand on this whole issue. He is pretty much aware of the fact that many take this topic almost as an agenda for ideological fights (I dare say: Jihad/Crusade fierce "wars" indeed!), and he clearly states that he does not like or take this route. Topmost, he is aware that there is indeed a hard problem to be faced in the consciousness debate. He also clearly exposes the bizzarre behaviour of those who either deny the existence of consciousness or try to "explain" it actually talking about something completely different from the issue itself. Human beings, go figure... We just never change in our core vices.

I'd like now to present some points that I think are, say, "problematic." [Readers are specially invited here to make comments in case I might have misapprehended some points]

1- Chalmers seems to be aware of the question-begging nature of ascribing *unconsciousness* to the so called "unconscious mental processes." Yet he dwells on it far too little. So little that he ends up reinforcing the flawed (or at least premature) conclusion that "unconscious" mental processes are indeed *unconscious*.

2- He expresses the view that representationalism is at a topmost position in the consciousness debate (something almost like: where there is representation of the world, consciousness is to be found). Yet, I do not think he went as far and as masterly on this road as he should. Representation is a billion-year-old trick in nature. Even bacteria have sophisticated ways of producing and benefitting from it (just check out the "quorum sensing" strategy used by many different bacteria in several different situations). What are we to say and to expect from these highly sophisticated representation systems? Are they highly conscious? Why should they be? Why shouldn't they? Chalmers merely touched the shore surface of this intriguing "ocean," while he could have ventured (with the data we indeed have today) at least as far as the "continental shelf."

3- Laying the conditions for a theory of consciousness, Chalmers advances the need for both a solid knowledge of the NCCs (neural correlates of consciousness) and of an explanation for *why* and *how* the NCCs give rise to consciousness. In this too, like with the item 1 above, he seems to have some insight on the intrinsic pitfalls of the explanation business; and again he dwells on it far too little (like almost everyone else). What is it to explain something? What is the difference between, on the one hand, scientific/mechanical explanation and, on the other hand, magical thinking. The answer (IMO), at the very bottom layer, is: as far as anyone can tell, none! [i.e.: A causes B not because of a truly rational logical scientific neat and clean explanation, but merely because A causes B and that is that. Pure magic. Period.]. This may not be a problem if you are working with molecular engineering, or car engine fixing. But when you deal with frontier knowledge thinking, it is a must to address these issues deeply. Sadly, it is very rare to find someone who does... And Chalmers is no exception.

4- In some places, Chalmers stresses his view that consciousness has structure. Always, as it seems. Yet, I cannot think of something simpler (structureless...?) than a red led light dot on a full dark surrounding (actually I can: the very full dark surrounding by itself...). So I think that Chalmers' attempt to tie consciousness to structure is at least forcefully artificial and possibly misguided.

5- Another (closely related) idea that Chalmers advances is somewhat like "consciousness is tied to information." That is, the more information in a system, the more consciousness in this system (this is a simple and rather crude presentation by me of Chalmers' exposition; but I think I am faithful to the core of his reasoning on that). At first I felt it might be somewhat promising. Now I just cannot see any advantage in this view. I just cannot see why a system with more information in it should be more (or less) conscious than one with less information.

6- Also the idea that consciousness is unified (somewhat supported by Chalmers) has always been kind of allien to my mind. I was once charged with holding this view by a commentator to a review that I did for the book Consciousness Explained (book by materialist ideological crusader and Santa Claus immitator Dan Dennett). I think that anyone that believes consciousness is unified is bypassing the most important discussion regarding *Unity, Duality, and Plurality in the Universe*. As with many other topics, I think Chalmers sidestepped the needed heuristic in-depth appraisal of the issues involved.

7- I also ended up not feeling much "attracted" (or convinced) by Chalmers' "Principle of Organizational Invariance," which holds that if you have two systems with the same organization, then these two systems should have (or definetely have!) the same conscious experience. This is arguably the central thesis in the book. And I think it was not masterly crafted. Far from it indeed. The idea - the way (and to the depth/quality) Chalmers was able to develop it - seems to me just as good as any other candidate regarding the consciousness mystery debate. And the seminal question remains pretty much the same: why should it be that two systems with the same organization (even if this is possible, which I greatly doubt...) would have the same conscious experience?

8- An interesting issue is the "Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness." There is a special section dedicated to it, and Chalmers also highlight some other obstacles elsewhere in the book. He comments that we have a "paucity of objective data" (for the development of a theory of consciousness), and puts this phrase in a meaningful and somewhat enlightening context. He further reminds us that there are "traditions where the study of experience has been explored in detail" (including, among others, the traditions of "Western phenomenology, introspectionist psychology, and even Eastern meditative traditions"). Yet, IMO, these are presented way too introductorily, without the deserved deeper development.

Taking from these "problems" listed above (numbers 1 to 8), there are some courses that I think the book should have followed, or deepened, to better address the Mystery of Consciousness. The very first item would be a fuller description of the, let's put it this way, "Bestiary" of Concious Experiences. That is, the book would have been far more enlightening (IMO) had it described the various types of conscious experiences, both ordinary and "anomalous," and tried to draw the relevant conclusions from them as to the place of consciousness in nature and its possible relation to the objective world. I think that even regarding ordinary conscious experiences the book was shallow in its analyses. For example, my thinking merely about the ordinary states of consciousness has led me to the stunning conclusion (or insight, no matter right or wrong) that we will *never* be able to prove that unconsciousness exists! Unconsciousness, by its very definition, cannot be experienced. So how can we be really sure that we ever were in this state at all?

A second item that I felt missing, and that strenghthens what I just said above, is the extent to which memory places puzzling constraints to any attempt at "handling" a science of consciousness. For example, I twice experienced an anomalous conscioussness event when I was a child where I went through the whole night in just one blink of the eye: at one second it was night (about ten o'clock); the next second, it was day (about seven in the morning). It was a perfectly continuous conscious experience. Yet, most likely I had conscious dreams in between. So the continuity of consciousness is, always, to be questioned. Similarly, we usually seem to fall into unconsciousness when we fall asleep. Yet, again anomalously (this time as an adult), I once fell asleep completely conscious of the whole process. I went from wakeful consciousness into dream consciousness seamlessly (apparently...).

One specific line of reasoning that I strongly consider fruitful (also lacking in the book) is a close look at *how* consciousness emerges. This question has both a "historical" aspect (i.e. a step-by-step description of the processes that ended up giving birth to consciousness in the universe) and a "day-by-day" aspect (a description of the steps leading to, say, our own coming into consciousness and fading into unconsciousness). The key issue in this question is: what exactly happens to a system at the very moment it becomes conscious? Pondering over this, I ended up coming to the very same conclusion of many phylosophers and scientists who came to embrace the view that consciousness is (most likely) a fundamental aspect of the universe. However, contrary to Chalmers' view of a protoconscious substrate, I have concluded that this fundamental substrate can only be Hyperconscious (Brahmanism/Akashic Records like). Conclusions aside (and the intrinsic high probability of their being simply wrong...), my point in commenting this on this review is to stress the importance that thinkers in this area take bolder venues, and at the same time more creative (fruitful), heuristic, and fundament-seeking ones.

All in all, Chalmers' are indeed priceless contributions. He - together with many of his "peers" - has managed to strengthen our understanding of consciousness as something far far from solved (a true Hard Problem, as Chalmers puts it), yet far far from untractable. And that was, arguably, one of the major shifts of paradigm that we were blessed with in the Twentieth Century.