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Consciousness Explained (Penguin Science) Paperback – December 1, 2007
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.
Top customer reviews
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.
"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.
Most recent customer reviews
It will be much more useful to read well-structured modern papers in philosophy of mind than to...Read more