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Consciousness Explained

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  5,097 ratings  ·  199 reviews
This book revises the traditional view of consciousness by claiming that Cartesianism and Descartes' dualism of mind and body should be replaced with theories from the realms of neuroscience, psychology and artificial intelligence. What people think of as the stream of consciousness is not a single, unified sequence, the author argues, but multiple drafts of reality compos ...more
Paperback, 511 pages
Published 1993 by Penguin Books (first published 1991)
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A friend urged me to read this book. I got a couple of chapters into it, and found the author was telling me that "we are all novelists", and that a large part of consciousness was going to be explained in terms of the ongoing narrative we spin in our interior monologues. Shortly before, another friend had persuaded me to read some Derrida, and Dennett's arguments sounded a bit familiar. (Oddly enough, the two people in question had been dating at one point). I looked around in Dennett's book, a ...more
Elena Holmgren
A more accurate title here would be “Consciousness Explained Away” or “Consciousness Ignored,” as greater wits than I have pointed out. This retitling itself gives the gist of it. Dennett's procedure here seems to me rather typical of reductive materialist approaches to this debate on the nature of consciousness. Rather than honouring empiricism as a way of bringing clarity to experience as we actually live it, they urge that we must stuff our lived experience onto the procrustean bed of the red ...more
I love love love this book so much that I am hoping that when I die, the crime scene investigators will find it clutched tightly in my hand and will all have to read it very carefully perhaps to get clues about who killed me and then they will forget completely about investigating the crime and start totally getting into this astonishing book instead and will tell all their crime scene investigator buddies who will read it and tell their buddies and then everyone in the world will read it and th ...more
A hard book to plough through and one that is so careful and meticulous that it never reaches an interesting or clear-cut conlusion. 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"). I could have agreed about that being untrue in half a page. When Dennett has finally finished explaining what consciousness is not, he disappointingly admits that he does not have a good alternative eith ...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Yes, the title is audacious. Yes, it's not a perfect book. Yes, the subject is extremely complex and really smart people fight about it in prestigious journals, etc.

But Dennett has some fine ideas nonetheless. I go through periods of swinging in one direction and back again when it comes to what I'll just call the "consciousness wars." But lately Dennett's ideas are striking me as more and more correct (and I've always leaned in his and the Churchland's direction since I first began looking into
Amar Pai
Jun 07, 2014 Amar Pai rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: dolts
Is it possible? Is this going to finally be the book that explains the mystery of consciousness?

No. No it is not.

What would it even mean to explain consciousness? Reminds of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where they build this ultra powerful supercomputer to finally answer the mystery of "life, the universe and everything," only to then realize that they don't actually know what the question means.
Paul Johnston
It is hard to know what to say about this book. It contains a lot of interesting information and is very readable but it is also deeply confused. Dennett is clearly fascinated by the brain and keen to find a theory to explain how it works. As I am not an expert in this area, it is hard for me to assess whether what he puts forward is either new or interesting. What is most striking (and annoying) for me, however, is Dennett's philosophical naivety and lack of sensitivity to philosophical issues. ...more
Jul 11, 2007 Joshua rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: philosophers
Consciousness explained? Well, no, not exactly. But a brilliant book nonetheless, despite the audaciousness of the title (though I must admit that Dennett concedes that his "explanation" is far from complete and that cognitive theory is really still in its infancy--or at least it was when this book was written). I only read it recently, and perhaps it is a bit outdated for a book about the ever-changing fields of cognitive theory, neuroscience, and psychology, but, if anything, this book does a ...more
Chris Naylor
A great deal of nonsense has been written about consciousness, and some of it is to be found in this book. Dennett's big idea is that consciousness can be explained using only 3rd person data. 1st person data (essentially, reports of qualia, or more accurately, since qualia cannot be described, reports of having qualia) can be admitted to the process, but only as 'fictions' to be either replaced by 3rd person data in due course or rejected as falsehoods if no such 3rd person data can be found. T ...more
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 objec
While Dennett is probably better known to most readers as a grumbly professional atheist, I really don't need any help in that regard, so I went straight to his book on philosophy of mind. I can see why he's a public figure-- he's downright chatty and personable for a chilly analytic philosopher, and at the same time clear and rigorous in his presentation of ideas.

As for the ideas themselves... OK, the multiple-drafts notion of consciousness is something I can certainly get behind, and his attac
This book attempts a third-person, analytic approach to the investigation of the mind/body problem, as opposed to the traditional first-person, inductive approach found in Descartes and Searle. For the first few hundred pages, Dennett relates a serious of rational errors that plague the subject of consciousness; undeniably universal errors such as the phi phenomenon, wherein one posits flashes as movement, and the subject's tendency to say two related but distinct words at the same time. This l ...more
Joshua Stein
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rick Harrington
Yet another book which magically escaped my attention, though reading it would have promoted my understanding of so much. Better late than never, eh?

And as always, there was no program to my finding it. An old re-met friend rather, who must have been remembering me as I once was well over 30 years ago, lent it to me. He thought the book had my name written all over it.

Indeed! Nor do I wish to lay claim to that identity I would name for myself, acknowledging readily that most of what I call mys
Mar 21, 2009 DJ rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in brains and understanding our conscious experience
Shelves: brain
A bold book from my favorite philosopher-scientist that aims to build a framework for tackling perhaps the hardest question humanity has ever asked - "what is this conscious experience?" As in his other books, Dennett is adept at weaving the "soft" thought experiments of philosophy with the "harder" experiments of the scientific community. Some of his most triumphant points don't have the impact they may once have carried, as much of his material has been accepted (or disproved) in the last two ...more
Dennett uses some fascinating case studies from neuropsychology to debunk what he calls the Cartesian Theatre. He means the gut instinct we have that what goes on inside the brain is like a little multimedia presentation on a screen, in front of the audience of the soul. First off, he rightfully dismisses dualism. He then shows how there is no need for, or evidence for, a Cartesian Theatre. He introduces the temporal and spacial distribution of the mind in the brain. He shows how simple experime ...more
Jon Boorstin
Dennett tackles the consciousness question from a common-sense/philosopical point of view, if such a thing is possible. It's an intriguing, if not entirely convincing theory. It feels like a good attempt to figure something out that won't be figured out for another twenty years.
At times I enjoyed this, but other times it was so frustrating! It's not clear at all, and is pretty much a jumble of ideas, with some good ones thrown in. Dennet says its on purpose though, because if he was clear then people would nitpick unimportant points. Ok. That's actually kind of cool. It's still pretty hard to understand what he's talking about.

Another problem is that I constantly felt like I'm way ahead of the author in terms of having a sharper understanding of what feelings I'm havi
Robert C.
Does it really matter what the substrate of consciousness is? I mean, consciousness is still going to be there (or do I mean here) whether it's located in mind, brain or silicon - right?

Philosophers seem intent on making simple stuff into complex cognitive conurbations. But hey - why not - it gives our mental teeth something to chew - right?

Daniel Dennett tried, for several hundred pages, to uninstall my mind, reboot and install his own operating system. And I'm there thinking 'how fricking rude
Elliott Bignell
Dennett makes an audacious claim in the title of this book. I think he delivers. I must agree with the reviewers who suggest that he does so with more packaging than necessary - the book could have made its case in about half the volume. Nevertheless, of the books on consciousness by philosophers that I have read recently, this one comes closest to making me think that the "hard problem" has now been reduced to a series of engineering problems.

The author almost lost me in the opening passages. D
Troy Blackford
I feel like I just ran a marathon: one I was woefully unprepared for. This huge book required a huge amount of mental effort from me, and I'm afraid I was unable to meet much of it even halfway. Parts of it were explicable to me, and I found them to be incredibly interesting. I just don't have enough grasp of philosophical basics to take on a work like this. I read the entire thing, diligently, but much of it was inexplicable to me. Not because it made no sense-Dennett is a very sharp thinker an ...more
This book is as revolutionary as it is short-sighted. Dennett tries to find an empirical basis of consciousness. For this purpose he digs deep into the neuroscientific literature, questioning everything he finds from a theoretical point of view. This is interesting, and exceptional. Most scientist spend little time doubting the concepts they use, or what their findings mean in a broader theoretical sense. Dennett does takes this time and comes to unsettling conclusions.

The best, and most necessa
Leo Horovitz
Dennett has conducted a wonderful investigation into the nature of consciousness. Not being satisfied to treat consciousness as something ontologically and fundamentally "special", he dismisses some misguided notions of the workings of consciousness which makes it seem as though there has to be some sort of "center or awareness" in which it all comes together along with the related notion of conscious experience as something which has further unexplainable phenomena, qualia, as its building bloc ...more
A better title for this book would be "Consciousness Provisionally Explained, At Great Length", but that probably wouldn't have fit on the book jacket. In five-hundred or so pages, Dennett outlines most of his complete theory of the mind. The big idea is straightforward: there is no "Cartesian theater" where sense-data or memories or anything else is played for an internal observer or decision maker. Instead, consciousness is a stream produced by the activities of countless loosely joined agents ...more
This is exactly the kind of philosophy book I wish I had read in college. I had always felt philosophers spent so much time imagining what might be happening in the world and almost no time at all testing those theories. I always wanted to say "Just because you imagine it, doesn't mean it's true". And there are plenty of theories (De Carte's Devil, zombies, etc) that have no effect on the observable world. I can appreciate these theories for being a kind of mental exercise, but by focusing on th ...more
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 fodd
Mar 06, 2007 AJ rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in brain science
More of a philosophical approach to handling the question of consciousness. Dennett uses this book to suggest an alternative way to see the mind, a way to join the subjective experience of consciousness with the meat and neurons in the brain. His argument is really to show that old ways of thinking are not necessarily the only ways to think about the mind. He proposes his own model of consciousness, but admits it is not necessarily correct, only that the approach is more justified, and that old ...more
This is probably my favorite non-fiction book that I have ever read. I read it for the first time when I was 15 or so, and have probably read it a dozen times since. When I was a dumb highschooler with a passing interest in science who loved pop science books? Loved it. When I was getting my degree in computational neuroscience and looking for pioneers in the field? Loved it. Now, with a glass of red wine and a desire to wax philosophical with my friends? Love it.

In fact, I like it so much that
Prithvi Shams
Consciousness is a tough concept to grasp, but this book is a fairly amiable guide. I'm not sure I understood his Multiple Drafts model of consciousness well, but Dennett did make a well-argued point that consciousness does not necessarily need to be forever beyond our grasp, nor is it a given that the conscious self must itself be formed of "conscious" constituents or some immaterial, metaphysical entities. After all, liquids and gases are themselves not made of "liquid" or "gaseous" particles, ...more
I picked up this audiobook up in a sale or daily deal or something. The whole time I was listening to it I thought it was a newish book, I didn't realize until going to write this review that it was written back in the early 90's. Some quick goggling hasn't helped me decide if this book is still relevant or not (or if it ever was), and I"m certainly not qualified to weigh in on whether his thesis seems correct or not.

Anyway, Dennett rejects the idea of a central decision maker/soul/mind/observe
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Daniel Clement Dennett III is a prominent philosopher whose research centers on philosophy of mind, science, and biology, particularly as they relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Dennett is a noted atheist, avid sailor, and advocate of the Brights move ...more
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“But recently I have learned from discussions with a variety of scientists and other non-philosophers (e.g., the scientists participating with me in the Sean Carroll workshop on the future of naturalism) that they lean the other way: free will, in their view, is obviously incompatible with naturalism, with determinism, and very likely incoherent against any background, so they cheerfully insist that of course they don't have free will, couldn’t have free will, but so what? It has nothing to do with morality or the meaning of life. Their advice to me at the symposium was simple: recast my pressing question as whether naturalism (materialism, determinism, science...) has any implications for what we may call moral competence. For instance, does neuroscience show that we cannot be responsible for our choices, cannot justifiably be praised or blamed, rewarded or punished? Abandon the term 'free will' to the libertarians and other incompatibilists, who can pursue their fantasies untroubled. Note that this is not a dismissal of the important issues; it’s a proposal about which camp gets to use, and define, the term. I am beginning to appreciate the benefits of discarding the term 'free will' altogether, but that course too involves a lot of heavy lifting, if one is to avoid being misunderstood.” 86 likes
“Philosophers' Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity.” 11 likes
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