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Consciousness Explained [Paperback]

Daniel C. Dennett
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 20 1992 9780316180665 978-0316180665 0
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

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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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Introduction to Consciousness Dec 22 2006
By Oliver TOP 500 REVIEWER
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Is Consciousness an Impenatrable Mystery? 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.
Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What? Oct. 2 1999
Format:Paperback
I'm afraid this book doesn't explain consciousness. It doesn't explain how inanimate matter can understand anything. It doesn't explain how Dennet understands anything.
I was more than disappointed. Buy it by all means, but only to laugh at it with your friends. Deary me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Consciousness pretty much skipped altogether Sept. 12 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The one-line summary above says it all. Would that Dennett had been so terse; his failure to address the subject he claims to address would have been obvious.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Talk about philosophical failure! Dennett says he is going to explain consciousness, and winds up denying there is any such thing. This would have fit handily into one sentence (it just did). I understand his motivation for doing this -- he wants to believe that computers are some day going to be just as conscious as animals, but it is really silly. Consciousness is a fact of life. When you're bonked on the head, you lose it for a while. More important, if you want to explain social reality and the group actions of human beings, consciousness and intentionality are your basic building blocks.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A pretentious book Aug. 23 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
If Dennett explains consciousness then it must be cleverly concealed. Perhaps, it is a cryptogram to be solved by the reader. Dennett has no answers, just a lot of stimulus-response stuff. This approach has already reached a dead end. Perhaps Dennett doesn't know.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What Dennett explains here is not consciousness. March 13 2001
By Georg
Format:Paperback
The book's title is promising. This promise is nowhere fulfilled. Dennett does not explain consciousness, he does not even try to. He decides by fiat, which phenomena are to be called conscious "scientifically". He then attempts to explain them.
His "explanation" amounts to DEFINING consciousness as what can be explained in non-conscious terms. Needless to say, the essence of consciousness, which is the personal experience, is not touched upon. Its mere mention brings accusations of Cartesianism or unscientific attitude. His multiple drafts idea is an atempt to use the unconscious and its mystery in order to hide the shortcomings of the undefendable idea that mind is a programme.
The main reason I am reviewing this book is that I was tricked from the hype into reading it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hogwash Dec 6 1998
Format:Paperback
Daniel Dennett's idea of a spiffy, up-to-date methodology is -- get this -- Skinnerian behaviorism! The man who put rats in boxes and insisted that "inner states" were not valid scientific subjects of study.
Dennett "explains" consciousness by denying that it exists. How stupid can you get? This is not just my opinion: it is conclusively demonstrated in John Searle's book, "The Mystery of Consciousness" which has a chapter on this book featuring a revealing exchange between Searle and Dennett. Searle charges Dennett with denying the phenomenon which he is trying to explain, and Dennett (apparently in confusion) admits the charge!!
Most of this claptrap has been rendered completely obsolete, in any case, by Terrence Deacon's great book, "The Symbolic Species." Chomsky and Minsky and Hofstadter and a whole passel of pretentious AI gurus go to the wall, and rightfully so.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Irritating
Dennett is this pompous author who plunges into the subject without a proper appreciation of the complexities of the matter. Read more
Published on June 1 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Blissful ignorance
I wonder if Dennett has ever truly understood the Kantian dichotomy of noumenon and phenomena. At any rate, nowhere in his book, there is any meaningful reference to this... Read more
Published on March 26 2004 by Ferdino
1.0 out of 5 stars Dennett's Dangerous Idea
First of all, this guy's book-title smacks of hubris! He is a pedant posing as a philosopher. Using sophistry to weave a web of verbal convolutions, in which consciousness manages... Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2004 by ken
2.0 out of 5 stars consciousness denied
The above is the title of a review of Dennet's book by John Searle in his 'Mysteries of Consciousness'... Read more
Published on Oct. 16 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars typical language game
The mistake here is in assuming the mind is SOMETHING - some abstract object waiting for someone to comprehend it. Read more
Published on March 21 2003 by Isle of Jurs
2.0 out of 5 stars Descartes and computers.
Very slow and far too long book based on a few crucial experiments or diseases: the color-phi-phenomenon of Koler, the experiments of Libet and Multiple Personality Disorder. Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2003 by Luc REYNAERT
4.0 out of 5 stars Conscious is as conscious does
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. Read more
Published on Sept. 2 2002 by Jeremy M. Harris
1.0 out of 5 stars Lots of Words to Explain Very Few Ideas
This book contains a great many words. Unfortunately, it contains only a very few ideas. This book could very well be contained in a 15 page white paper. Indeed it has. Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2002 by Tom Gray
2.0 out of 5 stars Utter arrogance with moments of awe
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... Read more
Published on Aug. 7 2002 by "perroquet"
5.0 out of 5 stars A monumental attempt.
Dennett is one of the formemost philosophers of our day. This is, arguably, one of the most important books on consciousness written. Read more
Published on June 13 2002 by Carlos Camara
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