Being You Book Summary - Being You Book explained in key points

Being You summary

Anil Seth

A New Science of Consciousness

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What is Being You about?

Being You (2021) offers a new theory of consciousness. What does it mean to be you? Why do your experiences of the world, your selfhood, and your body feel the way they do? Combining neuroscience, philosophy, and a pinch of speculation, these blinks argue that consciousness is not as mysterious as it seems – it is deeply entwined with our living, breathing bodies.

About the Author

Anil Seth is a neuroscientist and author. He’s a professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex, where he also codirects the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science.

Table of Contents
    Key idea 1 of 8

    We can’t solve the hard problem of consciousness, but we can dissolve it into real problems.

    What does it feel like to be a bat?

    In 1974, philosopher Thomas Nagel published a famous essay asking just this question. Nagel wasn’t really interested in bats – his interest was in the nature of consciousness. He argued that for every conscious organism – a bat, for example – being alive feels like something. This may seem obvious now, but it wasn’t back then. Many scientists at the time were still confusing consciousness with intelligence, language, or other human-like characteristics.

    Today, most agree with Nagel. Consciousness is its own, unique thing; and all living beings share it to some degree. Even more, it has a certain subjective “flavor” to it. But there’s one big question that remains: Why does it even exist? 

    This question is known as the “hard problem” of consciousness. 

    Here’s the gist of this blink: We can’t solve the hard problem of consciousness, but we can dissolve it into real problems

    Many scientists believe that the hard problem of consciousness is virtually impossible to solve. Think about it: Even if they knew all the biological mechanisms that give rise to your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, they still couldn’t explain why they’re accompanied by this strange, ever-present feeling of “being you.”

    After all, you could easily imagine a “zombie” version of yourself that walks, talks, and acts exactly like you – but that has no inner life.

    Consciousness seems like some kind of secret special sauce the universe added to all living beings. 

    But that doesn’t mean we can’t find out what the ingredients are. Science already has many tools and theories to explain different conscious experiences – we just need to put it all together.

    Sound lofty? Well, science has done it before. Before the twentieth century, the biological property of life was just as mysterious as consciousness. The philosophy of vitalism proposed that there was some special, supernatural energy present in all living beings. But as biology progressed, and scientists began studying extreme cases like single-celled organisms and viruses, they started to understand that “being alive” wasn’t some mysterious all-or-nothing property. It was more like a scalable collection of different biological processes.

    So, while we might not be able to solve the hard problem of consciousness outright, we might be able to dissolve it—by studying different aspects of consciousness. The author calls those the “real problems” of consciousness. For example, we could study how activity in the visual cortex gives rise to the experience of seeing something dark red versus seeing something light red. 

    The more we can explain about how physical patterns in the brain correspond to conscious experiences, the less mysterious consciousness will become.

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    Who should read Being You

    • Science enthusiasts interested in the mystery of consciousness
    • The philosophically inclined
    • Fans and critics of Artificial Intelligence

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