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Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds (Representation and Mind Series) [Paperback]

Daniel C. Dennett
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 Feb 1998 Representation and Mind Series
Minds are complex artifacts, partly biological and partly social; only a unified, multidisciplinary approach will yield a realistic theory of how they came into existence and how they work. One of the foremost workers in this multidisciplinary field is Daniel Dennett. This book brings together his essays on the philosphy of mind, artificial intelligence, and cognitive ethology that appeared in inaccessible journals from 1984 to 1996. Highlights include "Can Machines Think?," "The Unimagined Preposterousness of Zombies," "Artificial Life as Philosophy," and "Animal Consciousness: What Matters and Why." Collected in a single volume, the essays are now available to a wider audience.

Product details

  • Paperback: 430 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press (13 Feb 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262540908
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262540902
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,753,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. He is the author of Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (MIT Press) and other books.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frequently esoteric, yet fun nonetheless. 29 Jun 1999
By A Customer
A collection of essays from clipped from various, wide-ranging journals is not the place to start for one curious to investigate the polymathic Dennett. For a gentler introduction, Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea are better.
For those more initiated, there's all the familiar intellectual strutting from Dennett with all the usual targets getting their drubbing. Any ardent Cartesian will quickly identify a major cannon against their cause and many contemporary thinkers have potshots aimed their ideas, seemingly from any distance. I really enjoy this academic belligerence, but a reader preferring complaint dressed in more courtly terms may become irritated with the manner of their delivery.
The breadth of the essay topics is impressive, as are the allusions and factual asides contained within each, which makes this a fun book for the universally curious. Although Dennett is not a master of the techniques of essay writing, he lacks the compositional timing and lateral linking that others such as Stephen Jay Gould possess, he is a fine writer, presenting his ideas in a clear and stimulating logical stream.
Brainchildren is a worthwhile read that leaves a residue of understanding in a great diversity of obscure areas, some of which unite to form a more general comprehension of mind. If no understanding occurs, then the reader is still left with a good source for pub conversation facts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More cognitive challenges 5 Aug 2005
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Clearly a "sequel" to Dennett's earlier "Brainstorms," this volume is an update collection of his thinking. The subtitle is pure Dennettian whimsy - "designing minds" - how many ways can you interpret that phrase. The minds within this collection are ours, those of machines, and of other animals. What part has evolution played in our mental elaboration? Is the mind a form of organic machine? This question has plagued philosophers for generations, but more intensely since the development of the computer. Much of the first section is devoted to clarifying the famous Turing Test - can a machine convince humans that it's "conscious"? Dennett's conclusion at this point is that it's possible but not likely practical. In essence, he doesn't care - it's simply not worth the effort.
An essay co-authored with Nicholas Humphrey is of wider practicality and social importance. Is the syndrome known as Multiple Personality Disorder [MPD] a valid psychological disorder? Dennett and Humphrey probed deeply into this issue, sharply aware of the medical and legal implications. The authors' resolution of the question is unique, but will not be surprising to those familiar with the Multiple Drafts Model of consciousness spelled out in Dennett's "Consciousness Explained."
Critics of "Consciousness Explained" are dealt with in a trio of essays. Dennett stresses that consciousness is an on-going phenomenon, not built up from a series of discrete events, as posed by some commentators. He repeats his objections to a "central processing location" in the mind, his appellation "Cartesian Theatre" restated anew.
Artificial Intelligence is a major interest of Dennett's and he devotes a significant portion of the book to the subject.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 22 Sep 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great book that is accessible to non-academics as well as being rich enough in detail to satisfy philosophy or computer science students. Dan Dennett is an entertaining writer who has a wealth of knowledge to impart.

The subjects covered range from the philosophical to the technical and everything in between. This is a book to be read by anyone interested in artifical intelligence, practical robots or automata.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionary strategies to get funding 15 Jun 2010
I leafed through this now 12-year old book, withdrawn from stock and sold by a public library. There's no biographical info in my copy - a page has been torn out possibly by some reader irritated by such trivia - but MIT clearly plays some part. The evolutionary strategy needed to produce such books seems to need [insert elaborate qualifying sentences here]: (1) Amiable relationships with a list of people; some mature in the field, e.g. Putnam; some famous for other reasons, e.g. Chomsky; some conceded to be exciting, e.g. Hofstader. (2) Writing style has to be adapted to a paper - an issue must be raised, thoughtful comments made at the appropriate level, which are then unanswered - definite answers are to be deplored, for one obvious reason. (3) Technical stuff must be referred to only in an overview sense. There is for example almost nothing about actual computers or hardware in this book, which seems odd. Nor is there awareness of the real structure of the brain. (4) The outside world must be referred to occasionally, and always in a way suggesting no criticism of authorities. (5) A certain palette of references from the past is needed, such as Turing, and the 'Cartesian Theater'. (6) It's permissible to puzzle over animal behaviour, but not to suggest animals have much the same abilities as people, but can't easily put the into action. (7) Padding can be provided by games, models, toys, and puzzles - the 'game' of Life is an example, though for some reason nobody ever speculates how changing the rules would change the game.

I don't think computer-generated papers are quite possible yet, but they're working on it. Whether any form of civilisation will survive to provide readership is another matter.
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