The River of Consciousness

The River of Consciousness

Knopf, 2017 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Scientific
  • Concrete Examples
  • Eloquent


Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks explores mind-bending concepts with his usual intellectual rigor, probing curiosity and crystaline prose. He explains that visual perception seems continuous, but is actually a series of separate, distinct moments that the mind blends into a flow. Sack’s 10 essays – of which this review highlights four – focus on consciousness, including memory, perception and creativity. Amiable and skilled, Sacks provides a thoughtful feast true to his legacy as a poetic presenter of scientific truths.

Consciousness constructs a continuous perception of reality from a discontinuous series of “perceptual moments.” 

The late Dr. Oliver Sacks details how people experience consciousness as a continuous phenomenon, an unbroken flow, which he compares to a river. Sacks cites philosopher William James, who, in his Principles of Psychology, referred to awareness as “the stream of consciousness.” However, James wondered if that continuity might be an illusion.

He referred to fellow philosopher David Hume’s 18th-century conjecture that the mind perceives time as a series of separate moments it splices together into the subjective experience of a continuous flow. Writing in 1890, James compared Hume’s notion to the zoetrope – a precursor of the movie projector – which produces an illusion of movement by rapidly showing a series of still images.

About the Author

Physician Oliver Sacks was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine and a visiting professor at the University of Warwick. His bestseller include Awakenings, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

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