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Sentience: The Invention of Consciousness

Sentience: The Invention of Consciousness

Current price: $24.95
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2024
The MIT Press
Available for Preorder


The story of a quest to uncover the evolutionary history of consciousness from a leading theoretical psychologist.

We feel, therefore we are. Conscious sensations ground our sense of self. They are crucial to our idea of ourselves as psychic beings: present, existent, and mattering. But is it only humans who feel this way? Do other animals? Will future machines? Weaving together intellectual adventure and cutting-edge science, Nicholas Humphrey describes in Sentience his quest for answers: from his discovery of blindsight in monkeys and his pioneering work on social intelligence to breakthroughs in the philosophy of mind.

The goal is to solve the hard problem: to explain the wondrous, eerie fact of “phenomenal consciousness”—the redness of a poppy, the sweetness of honey, the pain of a bee sting. What does this magical dimension of experience amount to? What is it for? And why has it evolved? Humphrey presents here his new solution. He proposes that phenomenal consciousness, far from being primitive, is a relatively late and sophisticated evolutionary development. The implications for the existence of sentience in nonhuman animals are startling and provocative.

About the Author

Nicholas Humphrey, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the London School of Economics, is a theoretical psychologist based in Cambridge, who studies the evolution of intelligence and consciousness. He was the first to demonstrate the existence of “blindsight” in monkeys. He has also studied mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey in Rwanda, proposed the celebrated theory of the “social function of intellect,” and investigated the evolutionary background of religion, art, healing, death-awareness and suicide. His honors include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, the Pufendorf Medal, and the International Mind and Brain Prize. His most recent books are Seeing Red and Soul Dust.