The national bestseller chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 1991 is now available as an audiobook. The author of Brainstorms, Daniel C. Dennett replaces our traditional vision of consciousness with a new model based on a wealth of fact and theory from the latest scientific research.
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Best analysis of consciousness in modern history
Dennett set's himself a monumental task in Consciousness Explained, not only in offering a scientifically informed positive account of one of the most elusive aspects of human psychology, but attacking head-on the deeply rooted (but deeply mistaken) intuitions that have paralyzed discussions of consciousness for over a century. Dennett's tremendous wealth of illustrative metaphors, thought experiments and counter-intuitive empirical findings are more than persuasive, they are illusion-shattering, gifting the dedicated reader (and listener) with a newer and vastly superior conceptual understanding of those phenomena most intimate to all of us: Our own stream of consciousness.
For technical detail and breadth of topics, Consciousness Explained is akin to books like Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works", but where Pinker shies away from matter difficult to address with straightforward empirical research, Dennett dives in with both feet, continually challenging and reframing the very perspective we bring to our own inner life.
I have not heard any of this other narrations, but his voice (and modulation of voice when depicting contrasting characters in dialogues) was very appropriate for this piece.
The Oracle at Delphi commands "Know Thyself". Some 3000 years later, Dennett has sketched out how we may finally do just that.
I encourage perseverance in anyone who is interested in the topic of consciousness, but is turned off by the early sections of the book. The intuitions of the Cartesian Theater are so native to how we view the minds of ourselves and others, many will simply give up unconvinced when Dennett first firmly challenges this framing. Even if you don't feel convinced at first, give it the benefit of the doubt. Imagine what Dennett is describing as if it were true of some thinking creature, even if it doesn't feel natural applying it to yourself. By the time to reach the final third of the book, you will be so well furnished with examples and empirical findings that the sincere questioning of your own Cartesian Theater will finally become a visceral option, and once you're there, the sky's the limit!
Very good, but not for the faint of heart
No. This is a very hard, complicated book. And, yes, it can get boring. I tend to love Dan Dennett's books after I read them because they are super interesting, insightful, and relevant. But while I read them, I hate them because they are complicated and hard to pay attention to. If you are looking for a page turner, go somewhere else. If you want a good understanding of consciousness and are willing to put in some effort, this book is great.
Daniel Dennett is a philosopher, not a scientist. He won't touch anatomy with a 39.5 foot pole, and he also avoids neurology. His sketch of consciousness is hypothetical, explaining how consciousness might appear when scientists start to look, as they have done by now. This book was written a quarter century ago, and this quarter century has been crazy productive for neuroscience. Luckily, Consciousness Explained has aged well. It is still as relevant today as in 1991, mostly because it is more philosophical than scientific, and we still still don't understand exactly what consciousness is.
That said, I hope Dennett revises it in a second edition. He is almost 73, and he hasn't done so yet. I love his more recent writings on religion, but it would be a shame if he never revises his magnum opus.