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am 15. Juli 2000
This is an extraordinary book but an extraordinarily difficult book to read and understand. You will need to examine your own belief system about consciousness, set it aside while you read the book and try to understand the authors point of view.
Three philosophical ideas run through this book, the first two to be demolished by the author and the third to be put in their place. (1)"The Cartesian Theatre": This is the idea that there is a non-physical mind, separate from the physical brain, where all understanding and consciousness occurs. You can probably already see how this is no explanation at all. But it is a strongly held view by a very large proportion of the population. (2)"Cartesian Materialism": This is the idea that there is a "center" within the brain where all the understanding and consciousness occurs. Again you can probably see that this is no explanation either. It pushes the problem further into the brain and if we now look at this "center" for an explanation of consciousness we are left looking for a center within the "center" and so on in an infinite regress. Its many disguises will fool even the very attentive reader. (3)"Multiple Drafts Theory": This is the theory teased together from the many ideas of the author and his contemporaries. He presents this early on in the book and expands on it throughout the book by means of anecdotes, analogies and thought experiments and shows how this theory can explain well-known conundrums that are unable to be explained by other theories.
Reviewers of this book are basically divided into three camps depending on how they re-interpret the books title. (1)"Consciousness Not Explained": Well, what can I say? If you don't make the effort, if you have preconceived ideas about consciousness that you are unwilling to part with, if your anti-materialist stance causes you to read this book for the sole purpose of criticizing its contents, then you will never understand it. But you shouldn't blame the book for your shortcomings. (2)"Consciousness Explained Away": These reviewers are simply mistaken. The author explains that various things that consciousness seems to be is not what it actually is. He shows us how to think about consciousness thereby dissolving the mystery of consciousness. He does not explain away consciousness just the misconceptions about it and provides a theory to account for what consciousness actually is. (3)"Consciousness Explained": These reviewers accept the titles somewhat exaggerated claim as a bit of poetic license. The author himself says that he does not have a complete explanation of consciousness and fully accepts that parts of his theory may possibly be proven to be wrong. But the essential elements, he believes, will stand the test of time.
If you are firmly rooted in the Cartesian Theatre and won't budge, this book is not for you. If you unwittingly support some form of Cartesian Materialism, read this book very carefully. It will show you a much more satisfying way to think about our last great mystery.
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am 17. November 1998
Consider this: A magician makes a coin "disappear" and you are asked to explain it. You can analyze the illusion and figure out how it works, but you can't actually explain how he made it vanish, since he didn't. It's just a trick, so all you need to do is explain how the trick works, how he made it SEEM to happen. That should be enough to please anyone, but then someone in the audience, upset that you've taken away the mystery, complains that you didn't explain how the disapearance "actually" happened.
This is exactly the reaction Dennett's book is getting. He analyzes what consciousness really is and how it must have come to be, yet these people want something more. Not content with having the actual explained, they demand that he explain the mythical but intuitive notions of the Cartesian theater and qualia and a host of other pleasant falsehoods, just so that they can lock science and philosophy out of the human mind, to keep it sacred for the new mysterians.
Well, they just can't have it. Dennett does explain consciousness, but to do so he must first blow away the myths and that makes the myth-believers unhappy. He shows that evolution is frugal, never paying for more than is actually needed to get the job done. And this leaves us with a true understanding that is all that much more awesome than the illusion it replaces.
If you want to live in a world of pretty colors, avoid this book. But if you care about the truth and want to know what consciousness is and isn't, read it now.
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am 5. Juli 2000
This book is not for someone who bores easily with tedious, abstract philosophical meanderings. While Dennet is a superb thinker, his writing is not for everyone. I recommend the book, but only for those of you with lots of leisure time to deeply ponder the excellent arguments the author makes.
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am 1. März 2000
Despite the claims of some reviewers, Dennett does provide an explanation, of sorts, for consciousness. The problem is that very few readers are going to find it a satisfactory one. By integrating findings from psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy, and by using a clear, persuasive, lively prose style, Dennett gets us to go along with him that it's all just neurons firing in the brain. But where he seems to lose most readers (and where he lost me, even after reading the book twice) is in his discussion of "qualia" (the subjective, "internal" aspects of conscious experience, such as enjoying a glass of wine or a sunset). Qualia, we are told, are illusions that somehow arise from the operations of the nervous system (that is, the processing of sensory information in the brain results in the brain entering a "discriminative state" that just is the sensation of enjoyment that we experience). Well... ok. But I think that most people who are approaching this book are looking for some sort of account of how that neural activity becomes your enjoyment of the colors of a sunset. And I could not really extract such an account from this book (maybe it's there and I just didn't get it).
Dennett is the first to admit (at several places in this book) that his theory is not complete, and that this account offers more of a sketch or outline of what a materialist theory of consciousness would like. The questions that he asks, and his dissection and analyses of actual experimental results, makes this an interesting read. "Half the fun is getting there," as they say. But I think that materialists and mysterians will both find this explanation of consciousness ultimately dissatisfying.
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am 30. Januar 2000
Contrary to other reviewers, I believe Dennett has a very powerful definition of Consciousness. Having studied this subject for over 12 years I found this book to be truly original. It was a breakthrough - even for Dennett himself (having read many of his other works).
His theory is that there is NO central meaner. No homunculus sitting in our heads that "understands" us or exists separate from our body. We are all narratives of our own existence. No more or less real than a character in a story, and like a story our experience is drafted - the blanks are filled in with the most reasonable explanation. Self is the center of narrative gravity of a body. Not something separate from it.
Dennett goes to great length to discredit other theories before presenting his own. Thus Dennett holds out from explaining his theory until the end of the book. This may cause many readers to loose interest. If you enjoy reading philosophy you will enjoy this book.
IMHO - There is a good chance that 100 years from now Dennett's view of Consciousness will be widely held.
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am 6. Dezember 1997
This book changed my way of thinking about consciousness from a viewpoint nearly opposite that of Dennett's. It takes an open mind to get the point though and it wasn't until the 3rd reading and after a lot of mulling it over that I realized that Dennett's thinking about consciouness was right on. Dennett's explanation is an in principle explanation and adresses philosophical issues rather than giving a complete detailed theory of the way the brain works. He demolishes some very powerful intuitions. One must be willing to accept that intuitions about consciousness that we all share while irresistable because of the way our brains are built just might be completely wrong. Dennett shows that the our intuitions lead us to feel we have a direct contact with something mystical (consciousness, qualia, raw feels etc.)that needs explaining. He also convincingly argues that there is no such mystical entity matching our intuitions but rather just computational, embodied brains managing in, and forming theories about world and self. Read this book --but carefully!
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am 30. Juni 1999
Dennet needs only a single paragraph to live up to his promise, informing the reader that consciousness is a 'Von-Neumannesque machine'. As he is a (non-greedy) reductionist, he thinks that is explaining enough. I tend to agree, because between all the long-winded retoric Dennet presents a lot of arguments that may not prove him right conclusively, but certainly strengthen his point.
The book is a fascinating read for materialists and atheists and probably a great annoyance to other people. This perhaps explains the strong reactions to it. I would ignore those: Dennet makes his hypotheses and assumptions clear at the start and if you're not willing to go along with those, there's no use torturing yourself with the rest of the book. If, however, you are wiling to have the belief of Cartesian dualism - the distinction between mind and body - challenged in a provocative way, by all means read this interesting book. For me, it has served as a starting point for a lot of debate.
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am 21. November 2013
Recht unterhaltsame Lektüre, aber die versprochenen Antworten erhält man dann doch nicht. The book may be brilliantly written, but in the end Dennet has quite few to say.
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am 22. Januar 2000
A suitable book for obtaining a general idea of the philosophical debates over consciousness. However, the title is misleading. Rather than explaining consciousness, the subject is avoided. No clear definition of consciousness is ever given; rather, the author provides a list of what consciousness is not.
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Dennett's theory of 'consciousness' (or the lack of consciousness), does not resort to mystical explanation like many other ideas do. He, and many others would agree, that non-materialist explanations are a form of 'giving up'.
He may not have explained 'consciousness', but I believe, that he has certainly contributed to our understanding of how and why we think like we do.
'Consciousness Explained' is one of the best books I have ever read, all areas in the text being relevent to the title's 'promise', and convincingly argued. Please read this book and don't be turned off by the other reviews here, you will be stimulated.
Quote:
"Only a theory that explained conscious events in terms of unconscious events could explain consciousness at all. If your model of how pain is a product of brain activity still has a box in it labeled "pain", you haven't even begun to explain what pain is, and if your model of consciousness carries along nicely until the magic moment when you have to say "then a miracle occurs" you haven't begun to explain what consciousness is." [page 154-5]
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