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Paperback | $16.95 Trade | £11.95 | ISBN: 9780262525220 | 240 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 6 b&w illus.| September 2013

Of Related Interest


Do you dream in color? If you answer Yes, how can you be sure? Before you recount your vivid memory of a dream featuring all the colors of the rainbow, consider that in the 1950s, researchers found that most people reported dreaming in black and white. In the 1960s—when most movies were in color and more people had color television sets—the vast majority of reported dreams contained color. The most likely explanation for this, according to philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel, is not that exposure to black-and-white media made people misremember their dreams. It is that we simply don’t know whether or not we dream in color. In Perplexities of Consciousness, Schwitzgebel examines various aspects of inner life—dreams, mental imagery, emotions, and other subjective phenomena—and argues that we know very little about our stream of conscious experience. In fact, he contends, we are prone to gross error about our ongoing emotional, visual, and cognitive experiences.

Western philosophical tradition is nearly unanimous on the accuracy of our knowledge or current conscious experience. Schwitzgebel is skeptical. Drawing broadly from historical and recent philosophy and psychology to examine such topics as visual perspective, human echolocation (about which he is doubtful), and the unreliability of introspection even about emotional states (do we really enjoy Christmas? a family dinner?), he finds us singularly inept in our judgments about conscious experience.

About the Author

Eric Schwitzgebel is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine.

Table of Contents

  • Perplexities of Consciousness
  • Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology
  • Kim Sterelny and Robert A. Wilson, Series Editors
  • Humanity’s End: Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement,
  • Nicholas Agar, 2010
  • Color Ontology and Color Science,
  • Jonathan Cohen and Mohan Matthen, editors, 2010
  • The Extended Mind,
  • Richard Menary, editor, 2010
  • The Native Mind and the Cultural Construction of Nature,
  • Scott Atran and Douglas Medin, 2008
  • Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic,
  • Russell T. Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel, 2007
  • Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology,
  • Robert C. Richardson, 2007
  • The Evolution of Morality,
  • Richard Joyce, 2006
  • Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life,
  • Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb, 2005
  • Molecular Models of Life: Philosophical Papers on Molecular Biology,
  • Sahotra Sarkar, 2005
  • The Mind Incarnate,
  • Lawrence A. Shapiro, 2004
  • Organisms and Artifacts: Design in Nature and Elsewhere,
  • Tim Lewens, 2004
  • Seeing and Visualizing: It’s Not What You Think,
  • Zenon W. Pylyshyn, 2003
  • Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered,
  • Bruce H. Weber and David J. Depew, editors, 2003
  • The New Phrenology: The Limits of Localizing Cognitive Processes in the Brain,
  • William R. Uttal, 2001
  • Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution,
  • Susan Oyama, Paul E. Griffiths, and Russell D. Gray, editors, 2001
  • Coherence in Thought and Action,
  • Paul Thagard, 2000
  • Perplexities of Consciousness
  • Eric Schwitzgebel
  • A Bradford Book
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • (c) 2011
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about quantity discounts, email
  • Set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Schwitzgebel, Eric.
  • Perplexities of consciousness / Eric Schwitzgebel.
  •  p. cm.
  • “A Bradford book.”
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01490-8 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Consciousness. 2. Philosophy of mind. I. Title.
  • B808.9.S39 2011
  • 126—dc22
  • 2010015780
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • to Pauline
  • Preface
  • ix
  • 1 Recoloring the Dreamworld
  • 1
  • 2 Do Things Look Flat?
  • 17
  • 3 Galton’s Other Folly
  • 35
  • 4 Human Echolocation
  • 57
  • 5 Titchener’s Introspective Training Manual
  • 71
  • 6 Do You Have Constant Tactile Experience of Your Feet in Your Shoes? And Some Pessimistic Thoughts about Theories of Consciousness
  • 91
  • 7 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection
  • 117
  • 8 When Your Eyes Are Closed, What Do You See?
  • 139
  • Notes
  • 161
  • References
  • 187
  • Index
  • 219


“I highly recommend to take a good time with this book. Its reading is worthy for all people interested in psychology, philosophy of mind, cognitive sciences and consciousness studies.” — David Fajardo-Chica, Metapsychology

“ [A]n important challenge to a traditional, and intuitive, view of the epistemic efficacy of introspection, and to the prospects for a successful science of consciousness and mind; it merits the attention of anyone interested in these issues.” — Kevin Morris, Philosophy in Review