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Customer Review

58 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who are you? Who am i?, 4 Sept. 2005
This review is from: Consciousness Explained (Penguin Science) (Paperback)
The easiest thing to express, and the hardest to explain, is 'self.' If asked to define who you are, most people [excepting Daniel C. Dennett] would say, "Well, I'm me!" Pressed to define this expression those same people would likely flounder about, ending with something about being "conscious of myself - I know in my mind." It is that notion of consciousness that Dennett seeks to explain to us in this absorbing book on mind/brain awareness. Its audacious title notifies the reader that there are some fascinating concepts examined in this book. Dennett's thinking and writing skills have few, if any, peers, but be advised the going isn't always easy. 'Self' is the ultimate philosophical question and Dennett is challenging some dearly cherished beliefs here.
The most common expression of "self" nearly always boils down to the idea that our mind has a central area that observes the world around us. That centre assesses and expresses our concepts of that world in thoughts, speech, writing, whatever. It is that concept that Dennett assaults in this book. Often referred to as the Cartesian Theatre from Rene Descarte's "I think, therefore I am" concept that the brain [physical] and mind [conceptual] were separate, Dennett finds this notion too simplistic. He knows the mind is in the brain. How it works in observing the world and expressing our ideas of it is the theme of this book.
Dennett explains many facets of how we observe and how we react to what we observe. He strives admirably to counter the still widely-held belief that consciousness is a tangible "thing" that can be identified and dealt with. No such "thing" is there, he notes. Instead, the mind is weighing input and dealing with many options at once. He posits a concept of this situation he calls the 'Multiple Drafts' theory. The mind/brain is continuously processing information and making selections about what to respond to and how to make the response. Responses may be speech, writing or simply memory storage.
While Dennett's use of terminology may make the novice quail, his down-to-earth approach to the issues makes this book delightful reading for anyone. Instead of arcane concepts or lofty language from America's pre-eminent philosopher, we're given many concrete examples of how our minds work. His stature, however, is in no small part due to his skills as a communicator. Those skills are artfully expressed in this book. If you have problems with terms like 'heterophenomenology' or 'qualia', take a moment to go back to his definitions, or read on to enjoy his explanations. Either way, there are rewards. Iin short, this whole book is rewarding and will go far in helping human beings understand just what they are. We are conscious, we think, therefore we are human. How to better understand that situation is amply explained by reading this outstanding book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 Apr 2010 11:42:58 BDT
Savita says:
audacious title ? Preposterous title! I am rather disappointed in Dennett being so arrogant.
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Location: Ottawa, Ontario Canada

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