A list of books (in no particular order) for all who are interested in structures of how we experience reality.

Feeling and Knowing - Antonio Damasio
A 3 hour book, so it’s pretty much a three-episode podcast. In short, Demasio argues against the hard problem of consciousness by tracking the evolution and function of feeling and knowing, and extrapolating that on our current (mis)understanding of our own experience as a self. For example, you do not look inside your own body, but you feel it to experience it. Give that some millions of years of evolution and you might end up with a very complicated version of feeling and knowing: human consciousness.

The Experience Machine - Andy Clark
After Feeling and Knowing, this is the book I'd recommend most. It offers an essential and unpretentious perspective on the mechanics behind experience. Its humble approach mirrors the current state of scientific knowledge about the brain (we don’t know that much). Despite this, it is very good! Not only does it introduce and explore ideas on cognition and experience, but it also provides readers with a mental framework of the humility required to tackle the challenging problems of consciousness. In short, Clark says: you do not directly experience reality; your brain guesses reality and your bodily senses correct the expectation, constantly refining the picture. Clark, like many others on this list, presents many convincing examples to build his argument.

The Case Against Reality - Donald Hoffman
A mesmerizing take on how we experience what we call reality, introducing the Interface Theory of Perception (ITP) and just running with it. It might run too far with it, and I recognize some critiques regarding its testability, but it significantly advanced my understanding of perception, evolution, and the idea that our experience of the world is definitely not exactly reality. Of all writers, Donald Hoffman has the most convincing style, and there is a certain pace to his book that makes even complex science read or listen like a breeze.

Reality is Not What It Seems - Carlo Rovelli
So I know next to nothing of physics and did not understand any more techinical physics after reading this book for about 3,5 times. But at the same time I now understandsome parts of quantum mechanics and the need, and beauty, of it all. Not in a technical way, but in a human way. A very special book.

Phantoms In The Brain - V.S. Ramachandran, Sandra Blakeslee
Some more swooping by a less humble but still smart doctor. Written in the late 90s, and his conclusions hold up very well next to other (more recent) works in this list.

Consciousness,  an Introduction - Susan Blackmore
A very short and interesting summary of thinking about conscienceness. This might clear up some thoughts on different meanings of even the word consciousness.
How Emotions Are Made - Lisa Feldman Barret
This was another mindbender. Another professor who takes an idea and RUNS with it: What does predictive processing mean in the emotion-domain?  I feel she can sometimes come to conclusions a bit quick and I feel she perhaps has not found the right language to mount her attack against our culture’s common thinking regarding emotion. But still, a mindbender.

Sentient - Jackie Higgins
A summary of scientific research on how animals experience their world. Cannot say the book ever really gets into a easy flow for me as a popular-science reader, but case after case, story after story, it almost unintentionally challenges an anthropocentric view on cognition and experience with memorable examples of the science of sentient animals.

An Immense World - Ed Yong
Very much like Sentient by Jackie Higgins, but written with a non-scientist reader in mind. Like Sentient, it very much attacks anthropocentrism without calling attention to it’s attack at all.

Being You - Anil Seth
Anil Seth is a scientist and a good science-communicator who writes almost as well as he talks. Being You is a popular science book with some parts of it (particaularly the ITTP part) that are a bit rough (for me) to get through, but like Demasio and Clark, Seth attackes The Hard Problem of Consciousness by just breaking it up into alot of small problems, slowly plowing through some of the smaller problems while maintaining the eye on the prize.

Other Minds - Peter Goddfrey-Smith
A really fantastic book. When a philosopher and biologist spends the majority of his time diving into water to be mesmerized by the behavior of cephalopods, something good is bound to come. It’s a captivating exploration of the world of octopuses, delving into their remarkable intelligence and consciousness. Through a combination of scientific research, personal anecdotes, and philosophical reflections, the book takes readers on a fascinating journey into the underwater realm. Godfrey-Smith examines the evolutionary history of cephalopods, their problem-solving abilities, memory skills, and social interactions, all while pondering the enigmatic nature of consciousness and offering a deeper understanding of the potential diversity of intelligence in the animal kingdom. Metazoa is another book by Godfrey-Smith that, like Seth, Clark, and Damasio, argues against asking overly broad questions. Instead, it suggests starting with smaller problems to see how they inform the larger questions.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat - Oliver Sacks
So here there are the stories to swoop you off your feet. The famous author approaches each tale with a respectful eye toward patients who with their neurological defects and challenges, illuminate the profound intricacies of the human brain. Sacks loves to write, and you can tell. He also loves to find impactfull stories, probably more then factchecking them Still, It offers a unique and deeply personal perspective on the complexities of the mind and the profound connections between medical neuroscience and human experience.

“From Bacteria to Bach and Back”  and “Conscienceness Explained” - Daniel Dennet
So both of these are not easy reads but also not very hard. Dennet’s examples can be as boring as they seem correct. Sometimes a chapter can really sing, sometimes I want to sleep. However, he takes his darwinian view to the max, and in very interesting ways.

The Order Of Time - Carlo Rovelli

Environmental Psychology: An Introduction - Linda Steg
The text examines the influence of the environment on human experiences, behaviour and well-being and explores the factors influencing environmental behaviour, and ways to encourage pro-environmental behaviour.

Descartes Error - Antonio Demasio
Still reading this one. Antionio can sometimes posses the humanistic and poetic flair of Carlo Rovelli, but will also get down and dirty and slug through the technical mud of the layout of the brain, with dicedely less flair.

Anaximander - Carlo Rovelli
So a tad off-brand when it comes to the nature of reality or it’s experience, but i thouroughly enjoyed this read. It’s pretty much a lovesong on the method of science, and the drama it went through before it started really changing the world. I might be wrong though, for loving a history-of-science book by a renowned theoretical physicist. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the quality of this book from people who have read it, but might know more about the history of science.

+31 (0) 6 51 06 91 79