Book Reviews of Consciousness Explained

Consciousness Explained
Consciousness Explained
Author: Daniel C. Dennett
ISBN-13: 9780316180665
ISBN-10: 0316180661
Publication Date: 10/20/1992
Pages: 528
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.

3.6 stars, based on 7 ratings
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

2 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed Consciousness Explained on + 29 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
A somewhat dense and long explanation of Dennett's latest take on the philosophy of consciousness. Could be skimmed to get the meat of the idea, but does include a lot of recent research on the topic and is valuable for that.
reviewed Consciousness Explained on + 163 more book reviews
I have not fully accepted the author's claim (that he has explained consciousness), nor, obviously, his model for consciousness, but there is so much fascinating mind food in here that it's well worth five stars.

I guess this book has become a de rigeur foundational piece for anybody interested in what consciousness is, because he sets up a groundwork for discussing it, and he covers lots of things (like Descartes' consideration of the question), and the thought experiments provide wonderful fodder for at least making me consider what counts, and what doesn't, as consciousness.

Ultimately, I disagree with him. From a scientist's point of view, of course, a model of dualism is wrong - that is, the idea that there is a 'mind' separate from 'the brain' which is unmeasurable in any way - because the mind there is by definition set up to be unmeasurable. Why should some bit of food I eat, which is clearly not conscious, and has no 'mind' - suddenly get this property if it becomes digested and becomes some of the material in my brain?

Yes, there are plenty of real problems with dualism. That, however, doesn't mean his model is right. His model is what he calls 'the multiple draft model' and it's interesting. But after a few hundred pages of not saying consciousness is an illusion, he more or less says, yes, it's an illusion, alright, and we're all 'zombies' and there's nothing different between us and a (hypothetical) computer that had many layers of self-investigation.

But it seems to me the 'illusion' premise is easily struck down - by definition. An illusion is a misperception. Unlike the proverbial 'tree in the forest,' an illusion truly does not exist without an observer. An illusion requires an observer to misperceive something. So if consciousness is an illusion, who's it fooling? Whatever that is, is consciousness, even if it's a small thing.

Incidentally, The only place I noticed the age of this book is in his talking about how language is crucial in advanced 'consciousness' - and that therefore, non-humans cannot be said to be conscious. However, many animals are capable of rudimentary language. Incidentally to the incidentally, a section about language early in the book - and how memes live and mutate and spread and therefore evolve in the Darwinian sense - is fascinating, and made me a little smarter, I think, than I was before.

Anyway. This is a necessary read for anyone considering the nature of consciousness, and the puzzle of how millions of cells which act as a confederacy can achieve something so unified as conscious experience.