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Consciousness Explained Paperback – October 20, 1992
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Consciousness is notoriously difficult to explain. On one hand, there are facts about conscious experience--the way clarinets sound, the way lemonade tastes--that we know subjectively, from the inside. On the other hand, such facts are not readily accommodated in the objective world described by science. How, after all, could the reediness of clarinets or the tartness of lemonade be predicted in advance? Central to Daniel C. Dennett's attempt to resolve this dilemma is the "heterophenomenological" method, which treats reports of introspection nontraditionally--not as evidence to be used in explaining consciousness, but as data to be explained. Using this method, Dennett argues against the myth of the Cartesian theater--the idea that consciousness can be precisely located in space or in time. To replace the Cartesian theater, he introduces his own multiple drafts model of consciousness, in which the mind is a bubbling congeries of unsupervised parallel processing. Finally, Dennett tackles the conventional philosophical questions about consciousness, taking issue not only with the traditional answers but also with the traditional methodology by which they were reached.
Dennett's writing, while always serious, is never solemn; who would have thought that combining philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience could be such fun? Not every reader will be convinced that Dennett has succeeded in explaining consciousness; many will feel that his account fails to capture essential features of conscious experience. But none will want to deny that the attempt was well worth making. --Glenn Branch
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I compare this book to some of John Searle's books from the time, and I find Searle's work to be a clearer and more instructive read. (I should point out that I disagree strongly with Searle, and find myself far more sympathetic to Dennett's viewpoint.) Searle, in a certain sense, is not afraid to pare down, and I think that's a key difference. I think Dennett's greatest sin here is that he tried to be breezy and fun with a topic that deserved academic precision and clarity. He went "pop science" when only hard science would do, and what he ended up with is a book that doesn't, well, actually explain consciousness—or much of anything.
Still, there are important ideas here if you can find them. I cannot vouch for the "evolution of consciousness" chapter's accuracy, but I thought it was an excellent read. I give this book 3/5.
In the book, the author sets out to, as he put it on page 16, explain consciousness and the various phenomena that compose to what we call consciousness by showing how they are physical effects in the brain. He claims that he will provide relevant scientific facts, series of stories, analogies, thought experiments, etc.
I'll briefly explain what kind of things where talked about in each PART (not chapter). Note this this is not inclusive because this book is very comprehensive and intricate. This is just a subjectively-motivated outline of [objective] topics I found interesting.
Prelude: How are hallucinations possible?
- Thought experiments like the "brain in a vat" and "a party game called psychoanalysis"
Part 1: Problems And Methods
- Elucidates the mystery behind consciousness
- The appeal to mystification in conjunction to it
- Dualism and it's unreliability
- Challenges of explaining such phenomena
- Introduction to phenomenology as well as heterophenomenology
-Methods and perspectives of phenomenology and heterophenomenology
- Shakey robot discussed
Part 2: An Empirical Theory of The Mind
- The inception of terms; The Multiple Drafts Theory and The Cartesian Theater
- Why the Cartesian Theater is the wrong view of consciousness
- Introduction to the Stalinesque (pre-experimental) and Orwellian(post-experimental) theories of conscious mending.
- Time and experience
- Evolution in relation to consciousness
- Joycean Machine
Part 3: The Philosophical Problems of Consciousness
- Blindsight: The discussion of and understand of it
- Hide the thimble thought experiment
- Prosthetic vision
- DIALOGS WITH OTTO. The reason I capitalized this is because it is found throughout the book. Otto is a fiction character and contrarian that Dennett imputes as a way to propose and then dismantle many opposing claims (that the author made up, because of course in the process of writing the book and introducing new ideas there obviously weren't any critics to consider). This is a good author with a proposal at his best.
- Qualia (the intangible "stuff")
- Epiphenomenal Qualia (this was very interesting).
- The clever disqualification of both ^^
- The reality of selves and multiple personality disorder
- Imaging a conscious robot
- Analyzing Searle's Chinese Room experiment
- How to be moral with a materialistic view of consciousness, absent of mythology. Why we don't need myth to appreciate things like dead bodies of loved ones more than broken robots. Here I'm going to throw in a quote of his: "Myths about the sanctity of life, or of consciousness, cut both ways. They may be useful in erecting barriers (against euthanasia, against capital punishment, against abortion, against eating meat) to impress the unimaginative, but at the price of offensive hypocrisy or ridiculous self-deception among the more enlightened."
- The possibility of understanding consciousness
Dennett doesn't claim to solve the problem of consciousness, he rather concedes that his explanation is far from complete. Instead he wants to give us a better understanding, approach, and view of consciousness that distills the fear of many that claim that such a vision is impossible. I fall in the category of readers that didn't find it very difficult to imagine perceived consciousness as being an amalgamation of disparate, "non-conscious", comprehensive and complicated workings of the brain. Nevertheless, I found much of what was discussed to be intellectually stimulating, and enlightening; these don't always need to go hand-in-hand. Dennett's vigor and tone congenially complement the difficult read. 4.5/5.
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It will be much more useful to read well-structured modern papers in philosophy of mind than to...Read more