• Being You

  • A New Science of Consciousness
  • By: Anil Seth
  • Narrated by: Anil Seth
  • Length: 9 hrs and 46 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (259 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

International Best Seller

"Being You is an exhilarating book: a vast-ranging, phenomenal achievement that will undoubtedly become a seminal text." (The Guardian)

Anil Seth's quest to understand the biological basis of conscious experience is one of the most exciting contributions to 21st-century science.

What does it mean to “be you” - that is, to have a specific, conscious experience of the world around you and yourself within it? There may be no more elusive or fascinating question. Historically, humanity has considered the nature of consciousness to be a primarily spiritual or philosophical inquiry, but scientific research is now mapping out compelling biological theories and explanations for consciousness and selfhood. 

Now, internationally renowned neuroscience professor, researcher, and author Anil Seth is offers a window into our consciousness in Being You: A New Science of Consciousness. Anil Seth is both a leading expert on the neuroscience of consciousness and one of most prominent spokespeople for this relatively new field of science. His radical argument is that we do not perceive the world as it objectively is, but rather that we are prediction machines, constantly inventing our world and correcting our mistakes by the microsecond, and that we can now observe the biological mechanisms in the brain that accomplish this process of consciousness.

Seth has been interviewed for documentaries aired on the BBC, Netflix, and Amazon and podcasts by Sam Harris, Russell Brand, and Chris Anderson, and his 2017 TED Talk on the topic has been viewed over 11 million times, a testament to his uncanny ability to make unimaginably complex science accessible and entertaining.

This audiobook includes a downloadable PDF of charts and illustrations from the book.

Cover photograph of iris courtesy of Eyemazy.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 Anil Seth (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“Seth makes a convincing case that perception masquerades as conscious reality.... Fluent and accessible.” (Financial Times)

“Drawing on philosophy, biology, cognitive science, neuroscience and artificial intelligence, he argues that our brains are prediction machines that constantly invent our world and then correct our mistakes, so that our sense of self derives from our body.” (Nature)

“Imaginative and compelling....” (Scientific American)

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Not engaging, nothing new

I am a big fan of books on the brain and consciousness. I was really looking forward to an update on the relevant science. However, I didn't find much new in this book, and I found it so boring I couldn't make it through. (Perhaps the good stuff came later).

Here are better books on the same subjects:
- On the brain as a prediction engine: Jeff Hawkins, On intelligence. Don't let the 2005 publication date dissuade you. The book remains highly relevant.
- On different levels of consciousness, and the biosignatures of consciousness: Stanislas Dehaene, Consciousness and the Brain. While Seth adds some signatures that he himself has researched, Dehaene gives a much more comprehensive survey of current progress.
- On the various theories of consciousness: Anika Harris, Consciousness.

15 people found this helpful

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Broad Multi-Disciplinary Overview of Consciousness

Anil Seth's comprehensive review of consciousness science and theory is an excellent overview of the tumultuous and widely divergent approaches to understanding consciousness. Seth touches all the bases and reviews most of the well known experiments in the field (Libbett, etc.) and adds a few ideas of his own. The author gets a good deal right and some things wrong but on balance I highly recommend his thoughtful discussion. Seth narrates the book himself and does it well

As for his ideas, Seth is a physicalist and believes in an objective reality that can never be apprehended but can be approached by scientific investigation. He believes consciousness itself is a "controlled hallucination" (Seth's own pet term which he promotes as a signature catch phrase in all his talks as well as throughout the book). I don't find this a useful explanatory term. A better one might be that our perceptions are subjective constructions. We each create our own self-interested experience of reality.

Seth writes that the purpose of consciousness is survival. This falls back on the old shibboleth of evolutionary biology (survival). In his view consciousness is a controlled hallucination used by the self for the purpose of survival. This isn't precise enough. We use consciousness for everything we do, not just survival. Mostly it we use it to navigate the world and to determine what we want and how to get it. Only a tiny part of conscious effort involves survival. All of it involves self-interest which is a much better descriptor.

Seth correctly argues that intelligence and consciousness are not synonymous in order to demonstrate that machine intelligence is not and probably cannot be made to be conscious. And he is right in being skeptical of general artificial intelligence which may never be possible despite all the hype. However, he misses the point that any intelligent living being must be conscious even though an intelligent machine need not be.

Seth also correctly dismisses the nonsensical concept of "philosophical zombies" as inconceivable, thus disposing of a silly and irrelevant idea that has longed confused philosophical discussions of consciousness. However, he adopts a somewhat confused idea of the self as an ever-changing internal perception of each person's identity which is itself part of the "controlled hallucination" of consciousness. A more useful concept would be to treat the self as the whole organism. That is after all what consciousness is interested in preserving.

Seth also is obviously right in saying that all mammals are conscious but is hesitant to say that all living organisms are conscious. He is too cautious here. We know that insects and bacteria clearly act and react to stimuli in their own self-interested ways. Just try catching a fly in the palm of your hand. It will outwit you 95% of the time. Living beings must either be conscious or they are just mechanisms (in other words philosophical zombies) an idea that seems absurd and anachronistic on its face.

In summary, Seth gets a lot of things right that many other writers get wrong. But he still holds onto some rather unclear ideas regarding the self as an internal changeable identity that is itself a perception of the conscious mind. There is no reason to look for an internal self when consciousness is embodied and includes the whole organism. The concept of an internal self that excludes the body (e.g., similar to the ancient discredited concept of a soul) simply makes no sense.

The book's biggest self-contradiction is perhaps unavoidable and comes from Seth's assertion that all our perceptions are constructed and controlled hallucinations but that we can nevertheless get closer to the objective reality we can never apprehend through science. If everything we see is a hallucination, that can't be the case because we can never know whether we are getting closer or farther away from objective reality which something that will always be inaccessible to us. The most we can do is achieve a scientific consensus about how we think things work. And that should more than enough.

11 people found this helpful

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I understand me - a bit more

What a great book, nicely done. I’m adding this to my list of must read books. As a man, I think reading this book, Iron John, and Mans Search for Meaning (all excellent Audible reads) is like a suit of Armor for navigating life. Highly recommended.

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disappointed

this book takes forever to get nowhere. it takes a step forward, then sideways, then backwards, then just kinda stops. it has a few moments where it shines bright but quickly fades back into it's usual dull dim glow. i learned absolutely nothing new about consciousness from this book, nor did i have any insights on old ideas. regret buying, couldn't at all recommend it. disappointed.

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Not as Approachable as the TED Talk

After a compelling "Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality" TED talk in 2017, I was excited to dig in to the details and the rest of the story. Rather than diving in to the story from the point of the TED talk, Being You starts with the philosophical basis for the hard problem, and real problem of Consciousness.

It took a while for me to get comfortable with the background, and the vocabulary, but ultimately this book follows through on the promise of the topic of consciousness and highlights some of the profound ramifications of these theories. By destructing "consciousness" into it's components and tossing out the superfluous, this is an important book providing some framework for the inevitable path forward in multiple domains of science, religion, and philosophy.

1 person found this helpful

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One of the only useful writings on consciousness

this is easily one of the most interesting, useful, and thoughtful books on the topic of consciousness. I highly recommend it.

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The best book on consciousness

I have been studying the science of consciousness for decades. This book has it all.

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A must read for those interested in consciousness.

Not just for scientists and not just for contemplatives, Seth‘s new science of consciousness is for everyone interested in consciousness. After teaching the philosophy and science of consciousness with a colleague, I found this to be perhaps the most enlightening source of information from the perspective of science. The other text we used was waking, dreaming, being… By Evan Thompson. Together, the two books offer all there is to know, which may never be enough, about the phenomenon of consciousness.

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BEST BOOK of 2021

Fascinating, eye-opening, remarkable, captivating, outstanding! Anil delivered and went way beyond any expectation. I already know that I will be talking about this book to everybody as I always do when I come across a great, wondrous read. I also know that I will be re-reading this many times in the future. Required reading for all. Topshelf.

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Excellent Book on Consciousness

Seth is as wonderful a narrator as he is a scientist. I love reading about the subject of consciousness, and I especially love, as a layperson, an author writing about complicated topic who can lay things out in ways I understand.

Really good read - and listen!