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83 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, with one qualification, November 23, 2004
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This review is from: Consciousness: An Introduction (Paperback)
This book is a must-buy for the student or layman interested in consciousness. Blackmore guides the reader on an exhilarating crashcourse through all the issues relevant to the problem of consciousness, from Descartes to the thought of contemporary scientists and philosophers.

This book has a number of unique strengths. Most importantly, Blackmore has managed to distill to their essences the various features of what is often a baffling subject, and writes in clear, lively prose. This alone would justify the book's purchase.

Another strength is her focus not just on the speculative, but on the hard science relevant to consciousness. She frequently makes reference to (and explains) experiments illuminating the characteristics and activities of the mind/brain.

Blackmore also does a good job at introducing prominent thinkers in the area of consciousness by including photos, mini-bios, and explaining their work and why it is important.

Blackmore seems very clever, and overall is quite fair in her assessment of the competing strands of thought within this field. There is only one peculiarity (whether it is a fault or not depends on perspective) that concerns me: almost every discussion of any aspect of consciousness seems to include, and often concludes with, entirely uncritical descriptions of what Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett thinks about the issue. This is odd, because virtually everyone else's ideas are subjected to tough questioning by Blackmore. As if to punctuate this seemingly uncritical embrace of Dennett, Blackmore even uses photos of - guess who? - Daniel Dennett to construct a montage demonstrating blind spots (see page 82).

As a kind of prima facie indicator of whether there was indeed a dramatically lopsided reliance on, or deference to, Dennett, I turned to the index to count up the number of pages in which various scientists and philosophers were referred to or discussed in the book. To be generous, I disregarded thinkers mentioned only in passing, and focused on eleven prominent names (Chalmers, Churchland, Dawkins, Damasio, etc.). The average number of index pages for each thinker was fourteen, while the total number of pages for Dennett was....71! No one else even comes close to half the citations.

Despite the real achievements of this book, Blackmore's handling of Dennett might be of concern to some readers, who, like I have, have gotten the sense that at this point, it is far too early for the construction and reinforcement of any orthodoxy or dogma; while many theories have been proposed, we all still seem to be feeling about largely in the dark vis-à-vis this most mysterious of fields.

However, as is again made clear in quotations from him in the book, Dennett seems (sometimes gleefully) predisposed to dogmatic, Cardinal Ratzinger-like pronouncements about almost every aspect of this science (note, for example, the telling title of his 1991 book, "Consciousness Explained" [sigh]). He often seems to advance his arguments using rhetorical features that place them stylistically in with arguments made by people like Jimmy Swaggart and Pat Robertson. (Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of a commitment to any fundamentalist, absolutist world-explaining ideology [whether theist or atheist, like Dennett embraces]; but since, as I mentioned, this is only the dawn of consciousness studies, who knows? Perhaps future research will finally reveal whether the relentless arrogance and dogmatism of Dawkins and Dennett and Swaggart and Robertson are indeed attributable to identical neurological processes in the brain, showing all four humans to be of the same unique type, no matter how much they might all loathe being associated with each other; and depending on how the free will debate turns out, we might even be able to find out whether any of them can even be held accountable for the general intolerability of their pedadogical styles).

This is not to say that Dennett is wrong about everything; he may turn out to be right about everything. All I mean to say is that, given the current less-than-airtight evidence for Dennett's ideas, and a modus operandi that suggests he may not exactly be open-minded, Blackmore's attachment to Dennett ought to be considered by readers. If we buy a book called "Economics: An Introduction", and we see that of all the economic authorities cited, Karl Marx has over five times the average amount of citations and is the only one treated uncritically, we would have every reason to suspect that possibly a prior commitment by the author has inhibited her ability, or even desire, to evaluate or present Marx's ideas sans bias, or even sans what psychologist Daniel Goleman calls mental lacunae.

If, as seems indisputable, Blackmore thinks Dennett is closer to the truth on everything than everyone else, can we see the requisite hard evidence that he is? And if this evidence does not exist yet, should Blackmore's endorsement of Dennett not just be made explicit so we can take that into consideration as we try to form our own conclusions about things?

In fairness, I should say that Dennett, for better or for worse, is a leading voice in consciousness studies, so one might as well become familiar with his ideas (I won't spoil the surprise).

Despite the Dennett issue (Blackmore and Dennett might argue "because" of it), the truth is that this book is still by far the best that I know of for introducing the emerging science of consciousness. Blackmore might be twitterpated with the chest-thumping Dennett, but she's very smart and a very good writer, and covers pretty much all the bases that need to be covered in an intelligible way. That's why I'm giving this book five stars.

Good luck
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 25, 2007 10:32:40 PM PDT
Epops says:
Very helpful review. I'm glad you addressed the Dennett issue. In my opinion, Dennett argues like a Stalinist, not the mark of a self-confident mind. But maybe Blackmore redeems him, so I will give her a chance, based on your review.

epops

Posted on Feb 13, 2008 5:31:02 AM PST
two in tents says:
A lot of ad hominem here about Dennett.You might want to try to refute his arguments -- the difficulty of doing so has something to do with why he is held in such high regard, not just by Blackmore but by most philosophers of mind. And it's not just his philosophical arguments, but his predictions that have been borne out experimentally, such as concerning change blindness. Dennett is the philosopher of mind most plugged into cognitive research. Philosophers of mind like Chalmers and Fodor come from a tradition in which empirical facts are considered irrelevant to philosophy, despite a history of philosophical conundrums being sliced like the Gordian knot by empirical advances that revealed philosophical misconceptions (e.g. "synthetic necessary truths" as a proposed solution to why nothing is both red and green all over, a nut cracked by the opponent process theory of visual perception, not philosophy).

Posted on Aug 1, 2010 11:54:44 PM PDT
Great review. Gotta ask the question: Is Blackmore somehow affiliated with Dennett beyond being a fellow scholar? Certainly, affilations of a different kind (monetary, conjugal, social) can diminish even-handedness.

Posted on Aug 23, 2010 2:06:10 AM PDT
Loved your review and your sense of humour.

Posted on Dec 17, 2010 10:58:54 AM PST
C. Wenger says:
Terrific, witty review. One of the best I've seen on Amazon. (Hmm--how much of a compliment is that? At any rate, it's meant to be complimentary.) Thanks!

Posted on Jan 8, 2012 6:30:14 AM PST
Great review! I was completely twitterpated by it!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 26, 2012 3:27:43 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 26, 2012 3:33:02 PM PST
dcleve says:
Excelllent review. Yes Blackmore is clearly a disciple of Dennett.

To 2 in tents:

Dennett is an outstanding thinker, and his multiple drafts concept is a major conceptual breakthrough. But delusionism is refuted logically (who or what is deluded, or does the deluding? Its central tenent is self contradictory), and empirically (predicts that nothing ever can enter consciousness, but timing studies show this is not true, and it rejects the sole primary experience we have). For a more complete refutation see my review of A Very Short Introduciton to Consciousness. http://www.amazon.com/review/R1C1TJFIWBZ8ZQ
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