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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: 9780316180665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316180665
  • ASIN: 0316180661
  • 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: #79,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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7 of 7 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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Format: Paperback
I believe it was Thomas Wolfe who once remarked with pride that he was a generous literary putter-inner, while minimalists like Ernest Hemingway were stingy leaver-outers. No one who finishes "Consciousness Explained" will doubt that Dennett belongs among the putter-inners. For example, on reaching page 280 the reader is casually told, "I have been coy about consciousness up to now." If only we had known, Daniel, that you've been toying with us through half the book...
Dennett does make a coherent case, but the theme is buried in so many asides and diversions that one needs a conceptual GPS to stay oriented. Since he has the whole map in his head, the author naturally tends to forget that others on the tour bus may have lost their bearings two or three turns ago. On the plus side, Dennett's pleasantly conversational tone, clever analogies and colorful terminology (Stalinesque, Multiple Drafts, Witness Protection Program) help to sustain our interest and clarify difficult concepts.
The big picture (I think) is that investigations of consciousness have traditionally been hindered by reliance on the concept of a "Cartesian Theater" in the mind where a homunculus (the audience) makes conscious observations. As long as the nature of the theater and the homunculus remain elusive, the whole approach merely begs the questions of what consciousness is and how it happens. Dennett proposes that neither the theater nor the audience exists (i.e. the analogies are empty) and that a massively parallel process he calls Multiple Drafts is more descriptive of what happens in a conscious brain.
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Dennett's book mainly serves to present his theory of consciousness, the Multiple Drafts Model. It should be called "The Multiple Drafts Model, and footnotes" rather than "Consciousness Explained." It is worth noting that his model is not based on empirical evidence. It is also worth noting that the majority of modern cognitive scientists do not think it is correct.
The good:
I am an aspiring cognitive scientist, and the first chapter brought tears to my eyes. It considers the issue of "Should consciousness be studied?" in a pleasing way. The book is generally well written and hidden in it are interesting thought experiments and scientific gems.
The bad and the ugly:
Dennett would lead you to think the ideas presented in this book are his own, considering the tiny number of times he mentions other researchers or groups in his text. This is the worst kind of arrogance!
Other times, he states results and ideas with such firmness that you would think they are facts, when they aren't. For instance, he rejects the idea of "strong hallucinations" by saying there's no evidence for them. Some people would think this isn't true, for instance, atropine based chemicals are known to cause what some would say are "strong hallucinations." His treatment of blindsight is atrocious, for skewing the facts in the face of the layperson, and ignoring the literature in the face of the scientist.
Finally, the book is ENORMOUS and consciousness is not "explained." Don't waste your time. Read the first chapter to get the warm fuzzies, skim chapter five to understand his Multiple Drafts model, and ignore the rest.
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