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By William Hasker

Shadows of the Mind

"Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness." By Roger Penrose, Oxford University Press 457 pp.; $25

"The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain." By Paul M. Churchland, MIT Press 329 pp.; $29.95

Possibly the most challenging and pervasive source of problems in the whole of philosophy. Our own consciousness seems to be the most basic fact confronting us, yet it is almost impossible to say what consciousness is.

So begins the entry on consciousness in "The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy," by Simon Blackburn (Oxford University Press, 1994). Few would dispute the author's judgment that the nature of consciousness is a particularly daunting puzzle. It is also, however, a puzzle that a number of thinkers in a variety of disciplines claim to have solved--in principle, at least. Witness the title of Daniel C. Dennett's widely praised book, "Consciousness Explained" (Little, Brown, 1992).

There is no scholarly consensus here, and some prominent skeptics--Jerry Fodor and Colin McGinn, for example--have suggested that the problem of consciousness is by its very nature unlikely ever to be solved. Still, the problem is attracting an extraordinary amount of attention. Dennett's book is just one of a large shelfful of recent studies of consciousness, beginning with "The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics," by the mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose (Oxford University Press, 1989)--a book that appeared on bestseller lists at university campuses.1 In addition to the books intended for general audiences, there has been a steady flow of more specialized works. And in 1994, "The Journal of Consciousness Studies" began publication.

The surge of interest in consciousness has been driven in part by developments in two areas: neuroscience and computational models of the mind. Claims based on advances in these areas tend to set the agenda for consciousness studies--even in the case of ...

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