"A multidisciplinary examination of the study of consciousness, told through the vehicle of a story."
How does one explain consciousness?
When it comes to explaining 'what' consciousness is, we found there are really only two essential arguments you could ever make. Either that consciousness emerges out of complex systems, like brains, or that consciousness is somehow fundamental. In the book, we carefully walk the reader through both scenarios, ultimately landing upon the theory that makes the most predictions.
What does a good theory of consciousness look like?
A good theory of consciousness is one that hits all five domains of explanation: physical, mental, environmental, cosmological, and metaphysical. If you're reading a book on consciousness that doesn't hit all five points, we would argue, it's not a full theory.
Why is it called "A Psychonautical Odyssey"?
By comparing normal states of consciousness against non-ordinary states of consciousness, like runner's high, flow states, trance states, psychedelic states and near-death experiences, we come to understand what the word 'baseline' even means. Basically, by studying transformations in consciousness we start to intuit what exactly is being transformed, and how best to explain it.
Can you tell us how you plan to explain one of the most complex questions humanity's ever faced?
Our theory of consciousness takes its roots in embodied cognition. An idea which takes the evolution of bodies—and it's interactions with the environment—very seriously. Instead of seeing bodies as somehow tangential to explaining what the mind is, embodied cognition sees the body as vitally important. In other words, we didn't evolve brains so that one day we might be able to read books, we evolved them so that we could produce complex and adaptable movements through space. In the book, we argue that our ability to think (to decide between two courses of action) came out of our ability to move and to think about moving. So, to our eyes, movement is seen as paramount to understanding the inner-workings of our own mind. Then, once we start to reinterpret all higher order cognitive processes like math, language, and theory of mind, as being just complex forms of movement, we're able to lay the foundation for what consciousness really is.
"Consciousness is what mediates between chaos and order."
"Consciousness in a Nutshell by Jay Nelson and Lindy Nelson is a powerful creative nonfiction book in the guise of a memoir. It delves deep into psychonautical explorations that address consciousness and what it means to be alive. It is one of those rare, brilliant books that use the technique and literary elements of poets, playwrights, and fiction writers to present a nonfiction narrative. Two young neuropsychopharmacologists, James and Ava, are on the brink of publishing a major breakthrough to do with understanding the subject of consciousness. But Ava disappears, and James finds himself trapped in a kind of place that no one would wish even upon their worst enemy. The narrative is divided into four parts where everything is constructed with momentum in mind, particularly about the brain, from its characteristics to the hard problem of consciousness.
You don’t have to be an expert in multimodal conversations that span different fields in the arts and sciences to enjoy Consciousness in a Nutshell. While the perspective of the narrative shifts from time to time, James remains as the faithful narrator, who diligently walks you through the story of his research and how he came to understand the subject of consciousness. If Umberto Eco is considered the most important representative of semiotics, Jay Nelson and Lindy Nelson may well become the same for psychonautical studies. Using their creativity and intelligence, their collaboration in this work could be labeled as a kind of modernist enlightenment in the fusion of psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and evolutionary biology. It’s a treasure house of information written in a non-intimidating style that allows any layman to understand the nature and being of consciousness from its physical, neural, cognitive, and representational aspects. Highly recommended."