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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
From Publishers Weekly
Tufts University cognitive scientist Dennett claims to have developed a major new theory of consciousness, yet his view of the brain as a massive parallel processor is a familiar one. What is different in his counter-intuitive theory is the claim that human consciousness, rather than being "hard-wired" into the brain's innate machinery, is more like software "running on the brain's parallel hardware" and is largely a product of cultural evolution. Author of Brainstorms , Dennett leads the adventurous gently through thought experiments, metaphors and diagrams in a treatise keyed to the serious, diligent reader. He presents a plausible evolutionary scenario of how consciousness could have emerged from the hominid brain. Dennett's audacious, tantalizing foray into the mind's inner workings ties up loose ends at the interface of cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, neuroscience and biology.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This is an example of an antagonistic attitude to rock 'n' roll being expressed by a professional in American society. The most surprising thing about this example is that I found it in a footnote contained in a chapter called A Visit to the Phenomenological Garden.
A neurosurgeon once told me about operating on the brain of a young man with epilepsy. As is customary in this kind of operation, the patient was wide awake, under only local anesthesia, while the surgeon delicately explored his exposed cortex, making sure that the parts tentatively to be removed were not absolutely vital by stimulating them electrically and asking the patient what he experienced. Some stimulations provoked visual flashes or hand-raisings, others a sort of buzzing sensation, but one spot produced a delighted response from the patient: "It's `Outta Get Me' by Guns N' Roses, my favorite heavy metal band!"
I asked the neurosurgeon if he asked the patient to sing or hum along with the music, since it would be fascinating to learn how "high fidelity" the provoked memory was. Would it be in exactly the same key and tempo as the record? Such a song (unlike "Silent Night") has one canonical version, so we could simply have superimposed a recording of the patient's humming with the standard record and compared the results. Unfortunately, even though a tape recording had been running during the operation, the surgeon hadn't asked the patient to sing along. "Why not?" I asked, and he replied: "I hate rock music!"
Later in the conversation the neurosurgeon happened to remark that he was going to have to operate again on the same young man, and I expressed the hope that he could restimulate the rock music, and this time ask the fellow to sing along. "I can't do it," replied the neurosurgeon, "since I cut out that part." "It was part of the epileptic focus?" I asked, and he replied, "No, I already told you--I hate rock music!"
The surgical technique involved was pioneered by Wilder Penfield many years ago, and graphically described in Penfield's THE EXCITABLE CORTEX IN CONSCIOUS MAN (1958).
--- Daniel C. Dennett, CONSCIOUSNESS EXPLAINED (Little, Brown and Company, 1991) pp. 58-59, n. 5
Another reviewer titles his review "Consciousness Denied." That is a fair comment. Many people think that Dennett explains away consciousness, rather than explaining it. In fact, I agree with that critism myself -- I think. I tend to agree with John Searle (again -- think). The one star rating, however, is grossly unfair. Consciousness is a very hard problem, to put it mildly, and Dennett's reasoning and opinions are crucial for two reasons. First, they are very well thought out, and well expressed. Moreover, Dennett is one of the key writers in the area, and if you read anything else about consciousness, you will find references and responses to Dennett.
Other authors worth reading in this area include John Searle (no friend of Dennett), Susan Blackmore, Steven Pinker, David Chalmers, V. S. Ramachandran and Antonio Damasio.
Without going into the physiology of the brain, as to which neuron does what and how that is translated into a thought, the author still offers a valid set of ideas on how to think about conciousness, demolishing older theories, and replacing them with a contemporaneous set of analogies, remaining open to improvement. The experimental evidence provided on how we choose to think will leave you wanting for more.
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It will be much more useful to read well-structured modern papers in philosophy of mind than to...Read more