- Series: Representation and Mind series
- Paperback: 430 pages
- Publisher: A Bradford Book; 1 edition (February 6, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262540908
- ISBN-13: 978-0262540902
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,100,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds (Representation and Mind) 1st Edition
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One of the movers and shakers in the rapidly converging fields of cognitive science, philosophy of the mind, and cognitive ethology, Daniel C. Dennett is also one of the most popular and engaging expositors of science writing of the 1990s. The essays in Brainchildren will therefore be of interest not only to specialists but to the general reader as well. It is especially convenient to have these essays collected in one volume, as most of them appeared originally in relatively inaccessible publications.
Much of Brainchildren defends and expands views that Dennett advanced elsewhere, particularly in his 1991 magnum opus, Consciousness Explained. The most noteworthy of these is the essay "Real Patterns," in which he locates his "mildly realistic" view of the ontology of beliefs (and other mental items) in relation to the views of Jerry Fodor, Donald Davidson, Richard Rorty, and Paul Churchland. Dennett comments, quite correctly, that "Real Patterns" is utterly central to his thinking; nobody interested in his work should neglect it. Less central but more controversial is "Speaking for Our Selves," coauthored with the psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, which argues that Dennett's view of the self neatly accommodates the possibility of the dubious phenomenon of multiple personality disorder. Also included is a handful of book reviews, forewords, commentaries, and other occasional pieces that will perhaps be of only limited interest to the nonspecialist. But Dennett provides enough philosophical and psychological excitement in Brainchildren to thrill even the casual reader. --Glenn Branch
From Publishers Weekly
The author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained here collects essays from conference volumes and "specialized journals" that have appeared from 1984 to 1996, with the idea of making them available "for students and other readers." But any reader curious about the nuts and bolts of recent theories of mind and our attempts at modeling it will find even Dennett's technical side accessible enough, given a willingness to be occasionally thrown in medias res. The lead essay, "Can Machines Think?" is a clearly formulated reassessment of current contenders for passing the Turing test?the criterion by which thinking machines are judged. "Speaking for Our Selves" evaluates claims for the legitimacy of multiple personality disorder, and extends the discussion into questioning the notion of selfhood. "Real Patterns," which Dennett calls "utterly central to my thinking," is tougher going, as Dennett seems to be addressing an ongoing dispute among philosophers about what it might mean for a belief to be "real," but the essay rewards repeated reading. A section on animal cognition and one on the philosophical possibility of zombies are further draws, but many of the other essays and reviews will hold interest only for the specialist. Throughout, however, Dennett's careful attention to word choice and definition helps the uninitiated along, and reveals one of our most celebrated?and controversial?philosophers of mind at work.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
An essay co-authored with Nicholas Humphrey is of wider practicality and social importance. Is the syndrome known as Multiple Personality Disorder [MPD] a valid psychological disorder? Dennett and Humphrey probed deeply into this issue, sharply aware of the medical and legal implications. The authors' resolution of the question is unique, but will not be surprising to those familiar with the Multiple Drafts Model of consciousness spelled out in Dennett's "Consciousness Explained."
Critics of "Consciousness Explained" are dealt with in a trio of essays. Dennett stresses that consciousness is an on-going phenomenon, not built up from a series of discrete events, as posed by some commentators. He repeats his objections to a "central processing location" in the mind, his appellation "Cartesian Theatre" restated anew.
Artificial Intelligence is a major interest of Dennett's and he devotes a significant portion of the book to the subject. He sees much of the work in AI as providing essential contributions to the understanding of consciousness. After dealing with the imponderables of the "frame problem" in AI, he seemingly enters a wholly novel area. He poses a fresh approach to thinking about Artificial Life through a geographic metaphor. It is one of his more thought provoking "intuition pumps."
In a new departure, Dennett also offers some autobiographical items for our consideration. His highly personalized account of witnessing the experiments with vervet monkeys in Kenya is an exemplary account of animal cognition. One of Dennett's strengths is his ability to deal with philosophical questions in an evolutionary framework.
It is always difficult to fix a "starting point" for those unfamiliar with Dennett's work. The best introduction to his use of evidence and logical thinking, not to mention the power of his prose, remains Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Some of his ideas on cognition and ethics appear there, but it doesn't cover his innovative ideas on cognition, which remains the foundation of his work. Consciousness Explained or The Intentional Stance are the better overtures in that field. This collection may not fit the bill, except that his incisive thinking presented here may lead to other, more definitive essays on his ideas. Still, the stature of Dennett's place in consciousness studies and philosophy are vividly displayed in this collection. If it's your first Dennett, you've chosen wisely. Follow up with his other works and discover what challenges he can pose. He is always a rewarding read.
The cream can be found in the papers "Real Consciousness", "instead of Qualia", "Real Patterns", "Cognitive Science as reverse engeneering", "Animal Consciousness" and his "Self-Portrait". Dennett lays bare his ideas on consciousness and qualia, and I have to say that his position as regarding qualia is clearly explained, and initially, seems quite plausible. But one still will feel Dennett goes too far in sayng that qualia are just the group of dispositions in the subject, thus denying their "qualish" quality, the red of redness per se. His paper, "Real Patterns" is quite simply the best defended and most coherent position on the reality of "folk-psichological" states, the ontology of things like beliefs, desires, and so on.
The papers deal with a multitude of subjects, including animal thought and consciousness, AI philosophy, cognitive science philosophy, and many great contributions to the philosophy of mind. I personally do not favour his positions in most subjects, but I cannot disagree with everything either. Dennett is allready one of the great contemporary philosophers, so it is worth trying to learn about his ideas, and I see no better place to start (or finish) than with this book.
However, if you are already hooked (like me), you'll find some excellent, well-written, humorous, and intelligent essays that would otherwise demand a couple months (in a good library) to collect.