Understanding Consciousness

Max Velmans

There are four main philosophical ideas of consciousness, physicalism/materialism, dualism, parallism/epiphenomenalism and mentalism/idealism. The idealist view often goes with a mystical viewpoint, but in Understanding consciousness Max Velmans puts forward a scientifically rigorous version of idealism, which he calls reflexive monism.

The first part of the book is an overview of ideas on consciousness. Velmans then goes on to describe his analysis in the second and third parts. I found the book to be easier to read than many books on consciousness and so you might like to give it a try.

I feel that the mentalist/idealist view has been rather neglected in the discussions of the nature of mind and I thought that reflexive monism made a lot of sense. What Velmans is saying is that if there is a pain in your finger, why not say that it really is in your finger, rather than part of your brain.

There is one big problem with the book, and that is that Velmans subscribes to the view that the physical world is causally closed. This implies that inner experience is separate from the physical world, and I feel that this is incompatible with an idealist viewpoint. As the book goes on reflexive monism seems to transmute into a parallelist view, which I felt was something of a disappointment.