Out of My Head

An exceptionally witty and compelling look at the nature of consciousness […] In tackling consciousness, the full frontal assault, as often practised by philosophers and, in a different way, by neuroscientists, can only get us so far. Tim Parks’ new book is a refreshing attempt to creep up on the hard question obliquely; and to take the argument deeper into the very realm of our embodied experience than it usually goes. The result is lucid, witty and engaging: a deft philosophical juggling act providing, in an honourable tradition, more questions than answers. […] A confessed outsider to both academic philosophy and neuroscience, Parks demonstrates the truth that sometimes the outsider sees most of the game. And he has done his homework. […] Parks is not only excellent company, but a worthy debating partner. He is a delight to read.

                                                                                                        Iain McGilchrist, The Tablet

Is it possible to put some order into our thoughts about consciousness, memory, perception, and the like? Hardly a day goes by without some in-depth article wondering whether computers can be conscious, whether our universe is some kind of simulation, whether mind is a unique quality of human beings or spread out across the universe like butter on bread. Of course, most philosophers believe that our experience is locked inside our skulls, an unreliable representation of a quite different reality outside. Color, smell and sound, they tell us, occur only in our heads. Yet when neuroscientists look inside our brains to see what’s going on, they find only billions of neurons exchanging electrical impulses and releasing chemical substances.
Five years ago, quite by chance, I found myself talking to a young Italian philosopher with a quite different approach. Experience, Riccardo Manzotti claims, is nothing other than that part of the world that our bodies with their senses are able to pick up. When you see an apple the experience is the apple. There is no representation in the head.
Needless to say, I thought this quite mad. Don’t dreams obviously come from our heads? And thoughts and words. But Manzotti is persuasive and his reputation steadily growing. We became friends, we discussed the matter endlessly. He gave me a reading list that took five years to get through. And then, for fun at first, but with ever more purpose I started discussing the matter with philosophers, neuroscientists, psychiatrists and psychologists. Above all, I began to watch my experience with immense attention. And make notes and mull it over.
The result was Out of My Head. It tells the story, if you like, of a paradigm shift, how I began to move from seeing the world one way to seeing it in another. In that regard, it had to be personal, letting the reader see where I was coming from and the reasoning and the circumstances that got me to where I arrived. A journey. At the same time it seemed important to frame complex metaphysical considerations and dauntingly technical laboratory experiments in terms non-specialist readers could understand, so that they could get an idea of how much is at stake in this debate, for each of us as individuals and for society as a whole. Above all, I wanted to invite the reader to see space, time, colour and smell, sounds and sensations in an entirely new way, with the hope, that the world might feel more real after reading it. Or at least more interesting.


Quotes from reviews

Consciousness is weighty philosophical and scientific ground, yet Parks plots a chatty, accessible path through impenetrable academic papers and conferences on his quest to understand more about being human. So chatty, in fact, he often has conversations with himself, making Parks an even more likable guide to these lofty concepts … A thoughtful quest to understand consciousness.       The Observer

He is a terrific ambassador for curiosity, and greets each step in his intellectual journey with dogged insistence.                                                                                         The Irish Times

Parks writes well enough to appeal to the layman and the mind boffin alike. Out of My Head is pleasurably nutty, self-regarding and at times quite hilarious.                Evening Standard