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Consciousness Explained Paperback – Oct 20 1992

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (Oct. 20 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316180661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316180665
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3.2 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #58,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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Consciousness is notoriously difficult to explain. On one hand, there are facts about conscious experience--the way clarinets sound, the way lemonade tastes--that we know subjectively, from the inside. On the other hand, such facts are not readily accommodated in the objective world described by science. How, after all, could the reediness of clarinets or the tartness of lemonade be predicted in advance? Central to Daniel C. Dennett's attempt to resolve this dilemma is the "heterophenomenological" method, which treats reports of introspection nontraditionally--not as evidence to be used in explaining consciousness, but as data to be explained. Using this method, Dennett argues against the myth of the Cartesian theater--the idea that consciousness can be precisely located in space or in time. To replace the Cartesian theater, he introduces his own multiple drafts model of consciousness, in which the mind is a bubbling congeries of unsupervised parallel processing. Finally, Dennett tackles the conventional philosophical questions about consciousness, taking issue not only with the traditional answers but also with the traditional methodology by which they were reached.

Dennett's writing, while always serious, is never solemn; who would have thought that combining philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience could be such fun? Not every reader will be convinced that Dennett has succeeded in explaining consciousness; many will feel that his account fails to capture essential features of conscious experience. But none will want to deny that the attempt was well worth making. --Glenn Branch

From Publishers Weekly

Tufts University cognitive scientist Dennett claims to have developed a major new theory of consciousness, yet his view of the brain as a massive parallel processor is a familiar one. What is different in his counter-intuitive theory is the claim that human consciousness, rather than being "hard-wired" into the brain's innate machinery, is more like software "running on the brain's parallel hardware" and is largely a product of cultural evolution. Author of Brainstorms , Dennett leads the adventurous gently through thought experiments, metaphors and diagrams in a treatise keyed to the serious, diligent reader. He presents a plausible evolutionary scenario of how consciousness could have emerged from the hominid brain. Dennett's audacious, tantalizing foray into the mind's inner workings ties up loose ends at the interface of cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, neuroscience and biology.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3.1 out of 5 stars

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Oliver TOP 500 REVIEWER on Dec 22 2006
Format: Paperback
"Consciousness Explained" is the best place to start if you want to begin the venture into this perplexing area. Dennett's books is well organized, well thought out, and does a wonderful job of explaining difficult concepts in a way that is interesting and relatively easy to understand.

Another reviewer titles his review "Consciousness Denied." That is a fair comment. Many people think that Dennett explains away consciousness, rather than explaining it. In fact, I agree with that critism myself -- I think. I tend to agree with John Searle (again -- think). The one star rating, however, is grossly unfair. Consciousness is a very hard problem, to put it mildly, and Dennett's reasoning and opinions are crucial for two reasons. First, they are very well thought out, and well expressed. Moreover, Dennett is one of the key writers in the area, and if you read anything else about consciousness, you will find references and responses to Dennett.

Other authors worth reading in this area include John Searle (no friend of Dennett), Susan Blackmore, Steven Pinker, David Chalmers, V. S. Ramachandran and Antonio Damasio.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Boyer on March 19 2004
Format: Paperback
If one chooses, as Dennett explains early on, to think about consciousness as if it were not inexplicable, not indecipherable, then one would look for answers with what's available.
Writing software programs as I do, I understand how difficult it is to get a computer to "think", let alone to actually think.
People just don't yet understand how revolutionary and ingenious evolutionary software is, nor does the everyday person comprehend the radical impact it will have over time. Dennett is dead on. Get involved with computers, read about genetic algorithms and see the types of problems that genetic programming can solve.
When you get what its impact is maybe you'll begin to realize that if you tire of "mystery" and want to understand he's laid the path with real information. A real solution to the question of consciousness.
All of the pages he wrote were to lay the necessary foundation to help the layman (or the ignorant intellectual) understand the necessary methods of thinking to see the solution. As he wrote in Darwin's Dangerous Idea people don't yet see just how important the evolutionary algoritm is so vital. It happens everywhere we have replication, mutation, and selection. When one wishes to achieve computer behavior that appears intelligent AND you quit trying to program in every possibility, THEN you have to allow the program to present varied solutions and use some testing algorithm to evalutate the solutions for fitness.
His whole book seems to be oriented around the brain's massively parallel structure being set up to do just that at all levels. From interpreting input data to choosing output actions.
At all levels the mind uses evolutionary algorithms to present solutions and select them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian Bagnall on July 1 2001
Format: Paperback
The good news is, this is a thought-provoking book, and anyone reading it will walk away feeling they know a little more about what makes humans conscious. The bad news is he doesn't come close to fulfilling the promise of the title. Dennett presents a pretty simple theory that could be explained in a few pages and a nice diagram. The theory is this: 'Basically, instead of a tiny "soul" that represents consciousness, our mind is composed of many simple task-specific processes'. He could have presented this concisely and dug deeper into the components of the theory. Instead he seems to want to stretch it out unnecessarily for about the first 200 pages of the book, and he's not even clear in explaining it! He also overstates the impact of this theory repeatedly - commenting that it "might seem outrageous" and that it's "counterintuitive". Actually, it's neither of those things, so it just seems like he's trying to over inflate the theory. Usually when reading these types of books I get that "Aha!" feeling now and then, but I didn't get it once reading this book.
He also builds up a straw man in the form of "the Cartesian theater" and repeatedly bashes it. I don't know why it's so important to him to put this theory to rest - probably this is something important in philosophical circles. If this Cartesian Theater is a big force in philosophy, I must say I'm a little disappointed in the whole philosophical field. They should learn about programming. I would much rather see him building on his existing model, digging deeper into the specifics, cataloguing and explaining what some of these "mini-homunculi" or automatic functions might be. Instead he repeatedly beats a dead horse.
Most programmers have the mindset that complex behavior can be built up from many simple functions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Dec 3 1998
Format: Paperback
Some of the glowing reviews on this page do not surprise me (perhaps this author has an unusually large extended family round every Christmas?), but for those who may still have some wit in their head and an ear prepared to listen, this is a tract so breathtakingly awful that new adjectives would have to be invented to do it justice. There are a few interesting points made, it is true, such as curious time lapse effects in the way the brain structures its cognitive models, but this observation isn't even Dennett's own, and is buried under an avalanche of verbose and irrelevant twaddle. The text in this book is among the worst ever to have seen the light of day in a work of non fiction which purports to an educational purpose.....filled out on almost every page with dizzyingly bombastic language, meanderings into yawnsome self-invented fantasies, and a prose so teeth-grindingly pretentious that any editor worth (her) title would have to nail (him)self to the chair to save from hurling it in the general direction of the waste recycling unit. As to the claim of the title, *Consciousness Explained*, what can one do except shake one's head in profound embarrassment for the company who saw fit to publish the thing? Dennett employs the age old philosophical device (of very dubious lineage) in which you start out (offering no valid proof whatsoever) by redescribing the central bone of contention to your own personally tailored 'definition' which collapses the issue, and then proceed to claim that others have 'misunderstood' the problem because they are arguing for something which isn't 'really' there (see for example some of the other reviews on this page for more of the same). Erm...........noooooo!Read more ›
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