How is consciousness possible? What biological purpose does it serve? Why do we value it so highly? In Soul Dust the psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, a leading figure in consciousness research, returns to the front-line with a startling new theory. Consciousness, he argues, is nothing less than a magical-mystery show that we stage for ourselves inside our own heads. This self-made show lights up the world for us, making us feel special and transcendent.
Tightly argued, intellectually gripping and a joy to read, Soul Dust is a keenly anticipated book that provides answers to the deepest questions. It dovetails the 'hard problem of consciousness' with the matters that obsess us all - the fear of death, how life should be lived. Resting firmly on neuroscience and evolutionary theory, it is an uncompromising yet life-affirming work that never loses sight of the majesty and mystery of consciousness.
Humphrey (Seeing Red), the psychologist who discovered blind sight, combines the latest research on neurology and psychology with age-old philosophical questions about the nature of perception and sensation. In answer to the quandary of how human consciousness evolved, since much of our mental activity occurs unconsciously (fight or flight; intuition; biases), he suggests that sensual pleasure and the perception of beauty add value to our lives and enhance our desire to survive. Because we externalize our perceptions ("projecting sensations onto objects") we believe that our lives have meaning. He argues that the "magical interiority of human minds" is not merely a pleasurable bonus to the business of survival but creates the foundation for human existence and our ability to "acknowledge and honor the personhood of others." Though he rejects the existence of the supernatural, Humphrey sees a "soul niche," made possible by the development of complex neurological feedback loops, as the evolutionary home of the human species. This is a fascinating affirmation of the existence of the human soul and a difficult read, but well worth the effort.