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Publisher's Summary

What is human consciousness, and how is it possible? This question fascinates thinking people from poets and painters to physicists, psychologists, and philosophers. From Bacteria to Bach and Back is Daniel C. Dennett's brilliant answer, extending perspectives from his earlier work in surprising directions, exploring the deep interactions of evolution, brains, and human culture.

Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett's legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought. In his inimitable style - laced with wit and arresting thought experiments - Dennett shows how culture enables reflection by installing a bounty of thinking tools, or memes, in our brains. Language, itself composed of memes, turbocharged this interplay. The result, a mind that can comprehend the questions it poses, emerges from a process of cultural evolution.

An agenda-setting book for a new generation of philosophers and other researchers, From Bacteria to Bach and Back will delight and entertain anyone who hopes to understand human creativity in all its wondrous applications.

©2017 Daniel C. Dennett (P)2017 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

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How come there is a 'me'?

Consciousness has always been the greatest mystery to me. I fully believe in the idea that human beings are mammals evolved in accordance with the principles of Darwinian natural selection. I’m an atheist and I love the writing of people like Dawkins, Pinker and Hume, who are referred to often in this book.

It seems clear to me that there are also other animals who experience consciousness. By that I don’t mean that they are intelligent, although the ones I’m thinking of do have above average intelligence in the animal kingdom (dogs, cats, seals, dolphins, etc) but that they are aware of their experiences. They see and feel what is happening to them. They feel pain, hunger, fear – there’s more to it than just behaviouristic responses to environmental stimuli. I just don’t understand where this consciousness in humans and other animals came from.

I understand how the presence of the nervous system and painful stimuli will serve the Darwinian purpose of preventing you from doing damage to yourself, but I’ve never understood where the ‘me’ comes from who really feels the pain when I stub my toe. How do you get a ‘me’ from the movement of electricity through the central nervous system? If you built a computer as complicated as the human brain would it develop a ‘me’ and be ‘aware’? – I don’t think so (but I really don’t know that for sure).

This book addresses this question. Does it provide the answer? Sadly, no, not for me. It provides lots of interesting and helpful insights into the evolution of intelligence, but, unless I just didn’t get it, it doesn’t explain for me the emergent property of consciousness.

I’d still highly recommend it. I enjoyed every bit of it. I think I might listen to it again. But it didn’t answer the question for me. Maybe the question is unanswerable. Maybe it is beyond our understanding. Maybe we just have to accept that consciousness is just another of the many emergent properties that we see all around us in the natural and cultural world. I still don’t know.

27 of 32 people found this review helpful

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The only other review was so bad that I wrote this

Any additional comments?

Anyone who has read any other work by Dennett knows what to expect. You're in for 15 hours of lucid, thought provoking prose guiding you through some of the deepest questions out there. There is no need to give any credence to the only other review so far which seems to be motivated solely by jealousy.

45 of 56 people found this review helpful

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Showboats writing style, then muses on the mind

This book was a struggle to finish, since Dennet seemed to me to talk himself in circles gratuitously, if only to wind up (too late) at a pretty way of summarizing an argument that could be presented far more concisely.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Consciousness explained and expanded

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Daniel Dennett has an amazing brain and is a wordsmith of the 1st rank. It is astounding how much of Consciousness Explained's foresight is brought to fruition. Anyone thinking of artificial intelligence and what it might mean for society would do well to read this book. And anybody not thinking of it should.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

1001 words is worth more than a picture. Great line, though his best remains, I think, "he's fighting a strawman and the strawman is winning."

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating but very dense book.

This is one of those rare books that I will reread several times to understand better.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A Brilliant, Entré to Philosophy of Mind

Would you listen to From Bacteria to Bach and Back again? Why?

No, as brilliant and intriguing as this book is, I could not get past the 2nd chapter listening to the exaggerated, overly modulated voice of Tom Perkins.

What did you like best about this story?

It is erudite without artifice and convincing in its conclusions. In spite of the poor narration, the ideas are both engaging and important, perhaps the most important book I've read in decades (and as a philosopher, I read a lot of supposedly important books).

Did Tom Perkins do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

N/A.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

"Blow Your Mind" [over the picture of a soap-bubble being blown]

Any additional comments?

I thought enough of Dennett's book that even though I came to find the narrator's imitation of an unhappy primary school teacher intensely unpleasant, I bought a copy of the book rather than just put it in the electronic wastebin.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Classic Dennett; maybe not for beginners!

If you're a Dennett fan you'll love it. But it's really dense; I had to listen to entire chapters over again before moving on just to make sure I'd "gotten" it. But it was totally worth it and I enjoyed every bit of it.

I wouldn't start out with this book if you're new to Dennett. It makes me want to go back and reread "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and I think that is a good sort of "prequel" to this, as is "Consciousness Evolves." If you read and enjoy this book and haven't given those a listen, you really should. (I've also read and really loved "Breaking the Spell" and "Freedom Evolves," but they don't connect as much to this one as the others.)

I found it difficult to focus on if I was trying to multitask. It takes a lot of attention. Best for listening to while driving, washing the dishes, or going for a walk.

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An interesting take

This isn't just about the evolution of the physical brain but rather about the evolution of the human mind. Some of this material is covered better elsewhere but this does a pretty good job of framing these observations into a singular work to explore this intriguing topic. The performance was a little jarring once or twice with words mispronounced but nothing unexpected. It is just a little disappointing in the performance on top of mediocre material.

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Interesting but difficult listening

Very interesting subject, views and insights but be prepared for a lot of pausing and rewinding to give yourself time to grasp the special terms and rather deep concepts It is written rather defensively with lots of references to his own and other contemporary work which meant that it took some time to deliver the message. I did enjoy listening to it but feel I need to listen to a lot of it again to be able to better comprehend it.

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amazing dense and eye opening

this is the first book I actually had to listen to twice back to back before I actually understood what dennet was trying to communicate. darwinism about darwinism? memes as the viruses of culture? darwinian spaces? consciousness and understanding evolving out of competence? all of these things are incredibly confusing the first time around, but then incredibly obvious once it clicks. Dennett's book the second time around really did this for me. truly recommended to read them re read

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  • G Douglas Whistler
  • 03-12-17

An excellent Dennett exploration

This brilliant exploration through many fields of investigation is another triumph for one of the deepest thinking philosophers of our times. His style, as always, is accessible, clear, jovial, and entertaining, while his conclusions and food for thought are fascinating and convincing. An excellent new book, which invaluably updates, reexplains, and delves deeper into ideas with which listeners may already be familiar through his "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", "Consciousness Explained", "Freedom Evolves", and "Breaking the Spell".

The performance in this version is very strong; Perkins' voice and tone suit Dennett's style well, and he is to be praised for dealing well with Dennett's occasionally idiosyncratic sentence structure and use of grammatical syntax. There are several pronunciation mistakes, but nothing to distract from the text.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Segismundo
  • 12-06-17

Read!

Wonderful!
I recommend chapters 12 t 14.
I think I will read the paper or Kindle version to allow me to ponder more!

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  • s
  • 09-18-17

one of the most significant and insightful books!

One of the most significant and insightful books I've ever read. Maybe not for novices though..

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  • Mr M F C Rose
  • 04-10-17

Stunning vision of how minds evolved

I have a few Buddhist friends who must read this (they won't). Anyone of any spiritual bent should have a go. It presents a very different view to that of Deepak et al. It's grounded in science and destroys any dualist or monist interpretations. It isn't nihilistic/materialistic nor is it eternalism/essentialism. I think Dennett would agree with Nagarjuna (if he ever posited anything!) and show him a thing or two from the western 21st Century sciences. Long live the memes in this brilliant summation of Dennett's life-long exploration of the what (for), how and why of consciousness.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-25-17

Waste of tine

I love the topic of consiouseness and evolution, but this was utterlly boaring and uninsightful. Nothing really new to the basic concepts of evolution, memes and mind theories.

1 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • droy
  • 03-21-17

Bach at it again

A great update to his books "Consciousness Explained" and "Darwin's dangerous idea". readers will get the most from this book if they have previously listened to Dennett's books, many of which are also available on audible.