Cover image for Mind time : the temporal factor in consciousness
Mind time : the temporal factor in consciousness
Libet, Benjamin, 1916-2007.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
xx, 248 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
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QP411 .L538 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Our subjective inner life is what really matters to us as human beings - and yet we know relatively little about how it arises. Over a long and distinguished career Benjamin Libet has conducted experiments that have helped us see, in clear and concrete ways, how the brain produces conscious awareness. For the first time, Libet gives his own account of these experiments and their importance for our understanding of consciousness. Most notably, Libet's experiments reveal a substantial delay - the mind time of the title - before any awareness affects how we view our mental activities. If all conscious awarenesses are preceded by unconscious processes, as Libet observes, we are forced to conclude that unconscious processes initiate our conscious experiences. Freely voluntary acts are found to be initiated unconsciously before an awareness of wanting to act - a discovery with profound ramifications for our understanding of free will. How do the physical activities of billions of cerebral nerve cells give rise to an integrated conscious subjective awareness? How can the subjective mind affect or control voluntary actions? Libet considers these questions, as well as the implications of

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Recognized for studies on human consciousness, Libet (Univ. of California, San Francisco) codifies several decades of research within a highly accessible monograph. The first section summarizes the general philosophical and neuroscientific problems that face any theory of consciousness; these discussions tread familiar ground (see Dennett's Consciousness Explained, 1991, for a complementary philosophical perspective). Subsequent chapters describe experiments that investigate the timing of neuronal activity, behavior, and consciousness, including the discovery of changes in electrical potential within the brain prior to both action and experience. Though compelling, the figures and experimental discussions are drawn primarily from the author's seminal "Behavioral and Brain Sciences" article (1985), which could be substituted for this book by instructors. The book ends with a highly speculative "Conscious Mental Field" theory positing that consciousness emerges from non-physical interactions of cortical tissue. These empirical results--and their theoretical implications--have had considerable influence upon philosophical discussions of consciousness, but have had little impact upon neuroscience more generally. Yet, despite the narrowness of its topical coverage, the book remains of value for its insight into a notable research program. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Graduate students through faculty/researchers. S. A. Huettel Duke University

Table of Contents

1 Introduction to the Question
2 The Delay in Our Conscious Sensory Awareness
3 Unconscious and Conscious Mental Functions
4 Intention to Act: Do We Have Free Will?
5 Conscious Mental Field Theory: Explaining How the Mental Arises from the Physical
6 What Does It All Mean?