The Conscious Brain by Jesse Prinz

Are you paying attention? Attention, according to Jesse Prinz ( and, is the key to understanding the phenomenon of consciousness. We don’t know for sure how the crumpled 3 pound gelantinous mass inside the skull produces the magic lantern show which is our waking experience. There are many theories. Synthesizing decades of research, The Conscious Brain advances a theory
of the psychological and neurophysiological correlates of conscious experience.

In the first part of the book, Prinz argues that consciousness always arises at a particular stage of perceptual processing, the intermediate level, and that consciousness depends on attention. Attention changes the flow of information and that gives rise to experience. The resulting account is called the AIR Theory, for attended intermediate-level representations. Objections to the theory are addressed.

In the second part of the book, Prinz argues that all consciousness is perceptual: there is no cognitive phenomenology, no experience of motor commands, and no experience of a conscious self. This conclusion challenges popular theories in consciousness studies: the view that we can directly experience our thoughts, the view that consciousness essentially involves action, and the view that every experience includes awareness of the
subject having that experience.

In the third part of the book, Prinz explores the neural correlates of consciousness. He argues attention, hence consciousness, arises when populations of neurons fire in synchrony, and he responds to those who deny that consciousness could be a process in the brain. Along the way, Prinz also advances novel theories of qualia, the function of
consciousness, the unity of consciousness, and the mind-body relation, defending a view called neurofunctionism. Each chapter in The Conscious Brain brings neuroscientific evidence to bear on enduring philosophical questions. Major philosophical and scientific theories of consciousness are surveyed, challenged, and extended.

This would be a good introduction for anyone wishing to take an interest in the science and philosophy of consciousness. Naturally, a degree of close attention is demanded. Enquire at your local library or consult  for full bibliographic information.

A quick introduction to the subject is found in The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy at Reading this should indicate whether you wish to know anything about the subject and grapple with Prinz. It includes a useful bibliography.

416 pages in Oxford University Press

First published 2012

ISBN 978-0195314595

Professor Jesse Prinz

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