Waking, Dreaming, Being

Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy

Evan Thompson. Foreword by Stephen Batchelor

Columbia University Press

Waking, Dreaming, Being

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Waking, Dreaming, Being

Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy

Evan Thompson. Foreword by Stephen Batchelor

Columbia University Press

A renowned philosopher of the mind, also known for his groundbreaking work on Buddhism and cognitive science, Evan Thompson combines the latest neuroscience research on sleep, dreaming, and meditation with Indian and Western philosophy of mind, casting new light on the self and its relation to the brain.

Thompson shows how the self is a changing process, not a static thing. When we are awake we identify with our body, but if we let our mind wander or daydream, we project a mentally imagined self into the remembered past or anticipated future. As we fall asleep, the impression of being a bounded self distinct from the world dissolves, but the self reappears in the dream state. If we have a lucid dream, we no longer identify only with the self within the dream. Our sense of self now includes our dreaming self, the "I" as dreamer. Finally, as we meditate—either in the waking state or in a lucid dream—we can observe whatever images or thoughts arise and how we tend to identify with them as "me." We can also experience sheer awareness itself, distinct from the changing contents that make up our image of the self.

Contemplative traditions say that we can learn to let go of the self, so that when we die we can witness its dissolution with equanimity. Thompson weaves together neuroscience, philosophy, and personal narrative to depict these transformations, adding uncommon depth to life's profound questions. Contemplative experience comes to illuminate scientific findings, and scientific evidence enriches the vast knowledge acquired by contemplatives.

In a game-changing book that is both an intellectual tour de force and the courageous statement of a life's ideal, Thompson brilliantly demonstrates how Indian philosophical thought can join forces with the neurosciences to create a new science of the conscious mind. A must-read for anyone who believes that the future of philosophy is crosscultural.

Jonardon Ganeri, University of Sussex and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Lively, engaging, and accessible, Waking, Dreaming, Being makes clear the relevance and relationship of contemplative neuroscience and neurophenomenology to core questions in the philosophy of mind.

Alfred W. Kaszniak, Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, University of Arizona

Evan Thompson has been at the forefront of the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science for the past two decades, and his technical competence extends to Asian philosophy as well. Waking, Dreaming, Being ventures down paths that many 'serious scholars' fear to tread, dealing not only with traditional epistemological puzzles posed by dreaming and dreamless sleep but also with near-death experiences and other extraordinary states. Thompson covers a tremendous amount of ground in this volume, and his analysis is informed by an interdisciplinary breadth that is second to none.

Robert H. Sharf, director of the Center for Buddhist Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Waking, Dreaming, Being is the kind of sophisticated, yet still extremely incredibly accessible, treatment of consciousness we have been waiting for. Just what does it mean to be human, to have this range of experience, and what are various ways we can use, indeed must use, to investigate this? This book pushes us to think beyond our entrenched conceptual boundaries, not with vague arguments or wishful thinking but with equal doses of logical rigor and phenomenological empathy.

William S. Waldron, Middlebury College

Evan Thompson, a philosopher with a deep knowledge of Indo-Tibetan contemplative traditions and modern neuroscience, has written a brilliant and comprehensive book on the nature of awareness and the self. Waking, Dreaming, Being is a dazzling synthesis. Thompson takes on some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of mind and addresses them with remarkable creativity and clarity. This volume is a must read for any serious student of the mind and consciousness.

Richard J. Davidson, New York Times-bestselling coauthor of The Emotional Life of Your Brain

Drawing on multiple sources of knowledge, all tested by first-person experience and critical analysis, Thompson presents an illuminating neurophenomenological account of what it's like to be a conscious human being.

Stephen LaBerge, author of Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming

Waking, Dreaming, Being powerfully demonstrates how bringing cognitive science, philosophy, and Buddhism into a critical engagement can open innovative ways of exploring the 'hard problem' of consciousness. The blending of philosophical rigor and scientific knowledge with meditative insights, with the author's own remarkable life as the larger background, makes the book a real joy to read. This book will be an invaluable help to anyone who is interested in knowing how the fundamental questions of self, consciousness, and human existence can be explored in a way that combines the best of both East and West.

Thupten Jinpa, author of Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy

With extensive training in Buddhism, brain science, and phenomenology, Evan Thompson is uniquely positioned to reveal how different perspectives on the mind can be mutually illuminating. He begins with the Buddhist insight that there are many forms of consciousness--far more than traditionally recognized in the West--and he shows that these can be associated with deferent brain processes. The result is a richly original and integrated account of human mental life. Whether you are a curious newcomer or a seasoned expert, you have much to learn from this stunning synthesis of ancient wisdom and cutting-edge science.

Jesse Prinz, author of The Conscious Brain and Beyond Human Nature

[an] excellent book.

New York Times Book Review

Extraordinary and exciting claims... beautiful ideas.

Cosmos and Culture

Contemplative and groundbreaking, Waking, Dreaming, Being is a welcome addition to college library philosophy shelves.

Midwest Book Review

Waking, Dreaming, Being is an exceptional and intriguing contribution to the exploration of consciousness as a multidimensional self and makes a convincing argument for the usefulness of philosophical, experiential, and scientific approaches to understanding consciousness.

Marissa Krimsky, Buddhadharma

A rich, thought-provoking and poetic tour of a wide variety of phenomena of consciousness...

Constructivist Foundations

A magnificent tome.

Big Think

This is a ground-breaking exploration of conciousness and the self as they occur across the states of waking, falling asleep, dreaming, lucid dreaming, deep dreamless sleep, out-of-body experiences and dying. Evan Thompson's rich, beautifully written book interweaves lucid prose with relevant personal anecdotes, bringing the latest neuroscience together with ancient contemplative wisdom to offer valuable insightr into the nature of conciousness and the self.

Miri Albahari, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

This remarkable book addresses deep philosophical questions from a unique perspective.


Waking Dreaming Being will soon be considered a landmark and a tipping point in consciousness investigations.Journal of Mind and Behavior

Journal of Mind and Behavior

A lucid and comprehensive account of the self as a subject of experience and agent of action.

George T. Hole, Philosophical Practice

A fine book by an extraordinary author.

Journal of Consciousness Studies
Foreword by Stephen Batchelor
Prologue: The Dalai Lama's Conjecture
1. Seeing: What Is Consciousness?
2. Waking: How Do We Perceive?
3. Being: What Is Pure Awareness?
4. Dreaming: Who Am I?
5. Witnessing: Is This a Dream?
6. Imagining: Are We Real?
7. Floating: Where Am I?
8. Sleeping: Are We Conscious in Deep Sleep?
9. Dying: What Happens When We Die?
10. Knowing: Is the Self an Illusion?
Web Features:

Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2015

About the Author

Evan Thompson is professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He is the author of Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind and Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception; coauthor of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience; and coeditor of Self, No Self? Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions and The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness.