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The World Behind the World

Consciousness, Free Will, and the Limits of Science

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About The Book

From a Forbes 30 Under 30 scientist comes a fascinating exploration into how the brain creates our conscious experiences—potentially revolutionizing neuroscience and the future of technology—transforming the very fabric of our society.

Throughout history, two perspectives on the world have dueled in our minds: the extrinsic—that of mechanism and physics—and the intrinsic—that of feelings, thoughts, and ideas. The intrinsic perspective allows us to tell stories about our lives, to chart our anger and our lust, to understand our psychologies. The extrinsic allows us to chart the physical world, to build upon it, and to travel across it. These perspectives have never been reconciled; they almost seem to exist on different planes of thought. Only recently, due to the pioneering work of DNA-discoverer Francis Crick, have these two perspectives been conjoined.

This attempt to reconcile these perspectives is the science of consciousness, and posits that the intrinsic aspect of the world, how and what we perceive, can coexist in the extrinsic part of the world, in the realm of physics. The World Behind the World is a grand tour of the state of this science, an exploration of the point where tectonic metaphysical forces meet, often in paradoxical conclusions.

Dr. Erik Hoel lays out the evidence that nothing in the brain makes sense except in the light of a theory of consciousness. Some topics he examines include what the similarities are between our brains and black holes; where consciousness fits into physics and morality; and why it may be impossible for AI to ever become conscious, despite popular belief.

What does the science of consciousness tell us about what happens beyond brain death? Does our understanding of consciousness strengthen or weaken the case for free will? Is science itself incomplete in the way Gödel showed mathematics is? By taking us through the heated debates of the field and drawing on Hoel’s own original research to shed light on the latest theories about how the brain creates consciousness, The World Behind the World shows us that at long last, science is coming to understand the fundamental mystery of human existence.

About The Author

Julia Buntaine Hoel

Dr. Erik Hoel is one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 in science and also a New York City Emerging Writers Fellow. His writing has appeared in The AtlanticThe Baffler, and The Daily Beast, among many others, and his essays and short stories have won numerous awards, from getting first place in the Writer’s Digest Annual Fiction Award to being included as a notable essay in the 2017 Best American Essays Collection. Erik received his PhD in neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, has held a visiting scholarship at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and is now a research professor at Tufts University where he studies consciousness and emergence. Originally, he grew up in his mother’s independent bookstore, The Jabberwocky, where he worked as a teenager, and is a lifelong writer and book lover. He runs a popular Substack, The Intrinsic Perspective, and lives on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Why We Love It

“Erik Hoel makes the most complicated, most mind-bending science not only understandable but awe-inspiring. To read the book is not just a scientific adventure, but also a spiritual one.”

—Ben L., VP, Editor in Chief, on The World Behind the World

Product Details

  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster (July 25, 2023)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982159382

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Raves and Reviews

The Next Big Idea Club’s July 2023 Must-Read Book
Behavioral Scientist’s Summer Book List 2023

“Neuroscientist and fiction writer Hoel draws on history, philosophy, mathematics, and neuroscience to examine ways that consciousness has been imagined and investigated.” Kirkus Reviews

Praise for The Revelations:

“A dizzying, impressive debut . . . Fast and furious, this mind-stretching novel makes the grade.” Publishers Weekly

“Hoel’s debut is one of the year’s most ambitious novels to date, a provocative and weighty exploration of nothing short of human consciousness. . . . The novel is packed full with ideas, debates, scientific inquiry, and language that seems itself to come alive. This is a mystery novel you won’t soon forget and the announcement of a major new talent.” CrimeReads

The Revelations is written in muscular, hypnotic prose, and not unlike its main character, is ambitious and abrasive. It is bursting with ideas, ranging from Greek mythology to the dark realities of animal testing, to some of the biggest unanswered questions facing scientists today.” Brooklyn Digest

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