32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Consciousness Explained (Penguin Science) (Paperback)
In his lectures, Dan Dennett likes to quote his friend Lee Siegel who's done extensive work on magic:
"I'm writing a book on magic," I explain, and I'm asked, "Real magic?" By real magic people mean miracles, thaumaturgical acts, and supernatural powers. "No," I answer: "Conjuring tricks, not real magic." Real magic, in other words, refers to the magic that is not real, while the magic that is real, that can actually be done, is not real magic"
This sets up Dennett's argument about consciousness nicely. A lot of people firmly believe that consciousness is some kind of magical property which couldn't possibly simply be a process of mere matter. Or as Dennett states, you have all the brain processes which come together and 'then a miracle happens' and voila, consciousness. Is this really the case? People used to believe in some kind of life force; how could life emerge out of mere matter?! Then the likes of Darwin and Dawkins showed us exactly how: no miracles, no magic, life emerges out of complexity. Is it really such a stretch to believe that the same can happen with consciousness? Dennett doesn't think so.
The hyperbole of the title aside, he doesn't wholly explain consciousness so much as demonstrate what it is not. This book is more of a starting point or a road sign which finally points towards a feasible explanation. Rather than trying to hunt down pixie dust, he says that the Cartesian Theatre absolutely does not exist and therefore we must radically re-think how we approach this topic. Despite what his detractors say, Dennett is not saying that consciousness does not exist; he's telling us that it's not what it seems. Instead, he proposes his own 'Multiple Drafts' theory which throws out the theatre altogether. Agree with him or not, it's hard to walk away from this book without having your confidence about what consciousness is severely shaken.
Be warned, this book is heavy going in places and for most will involved a dramatic shift in perspective (which explains why Dennett is so widely misunderstood and vilified). However, if you are serious about finding out who you really are and open minded enough to accept the possibility that things aren't exactly what they appear to be, then this book is essential reading. That said, I would recommend at least having read (and properly understood!) Richard Dawkins' 'The Selfish Gene' and a decent introduction to the topic of consciousness before attempting this. Sue Blackmore has written two excellent introductory texts (Consciousness: An Introduction & Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction), either of which would be an ideal starting point.
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Initial post: 8 Jan 2012 09:01:48 GMT
Post enlightenment says:
Thanks for this review. I must go back and have another shot at reading the book, which I gave up reading after two chapters several years ago at my first attempt. I commented to myself at the time that I had failed to follow his argument. I see that I was expecting too much of the book, misled perhaps by the title. As another reviewer has commented the title should be "Consciousness described" or according to your review "What consciousness is and isn't".
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