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Consciousness Explained

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  7,542 ratings  ·  358 reviews
" audacious as its title....Mr. Dennett's exposition is nothing short of brilliant." --George Johnson, New York Times Book Review

Consciousness Explained is a a full-scale exploration of human consciousness. In this landmark book, Daniel Dennett refutes the traditional, commonsense theory of consciousness and presents a new model, based on a wealth of informat
Paperback, First Paperback Edition, 511 pages
Published 1991 by Back Bay Books
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Thomas Harayda From the parts I have read, it is accessible. However, I would hardly consider Dennett a "layperson". He is an academic and writes like one trying to …moreFrom the parts I have read, it is accessible. However, I would hardly consider Dennett a "layperson". He is an academic and writes like one trying to explain his thesis to non-scientists. Since I'm not entirely sure your background it is hard to say whether you will enjoy it based on his style.(less)

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Average rating 3.88  · 
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Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
To be rewritten.
Dec 16, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Manuel Antão
Dec 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 1992
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Icing on the Cake: "Consciousness Explained" by Daniel C. Dennett

(Original Review, 1992-10-25)

I feel uncoupled.

Who knows for certain: their inner experience of sights, smells, emotions, and the rest?

And this is why I often find the discussion frustrating; from my reading of his work, Dennett has never denied the experience of being conscious. What he is saying is that if you create a zombie doppelganger that resembles you in every way
Amar Pai
May 27, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 me 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.
Feb 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Oct 08, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: philosophy
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
Richard Thompson
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There were parts of this book that were quite difficult and that I would probably have to reread a few times to fully appreciate, but overall it was a lot easier to read than most works of philosophy and/or science that deal with the same subject matter. There was a lot to think about here. Dennett may not be correct in his several models of how consciousness works, which he labels with colorful names, such as "multiple drafts" and "pandemonium," but he is honest enough to admit that they are ju ...more
Paul Johnston
Nov 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
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 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
I must say, The reason I'm giving such a low score is because I expected much much more from this book. Instead I faced with explanations of phenomena that could have been explained much clearer. And the lack of answer to my question being: How neurons give rise to consciousness. (To be perfectly clear, I do not mean how the mind works or how mind and brain are related. Rather, what gives rise to a cultivated sense, a feeling, a qualia.) And I expected a physical theory, instead, he apparently s ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It wasn't easy, and many times I felt like Homer Simpson trying to learn how to market a bowling alley (, but getting through this book and tackling the weighty subject matter was well worth the investment. And I'm not kidding about the Homer reference: Dennett posits so many amazing points based upon areas of thought of which I was hopelessly clueless. I would have to set this book down and do some research to just get a baseline to follow his explanatio ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in brains and understanding our conscious experience
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
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Imagine if a bat was raised in an unbatty room, never watched zombie movies, and only ate black and white Chinese take-out food. Now imagine if the bat only seemed to be a bat, and the zombie movies that it didn’t watch were of zombies acting like humans would act if they were acting like zombies acting like humans. How could we say, or at least acknowledge precognitively to appear to say, that the qualia of the unbattiness of the room coadaptively represented the epiphenomenological non-Chinese ...more
Muhip Tezcan
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Solid foundation for thinking on consciousness

This brilliant book by Dennett, one of the best philosophers of our age, will recreate the way you think about consciousness and build a strong foundation for a scientific, rational explanation of it, inspired by a perfect blend of neuroscience, computer science, psychology and linguistics.
Most of us think of the conscious-self as a decision-maker, a driver of the train of thought. This image is shattered by convincing the reader that there is not
Michael Kress
I'm fascinated by the topic of consciousness, and this book appealed to me because I thought it was going to give me a better understanding of what consciousness really is at its core. Well, it doesn't. Unfortunately, it doesn't explain consciousness like the title claims. That's fine though, because I'm pretty sure it's something nobody's ever explained or understood. What sets this apart from Descartes and the 19th century books I've read about this topic is that it brings modern science into ...more
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
Teo 2050


Dennett DC (1991) (21:39) Consciousness Explained


01. Prelude: How Are Hallucinations Possible?
01.1. The Brain in the Vat
01.2. Pranksters in the Brain
01.3. A Party Game Called Psychoanalysis
01.4. Preview

Part I: Problems and Methods

02. Explaining Consciousness
02.1. Pandora's Box: Should Consciousness Be Demystified?
02.2. The Mystery of Consciousness
02.3. The Attractions of Mind Stuff
02.4. Why Dualism Is Forlorn
02.5. The Challenge

03. A Visit to the Phenomenologic
Walter Schutjens
I am in no position to review this book.

I have met Dennett and talked with him, it has shaken my world, ravaged my ego and what it means to be myself. After all this time i'm glad to be done.

Feb 22, 2021 rated it it was ok
An extremely frustrating book. There is a lot of well thought out argument here, much of it worth engaging with even where I disagree, and some of the theory of how the brain works was genuinely compelling. In particular the pandemonium model of language production--and, despite my low rating, I like significant portions of the Multiple Drafts model!

But the author falls into infuriating patterns of thought that lead him to advance ridiculous claims that do not all logically follow from the (ofte
Jan 26, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: consciousness
it's an ambitious project, I give him that. But a few points, which are the down fall of Dennet in his illusionism approach:
1. He is too sure of himself, and increasingly intellectually not-humble.
2. Point (1) leads to him becoming more and more condescending.
3. Point (1) also leads him to not to be able to understand opposing sides.
4. Point (3) leads him to make strawmen of his opponents' theories.
5. Point (4) leads him to end up defending and explaining something else (mind) as opposed to c
Simon Hohenadl
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book for these reasons:
- It is long, yet almost always engaging. The author only rarely trailed off in discussions that were meaningless for me.
- It is well structured and well-worded
- I encountered many concepts that I already had in my mind, but would have been unable to put into words, especially so succinctly
- I found a great mix of reasoning, research and anecdotes.
- It has philosophical and scientific depth, but a lot of examples from everyday life.
I feel like a gap i
Chris Durston
DNF. It’s interesting, and actually less of a difficult read than a lot of other books in similar areas, but it’s long and I basically just stopped when I realised I still had a lot left to go and didn’t really feel like carrying on. May well come back to it, though.
Jul 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
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 series 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 lea ...more
Rick Harrington
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Joshua Stein
Jan 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, mind
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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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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