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Being You: A New Science of Consciousness (Hardcover)
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A Best Book of 2021—Bloomberg Businessweek; A Best Science Book of 2021—The Guardian; A Best Science Book of 2021—Financial Times; A Best Philosophy Book of 2021—Five Books; A Best Book of 2021—The Economist
Anil Seth's quest to understand the biological basis of conscious experience is one of the most exciting contributions to twenty-first-century science.
What does it mean to “be you”—that is, to have a specific, conscious experience of the world around you and yourself within it? There may be no more elusive or fascinating question. Historically, humanity has considered the nature of consciousness to be a primarily spiritual or philosophical inquiry, but scientific research is now mapping out compelling biological theories and explanations for consciousness and selfhood.
Now, internationally renowned neuroscience professor, researcher, and author Anil Seth is offers a window into our consciousness in BEING YOU: A New Science of Consciousness. Anil Seth is both a leading expert on the neuroscience of consciousness and one of most prominent spokespeople for this relatively new field of science. His radical argument is that we do not perceive the world as it objectively is, but rather that we are prediction machines, constantly inventing our world and correcting our mistakes by the microsecond, and that we can now observe the biological mechanisms in the brain that accomplish this process of consciousness.
Seth has been interviewed for documentaries aired on the BBC, Netflix, and Amazon and podcasts by Sam Harris, Russell Brand, and Chris Anderson, and his 2017 TED Talk on the topic has been viewed over 11 million times, a testament to his uncanny ability to make unimaginably complex science accessible and entertaining.
About the Author
Anil Seth is a professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex, and co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science.
“Whenever I hear that someone has found a new theory of consciousness, I start to lose my own… So when the latest would-be Einstein announces yet another theory, my eyes start to glaze over in anticipation of drivel and disappointment. Neuroscientist Anil Seth’s Being You is the exception that proves the rule. If you only read one book about consciousness, it must be his… An impressive work that handles complex issues with exceptional insight and beautiful clarity.”
—Julian Baggini, Wall Street Journal
“[Seth] tells us about the Japanese roboticist who builds ‘Geminoids’—robots as similar to human beings as possible, including one resembling himself, which delivered a 45-minute lecture to a large audience of students. It is a brilliant book…”
—Claire Tomalin, New York Times Book Review
"Exhilarating... a vast-ranging, phenomenal achievement that will undoubtedly become a seminal text."
“Seth makes a convincing case that perception masquerades as conscious reality… Fluent and accessible.”
“Drawing on philosophy, biology, cognitive science, neuroscience and artificial intelligence, he argues that our brains are prediction machines that constantly invent our world and then correct our mistakes, so that our sense of self derives from our body.”
“Imaginative and compelling…”
“A fantastic exposition to a family of revolutionary ideas gaining increasing support both from neuroscience and artificial-intelligence research. It is a much-rewarding read, both for people familiar with the central questions of consciousness and the interested newcomer.”
—World Literature Review
“Exhilarating, informed, passionate and provocative in equal measure—as much a groundbreaking work of philosophy as of science. It’s a book that lingers with you, while at the same time forcing you to rethink exactly who and what “you” are."
—Research Professional News
“In lucid, engaging prose Seth deftly navigates long-standing philosophical debates over the nature of consciousness… awe-inspiring.”
“An accessible, unfailingly interesting look inside the workings of the human brain, celebrating its beguiling nature.”
“[Seth’s] extraordinary debut sets out his exhilarating new theory about how we experience the world.”
—The Bookseller (Editor's Choice)
“[Anil Seth] takes on the prodigious task of defining consciousness and explaining its origins in this intense survey.”
“One of the most authoritative voices in a central question of neuroscience: what is consciousness? His new book is a page-turner and a mind-blower. If you've ever wondered how billions of neurons chattering in the dark equate to your experience, start here... Beautifully written, crystal clear, deeply insightful.”
—David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Stanford University, author of Livewired and Incognito
“A brilliant beast of a book. A wide ranging synthesis pulling together disparate stands—from philosophy, science, literature, personal experience and speculation—this latter being the most exciting for me, despite some proposals being as yet unproven. Seth proposes to explain not just what and how we are, but probably provocative for some folks, why we are the way we are. Why do we have the feeling of continually being the same person? (When obviously I, at least, am not.) Why do we have this feeling of being self aware? What is it for? Hugely inspirational—I filled up 10 pages with exuberant notes. Keep a pencil handy.”
—David Byrne, founding member of Talking Heads
“There could hardly be a better guide to the theories—good and bad—currently swirling around the science of consciousness. Seth writes with grace and charm, gently demolishing bad ideas—such as panpsychism, and Integrated Information Theory—while building a case for his own very good idea that consciousness is a kind of controlled hallucination, the brain’s best guess at inventing the future.”
—Nicholas Humphrey, neuropsychologist and author A History of the Mind and Soul Dust
“Seth provokes us to think about thinking. And he offers what the interested reader always needs—a book which makes complex ideas readable, relatable, and gripping. If you want to understand his subject better—he’ll help you. And who wouldn’t want to better understand consciousness? In our lives, there is nothing weirder or more fundamental.”
—Alex Garland, director of EX MACHINA
“Being You offers us new cause for astonishment and wonder. Through expert science writing and engaging personal narrative, Anil gives us a new perspective on everything we perceive, down to space and time itself. Being You is a must read for anyone seeking a better understanding of the brain and how nature sculpts the human experience.”
—Annaka Harris, author of Conscious
“Reality is real, but how our brains construct a picture of reality—perceiving, integrating, predicting—is far from direct. It's a complicated, fascinating mess, which neuroscientists are just beginning to piece together. Anil Seth's Being You is a wonderfully accessible and comprehensive account of how our minds capture the world, and how that makes us who we are.”
—Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden
“In this lucid and thought-provoking exploration of the nature of consciousness, Seth takes us closer than ever to making sense of our experience of being conscious selves. A must-read.”
—Anil Ananthaswamy, award-winning journalist and author of Through Two Doors at Once and The Man Who Wasn’t There
“A fascinating book. A joy to read. Anil Seth explores fundamental questions about consciousness and the self from the perspective of a philosophically-informed neuroscientist. Highly recommended.”
—Nigel Warburton, author of A Little History of Philosophy and Philosophy
“Insightful and profound. The nature of consciousness is still one of the hardest problems in science, but Anil Seth brings us closer than ever before to the answer. This a hugely important book.”
—Jim Al-Khalili, author of The World According to Physics
“What makes you, you? What explains your consciousness and sense of self? In this remarkable and ground-breaking work, Anil Seth offers a surprising answer, rooted in the new science of the predictive brain. Compulsory reading for anyone who wants to better understand their inner ‘beast machine.’”
—Andy Clark, author of Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind
“Seth is uniquely placed to truly advance our understanding of one of humanity’s deepest riddles.”
—Chris Anderson, Curator of TED
“The treatment of consciousness on offer is eclectic and delivered with a particular kind of generosity: it is both generous to the reader, in its earnest (and successful) attempt to lay bare the essentials of different contributions. It is generous to these contributions per se: ranging from anaesthesia—the art of turning people into objects—from information theory to the Wizards of Odds (abductive Bayesian inference), from the Beholder's Share to the free energy principle—aptly defined as there are more ways of being mush than there are of being alive. It's dénouement is a millennial take on being A Beast Machine: a potent account of embodied sentience and selfhood. An account that is rendered irresistible by Anil Seth’s gentle and inclusive arguments.”
—Karl Friston, University College London
“Anil Seth is one of the world’s leading consciousness researchers—his take on the subject is unique and refreshing, and his talks and writing always exciting, accessible, and engaging. I look forward to his book-length account concerning experience and its place in nature.”
—Christof Koch, Allen Brain Institute, author of Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist
“Anil Seth thinks clearly and sharply on one of the hardest problems of science and philosophy, cuts through weeds with a scientist’s mind and a storyteller’s skill.”
—Adam Rutherford, author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived
“Anil Seth was my most anticipated guest in 2021, and our conversation was one of the highlights of the year. If you can only read one book this year, it should be Being You.”
—Ginger Campbell, MD, host of Brain Science, the world’s leading neuroscience podcast