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Consciousness dissected, described, but still not explained
on 22 July 2008
This rather long and sometimes rambling book achieves at least two thirds of what I expected. Dennett completely demolishes the Cartesian Dualism model, showing through anecdote and experiment that ideas of a separate mind and body are completely out of touch with reality.
A large portion of the book is dedicated to dismantling ideas that are built on this model, I found the non-linear, revisionist perception of time to be one of the most powerful and thought provoking revelations.
Drawing from many fields of science (computing, psychology, neurology and evolutionary biology to name a few) he then goes on to describe his alternative model for consciousness. His multiple drafts theory is empirical, making falsifiable scientific predictions and I believe his description to be an accurate one.
The book is sometimes quite difficult to follow, philosophy is rarely an easy read but I've come to expect popular science writers to speak plainly, where Dawkins coins snappy and self-explanatory words such as "meme" or "concestor" Dennett's "heterophenomenology" is a nine syllable monster. Also it is not a riveting read, it has taken me almost a year to finally finish this book. I enjoyed the experiments, anecdotes, evolutionary biology and computer science much more than the reams of prelude and philosophical reasoning. In my opinion it would have been better as two books, one a highly technical exploration of the philosophy of mind and another popular science for the layman. I would have enjoyed the latter much more.
Finally I think that the title is misleading, it did transform my understanding of human consciousness but it raised as many new questions as it answered. I am no closer to understanding what consciousness is, what it means to be, or whether consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe or an emergent pattern in matter. Perhaps "Consciousness Described" would have been a more fitting title.