Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $5.12 shipping
Consciousness Explained Paperback – October 20, 1992
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
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.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
"Each normal individual of this species [homo sapiens]," says Mr. Dennett, "makes a self. Out of its brain it spins a web of words and deeds, and, like the other creatures, it doesn't have to know what it is doing; it just does it. This web protects it, just like the snail' shell, and provides it a livelihood, just like the spider's web, and advances its prospects for sex, just like the bowerbird's bower." He goes on to point out that this web of discourse and deeds is as much a biological product as any of the other constructions to be found in the animal world.
Mr. Dennett goes on to explain that this complex set of cultural transmissions (memes) such as tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, etc. can best be understood as the operation of a "von Neumannesque" virtual machine implemented in the parallel architecture of a brain that was not designed for any such activities. In other words, we have learned to use our brains for new functions as we evolved. And, as we spin this web of discourse, we create for ourselves a sense of time-space and orient ourselves in that time-space in such a way as to disconnect ourselves from "creation" and give ourselves and others a sense of "individual."
The book concludes with appendices that direct themselves to specialized language and explanations for Philosophers and Scientists. All in all, a very difficult but rewarding read. I found this book challenging to say the least, and yet I highly recommended it to those interested in how the evolution of human consciousness.
Dennett's major antagonist in this debate has been John Searle whose Chinese Room argument has been deployed again and again to deny the possibility which Dennett is here asserting, that consciousness is basically a natural phenomenon (Searle agrees, by the way that consciousness is natural, while arguing against a genuinely naturalistic description). Dennett spends a lot of time exploring side paths and building alternative models for understanding consciousness as he works to get his reader to jettison old notions about the mind as an entity uniquely set apart from the things it attends to, what he calls the "central meaner" or the audience in the Cartesian theater (alluding to Descarte's insight that our mental life is qualitatively different from the physical world we encounter). Dennet builds his case by exploring recent research on brains and human behavior as well as by sketching out an evolutionary picture about how consciousness may have come to be. But he does not get around to dealing with Searle's Chinese Room argument until the book's end and then it is almost as though it were an afterthought.
It's the great strength of Dennett's book that, in fact, Searle's argument seems, by the time he comes to it, to be worth no more than that. Dennett rightly shows that Searle's argument fails because Searle insufficiently depicts the level of computer functionality required to generate and sustain a conscious mind. Where Searle, in his argument, notes that the simple mechanism of a look up table could not possibly constitute a program capable of creating mental life, Dennett rightly points out that this fails to address the problem since it is not a simple look up table that is at the heart of the claim of the AI people. If Searle's Chinese Room argument, constituted as Searle constitutes it, is inadequate for the purpose, this is yet to say nothing about the sort of system that would be required and is theoretically available. It is not a Chinese Room on the Searlean model that must be considered but, perhaps, using the same metaphor, a Chinese Building or a Chinese City. The capacity for sustaining consciousness would necessarily require a vast complex of systems and, as Dennett notes, it is this complex of systems itself, the full system, that would have to do the trick. Searle's argument says nothing about THAT model and so misses the point.
Dennett patiently explains how the systems would need to overlay one another and how this accords with the evolutionary evidence in the biological world as well as with the model of programs on computers which he likens to virtual machines on a platform of real machines. He carefully lays out the the way computers developed, as serial machines and proposes that since the brain is not a serial machine but a parallel processor, there would probably be the need to use the new parallel computing technologies coming on line as the platform, with virtual serial machines (their programs) running on them.
This is not a popular view in some quarters since the notion that we are merely machines is troubling to many. But Dennett does his best to defuse the notion while pointing out how the philosophical ideas of zombiehood and qualia really carry no water. He doesn't offer arguments so much as a debunking of these quaint notions with an eye toward opening us up toward the mechanistic model, dispelling our natural fear of embracing such a view. In the end he tells us there are no souls and no afterlife but that there's no reason this need scare us. And he gives us a basis for retaining a belief in a moral point of view despite this loss.
In all, this is a longish but excellent exposition of his profoundly materialistic ideas. One thing did strike me though and that was his overly clever swipes at political conservatism and the Reagan administration (he was writing this book during that era). At one point relatively early on he makes a somewhat snide backhand strike at what he obviously thinks is the low level of intellect to be found in the administration of that era, and punctures their seemingly foolish notion that cutting taxes will increase revenue. The Laffer Curve, which predicts just this result, is a hunk of hooey he suggests. Only one problem. The empirical evidence since those years is against his view. In fact government revenues did surge because the economy improved as a result of the Reagan tax cuts and they surged again when Bush II cut taxes early in his first term and again in 2003. Combined with the evidence of tax revenue jumps after the tax cuts of the JFK years, we are now 3 for 3 in terms of this argument. It just goes to show you that even smart guys like Dennett, who clearly has a strong handle on the idea of consciousness, are driven at times by their own biases and pre-existing beliefs.
Most recent customer reviews
It will be much more useful to read well-structured modern papers in philosophy of mind than to...Read more