Sentience The Invention of Consciousness

Nicholas Humphrey

Sentience The Invention of Consciousness

Nicholas Humphrey






19 Jan 2023




$39.95 AUD

$43.99 NZD

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We feel therefore we are. Conscious sensations ground our sense of self. They are essential 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? To answer these questions we need a scientific understanding of consciousness: what it is and why it has evolved. Nicholas Humphrey has been researching these issues for fifty years. In this extraordinary book, weaving together intellectual adventure, cutting-edge science, and his own breakthrough experiences, he tells the story of his quest to uncover the evolutionary history of consciousness: from his discovery of blindsight after brain damage in monkeys, to hanging out with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, to becoming a leading philosopher of mind. Out of this, he has come up with an explanation of conscious feeling - 'phenomenal consciousness' - that he presents here in full for the first time. Building on this theory of how phenomenal consciousness is generated in the human brain, he turns to the morally crucial question of whether it exists in non-human creatures. His conclusions, on the evidence as it stands, are radical. Contrary to both popular and much scientific opinion, he argues that phenomenal consciousness is a relatively recent evolutionary innovation, present only in warm-blooded creatures, mammals and birds. Invertebrates, such as octopuses and bees, for all their intelligence, are in this respect unfeeling zombies. And for now, but not necessarily for ever, so are man-made machines.


1: Sentience and Consciousness
2: Foothills
3: Phosphenes: The Touch of Light
4: Blythe Spirits
5: What the Frog's Eye Tells the Monkey's Brain
6: Blindsight
7: Sight Unseen
8: Red Sky at Night
9: Nature's Psychologists
10: On the Track of Sensations
11: Evolving Sentience
12: The Road Taken
13: The Phenomenal Self
14: Theoretical Misprisions
15: Coming to Be
16: Devising a Test
17: Panpsychism
18:  Sentience All the Way Down?
19: Mapping the Landscape
20: Getting Warmer
21: Testing, Testing
22: Qualiaphilia
23: The Self in Action
24: Taking Stock
25: Machina ex Deo
26: Closer to the Truth
References and Notes


Nicholas Humphrey , Emeritus Professor of Psychology, London School of Economics

Nicholas Humphrey is a theoretical psychologist based in Cambridge, who studies the evolution of intelligence and consciousness. His interests are wide-ranging. He was the first to demonstrate the existence of 'blindsight' after brain damage in monkeys, did research on mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey in Rwanda, proposed the celebrated theory of the 'social function of intellect' and has investigated the evolutionary background of religion, art, healing, death-awareness, and suicide. His honours 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.