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Consciousness Explained (Audiobook)

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The national bestseller chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 1991 is now available as an audiobook. The author of Brainstorms, Daniel C. Dennett replaces our traditional vision of consciousness with a new model based on a wealth of fact and theory from the latest scientific research. ©1991 Daniel C. Dennett (P)2013 Audible Inc.


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The national bestseller chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 1991 is now available as an audiobook. The author of Brainstorms, Daniel C. Dennett replaces our traditional vision of consciousness with a new model based on a wealth of fact and theory from the latest scientific research. ©1991 Daniel C. Dennett (P)2013 Audible Inc.

30 review for Consciousness Explained (Audiobook)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elenabot

    A more accurate title here would be “Consciousness Explained Away,” as greater wits than I have pointed out. This re-titling itself gives the gist of the work's true project, which is to see just how far the explaining-away of our first-person starting point as conscious existents can proceed before self-contradiction ensues. A big part of the problem is Dennett's disingenuous attempt to masquerade explaining-away for explanation which makes it difficult to assess the true value of his contribut A more accurate title here would be “Consciousness Explained Away,” as greater wits than I have pointed out. This re-titling itself gives the gist of the work's true project, which is to see just how far the explaining-away of our first-person starting point as conscious existents can proceed before self-contradiction ensues. A big part of the problem is Dennett's disingenuous attempt to masquerade explaining-away for explanation which makes it difficult to assess the true value of his contribution to the problem. A more minor annoyance was Dennett's penchant for rhetorical pyrotechnic displays, through which he expresses his sustained assurance that, should the reader fail to accept the terms of his reductive mode of explanation, it must simply be because s/he is a rank, blinkered dogmatist given to retrograde mythifying! Yet it turns out that, like a photo negative, even an attempt to explain-away can indirectly illumine the object. When Dennett's angle of approach leads him to self-contradiction, or else to smuggle in ever subtler computational and mechanomorphic anthropomorphisms in order to fill the explanatory gaps that are (inevitably) left over, we can discern the areas in which his eliminative materialist starting point fails us and where we need to pay the phenomenology of lived experience its dues. Introspection reveals a distinction between two ways that a thing can be a locus in the world: perspective and physical location. Whereas the latter can be defined geometrically, as a point held in a web of relations in space and time, the latter, as a qualitative locus, seems to leave us with an unexplained phenomenal remainder when we consider it from a purely physicalist framework. The criteria by which we conceive the identity of our first-person being and those that we use to conceive the identity of physical objects thus seem to diverge at this point, hence the so-called hard-problem of consciousness. Dennett's is an effort to explain in purely third-person terms the most characteristic features of our conscious life, most notably, the persistent conviction we have of being selves, loci of perspective, and unitary ontic centers in our own right. This is the persisting intuition we have of the irreducibility of our first-person stance, which discloses the world as experience. Unfortunately, explanation by third-person principles falls short of describing the integrity and consistency of the phenomenal domain, and Dennett is left throughout trying to (rather awkwardly) explain away all the phenomena that can't fit on the procrustean bed of his eliminativist methodology. In the process, reified computational metaphors are smuggled in to fill the explanatory void left once reference to the phenomena themselves has been suppressed. The central thesis in Dennett's work is that the self, far from being some ultimate ontological reference point, as it has been since at least the Cogito, is an epiphenomenal construct. To understand the significance of this move, you have to consider the foundational function the notion of the substantival self has played in philosophy. Now, we infer a substantial, ontic center to the psyche, much as we once inferred an ontic center to the natural order, via the concept of God. The reasoning in both cases is the same: if there's an orderly web (to borrow Dennett's own image) to be seen, there must be a center to the web, whether that web be experience or the cosmos itself. Losing reference to that center, we lose our last basis for grounding explanation itself in some kind of reality, even the restricted reality of the self, to which Kant clung for rational grounding. The placeholder for the center in an ontology is the sign of signs, because it is the organizer of all other signs. The self is perhaps the last refuge of substance ontology in the post-Kantian worldview. Phenomenology has since replaced ontology as rational grounding, and as substance was evacuated from the cosmos, it was pushed inwards, into the domain of “lived experience.” Now we find the last remainder of substance ontology in the notion of the supposed irreduibility of the “qualia” characterizing the first person stance. Kant posited the empirically unknowable central subject as a necessary presupposition for explaining the order and regularity that emerge in our otherwise scattered stream of experience. The Kantian transcendental argument for postulating a unitary subject that underlies and grounds the systematicity of experience can be summed up as follows: “If there is no central self, then there can be no regularity in experience. If there is no regularity in experience, then no explanation is possible, scientific or otherwise. But scientific explanation is, manifestly, possible. So there must be a unitary self grounding the experience from which scientific explanations are gleaned.” Dennett's radical claim, against Kant, is that we can have regularity, and therefore explanation, without postulating a substantial, central self stocked with qualia. Such a postulate, to him, is merely a reified abstraction from underlying, neural-computational processes. Dennett clearly takes an impish delight in his self-promotion as myth-buster extraordinaire. He takes great pains to show how the higher order unities of aesthetic enjoyment, responsible ethical agency and rational understanding that structure our experience at its highest are nothing more than the by-products of the collective behaviour of “stupid machines” in the brain. According to his multiple-drafts theory of consciousness, the sense of our being grounded in a unitary center of subjectivity at any given time – that feeling that underlies all experience, that we can give words to and call “I here, now” - is a mere abstraction edited out of a confluence of “parallel, multitrack processes of interpretation and elaboration” that are inaccessible to introspection. The “I” that seems attached to every datum of my experience, making it “mine,” turns out to be a linguistically reified narrative construct. It represents the draft that momentarily trumps all others, the one that best streamlines the cacophony of parallel inner processes of endless revision into some kind of provisionally coordinated, working whole. There is no “central meaner” that corresponds to the linguistic sign, “I,” nor anything remotely akin to a causal agent in the brain. Unitary, centralized consciousness is a pragmatic “user illusion.” “Consciousness Imagined,” indeed. If anybody thought that the last vestige of Substance ontology that we find in the Kantian Transcendental Subject could hide here, in the fictive “Cartesian Theater” of phenomenology, Dennett would disabuse us of this notion. In his chapter, “The Reality of Selves,” he describes the self as a narrative and pragmatic “principle of organization.” It is not much of a stretch to say that, according to his theory, we story ourselves into existence, much as we are storied by others. “Our fundamental tactic of self-protection, self-control, and self-definition is not spinning webs or building dams, but telling stories, and more particularly connecting and controlling the story we tell others - and ourselves - about who we are.” He describes how making a self has to do with boundary creation, first via biological, then via cultural means. Boundary production starts with fencing off one's turf in physical space, as a cell forms a semi-permeable lipid membrane around itself. It culminates with fencing off one's turf in symbolic-linguistic space via the narrative identity-kits with which we shape our experience into a whole that bears the mark of our historic, cultural, and social backgrounds. Our narratives are thus our most powerful tools, as a species. The way that a spider spins webs to gain power over its environment in shaping it, so do humans gain control by reshaping their cultural environment via their posited narratives. Remember, consciousness to Dennett -just is- the epiphenomenal glow that attends a powerful, winning narrative structure. Persistent identity is persistent narrative. The boundaries of consciousness are the boundaries supplied by given patterns of narrative formation. Enter Foucault's analysis of the relation between narrative patterns and entrenched power structures. “And where is the thing your self-representation is about? It is wherever you are. And what is this thing? It is nothing more than, and nothing less than, your center of narrative gravity.” Far from being a necessary ontological postulate of reason, a “thing” or a “place” where you find your standing in the world, consciousness turns out to be a fiction that is successively neurally re-instantiated according to variable cultural patterns of stimulus-selection. The only “center” that we in fact have is an imaginative construct, a “center of narrative gravity.” There is no agency, no you, involved in this ceaseless editorial process. “You” are quite simply storied into being by your brain's underlying computational processes. The core schema of “you” emerges as a means of simplifying the discordant mess of neural processes so as to produce a coherent map of reality that your brain can use to orient itself in the world. So how do you get rational integration and unified conscious experience out of the collective behaviour of irreducibly plural interpretive strands of neuro-computation? To explain that, Dennett introduces the metaphorical device of a piece of neural “software” that, much like a serial computer, creates a step-by-step narrative thread out of the multiplex cacophony of conflicting reality-takes. Whether and how reason can mysteriously emerge from such a clamour of “stupid” computational “processes” is unclear. The metaphor does all the argumentative work here by painting a picture, and assures us that somehow, it just all hangs together like-so. Mental imagery is where we'd be most tempted to posit some kind of substance to experience, in the form of qualia. It is precisely this domain that he surveys at some length, although from what I've read elsewhere (Evan Thompson's Mind in Life has a great chapter surveying the current state of imagery research), the imagery research so critical to his philosophical argument is far from being conclusive. Mental images, he argues, are what most supply us with the illusion that there is what he calls “figment” or “plenitude” to experience. Above all, it is images that give the feeling of continuity. But it's computation all the way down, if you look at experience (of colour, for instance) from a neural processing perspective. Because he characterizes experience as a “theoretical, narrative construct,” there is no “hard problem of consciousness” for him to contend with. The problem, he hopes, vanishes through redescription via the reigning computational metaphor. And what about our nagging sense that experience comes as a sort of system, a perceptibly integrated whole, in short? “What we actually experience is the product of many processes of interpretation – editorial processes in effect.” In Dennett's view, it is this ongoing selectivity, simplification and editing out of surplus information so that it comes to fit a manageable pattern that can guide the organism's responses at the time. Moreover, “paradoxically, our sense of continuity comes from our marvelous insensitivity to most kinds of changes rather than from any genuine perceptiveness.” The “unity” that we take to be the measure of conscious realization is thus, ironically, a measure of blindness. This abstractive process of simplification that gives the semblance of consistency, integrity and texture to our stream of consciousness exists because of its great adaptive value, helping reduce noise in favour of survival-relevant information. Underlying the official editorial revision that glosses unity, our experience is, in fact, a cacophonous din. Nor is there any canonical version of experience that you could poke a stick at and claim to be the real, true, “authentic” version of your experience. There is only an endless proliferation of versions, of drafts, of angles and perspectival takes. This is not only too bad for the poor self striving for autonomy, but also for the whole endeavour of philosophy and science to produce a complete explanation of anything. A Kantian quest for monolithic, universal principles of perspective-taking (which could provide the basis for explanation) was a neurally unrealizable fantasy. There just is no rationally unified perspective in the brain. Since the interpretive pattern that constitutes “consciousness” is configured according to parameters learnt via cultural indoctrination, “pure” phenomenology turns out to be an exercise in cultural description. Far from offering any privileged access to my mind, it turns out to offer no access at all, since all that swims up to the top from this preconscious swarm is cultural script. Dennett's ontological commitment to a mechanistic-computational metaphor ultimately compels him to devalue first person evidence by claiming its reducibility to a “heterophenomenological” approach that a priori assumes that verbal reports give us sufficient purchase on lived experience. Every dimension of experience that doesn't fit into the constraints of his methodological presuppositions falls through the cracks as so much fictive dross. That experience is to a large extent a formal construct is an insight at least as old as Kant. However, what Kant and most of his successors had and what Dennett wants to do away with is the residual ontic substrate that was held to necessarily underlie the construct. Dennet would slice away even this and in its place substitute a free-floating tissue of narrative monologue, supported only by distributed parallel processing. Dennett's overriding motive is, I think, at bottom noble. He is troubled by the proliferation, in past attempts to explain mind, of homuncular, anthropomorphic, perpetually-unopenable, and intuitively-pleasing black-boxes which are supposed to designate the terminus of explanation. Where scientific analysis fails, a suitable homuncular resting point – a pseudo-explanatory myth or fiction – can be inserted. However, his solution to the problem substitutes one mode of pseudo-explanation for another. Terrence Deacon, in his “Incomplete Nature,” called the eliminativist pattern of pseudo-explanation a species of explanation by “golems.” “Golem” accounts are attempts to describe the phenomenon of mind by dissecting it into mechanistic/computational parts. Dennett's view of mind as an information-processing device constituted by the joint functioning of myriad mini “stupid machines” in the brain is clearly a golem. Deacon shows how attempts such as Dennett's to purge anthropomorphic black-boxes, or homunculi, out of scientific explanation only end up being forced to pay their dues to the qualitative loci for which homunculi are “place-holders” by bringing ever-more “cryptic homunculi” into the picture, usually in the form of “golems,” which are “fractionated homunculi.” Deacon offered an elegant argument showing that explanation by golems is a cure worse than the homunculus disease, because it proceeds by presupposing ever subtler homuncular properties (such as informational, representational, and functional properties) at lower levels, without explaining them. Thus, the impersonal computational machines projected into the brain are treated by Dennett as ultimate loci of representation and information, without explaining how these representational and informational relations emerge. Deacon showed how such a view takes informational relations out of the larger dynamic context which makes them possible and which grounds their real-world reference. It relies on an abstract, engineering definition of information which presupposes extrinsically-imposed reference – a human interpreter who can fix the representational relationship, or specify what the information is about. In contrast, he shows how information in living organisms is intrinsically interpreted, by virtue of the role it plays in the self-organizing dynamics of life. Thus, Dennett's reductionist approach cannot explain end-directed phenomena such as information, and representation, even as it presupposes these by inserting them, as “cryptic computational homunculi,”to make its eliminativist explanation work. I would agree with Deacon that Dennett's hand-waving pseudo-explanatory insertions, at crucial parts of his argument, of golem metaphors can't be seen, as Dennett claims, as just descriptive glosses to be replaced by the more complex neuro-computational explanation that is supposed to be forthcoming. Rather, they must be seen as the places at which efforts to explain away phenomenology break down. Lastly, the Kantian challenge of grounding explanation without the postulate of a unitary self remains. What is the epistemic status of Dennett's theory, if correct? If correct, and multiple drafts are all there are, then Dennett undercuts his own theory's rational basis. The whole truth of the theory is predicated on Dennett's (and our) capacity to hold together a synoptic, rational perspective on our minds that is more than just a momentary coalescence of distributive parallelism and interpretive pluralism. Otherwise, truth claims – even Dennett's – would be merely pragmatic fictional simplifications which are also inescapably distortions of the facts. An empirical theory that “explains away” the unity of conscious experience as an epiphenomenon undercuts its own rational basis. The theory, as such, can't even be coherently articulated. In articulating it, you refute it, because you presuppose the first-person unitary subject that you attempt to explain away. More troubling still, it doesn't seem to be capable of informing any possible perspective that we can take on the world. An empirical, homunculus-free explanation of consciousness need not be a reductive golem. Such an account is provided by such thinkers as Damasio, Deacon, Thompson, and Lakoff, whose physicalist theories of mind are nonetheless developed in dialogue with first-person accounts of lived experience. Ultimately, as Thompson points out, experience is, inescapably, our original guide, since the content of any of the concepts that frame a theory of mind can only come from our intuitive, first-person experience of our own minds: “To deny the truth of our own experience in the scientific study of ourselves is not only unsatisfactory; it is to render the scientific study of ourselves without a subject matter. But to suppose that science cannot contribute to an understanding of our experience may be to abandon, within the modern context, the task of self-understanding. Experience and scientific understanding are like two legs without which we cannot walk. We can phrase this very same idea in positive terms: it is only by having a sense of common ground between cognitive science and human experience that our understanding of cognition can be more complete and reach a satisfying level. We thus propose a constructive task: to enlarge the horizon of cognitive science to include the broader panorama of human, lived experience in a disciplined, transformative analysis.” This is, IMO, the path that philosophy of mind must take if it is to explain, rather than explain away, consciousness. Ramachandran states the challenge as it confronts us today: "to reconcile the first person and third person accounts of the universe... (is) the single most important problem in science." In the mean time, recovering the more comprehensive understanding of empiricism, defined as the clarification of experience, would in itself pave the way to a paradigm much more true to where we stand, and cannot help but stand.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    A friend urged me to read this book. I got a couple of chapters into it, and found the author was telling me that "we are all novelists", and that a large part of consciousness was going to be explained in terms of the ongoing narrative we spin in our interior monologues. Shortly before, another friend had persuaded me to read some Derrida, and Dennett's arguments sounded a bit familiar. (Oddly enough, the two people in question had been dating at one point). I looked around in Dennett's book, a A friend urged me to read this book. I got a couple of chapters into it, and found the author was telling me that "we are all novelists", and that a large part of consciousness was going to be explained in terms of the ongoing narrative we spin in our interior monologues. Shortly before, another friend had persuaded me to read some Derrida, and Dennett's arguments sounded a bit familiar. (Oddly enough, the two people in question had been dating at one point). I looked around in Dennett's book, and, as far as I could gather, he had developed his arguments without looking at Derrida at all, though at some point he had been told that he ought to do so; there was a grumpy acknowledgment that there might be a connection. It is of course notorious that the analytical and Continental schools of philosophy don't get on very well. I read the whole book, but with misgivings about the basic approach. Even leaving aside the question of whether or not Dennett's work is related to Derrida's, I felt that this "novelist" idea oversimplifies the question. OK, let's agree that everyone does have an interior monologue proceeding in their heads, and that it has something to do with consciousness. But calling it a "monologue" is surely not quite right, since there must be more to it than just language. There's an episode in one of the Feynman books where someone asks him to visualize a complex piece of machinery. He does so. "You see," his friend says, "consciousness isn't just an interior monologue." Or words to that effect. So the "monologue" has components of visual images as well, and most likely other things too. None the less, if Dennett had fully delivered on his promise to explain how the interior monologue part worked, and how it related to consciousness, I would in no way have felt cheated. I never really thought he did, though. He got to the point where I was expecting to get the explanation, and it degenerated into hand-waving and unconvincing examples. Well, philosophy is very often like that - perhaps it's enough that he made me think about the issues.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Icing on the Cake: "Consciousness Explained" by Daniel C. Dennett (Original Review, 1992-10-25) I feel uncoupled. Who knows for certain: their inner experience of sights, smells, emotions, and the rest? And this is why I often find the discussion frustrating; from my reading of his work, Dennett has never denied the experience of being conscious. What he is saying is that if you create a zombie doppelganger that resembles you in every way If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Icing on the Cake: "Consciousness Explained" by Daniel C. Dennett (Original Review, 1992-10-25) I feel uncoupled. Who knows for certain: their inner experience of sights, smells, emotions, and the rest? And this is why I often find the discussion frustrating; from my reading of his work, Dennett has never denied the experience of being conscious. What he is saying is that if you create a zombie doppelganger that resembles you in every way then the "zombie" will by necessity be of such complexity that it gives rise to consciousness. And it will do so from normal, physics-obeying, materialistic processes. It is in this way that we are all the zombies of the thought experiment - not that we are all empty machines that experience nothing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amar Pai

    Is it possible? Is this going to finally be the book that explains the mystery of consciousness? No. No it is not. What would it even mean to explain consciousness? Reminds me of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where they build this ultra powerful supercomputer to finally answer the mystery of "life, the universe and everything," only to then realize that they don't actually know what the question means.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Geordie

    I love love love this book so much that I am hoping that when I die, the crime scene investigators will find it clutched tightly in my hand and will all have to read it very carefully perhaps to get clues about who killed me and then they will forget completely about investigating the crime and start totally getting into this astonishing book instead and will tell all their crime scene investigator buddies who will read it and tell their buddies and then everyone in the world will read it and th I love love love this book so much that I am hoping that when I die, the crime scene investigators will find it clutched tightly in my hand and will all have to read it very carefully perhaps to get clues about who killed me and then they will forget completely about investigating the crime and start totally getting into this astonishing book instead and will tell all their crime scene investigator buddies who will read it and tell their buddies and then everyone in the world will read it and the whole world will be different for having read it and appreciated it except for like three or four chumbuckets in Duluth or Boise or wherever who don't read books and who will feel so left out and mope around saying things like "oh dear, how come everyone else in the entire world is reading that amazing Dennett book on exactly how consciousness works and all we are doing is just chewing on these lousy grass stems and watching old Flipper reruns and what a crappy life we have, and by the way whatever happened to that guy who died under those mysterious circumstances a while ago, did they ever figure out who killed him or what is up with that?"

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    Yes, the title is audacious. Yes, it's not a perfect book. Yes, the subject is extremely complex and really smart people fight about it in prestigious journals, etc. But Dennett has some fine ideas nonetheless. I go through periods of swinging in one direction and back again when it comes to what I'll just call the "consciousness wars." But lately Dennett's ideas are striking me as more and more correct (and I've always leaned in his and the Churchland's direction since I first began looking into Yes, the title is audacious. Yes, it's not a perfect book. Yes, the subject is extremely complex and really smart people fight about it in prestigious journals, etc. But Dennett has some fine ideas nonetheless. I go through periods of swinging in one direction and back again when it comes to what I'll just call the "consciousness wars." But lately Dennett's ideas are striking me as more and more correct (and I've always leaned in his and the Churchland's direction since I first began looking into these issues, maybe about two years ago). For some extremely brief, but exciting (probably more so to people already immersed in the field and the debate) overviews of his position(s) check these short videos out: 1. What is the Mind-Body Problem? 2. Can Brain Explain Mind? 3. Why is Consciousness So Mysterious? 4. How Do Persons Maintain Their Identity?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pvw

    A hard book to plough through and one that is so careful and meticulous that it never reaches an interesting or clear-cut conlusion. Dennett takes hundreds of pages to refute the idea of consciousness as a sentient observer sitting inside man's brain (a concept known as "the Cartesian Theatre"). I could have agreed about that being untrue in half a page. When Dennett has finally finished explaining what consciousness is not, he disappointingly admits that he does not have a good alternative eith A hard book to plough through and one that is so careful and meticulous that it never reaches an interesting or clear-cut conlusion. Dennett takes hundreds of pages to refute the idea of consciousness as a sentient observer sitting inside man's brain (a concept known as "the Cartesian Theatre"). I could have agreed about that being untrue in half a page. When Dennett has finally finished explaining what consciousness is not, he disappointingly admits that he does not have a good alternative either. Ok, he tentatively puts forward an image of primitive man starting to utter noises to himself as a possible early start of conscious reflection. But that theory is hardly more impressive then the Cartesian Theatre that the rest of the book wanted to prove wrong. "Consciousness Explained" is an academical book that is totally useless, since it doesn't deliver any of the promises contained in the title.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    There were parts of this book that were quite difficult and that I would probably have to reread a few times to fully appreciate, but overall it was a lot easier to read than most works of philosophy and/or science that deal with the same subject matter. There was a lot to think about here. Dennett may not be correct in his several models of how consciousness works, which he labels with colorful names, such as "multiple drafts" and "pandemonium," but he is honest enough to admit that they are ju There were parts of this book that were quite difficult and that I would probably have to reread a few times to fully appreciate, but overall it was a lot easier to read than most works of philosophy and/or science that deal with the same subject matter. There was a lot to think about here. Dennett may not be correct in his several models of how consciousness works, which he labels with colorful names, such as "multiple drafts" and "pandemonium," but he is honest enough to admit that they are just models. He gives solid reasons why his models or something very much like them could be correct, and he offers ideas for how his models could be tested in controlled experiments. And in any event, I was completely convinced that the intuitive ideas that most of us have about how the mind works, which Dennett labels as the Cartesian Theater, are completely wrong. Our comprehension of the world is not a visual story that plays out in our heads, even though it may sometimes seem that way. And it takes very careful thinking to avoid falling back into that intuitive trap again and again in new and different ways. I avoided reading Dennett for years, but that was a mistake. I'm looking forward to exploring more of his works.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Paul Johnston

    It is hard to know what to say about this book. It contains a lot of interesting information and is very readable but it is also deeply confused. Dennett is clearly fascinated by the brain and keen to find a theory to explain how it works. As I am not an expert in this area, it is hard for me to assess whether what he puts forward is either new or interesting. What is most striking (and annoying) for me, however, is Dennett's philosophical naivety and lack of sensitivity to philosophical issues. It is hard to know what to say about this book. It contains a lot of interesting information and is very readable but it is also deeply confused. Dennett is clearly fascinated by the brain and keen to find a theory to explain how it works. As I am not an expert in this area, it is hard for me to assess whether what he puts forward is either new or interesting. What is most striking (and annoying) for me, however, is Dennett's philosophical naivety and lack of sensitivity to philosophical issues. Much of the book is driven by the attempt to locate consciousness and he often writes as if we might actually have found this in the brain. Rather than recognising that the question "where is consciousness located in the brain?" is confused, he suggests that we need to give up our naive view of consciousness and recognise that all there is are the things he can actually find in the brain. I imagine that if Dennett were interested in mathematics, he would be in favour of ambitious rocket missions to discover the Platonic realm in which there are shapes that perfectly obey the rules of geometry and that if these missions fail, he would argue that we have to give up geometry or adapt it to the realities of the shapes we actually enter in the physical world. Dennett claims to have learnt a lot from Wittgenstein but he persists in seeing introspection as consisting of accurate or inaccurate reports on inner events. He then thinks that scientific research can give us a fuller and more accurate account than introspection. But this is confused. Take the example of dreams. When I tell you my dream, what is interesting for me (and possibly for you) is my account of my dream. If scientists could strap something to my head and give a totally different narrative account of what went on in my head during REM sleep that might also be interesting, but the accounts are different rather than in competition. If I am puzzled as to why I saw you in my dream, the scientist's claim that actually I saw my father may raise new puzzles but it does not help me with my initial puzzlement or necessarily eliminate my wish to reflect on why I dreamed of you. If someone gives the scientist the power to forbid me to use the word "dreamed" in relation to my account, then I will have to say "I quasi-dreamed of you" and when I wake in the morning I will have to try to remember to say: "I had a strange quasi-dream last night", so that the confusion between the language-game I am playing and the language-game the scientist is playing is harder to fall into. Another general confusion that pervades Dennetts' book is the failure to recognise the difference between conceptual issues and empirical issues. Faced with a philosophical problem, Dennett hopes that a mass of empirical research can resolve the issue, but if we don't know our way around our concepts, then trying to apply the concepts in all sorts of unusual situations is only likely to make matters worse. If you are lost, the solution is not to try to move more quickly, but to stop and try to make sense of where you are and where you came from. So perhaps Dennett has produced an interesting theory of the brain, but he is certainly deeply confused about consciousness and all the related issues he mentions (such as the nature of the self). He may be a good purveyor of scientific research, but he has little to contribute on philosophical or conceptual issues where he seems to lack both aptitude and interest.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Consciousness explained? Well, no, not exactly. But a brilliant book nonetheless, despite the audaciousness of the title (though I must admit that Dennett concedes that his "explanation" is far from complete and that cognitive theory is really still in its infancy--or at least it was when this book was written). I only read it recently, and perhaps it is a bit outdated for a book about the ever-changing fields of cognitive theory, neuroscience, and psychology, but, if anything, this book does a Consciousness explained? Well, no, not exactly. But a brilliant book nonetheless, despite the audaciousness of the title (though I must admit that Dennett concedes that his "explanation" is far from complete and that cognitive theory is really still in its infancy--or at least it was when this book was written). I only read it recently, and perhaps it is a bit outdated for a book about the ever-changing fields of cognitive theory, neuroscience, and psychology, but, if anything, this book does a really good job of refuting the farcical traditional theories of consciousness (goodbye Dualism, Cartesian Theater, Ghost in the Machine) and presents a workable alternative theory: the Multiple Drafts Model. I won't attempt to explain this model here in just a few short sentences; you'll have to read it for yourself. Suffice it to say that not only does this book illuminate some of the darker aspects of our conception of the mind/self/consciousness, it is also well-written, entertaining, and really not that difficult a read for such an esoteric, slippery thing as consciousness.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amirography

    I must say, The reason I'm giving such a low score is because I expected much much more from this book. Instead I faced with explanations of phenomena that could have been explained much clearer. And the lack of answer to my question being: How neurons give rise to consciousness. (To be perfectly clear, I do not mean how the mind works or how mind and brain are related. Rather, what gives rise to a cultivated sense, a feeling, a qualia.) And I expected a physical theory, instead, he apparently s I must say, The reason I'm giving such a low score is because I expected much much more from this book. Instead I faced with explanations of phenomena that could have been explained much clearer. And the lack of answer to my question being: How neurons give rise to consciousness. (To be perfectly clear, I do not mean how the mind works or how mind and brain are related. Rather, what gives rise to a cultivated sense, a feeling, a qualia.) And I expected a physical theory, instead, he apparently skipped the whole problem altogether.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    After having listened to this book, I will never fall for the make-believe just so stories about consciousness again. There is no reason to have to appeal to fantasy to explain consciousness. This book gives a complete story and forevermore I'll be able to not be sucked into false thought processes concerning the topics about the mind. Metaphysics, when it's at is best is to fill in the parts that physics (or science) is having a hard time explaining because they don't really understand the objec After having listened to this book, I will never fall for the make-believe just so stories about consciousness again. There is no reason to have to appeal to fantasy to explain consciousness. This book gives a complete story and forevermore I'll be able to not be sucked into false thought processes concerning the topics about the mind. Metaphysics, when it's at is best is to fill in the parts that physics (or science) is having a hard time explaining because they don't really understand the object and the terms that describe the object under investigation. Dennett fills in these gaps better than any scientist can. For those who need make-believe and should be sitting at the children's table instead of the adult's table they need to read this book and they can move ahead as I have because of this book. The best way to think about our self is by realizing we are not an analytical point. Euclid's first definition in his "Elements" is that a point is that which has no breadth. The book doesn't make this analogy, but I do, and state that "the I is that which has breadth", and you know you are listening to a remarkable book when you can go beyond the points the author is making because he educates you so fully. The author defends this by showing why the self is "a center of narrative gravity", by showing how the mind is not like a Cartesian theater with a homunculus (little human) watching the play as the film unwinds. "There is not anything outside of the text", the text is just the final draft we think out loud. But to get there we first go through Orwellian rewrites and Stalinesque theater before we get the final draft from many rewrites. (Don't worry. The author explains this much better than I can. I'm just trying to whet your appetite in order for you to listen to this book.) The author steps me through the black box of the mind by first discussing the outputs we measure from our responses to the environment. That was the first eight hours of the book. He called that the analytical approach. That part confused me. I'm not a scientist. The next part he called the synthetic part. How we would build that black box step by step. That's the part where I started listening to every word because it just excited me. Understanding qualia, our emotional experiences, or what Locke would call our secondary experiences, which lead to things being our 'beliefs' or "seems to", is not how to think about how our mind works. When you can change a "seems to" to the 'is' with no lost of understanding just drop 'seems to' and the phoniness of qualia. The author uses computers, software, and universal Turing machines and Von Neumann in explaining his thesis. You will walk away with consciousness demystified. You'll be on guard against those who use make-believe arguments to defend a world that doesn't exist. This book is over 20 years old. I only wished I had discovered it when it first came out. It would have stopped me from wasting my time with people who don't understand that we have ways of thinking about the world that is not dualistic and doesn't need special make-believe explanations to explain who we are as thinking machines. I almost never change the speed of the audio. For this book, I did and listened to it at 1.25x speed. Made for a much better listen.

  13. 5 out of 5

    DJ

    A bold book from my favorite philosopher-scientist that aims to build a framework for tackling perhaps the hardest question humanity has ever asked - "what is this conscious experience?" As in his other books, Dennett is adept at weaving the "soft" thought experiments of philosophy with the "harder" experiments of the scientific community. Some of his most triumphant points don't have the impact they may once have carried, as much of his material has been accepted (or disproved) in the last two A bold book from my favorite philosopher-scientist that aims to build a framework for tackling perhaps the hardest question humanity has ever asked - "what is this conscious experience?" As in his other books, Dennett is adept at weaving the "soft" thought experiments of philosophy with the "harder" experiments of the scientific community. Some of his most triumphant points don't have the impact they may once have carried, as much of his material has been accepted (or disproved) in the last two decades of the rapidly evolving field of neuroscience. Despite its age, this book is a stellar introduction to anyone trying to approach consciousness. Dennett's thought experiments and suggested activities for readers shed light on some fascinating phenomena of consciousness, including sensory dislocation & extension of self to tools and blind spots & the overly assuming nature of vision. This second investigation I found to be a powerful metaphor for much of the simulation that the brain performs in crafting our sensory experience. The discontinuity of consciousness is so striking particularly because of its apparent continuity. The brain doesn't so much "fill in" the blanks as it ignores their presence. Dennett makes the important point that this absence of representation (ignorance) is not the same as the representation of absence ("filling in"). The three themes of Dennett's that resonated most with me were the relationship between time & consciousness, information sharing and information barriers in the brain, and consciousness as cultural software. 1) Noticing the varying speeds of sensory signal propagation outside of the body (light vs. sound vs. chemicals) and the varying speeds of neural signal propagation in the brain, Dennett points out that the "present" for us is really more of a "smear" in time rather than a "point". He presents his Multiple Drafts Theory of Consciousness to show that in such a situation, different parts of the brain must act on different sets of information and, therefore, there is no single conscious experience. This is perhaps one of the most profound points that Dennett explores and he does so frequently throughout the book. Dennett also points out that temporal order outside the mind need not coincide exactly with temporal order as represented in the mind, though the two are correlated. 2) With so many specialized areas developing at different periods in human evolution, information sharing in the brain can be quite haphazard and arbitrary. The recognition that information may be present in one area of the brain but entirely unaccessible to another area is essential to understanding many functions and quirks of the brain. This is evident in many popular accounts of language disorders but Dennett also explores what this suggests for the evolution of consciousness. He imagines that early man armed with protospeech might have used "vocal autostimulation" (thinking out loud) as a means of bridging missing connections in his thought processes. In other words, if there's no path from A to B in the brain, there might have been one from A to speech to hearing to B! This clever circuit could then have evolved into silent thought for more privacy and eventually developed into the "mind's eye" visual experience of modern man. Even within the brain, there are likely many inefficient intermediary representations developed to bridge the internal "communication problem." Beyond evolutionary explanations, this idea is also highly suggestive of neuroscientific approaches to creativity. Speaking out loud, doodling, and gesturing to oneself may be more than just nervous ticks or distracting habits; they may instead be integral yet inefficient attempts to circumvent the missing information pathways in the brain! Dennett also includes a list of "primordial facts" that he claims any theory on the evolution of consciousness must explain. I found them insightful and important enough for any neuroscientist that I've included them here verbatim: There are reasons to recognize. Where there are reasons, there are points of view from which to recognize or evaluate them. Any agent must distinguish "here inside" from "the external world." All recognition must ultimately be accomplished by myriad "blind, mechanical" routines. Inside the defended boundary, there need not always be a Higher Executive or General Headquarters. In nature, handsome is as handsome does; origins don't matter. In nature, elements often play multiple functions within the economy of a single organism. 3) As for the development of consciousness, Dennett proposes that viewing consciousness as cultural software provides an instructive and productive framework. His evidence includes the relatively recent development of consciousness (and therefore the reduced possibility that it is hard-coded). So why does consciousness still seem to be similar across cultures? Hardware biasing - we're all still working with roughly the same base. Some interesting results of this hypothesis are that some humans may not experience consciousness, particularly babies and special cases of children who developed with very little social contact. Just as evolution is a difficult topic to write on given that our language is peppered with words conveying "intent", consciousness often has Dennett tripping over his own words. He fares far better than most, but be forewarned - books on consciousness can't help but be clumsy. In addition to being an excellent introduction for me to many theories on consciousness, this book has piqued my interest in the consciousness and cognitive development of children and the general AI framework known as SOAR.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Walter Schutjens

    I am in no position to review this book. I have met Dennett and talked with him, it has shaken my world, ravaged my ego and what it means to be myself. After all this time i'm glad to be done.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    It wasn't easy, and many times I felt like Homer Simpson trying to learn how to market a bowling alley (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEqxer...), but getting through this book and tackling the weighty subject matter was well worth the investment. And I'm not kidding about the Homer reference: Dennett posits so many amazing points based upon areas of thought of which I was hopelessly clueless. I would have to set this book down and do some research to just get a baseline to follow his explanatio It wasn't easy, and many times I felt like Homer Simpson trying to learn how to market a bowling alley (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEqxer...), but getting through this book and tackling the weighty subject matter was well worth the investment. And I'm not kidding about the Homer reference: Dennett posits so many amazing points based upon areas of thought of which I was hopelessly clueless. I would have to set this book down and do some research to just get a baseline to follow his explanations. For any of my Goodreads friends that want to really explore the big "I", and delve into the what of our conscious selves, I couldn't recommend this more. But the recommendation comes with a warning: if you give the book its due, don't skim passages / sections and really work yourself to understand what Dennett is trying to say, you could come away from this book with a changed view on yourself, your fellow humans and this wonderful, crazy brain of ours.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The thing that really irritates me about philosophers is their lack of empirical evidence to support their theories; they just borrow whatever suits them from whatever discipline, with scant regard for critical evaluation of the data. Dennett makes suggestions that can be easily countered and writes in a way that he is convinced of the truth but yet has nothing to substantiate it; his theories are built on a lot of assumptions, contradict these and his approach withers away. His rudimentary disc The thing that really irritates me about philosophers is their lack of empirical evidence to support their theories; they just borrow whatever suits them from whatever discipline, with scant regard for critical evaluation of the data. Dennett makes suggestions that can be easily countered and writes in a way that he is convinced of the truth but yet has nothing to substantiate it; his theories are built on a lot of assumptions, contradict these and his approach withers away. His rudimentary discussion of psychology was offensive; particularly in reference to ethics in his stating of ‘subjects’ and of false problems with transcripts. Further to this Dennett presented the argument that when information perceived goes into the visual and auditory store ‘does it get rapidly forgotten or was it not even consciously experienced in the first place?’; clear evidence shows that these stores have limited capacity and duration and therefore all were consciously perceived but rapidly forgotten; again another useless argument. I feel like I’ve been lied to. The book title promises ‘Consciousness Explained’ and for the first 200 pages there is no explanation at all; then there are only a few pages of vague description of Dennett’s ‘Multiple Drafts’ theory. Dennett spends an awful lot time trying to disprove the ‘Cartesian theatre’ as if he’s the only person wise enough to understand the fallacy of having a homunculus inside your mind; it begets the question who then is in their mind? I suppose I should have done my research and understood that this book was written in the early 90’s when perhaps people did believe in this and they needed some convincing. I felt I’d been transported back to reading Darwin’s Origin of Species where I was being circuitously persuaded about the truth of evolution; it was completely unnecessary. Dennett writes as if he’s telling a convoluted story and I felt like Dickens’ Gradgrind as I kept shouting in my head to myself ‘Facts, give me facts!’ It also amused me greatly that Dennett seemed to think that the concept of parallel processing was difficult to understand and accept, as oppose to serial processing. I don’t know if it’s because I did A-level computing, or if because modern psychology understands that the brain works like this, but I found myself aghast at his patronising. Is it really that difficult to imagine multiple processes happening in the brain at once and none having central authority in much the same way a computer time shares processing speed? I think one issue Dennett has is that he has made the assumption that perception is consciousness; which I doubt to be true. He spends a lot of time discussing the processing of external stimuli and how this broaches consciousness yet he fails to acknowledge until his final pages that a blind person is still conscious, so vision has nothing to do with it. He seems to reject any idea of a preconscious or unconscious which is quite clear when he’s describing the dorsal and ventral streams and the research by Gazzaniga on split-brain patients; it is obvious from this that consciousness is in our left hemisphere and tied to language in some way and our preconscious is in our right hemisphere. He also neglects discussion of different speeds of processing within the brain and seems to think that they all occur at the same time and there are delays for things travelling at greater distances; perhaps one is just faster and they appear at the same time. Dennett is also misguided in his discussions on judgement as there has been recent empirical research that we intuit a lot of our decisions from bias due to our hardwiring before any evidence is actually logicised. It further amused me when Dennett proposes that our brain sizes increased so fast at the dawn of the Ice Age but yet neglects that the fossil records are incomplete; most human fossils have been located in hot countries, where there is no ice to preserve fossils until discovery, so therefore there were no fossils being made during the Ice Age that have subsequently been found; it could very likely have been a slow process. Dennett also made a statement that ‘the way a brain represents hunger must differ, physically, from how it represents thirst’ and I found myself questioning then why do we sometimes eat when we’re actually thirsty? He seems to believe our brain is a touch more sophisticated than I would give it credit for. At one point Dennett quotes Marx who stated that ‘Language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with others’ but yet this does not explain why feral children like ‘Genie’ did not develop language but was still conscious. Dennett suggests that people with schizophrenia when hearing voices are actually just hearing their own voice talking to them but not realising it is them, but I find this quite a naïve explanation as it fails to accommodate that there are often multiple voices of different genders. So overall he talks a lot of rubbish. All that said, I did like the idea of parallel pandemoniums and that your brain is coming up with multiple streams of responses at once and the best fit is selected; perhaps I’m more aware of my brain working like this and so explains why I find it difficult at times to say the right thing as I’m somehow thinking of several at once. Yet Dennett rejects the idea of a ‘stream of consciousness’ and I believe that it could be feasible that consciousness is just the observation of processes in the brain which actually supports his idea of a feedback loop and translator between different coded inputs. A large problem with consciousness is that it is but a small part of a much larger operation and our brains do things all the time that we have no awareness of. ‘We’, whoever ‘we’ are, are just a grain of sand in a desert of intentions. I’d like to think I control myself and make rational decisions as much as possible but there is a deeper part of me that is in far greater control and conflict with ‘we’, with ‘I’ and with ‘me’. The only fascinating passage I read was about the self on page 416: “But the strangest and most wonderful constructions in the whole animal world are the amazing, intricate constructions made by primate, Homo sapiens. Each normal individual of this species 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’s shell, and provides it a livelihood, just like the spider’s web, and advances its prospects for sex, just like the bowerbird’s bower. Unlike the spider, an individual human doesn’t exude its web; more like a beaver, it works hard to gather materials out of which it builds its protective fortress. Like a bowerbird, it appropriates many found objects which happen to delight it – or its mate – including many that have been designed by others for other purposes.” Yet there is no explanation of how we intuit a thought, where it comes from and how it starts, but yet we never know how anything starts; the Big Bang, a heartbeat for the first time, the very first gene. Odd that, isn’t it; we can’t explain how something occurs out of nothing and I don’t think looking at consciousness is ever really going to answer that existential question for us. Whilst this book was awful in the delivery of its nonsense it did create much opposition in my mind and so I was grateful for the stimulation it provided to think a bit deeper about a concept I don’t yet fully understand.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Muhip Tezcan

    Solid foundation for thinking on consciousness This brilliant book by Dennett, one of the best philosophers of our age, will recreate the way you think about consciousness and build a strong foundation for a scientific, rational explanation of it, inspired by a perfect blend of neuroscience, computer science, psychology and linguistics. Most of us think of the conscious-self as a decision-maker, a driver of the train of thought. This image is shattered by convincing the reader that there is not Solid foundation for thinking on consciousness This brilliant book by Dennett, one of the best philosophers of our age, will recreate the way you think about consciousness and build a strong foundation for a scientific, rational explanation of it, inspired by a perfect blend of neuroscience, computer science, psychology and linguistics. Most of us think of the conscious-self as a decision-maker, a driver of the train of thought. This image is shattered by convincing the reader that there is not a single line of continuous "train" of thought and there is no central point where "it all comes together" . There are multiple inputs, little particles of quasi-narratives, coming from different parts of the brain with different agendas and competing with each other to make their agenda "win", being written and rewritten over and over again in the process. This theory (hastily summarized here by me) may seem counter-intuitive and maybe even outrageous at first, but the author does his best in slowly chipping away at the established beliefs about consciousness such as the Cartesian Theater and convincing the reader at least to have a new, more rational perspective. I was also delighted to see that my own recent theories on consciousness are endorsed here. So I may actually be a bit biased in giving this book a perfect 5-star rating. But it deserves absolutely nothing less than a 4 out of 5 for anyone interested in explaining consciousness.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Kress

    I'm fascinated by the topic of consciousness, and this book appealed to me because I thought it was going to give me a better understanding of what consciousness really is at its core. Well, it doesn't. Unfortunately, it doesn't explain consciousness like the title claims. That's fine though, because I'm pretty sure it's something nobody's ever explained or understood. What sets this apart from Descartes and the 19th century books I've read about this topic is that it brings modern science into I'm fascinated by the topic of consciousness, and this book appealed to me because I thought it was going to give me a better understanding of what consciousness really is at its core. Well, it doesn't. Unfortunately, it doesn't explain consciousness like the title claims. That's fine though, because I'm pretty sure it's something nobody's ever explained or understood. What sets this apart from Descartes and the 19th century books I've read about this topic is that it brings modern science into the equation (or at least, 1991 science). He refutes Cartesian Dualism and uses Darwinism and neuroscience to try to explain what consciousness is. Science is great, but it doesn't explain consciousness. He claims consciousness comes from the brain, and I think that's probably true, but he far from proves it. And nobody has ever disproved Dualism to my satisfaction. I'd suggest you check out Nietzsche's and Schopenhauer's theories of consciousness because although they aren't as scientific, they're very substantive. This review sounds like I'm bashing Dennett and I'm really not. I respect him as a philosopher and liked the book. It just doesn't explain consciousness. Perhaps From Bacteria to Bach and Back will come closer to explaining it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leo Horovitz

    Dennett has conducted a wonderful investigation into the nature of consciousness. Not being satisfied to treat consciousness as something ontologically and fundamentally "special", he dismisses some misguided notions of the workings of consciousness which makes it seem as though there has to be some sort of "center or awareness" in which it all comes together along with the related notion of conscious experience as something which has further unexplainable phenomena, qualia, as its building bloc Dennett has conducted a wonderful investigation into the nature of consciousness. Not being satisfied to treat consciousness as something ontologically and fundamentally "special", he dismisses some misguided notions of the workings of consciousness which makes it seem as though there has to be some sort of "center or awareness" in which it all comes together along with the related notion of conscious experience as something which has further unexplainable phenomena, qualia, as its building blocks. Dennett insist on treating consciousness as just another biological phenomenon, needing an explanation in terms of more fundamental, unconscious, building blocks thereby dismissing the idea of qualia as ungrounded (unless understood as something further analyzable in terms of phenomena that do not exhibit qualia. These two intellectually unmotivated notions are related in that they both suppose that in order to explain consciousness, we need to find something fundamental which is itself like that which it is there to explain. Need to understand conscious experiences? Postulate the existence of basic states of conscious awareness which can not be "explained away": qualia. Need to understand the nature of a conscious person experiencing the world? Postulate the "Cartesian theater" at "the center of the mind" in which all the processing of the brain comes together to yield the final experience. Both these approaches to these questions are highly misguided: to explain the nature of conscious states, we need an explanation of their constituent parts in the brain, how the processes of the brain amount to experiential states, we do not need there to be, in addition to the purely physical processes of the brain, an accompanying unanalyzable state of conscious experience of the processing; to explain the nature of the conscious agent having these experiences, we do not need to find a further, smaller agent inside the mind, taking in all the results of the processes and experiencing their end result. Being predisposed to naturalistic explanation, as any thinking person should be, Dennett rightly concludes that these other explanations, being grounded in myths and mystery, will not do to explain what consciousness is and are often at odds with experimental results (which is, of course, enough to dispel them). Dennett does not have a detailed account of exactly how the processes of the brain amount to conscious experience (and it would be too early to attempt such an explanation), but goes a long way towards showing how scientific discoveries show us the way to asking the right questions. This is, it seems to me, both his usual approach and the right one. Upon suggesting that the mind and consciousness works a certain way, he accompanies the claim with scientific sources conducting experiments on the issue and sometimes suggest future experiments of his own that would test his thesis. In the end, Dennett is unclear about exactly it means for someone to be conscious of something other than that it consists in the person being in a state where his or her brain currently processes information regarding the thing of which he or she is currently conscious. This might seem unsatisfactory, and this is perhaps necessarily so considering the current state of our scientific understanding of the mind. In any case, he does not dismiss consciousness, is not a complete eliminativist regarding it (as some seem to think he is), but rather seeks to demystify it, explain how it is that we are conscious beings and trying to convince the readers that we can keep our conscious minds without clinging on to unwarranted convictions of the special nature of the conscious mind. It's all very clear headed and Dennett seems to say almost exactly as much as should be said about the subject: there is no center of the mind in which experience and intentions arise (no Cartesian theater, no central meaner), there are no basic building blocks of conscious experience such that they can not be further explained in naturalistic terms (no qualia), there is no serious possibility of there coming into being creatures with all the behavioral complexity of conscious human beings who are nonetheless not conscious (no zombies) and the mind and all its workings, consciousness included, needs to be analyzed as a naturalistic phenomenon with no prejudices concerning the "special nature" of subjective experience (phenomenology) that is not explained in terms of objective phenomena (the scientific method).

  20. 5 out of 5

    Teo 2050

    2016.01.23–2016.02.07 Contents Dennett DC (1991) (21:39) Consciousness Explained Preface 01. Prelude: How Are Hallucinations Possible? 01.1. The Brain in the Vat 01.2. Pranksters in the Brain 01.3. A Party Game Called Psychoanalysis 01.4. Preview Part I: Problems and Methods 02. Explaining Consciousness 02.1. Pandora's Box: Should Consciousness Be Demystified? 02.2. The Mystery of Consciousness 02.3. The Attractions of Mind Stuff 02.4. Why Dualism Is Forlorn 02.5. The Challenge 03. A Visit to the Phenomenologic 2016.01.23–2016.02.07 Contents Dennett DC (1991) (21:39) Consciousness Explained Preface 01. Prelude: How Are Hallucinations Possible? 01.1. The Brain in the Vat 01.2. Pranksters in the Brain 01.3. A Party Game Called Psychoanalysis 01.4. Preview Part I: Problems and Methods 02. Explaining Consciousness 02.1. Pandora's Box: Should Consciousness Be Demystified? 02.2. The Mystery of Consciousness 02.3. The Attractions of Mind Stuff 02.4. Why Dualism Is Forlorn 02.5. The Challenge 03. A Visit to the Phenomenological Garden 03.1. Welcome to the Phenom 03.2. Our Experience of the External World 03.3. Our Experience of the Internal World 03.4. Affect 04. A Method for Phenomenology 04.1. First Person Plural 04.2. The Third-Person Perspective 04.3. The Method of Heterophenomenology 04.4. Fictional Worlds and Heterophenomenological Worlds 04.5. The Discreet Charm of the Anthropologist 04.6. Discovering What Someone Is Really Talking About 04.7. Shakey's Mental Images 04.8. The Neutrality of Heterophenomenology Part II: An Empirical Theory of Mind 05. Multiple Drafts Versus the Cartesian Theater 05.1. The Point of View of the Observer 05.2. Introducing the Multiple Drafts Model 05.3. Orwellian and Stalinesque Revisions 05.4. The Theater of Consciousness Revisited 05.5. The Multiple Drafts Model in Action 06. Time and Experience 06.1. Fleeting Moments and Hopping Rabbits 06.2. How the Brain Represents Time 06.3. Libet's Case of "Backwards Referral in Time" 06.4. Libet's Claim of Subjective Delay of Consciousness of Intention 06.5. A Treat: Grey Walter's Precognitive Carousel 06.6. Loose Ends 07. The Evolution of Consciousness 07.1. Inside the Black Box of Consciousness 07.2. Early Days 07.2.1. Scene One: The Birth of Boundaries and Reasons 07.2.2. Scene Two: New and Better Ways of Producing Future 07.3. Evolution in Brains, and the Baldwin Effect 07.4. Plasticity in the Human Brain: Setting the Stage 07.5. The Invention of Good and Bad Habits of Autostimulation 07.6. The Third Evolutionary Process: Memes and Cultural Evolution 07.7. The Memes of Consciousness: The Virtual Machine to Be Installed 08. How Words Do Things with Us 08.1. Review: E Pluribus Unum? 08.2. Bureaucracy versus Pandemonium 08.3. When Words Want to Get Themselves Said 09. The Architecture of the Human Mind 09.1. Where Are We? 09.2. Orienting Ourselves with the Thumbnail Sketch 09.3. And Then What Happens? 09.4. The Powers of the Joycean Machine 09.5. But Is This a Theory of Consciousness? Part III: The Philosophical Problems of Consciousness 10. Show and Tell 10.1. Rotating Images in the Mind's Eye 10.2. Words, Pictures, and Thoughts 10.3. Reporting and Expressing 10.4. Zombies, Zimboes, and the User Illusion 10.5. Problems with Folk Psychology 11. Dismantling the Witness Protection Program 11.1. Review 11.2. Blindsight: Partial Zombiehood? 11.3. Hide the Thimble: An Exercise in Consciousness-Raising 11.4. Prosthetic Vision: What, Aside from Information, Is Still Missing? 11.5. "Filling In" versus Finding Out 11.6. Neglect as a Pathological Loss of Epistemic Appetite 11.7. Virtual Presence 11.8. Seeing Is Believing: A Dialogue with Otto 12. Qualia Disqualified 12.1. A New Kite String 12.2. Why Are There Colors? 12.3. Enjoying Our Experiences 12.4. A Philosophical Fantasy: Inverted Qualia 12.5. "Epiphenomenal" Qualia? 12.6. Getting Back on My Rocker 13. The Reality of Selves 13.1. How Human Beings Spin a Self 13.2. How Many Selves to a Customer? 13.3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being 14. Consciousness Imagined 14.1. Imagining a Conscious Robot 14.2. What It Is Like to Be a Bat 14.3. Minding and Mattering 14.4. Consciousness Explained, or Explained Away? Appendix A (for Philosophers) Appendix B (for Scientists) Bibliography Index

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    This book attempts a third-person, analytic approach to the investigation of the mind/body problem, as opposed to the traditional first-person, inductive approach found in Descartes and Searle. For the first few hundred pages, Dennett relates a series of rational errors that plague the subject of consciousness; undeniably universal errors such as the phi phenomenon, wherein one posits flashes as movement, and the subject's tendency to say two related but distinct words at the same time. This lea This book attempts a third-person, analytic approach to the investigation of the mind/body problem, as opposed to the traditional first-person, inductive approach found in Descartes and Searle. For the first few hundred pages, Dennett relates a series of rational errors that plague the subject of consciousness; undeniably universal errors such as the phi phenomenon, wherein one posits flashes as movement, and the subject's tendency to say two related but distinct words at the same time. This leads to Dennett asserting consciousness to be not a point where one thinks but a desk where one composes "multiple drafts." This seems contradictory from an analytical viewpoint. Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, denotes apagogic (indirect) reasoning as being unable to lead to any sort of truth because it breaks Aristotle's Law of Non-Contradiction; yet Dennett seems to think that he can posit the subject as knowing and not knowing at the same time (as if he were an Hegelian!), while giving examples of what consciousness isn't in an attempt to arrive at what it is. But even here his pretensions to discovery fail him when he asserts that consciousness is not continuous enough to present a coherent whole, or arrive at a rational point, and he gives the inability to detect typos as an example; yet, rationalists have always noted the deficiences of consciousness: Seneca, in Letters from a Stoic, cautions his pen-pal not to speak of a book one has only read once because the mind is sure to have missed something, and stoics were cosmic monists, but epistemological dualists! Dennett endlessly labours the point that the Cartesian Theater is magical and anti-scientific, but Chomsky points out that Cartesian dualism was quite scientific at the time it originated and compares it to Newton's "objects at a distance" in that scientists thought, "One cannot measure this, but it is no doubt there." Dennett never tires of attacking this point as if it were positing "imaginary gremlins." As a sort of climax to the book, the author attacks Searle's "Chinese Room" thought experiment as an "intuition pump" and asserts that human consciousness can be mechanically programmed. But Searle in The Mystery of Consciousness points out that, no matter how much information you have on someone, you will not be able to accurately predict, without any chance for error, how that someone will vote in the next election; this is because of the "intrinsic intentionality" that is an aspect of organic life, and which is not mechanically reproducable. How one views consciousness, as something rational or irrational, and Dennett is certainly of the latter perspective, is to a large extent determined by historical and cultural shifts. Bertrand Russell notes how European history seems to follow Hegelian principles - every 200 years, a rational age ushers in an irrational one, which later gives way to an enlightenment, followed by a romanticism. Isn't it romantic that Dennett concludes this book by saying we're all novelists writing fiction (as if he were Derrida)? I do not see how this isn't a dispositional problem (and if you've read Dennett, you may note his incessant deployment of childish phrases and cheap anecdotal whimsy as evidence). According to his theory, I did not compose this review in my head before setting down, but I am quite sure that I did. Russell says, "I believe the whole mind/matter problem contains a lot less mind, and a lot less matter than many would have you think." After reading Dennett's empty results, I cannot help but insist on this viewpoint.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Simon Hohenadl

    I really enjoyed this book for these reasons: - It is long, yet almost always engaging. The author only rarely trailed off in discussions that were meaningless for me. - It is well structured and well-worded - I encountered many concepts that I already had in my mind, but would have been unable to put into words, especially so succinctly - I found a great mix of reasoning, research and anecdotes. - It has philosophical and scientific depth, but a lot of examples from everyday life. I feel like a gap i I really enjoyed this book for these reasons: - It is long, yet almost always engaging. The author only rarely trailed off in discussions that were meaningless for me. - It is well structured and well-worded - I encountered many concepts that I already had in my mind, but would have been unable to put into words, especially so succinctly - I found a great mix of reasoning, research and anecdotes. - It has philosophical and scientific depth, but a lot of examples from everyday life. I feel like a gap in my knowledge has been filled and I am better equipped for philosophical reasoning and discussions.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rick Harrington

    Yet another book which magically escaped my attention, though reading it would have promoted my understanding of so much. Better late than never, eh? And as always, there was no program to my finding it. An old re-met friend rather, who must have been remembering me as I once was well over 30 years ago, lent it to me. He thought the book had my name written all over it. Indeed! Nor do I wish to lay claim to that identity I would name for myself, acknowledging readily that most of what I call mys Yet another book which magically escaped my attention, though reading it would have promoted my understanding of so much. Better late than never, eh? And as always, there was no program to my finding it. An old re-met friend rather, who must have been remembering me as I once was well over 30 years ago, lent it to me. He thought the book had my name written all over it. Indeed! Nor do I wish to lay claim to that identity I would name for myself, acknowledging readily that most of what I call myself is at best character-based response to happenstance. As to the enactor of my conjectured character, we may forget him as readily as that creature which eats its brains once they've served the purpose of lodging it. I can find nothing with which to disagree here. Astonishingly to me, I also find that consciousness has indeed been explained. I have no further questions, or rather the questions can be left aside and the work turned to more interesting matters. Such as, for a quick instance, how is it that we can rid our minds of those harmful parasitic memes which would harness our apparently hard-wired self-aggrandizement compulsions. What political arrangements might make us act otherwise than to incorporate any and all techniques for manipulation of the symbolic discourse of money toward our maximal individual corporeal advantage at the expense of any cultured ground? For so long as the Big Questions remain unanswered, there will always be some convenient jog to excuse whatever local pleasure or convenience we can buy at some discount from ever-attenuating meanings for value. Profit extensible to infinity on misdirection alone such as would cause P.T. Barnum to blush. Let me sell you self-confidence with that logo. Quite simply, whatever consciousness is, it will not outlast our physical implicated being which is continuous with the Earth together with whom we have evolved to this point. My mind extends - there are no bounds - into all of that stuff which can be understood in principle, but also into that which cannot be comprehended. Chance will forever exceed my grasp, else what's a meta for? It is the stuff of chance we will destroy for so long as answers remain deferred. There will be no end to our manipulations of words, of money, of tools of every sort because, as with a siren pitching ever higher, we will not stop. There is no ending, and so enthusiasm for ever-more is the only forever. Enough! I mean honestly. Just as it sets out to do, this book defines the question and along the way discards those questions which still compel so many among us to defer our very responsibility because it is so pleasurable to imagine more perfect unions. If, in other words, there were to come about some critical mass of readers who have mastered this work, we could finally begin engagement in those discourses which might wrest humanity from the degeneration which is attendant upon inhabitation by those memes in whose thrall our brains now labor. And in that sense, this must be the most important book I, for one, have ever read. By limiting the field for proper questioning it has in fact already answered that which by its end remains, its author claims, conjecture. Will enough of us learn to read it before it's become too late? It makes a nice dream that enough of us shall, which finally will not only explain consciousness but create it. Nice work!!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Stein

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I was trying out a new reading methodology for Consciousness Explained, reading the critiques of articles entered in journals alongside the actual text, which allowed me to see both the illegitimacy of some of the criticisms and the serious problems with some of the text. I strongly recommend that methodology. I'll be trying it again at some point soon. Dennett's text is considered one of the most significant texts in modern philosophy of consciousness, which is odd since there are some major cri I was trying out a new reading methodology for Consciousness Explained, reading the critiques of articles entered in journals alongside the actual text, which allowed me to see both the illegitimacy of some of the criticisms and the serious problems with some of the text. I strongly recommend that methodology. I'll be trying it again at some point soon. Dennett's text is considered one of the most significant texts in modern philosophy of consciousness, which is odd since there are some major criticisms of it that seem very strong. I strongly recommend the critiques by Ned Block (Journal of Philosophy, 1993) and Colin McGinn (Philosophical Perspectives, 1995), which point out that Dennett actually doesn't construct a theory of consciousness. The most powerful part of the text, which has largely been accepted and adopted even by many of Dennett's dissenters, is the discussion of the Cartesian Theater. That said, the rest of the text is kind of hard to read, since it seems fairly weak. Dennett himself is constantly hedging his bets, acting as a pragmatist. He does this extensively in his discussions of heterophenomenology and the Multiple Drafts Model. The problem, though, is that the MDS is not a model of consciousness, but a model of content and the way in which content relates to consciousness. There are a lot of reviews on here that are critical of Dennett but admit to not having read the entire book. I'm not one of those people. I'm also not going to say that "Dennett reads like Derrida" or something silly like that. The fact is, Dennett has a very unique and engaging writing style, but I think it's worthwhile to remain skeptical of many of his claims, and to try to follow whether the arguments that he paints as in contrast to his own are actually being addressed by the content that follows. It's a worthwhile read for those who are interested in consciousness, and content, but I definitely don't recommend this as a first read. Despite its accessible writing style, the actual content may lead to later confusion, as much of the debate has changed since the writing of the book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gendou

    Dennett uses some fascinating case studies from neuropsychology to debunk what he calls the Cartesian Theatre. He means the gut instinct we have that what goes on inside the brain is like a little multimedia presentation on a screen, in front of the audience of the soul. First off, he rightfully dismisses dualism. He then shows how there is no need for, or evidence for, a Cartesian Theatre. He introduces the temporal and spacial distribution of the mind in the brain. He shows how simple experime Dennett uses some fascinating case studies from neuropsychology to debunk what he calls the Cartesian Theatre. He means the gut instinct we have that what goes on inside the brain is like a little multimedia presentation on a screen, in front of the audience of the soul. First off, he rightfully dismisses dualism. He then shows how there is no need for, or evidence for, a Cartesian Theatre. He introduces the temporal and spacial distribution of the mind in the brain. He shows how simple experiments show that our minds misremember by one of two means. 1. Orwellian cognitive theory says that the subject of a false time perception perceives the stimulus correctly, but constructs the memory of it incorrectly. The new memory overwrites the old memory so fast that verbal reports are always of the false memory. 2. Stalinesque cognitive theory says that your brain has a time-delay (like a tape delay in live TV shows) in what you are conscious of. Consciousness is delayed long enough for the perception-editor to fill in facts that were not in the stimulus itself. So your memory is correct, but the original consciousness was mistaken (like Stalin’s show trials). He shows that these cannot in fact be distinguished. He proposes instead a Multiple Drafts hypothesis, that the brain is constantly making up new theories and discarding old ones.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Imagine if a bat was raised in an unbatty room, never watched zombie movies, and only ate black and white Chinese take-out food. Now imagine if the bat only seemed to be a bat, and the zombie movies that it didn’t watch were of zombies acting like humans would act if they were acting like zombies acting like humans. How could we say, or at least acknowledge precognitively to appear to say, that the qualia of the unbattiness of the room coadaptively represented the epiphenomenological non-Chinese Imagine if a bat was raised in an unbatty room, never watched zombie movies, and only ate black and white Chinese take-out food. Now imagine if the bat only seemed to be a bat, and the zombie movies that it didn’t watch were of zombies acting like humans would act if they were acting like zombies acting like humans. How could we say, or at least acknowledge precognitively to appear to say, that the qualia of the unbattiness of the room coadaptively represented the epiphenomenological non-Chineseness of all anti-food experiences? We couldn’t! But here's the trick; it only seemed to you that you were really imagining this, but you are in fact the zombie that the human-acted-zombie is acting like, and your neuronal excitations are by definition unbatty because you are in the state of acting like a human. It therefore becomes clear that this is the position we must take if we are going to review Consciousness Explained, and yet when you look closely, there is no reviewer, and therefore, there is no review. I give it 3 bats. -Otto

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    While Dennett is probably better known to most readers as a grumbly professional atheist, I really don't need any help in that regard, so I went straight to his book on philosophy of mind. I can see why he's a public figure-- he's downright chatty and personable for a chilly analytic philosopher, and at the same time clear and rigorous in his presentation of ideas. As for the ideas themselves... OK, the multiple-drafts notion of consciousness is something I can certainly get behind, and his attac While Dennett is probably better known to most readers as a grumbly professional atheist, I really don't need any help in that regard, so I went straight to his book on philosophy of mind. I can see why he's a public figure-- he's downright chatty and personable for a chilly analytic philosopher, and at the same time clear and rigorous in his presentation of ideas. As for the ideas themselves... OK, the multiple-drafts notion of consciousness is something I can certainly get behind, and his attack on the "Cartesian theater" notion, while it seems obvious, is something that really needs to be done every once in a while to clean philosophical house. But as to how we arrive at that multiple-drafts state, he relies on an excessively inductive understanding of evolution and the brain-as-computer metaphor that seems to cripple cognitive research. I tend to agree far more with people like Searle, Dreyfus, Putnam, and Merleau-Ponty, whom Dennett explicitly rejects.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sylvia

    This is probably my favorite non-fiction book that I have ever read. I read it for the first time when I was 15 or so, and have probably read it a dozen times since. When I was a dumb highschooler with a passing interest in science who loved pop science books? Loved it. When I was getting my degree in computational neuroscience and looking for pioneers in the field? Loved it. Now, with a glass of red wine and a desire to wax philosophical with my friends? Love it. In fact, I like it so much that This is probably my favorite non-fiction book that I have ever read. I read it for the first time when I was 15 or so, and have probably read it a dozen times since. When I was a dumb highschooler with a passing interest in science who loved pop science books? Loved it. When I was getting my degree in computational neuroscience and looking for pioneers in the field? Loved it. Now, with a glass of red wine and a desire to wax philosophical with my friends? Love it. In fact, I like it so much that I can scarcely tell whether it is really the best book ever, or whether Daniel C. Dennett's mind is organized so much like my own that it is just the best book ever...for me. And then I read it again and I DON'T EVEN CARE. Fifteen thousand stars.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jon Boorstin

    Dennett tackles the consciousness question from a common-sense/philosopical point of view, if such a thing is possible. It's an intriguing, if not entirely convincing theory. It feels like a good attempt to figure something out that won't be figured out for another twenty years.

  30. 4 out of 5

    amy

    Consciousness was, unfortunately, NOT explained.

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