Annaka Harris, Conscious, Chapter 8, Consciousness and Time

… the last chapter in the book…

… in which the nature of time is discussed in relation to consciousness, briefly… the confusing idea that the universe requires a perceiver to make choices on how to manifest to that perception… the idea that measuring could cause a ripple millions of years back in time to a moment of choosing between one manifestation and another…

… this chapter seemed a little tacked on, a way to make a landing that did not quite stick…

… i am finished with the book, but have identified much more that i need to read…

Annaka Harris, Conscious, Chapter 7, Beyond Panpsychism

… Annaka Harris on separating consciousness from complex thought:

… it’s important to distinguish between consciousness and complex thought when considering the modern panpsychic views. Postulating that consciousness is fundamental isn’t the same as suggesting that complex ideas or thoughts are fundamental and magically result in a material realization of those ideas.1

… Harris goes on to outline the “hard problem” of panpsychism, which is how does complex consciousness, with memory and predictive capabilities, arise from lots of little consciousnesses?… to me, this is the least hard problem if we allow that individual wholes can add up to wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts, which is exactly what the human body is as an organism… a sum of parts equaling a greater whole… again, refer to the thinking of Wilber and de Chardin… in particular, Wilber’s discussion of holon theory, Wikipedia”)…

… Harris summarizing David Chalmers:

But perhaps it’s wrong to talk about a subject of consciousness, and it’s more accurate to instead talk about the content available to conscious experience at any given location in space-time, determined by the matter present there—umwelts applied not just to organisms, but to all matter, in every configuration and at every point in space-time.2

… one of the points Harris struggles with that i think is a big value of Panpsychism is the implication that a ubiquitous property of consciousness would mean that everything is interconnected… our ability to experience pleasure and pain could quite easily be the nervous system of the greater whole… that is, pleasure and pain is not an experience had by complex minds in isolation of a greater whole… we are the pleasures and pains of the cosmos… all the interactions of matter and energy in the cosmos are a foundation of our pleasure and pain… Native American and other primitive cultures understood this… among the most damaging propositions on the planet is the idea that we stand apart from this whole and can do whatever we want with it… it seems that Harris has a hard time letting go of the need to treat being conscious and undertaking complex thought as independent things… again, the idea of holons…


  1. Annaka Harris, Conscious, p 90 [return]
  2. Ibid, p 92 [return]

Annaka Harris, Conscious, Chapter 6, Is Consciousness Everywhere?

… the introduction to panpsychism…

… a review of the reason(s) why we might need a consciousness is in everything view of the cosmos, the hard problem of consciousness… where do you draw the line between what is conscious and what isn’t?… how do you pin down the conditions for its emergence?… you don’t have to do either of these things if you accept consciousness as somehow fundamental to the nature of the cosmos…

… Ms. Harris explains that most scientists, including neuroscientists, don’t accept panpsychism, believing consciousness to be an emergent quality of complex systems… they fail to solve the hard problem and possibly fail to overcome a human then mammal centric view of consciousness…

… i find it easy to accept panpsychism… experience is noticing, in some way, surroundings… all matter experiences its proximity to other matter… consciousness is simply being aware…

… the arguments against consciousness as a byproduct of evolution seem a little confused, groping around… the emergence of memory and the ability to anticipate and plan is what i think most evolutionists are talking about when they talk about the evolution of consciousness… a gradual awakening of experience into the ability to remember and predict, remember and teach… i am not sure this is the same as consciousness though i am also not sure it can be separated from consciousness…

… i remember reading that genes cary “memory” of predatory threats which cause an animal to respond even if they have never experienced the predator before… this DNA memory takes up to 10K years to dissipate once the predator is no longer in the environment…

… Harris confesses that she does not full on embrace panpsychism but also believes it deserves a place at the conversation table… she outlines the difficulty that humans have in conceiving of consciousness as something more simple and rudimentary than the complex thought processes they are capable of… it is a human-centric bias…

… perhaps we need a scale of awareness from subatomic particles to human brains and beyond (we haven’t gotten at all to the idea that individual higher level consciousnesses may add up collectively to something more complex and powerful still)… maybe that will be in a coming chapter…

… i keep thinking about Ken Wilber’s book, Sex, Ecology and Spirituality… i think also of Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man… both point to levels of complexity that will be composed of the individual units of thought gathered together in interconnected activity… a new level of consciousness and exchange… de Chardin, by the way, is buried a few miles from where i sit making these notes…

Annaka Harris, Conscious, Chapter 5, Who Are We?

… writing about where the sense of self is located (something called the default mode network) and how the disillusion of self when taking mind altering drugs indicates that the sense of self and consciousness are not one in the same1

… a passage recounting the experience of death of a loved one from heart disease causes me to pause… it is what is happening to my father… it tells me what to expect… in this case, it is hard to say that i love him or he loves me… we’ve been at odds for so long… we are both angry… it is, i believe, mom that holds us together… barely…

… Ms. Harris reviews some of the scientific studies that have broken down the notion that there is free will and that there is something definitive that constitutes the “I” experience we all have… in particular the split brain studies of Gazzaniga and Sperry at Caltech… i have read the book Who’s In Charge, written by Gazzaniga in which he describes that research and what it implies about self and conscious being… she concludes with the idea of multiple hubs (a network?) of consciousness as well as the interpenetrating consciousness of beings in close proximity to one another… this sets the stage for a discussion of panpsychism…


  1. Annaka Harris, Conscious, pp 48-9 [return]

Annaka Harris, Conscious, Chapter 4, Along for the Ride

… writes about parasitic infections as an indication that consciousness and behavior are impacted in many different ways we might consider foreign, or outside the system1… she talks specifically about Toxoplasma, a parasite that infects cats and other mammals but can only reproduce in cats… it is able to alter the brain chemistry of rats so that they will run towards, rather than away from cats… 2

… interestingly, humans can be infected and the incidence of schizophrenia is two to three times higher in individuals testing positive for Toxoplasma antibodies… she goes on to quote Natalie Angier:

When Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague administered personality tests to two groups of people, one showing immunological signs of prior Toxoplasma infection and the other not, infected men scored comparatively higher than uninfected men in traits like suspicion of authority and a propensity to break rules, while infected women ranked relatively higher than noninfected women in measures of warmth, self-assurance and chattiness.3

… two things leap out at me… that men move towards suspicion and rules breaking while women move towards warmth and chattiness, supported by increased self assurance seems to confirm male/female behavior stereotypes?… and i wonder if the white male patriarchy problem is a cat problem?…

… and now Harris returns to the Descartes “I think, therefore I am” position, except, for her it is “I think about consciousness, therefore I am conscious”4… it is hard to see it as an improvement on the original, which has been called into question by subsequent philosophers… on the other hand, i don’t think many argue that we don’t have conscious experience, just that the role of that experience is not as central to our being as we like to believe…

… after digressing on the thought of consciousness being the evidence of consciousness, she admits it’s a personal sinkhole and that we are still left with an idea of consciousness that falls well short of being the command and control entity we like to believe it is…


  1. … i wonder though, whether this isn’t evidence of too small a concept of what consciousness is and is made of… foreign (immigrant?) influences in systems have to be viewed as of the whole system… the only distinction to be made is that things would be one way without immigrant influence, another with it… [return]
  2. Annaka Harris, Conscous, pp37-38 [return]
  3. Ibid, p 39 [return]
  4. Ibid, pp 42-3 [return]

Conscious, Annaka Harris, Chapter 3, Is Consciousness Free?

… the third chapter reviews (for me) the science which tells us our conscious mind is, essentially, the last to know when we (as a whole organism) decide to do something… perception and reaction are managed at preconscious levels where action and reaction can be more efficient… current neuroscience holds that will is not “free” in the way we believe it to be… we make choices with the complete apparatus of our bodies and our choice making is accomplished by the complete system, not just that part of it manifesting as consciousness… to quote Ms. Harris…

Surprisingly, our consciousness also doesn’t appear to be involved in much of our own behavior, apart from bearing witness to it12

… there is a discussion of ethics included, the idea that people are not in “conscious” control of their actions challenges notions of holding people responsible for those actions… Ms. Harris argues society has a need to manage the behavior of individuals, even, at times, locking them up, in order to maintain general order and public safety… she offers the example of a self driving car hitting a pedestrian… society would have an interest in knowing why… malfunction of the control programming?… malfunction of the mechanical parts of the car?… or perhaps choice to kill one as opposed to many, where killing someone was not avoidable, in which case, the “choice” made by the vehicle would be commendable…

… similarly, Ms. Harris relays the idea that human beings can be separated from the idea of free will and still face necessary consequences for their actions in the interest of the safety and well being of the general public…

… it is always necessary to enter into this discussion of ethics and accountability as this is one of the main points around which resistance to the science is organized…


  1. Annaka Harris, Conscious, p 26, HarperCollins, 2019 [return]
  2. … I have come to believe the role of consciousness is to assess actions and their outcomes and plan for better outcomes in the future… what drives the planning is a survival instinct in which our whole organism seeks to enhance its chances for survival… advanced planning (where are likely to be found next week) and problem solving, (how can i kill the buffalo more efficiently and with less risk to myself) are, to me, among the main goals of consciousness and are not dependent on a conscious free will… [return]

Conscious, Annaka Harris

… i bought this book after reading a Brain Pickings post… the subject of consciousness is one of my rabbit hole topics… panpsychism is an exciting rabbit hole within the rabbit hole that i have read a number of books and articles about, including the very dense and, in lots of places (because you need to comprehend high level mathematics), incomprehensible book by Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Matter… i began reading it before the pandemic broke out… it took months to get through and i can’t claim to have fully understood it because of the aforementioned mathematical content… Russell himself says you can’t fully understand the topic if you can’t fully understand the mathematics, but he minimizes the mathematics for those who don’t…

… for a very thorough treatment of Panpsychism, see the entry in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy…

… back to Conscious, by Annaka Harris…

… i am 25 pages in and it is clear to me that in 100 pages i am going to get a truly “popular” account of the subject… the initial chapters have been a little frustrating as she presents foundational concepts almost as sufficient arguments and definitions which i know are going to be undermined by a discussion of panpsychism which is, i believe, the main target of the book…

… i did finally realized that she is setting her readers up for an “aha!” moment as the weaknesses and inconsistencies in the earlier part of the book come to a point of breaking, cue the entry of our hero, panpsychism!…

… this approach was found by reviewers on Amazon to be either annoying or successful, and i suspect it has to do with ones prior knowledge of the concepts of panpsychism… mine is, I am guessing, deep relative to the average target audience, though i am at best an advanced beginner… i know her initial development of the subject is problematic, but i believe it will turn out to be intentionally so…

… it will be interesting to see how effective the “aha” moment is when i get to it…