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.
Dennett set's himself a monumental task in Consciousness Explained, not only in offering a scientifically informed positive account of one of the most elusive aspects of human psychology, but attacking head-on the deeply rooted (but deeply mistaken) intuitions that have paralyzed discussions of consciousness for over a century. Dennett's tremendous wealth of illustrative metaphors, thought experiments and counter-intuitive empirical findings are more than persuasive, they are illusion-shattering, gifting the dedicated reader (and listener) with a newer and vastly superior conceptual understanding of those phenomena most intimate to all of us: Our own stream of consciousness.
For technical detail and breadth of topics, Consciousness Explained is akin to books like Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works", but where Pinker shies away from matter difficult to address with straightforward empirical research, Dennett dives in with both feet, continually challenging and reframing the very perspective we bring to our own inner life.
I have not heard any of this other narrations, but his voice (and modulation of voice when depicting contrasting characters in dialogues) was very appropriate for this piece.
The Oracle at Delphi commands "Know Thyself". Some 3000 years later, Dennett has sketched out how we may finally do just that.
I encourage perseverance in anyone who is interested in the topic of consciousness, but is turned off by the early sections of the book. The intuitions of the Cartesian Theater are so native to how we view the minds of ourselves and others, many will simply give up unconvinced when Dennett first firmly challenges this framing. Even if you don't feel convinced at first, give it the benefit of the doubt. Imagine what Dennett is describing as if it were true of some thinking creature, even if it doesn't feel natural applying it to yourself. By the time to reach the final third of the book, you will be so well furnished with examples and empirical findings that the sincere questioning of your own Cartesian Theater will finally become a visceral option, and once you're there, the sky's the limit!
No. This is a very hard, complicated book. And, yes, it can get boring. I tend to love Dan Dennett's books after I read them because they are super interesting, insightful, and relevant. But while I read them, I hate them because they are complicated and hard to pay attention to. If you are looking for a page turner, go somewhere else. If you want a good understanding of consciousness and are willing to put in some effort, this book is great.
Daniel Dennett is a philosopher, not a scientist. He won't touch anatomy with a 39.5 foot pole, and he also avoids neurology. His sketch of consciousness is hypothetical, explaining how consciousness might appear when scientists start to look, as they have done by now. This book was written a quarter century ago, and this quarter century has been crazy productive for neuroscience. Luckily, Consciousness Explained has aged well. It is still as relevant today as in 1991, mostly because it is more philosophical than scientific, and we still still don't understand exactly what consciousness is.
That said, I hope Dennett revises it in a second edition. He is almost 73, and he hasn't done so yet. I love his more recent writings on religion, but it would be a shame if he never revises his magnum opus.
Dennett is a great modern thinker. While not providing a detailed description of consciousness as the title may suggest, it does a wonderful job of debunking most "intuitive" explanations of consciousness that hinder us from deeper understandings on the matter.
Letting the rest of the world go by
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.
The author seems very knowledgeable about his field of consciousness and, what I understood, was enlightening. However, most of it was beyond my knowledge. How and why consciousness evolved is still a mystery to me so I will have to look elsewhere. As I see more and more non-human species live out their lives, I am awed at the specialized "knowledge" that abounds in nature from plants to all other species. For instance, this year there are huge numbers of tiny frogs/toads (?) hopping around everywhere. They seem to "know" to go off at a right angle to my pathway if they are directly in front of my next footfall. How do they know to go at a right angle? Just one of the amazing "consciousness" that nature at all species levels seems to have evolved.
I also don't think he did justice to paranormal phenomena. For instance, why did 700 people have dreams, including myself, with foreboding so intense that they phoned President Kennedy not to go to Dallas. I had a precognitive dream of Lyndon Johnson being called Mr. President several days before the event.
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