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Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds (Representation and Mind) 1st Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262540902
ISBN-10: 0262540908
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.
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Product Details

  • 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: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,788,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on December 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
Clearly a "sequel" to Dennett's earlier "Brainstorms," this volume is an update collection of his thinking. The subtitle is pure Dennettian whimsy - "designing minds" - how many ways can you interpret that phrase. The minds within this collection are ours, those of machines, and of other animals. What part has evolution played in our mental elaboration? Is the mind a form of organic machine? This question has plagued philosophers for generations, but more intensely since the development of the computer. Much of the first section is devoted to clarifying the famous Turing Test - can a machine convince humans that it's "conscious"? Dennett's conclusion at this point is that it's possible but not likely practical. In essence, he doesn't care - it's simply not worth the effort.
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.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent compilation of Dennett's papers published in all the kinds of periodicals he likes to publish. If you like Dennett's work, go for it. However, this is no introduction to his work, and I think that readers unfamiliar with it would be a slightly out of context. If you're looking for an intro to his philosophy, you should really go for his "kinds of minds" at the science masters collection.
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.
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Format: Paperback
This book has some very good papers and ideas, but one has to look a little hard. Those who are familiar with Dennett's more popular books will very likely find themselves quite lost. The ideas in "Consciousness Explained" or "Kinds of Minds" can be found, but the core of the book deals with intentionality, or the ideas Dennett laid out in his "The Intentional Stance". The collection of papers consist of otherwise hard-to find or rare reading, but in my opinion required reading for anyone seriously interested in Dennett's philosophy. There are some papers, however, that are out of context, like reviews or responses to critics, or forewords to other books.
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.
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