cover image In the Theater of Consciousness: The Workspace of the Mind

In the Theater of Consciousness: The Workspace of the Mind

Bernard J. Baars. Oxford University Press, USA, $50 (210pp) ISBN 978-0-19-510265-9

Berkeley psychologist Baars offers the theater metaphor-inherited from Aristotle, developed by William James and hotly contested by leading cognitive theorists such as Daniel Dennett-as the best means of unifying the diverse mental phenomena and sensory experiences that make up conscious life. Chapters such as ""On Stage"" and ""Behind the Scenes"" cast conundrums of consciousness, such as ""how do we process information we're not seemingly aware of?"" first in terms of imagination-friendly metaphors (for example, the ""spotlight"" of conscious attention that dimly ""illuminates"" background information), then in terms of little thought experiments that allow the reader to isolate and experience the often hidden workings of consciousness. (Try re-reading this review while keeping the numbers 8, 25 and 47 in your mind and you'll get the idea.) Recent work in fast-changing fields such as cognitive science, neurobiology and clinical biology thus become clear, comprehensible and cogent, as the reader carves up his or her experience and tests the theories firsthand. Baars, an editor of the journal Consciousness and Cognition and a respected theorist in his own right, conveys a palpable excitement in demonstrating recent strides in understanding ""the publicity organ of the brain."" Whether he's quoting and lovingly explicating James and others at length, or discussing and demonstrating the nuances of tip-of-tongue syndrome or blindsight, his enthusiasm will motivate anyone who has already long forgotten freshman psych to ""make your own theory,"" as the appendix invites us to do. (Mar.)