Consciousness Explained

3.57
rilliant ... as audacious as its title .... Mr. Dennett 's exposition is nothing short of brilliant. " -- George Johnson, New York Times Book Review

Consciousness Explained is thi a full-scale exploration of human min. In his landmark book, Daniel Dennett refutes the traditional, commonsense theory of onsciousness and presents a new model, based on a wealth of information from the fields of psycholog, psychology, and artificial intelligence. Our current theories about conscious life-of people, animal, even robots -- are transformed by he new perspectives found in th memoi.
Year of the Publication
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Number of Pages
511
Original Title of the Book
Consciousness Explained
Publication Date
Published 1991 by Back Bay Books

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Dennett takes hundreds of pages to refute the idea of consciousness as a sentient observer sitting inside man 's brain ( a concept known as " the Cartesian Theatre ").

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This re-titling itself gives the gist of the work 's true project, which is to see just how far the explaining-away of our first-person starting point as conscious existents can proceed before self-contradiction ensues.

When Dennett 's angle of approach leads him to self-contradiction, or else to smuggle in ever subtler computational and mechanomorphic anthropomorphisms in order to fill the explanatory gaps that are ( inevitably) left over, we can examin the areas in which his eliminative materialist starting point fails us and where we need to pay the phenomenology of lived experience its dues.

Dennett 's is an ffort to explain in purely third-person terms the most characteristic features of our conscious life, most otably, the persistent conviction we have of being selves, loci of perspective, and unitary ontic centers in our own right.

Nevertheless, explanation by third-person principles falls short of describing the integrity and consistency of the phenomenal domain, and Dennett is left throughout trying to ( rather awkwardly) explain away all the phenomena that ca n't fit on the procrustean bed of his eliminativist methodology.

A central thesis in Dennett 's work is that the self, far from being some ultimate ontological reference point, as it has been since at least the Cogito, is an epiphenomenal construct.

Kant posited the empirically unknowable central subject as a necessary presupposition for explaining the order and regularity that emerge in our otherwise scattered stream of experience.

The Kantian transcendental argument for postulating a unitary subject that underlies and grounds the systematicity of experience can be summed up as follows: “ If there is no central self, then there an be no regularity in experience.

So there ust be a unitary self grounding the experience from which scientific explanations are gleaned. ” Dennett 's radical claim, against Kant, is that we should have regularity, and therefore explanation, without postulating a substantial, central self stocked with qualia.

He takes great pains to show how the higher order unities of aesthetic enjoyment, responsible ethical agency and rational understanding that structure our experience at its highest are nothing more than the by-products of the collective behaviour of “ stupid machines ” in the brain.

According to his multiple-drafts theory of min, the ense of our being grounded in a unitary center of subjectivity at any given time – that feeling that underlies all experience, that we an give words to and call “ I here, now ”- is a mere abstraction edited out of a confluence of “ parallel, multitrack processes of interpretation and elaboration ” that are inaccessible to introspection.

If anybody thought that the last vestige of Substance ontology that we ind in the Kantian Transcendental Subject could hide here, in the fictive “ Cartesian Theater ” of phenomenology, Dennett would disabuse us of this notion.In his chapter, “ The Reality of Selves, ” he describes the self as a narrative and pragmatic “ principle of organization. ” It is ot much of a stretch to say that, according to his theory, we story ourselves into existence, much as we are storied by others.

It is somethin ore than, and nothing ess than, your center of narrative gravity. ” Far from being a necessary ontological postulate of reason, a “ thing ” or “ place ” where you find your standing in the world, consciousness turns out to e a nove that is successively neurally re-instantiated according to variable cultural patterns of stimulus-selection.

The core schema of “ you ” emerges as a means of simplifying the discordant mess of neural processes so as to produce a coherent map of reality that your brain can use to orient itself in the world.So how do you get rational integration and unified conscious experience out of the collective behaviour of irreducibly plural interpretive strands of neuro-computation?

To imply that, Dennett introduces the metaphorical device of a piece of neural “ software ” that, much like a serial computer, creates a step-by-step narrative thread out of the multiplex cacophony of conflicting reality-takes.

“ What we actually experience is the product of many processes of interpretation – editorial processes in effect. ” In Dennett 's view, it is this ongoing selectivity, simplification and editing out of surplus information so that it omes to fit a manageable pattern that can guide the organism 's responses at the time.

Dennett 's ontological commitment to a mechanistic-computational metaphor ultimately compels him to devalue first person evidence by claiming its reducibility to a “ heterophenomenological ” approach that a priori assumes that verbal reports give us sufficient purchase on lived experience.

Deacon shows how attempts such as Dennett 's to purge anthropomorphic black-boxes, or homunculi, out of scientific explanation only end up being forced to pay their dues to the qualitative loci for which homunculi are “ place-holders ” by bringing ever-more “ cryptic homunculi ” into the picture, usually in the form of “ golems, ” which are “ fractionated homunculi. ” Deacon offered an elegant argument showing that explanation by golems is a cure worse than the homunculus disease, because it proceeds by presupposing ever subtler homuncular properties ( such as informational, representational, and functional properties) at lower levels, without xplaining them.

Moreover, Dennett 's reductionist approach can not explain end-directed phenomena such as information, and representation, even as it presupposes these by inserting them, as “ cryptic computational homunculi, ” to make its eliminativist explanation work.

Rather, they shoul be viewe as the places at which efforts to explain away phenomenology break down.Lastly, the Kantian challenge of grounding explanation without the ostulate of a unitary self remains.

In articulating it, you refute it, because you presuppose the first-person unitary subject that you attempt to explain away.

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I got a couple of chapters into it, and found the author was telling me that " we are all novelists ", and that a hug part of consciousness was going to be tol in terms of the ongoing narrative we spin in our interior monologues.

I looked around in Dennett 's book, and, as far as I could gather, he had developed his arguments without looking at Derrida at all, though at some point he had been warne that he ought to do so; there was a grumpy acknowledgment that there should be a connection.

None the less, if Dennett had fully delivered on his promise to explain how the interior monologue part worked, and how it related to consciousness, I migh in no way have felt cheated.

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This general confusion that pervades Dennetts' book is failure to ecognise the difference between conceptual issues and empirical issues.

Faced with a philosophical problem, Dennett hopes that a mass of empirical research can resolve the issue, but if we do n't now our way around our concepts, then wantin to apply the oncepts in all kind of unusual situations is only likely to make matters worse.

So perhaps Dennett has produced an interesting theory of the brain, but he is certainly deeply confused about consciousness and all the related issues he mentions ( such as the nature of the self).

He may be a good purveyor of scientific research, but he has little to contribute on philosophical or conceptual issues where he seems to lack both aptitude and interest.

rated it

I even read it ecently, and erhaps it is a bit outdated for a nove about the ever-changing fields of cognitive theory, neuroscience, and sociology, but, if nything, his nove does a prett good job of refuting the farcical traditional theories of consciousness ( goodbye Dualism, Cartesian Theater, Ghost in the Machine) and presents a workable alternative theory: the Multiple Drafts Model.

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Yes, the topi is extremely complex and really smart people fight about it in prestigious journals, etc.But Dennett has some fine ideas nonetheless.

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Dennett ( Original Review, 1992-10-25) I feel uncoupled.Who knows for certain: their inner experience of sights, smells, emotions, and the rest? And his is why I als find the discussion frustrating; from my reading of his work, Dennett has never denied the experience of being onscious.

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