In his book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size Danish science journalist Tor Norretranders presents a scientifically sound and intellectually stimulating theory of conscious experience. “The user illusion” refers to a computer users idea of how the computer works based on how they interact with it. The bits and bytes are concealed by a largely metaphorical, extremely simplified, and not necessarily accurate illusion. Norretranders central thesis is that consciousness is our user illusion of ourselves. Consciousness arises after much information has been discarded. Conscious experience is a manageable distillation, essence, of our extremely rich raw experience. The User Illusion is incredibly readable in spite of its plethora of references. Norretranders pulls from innumerable sources, most notably Gödel, Libet, and Shannon. He integrates a wide array of prior research, tying together ideas from information theory, thermodynamics, physics, psychology, and philosophy to substantiate his theory; this is indeed the strongest aspect of the book.
Norretranders builds his theory of consciousness on the tenants of information theory. He makes sure the reader understands the basics before he applies them to his broader claims. The take home message is the notion of information and exformation. Exformation is discarded information. Norretrander uses the example of grocery shopping, among others. At the register the prices of the individual items are summed, it is this number, the total, that we are interested in. The sum is useful to us, it tells us how much money to take out of our wallet, the individual prices are not, they are irrelevant once we obtain the total. The author then extrapolates to consciousness, explaining that a huge amount of information must be discarded along the path from unconscious to conscious experience.
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