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Consciousness Explained  By  cover art

Consciousness Explained

By: Daniel C. Dennett
Narrated by: Paul Mantell
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Publisher's Summary

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.

©1991 Daniel C. Dennett (P)2013 Audible Inc.

What listeners say about Consciousness Explained

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Very good, but not for the faint of heart

Would you consider the audio edition of Consciousness Explained to be better than the print version?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

35 people found this helpful

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Confuses Consciousness with Ego

I come from India and our Indian philosophers have written very extensively on consciousness. Instead of wasting 21 hours on this hodgepodge, just read their work, you will learn far more. If this is the best that western philosophers can produce on consciousness than I am afraid they are little children in front of Indian rishis. The author does a very basic mistake of thinking consciousness to be our thought process or Ego. The first thing we are told in India is not to perform this mistake. Daniel Dennet fails on this very first concept and then wastes 21 hours around his long and tiresome arguments which are useless as he is chasing the wrong goose

31 people found this helpful

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The I (self) is that which has breadth

After having listened to this book, I will never fall for the make-believe just so stories about consciousness again. There is no reason to have to appeal to fantasy to explain consciousness. This book gives a complete story and forevermore I'll be able to not be sucked into false thought processes concerning the topics about the mind.

Metaphysics, when it's at is best is to fill in the parts that physics (or science) is having a hard time explaining because they don't really understand the object and the terms that describe the object under investigation. Dennett fills in these gaps better than any scientist can. For those who need make-believe and should be sitting at the children's table instead of the adult's table they need to read this book and they can move ahead as I have because of this book.

The best way to think about our self is by realizing we are not an analytical point. Euclid's first definition in his "Elements" is that a point is that which has no breadth. The book doesn't make this analogy, but I do, and state that "the I is that which has breadth", and you know you are listening to a remarkable book when you can go beyond the points the author is making because he educates you so fully.

The author defends this by showing why the self is "a center of narrative gravity", by showing how the mind is not like a Cartesian theater with a homunculus (little human) watching the play as the film unwinds. "There is not anything outside of the text", the text is just the final draft we think out loud. But to get there we first go through Orwellian rewrites and Stalinesque theater before we get the final draft from many rewrites. (Don't worry. The author explains this much better than I can. I'm just trying to whet your appetite in order for you to listen to this book.)

The author steps me through the black box of the mind by first discussing the outputs we measure from our responses to the environment. That was the first eight hours of the book. He called that the analytical approach. That part confused me. I'm not a scientist. The next part he called the synthetic part. How we would build that black box step by step. That's the part where I started listening to every word because it just excited me.

Understanding qualia, our emotional experiences, or what Locke would call our secondary experiences, which lead to things being our 'beliefs' or "seems to", is not how to think about how our mind works. When you can change a "seems to" to the 'is' with no lost of understanding just drop 'seems to' and the phoniness of qualia.

The author uses computers, software, and universal Turing machines and Von Neumann in explaining his thesis. You will walk away with consciousness demystified. You'll be on guard against those who use make-believe arguments to defend a world that doesn't exist.

This book is over 20 years old. I only wished I had discovered it when it first came out. It would have stopped me from wasting my time with people who don't understand that we have ways of thinking about the world that is not dualistic and doesn't need special
make-believe explanations to explain who we are as thinking machines.

I almost never change the speed of the audio. For this book, I did and listened to it at 1.25x speed. Made for a much better listen.

17 people found this helpful

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Best analysis of consciousness in modern history

What did you love best about Consciousness Explained?

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.

What other book might you compare Consciousness Explained to and why?

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.

Have you listened to any of Paul Mantell’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

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.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

The Oracle at Delphi commands "Know Thyself". Some 3000 years later, Dennett has sketched out how we may finally do just that.

Any additional comments?

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!

16 people found this helpful

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A great read, but a tiny bit heavy a listen

I think this is a great work, but a casual listen, as many of my audible purchases are, fails to give the author and his arguments the proper attention they deserve. Bravo to audible for bringing this about, and to Dennett for the composition.

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Not for the faint of heart

While a fascinating read, this book is deep. It goes into your brain layer after layer after layer. While I can safely say I really understood only 20% of the real meaning of this book, the other 80% was clearly well researched and added validity to the 20%. A tough read for sure.

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Easy Entry to a Complex Text You Ought to Read

This is an important book, well worth a deep, attentive read. This listen is a good starting point if you don't have time for that, but it won't take the place of actually spending time with the ideas Dennett lays out. Although the narrator is pretty good, it was difficult for me to follow the complexities of Dennett's synthesis of philosophy, evolutionary psychology, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, literary criticism, and a myriad of other disciplinary insight into consciousness. So, dip your toes in with this, then sit down and read the book if you're able.

2 people found this helpful

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very thought provoking

well laid out, mix of science and critical thinking. I am observe my thoughts and perception differently now as I wonder about the ideas presented I this book. for those interested in c the consciousness, this is a fascinating listen and i have gone through it several times, each time with new ideas spawned.

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Exposition by and for Specialists in the Fields

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

The author seems very knowledgeable about his field of consciousness and, what I understood, was enlightening. However, most of it was beyond my knowledge. How and why consciousness evolved is still a mystery to me so I will have to look elsewhere. As I see more and more non-human species live out their lives, I am awed at the specialized "knowledge" that abounds in nature from plants to all other species. For instance, this year there are huge numbers of tiny frogs/toads (?) hopping around everywhere. They seem to "know" to go off at a right angle to my pathway if they are directly in front of my next footfall. How do they know to go at a right angle? Just one of the amazing "consciousness" that nature at all species levels seems to have evolved.

I also don't think he did justice to paranormal phenomena. For instance, why did 700 people have dreams, including myself, with foreboding so intense that they phoned President Kennedy not to go to Dallas. I had a precognitive dream of Lyndon Johnson being called Mr. President several days before the event.

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Must read if interested in consciousness

Dennett is a great modern thinker. While not providing a detailed description of consciousness as the title may suggest, it does a wonderful job of debunking most "intuitive" explanations of consciousness that hinder us from deeper understandings on the matter.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Yomi
  • 03-22-17

As good as it gets

Excellent theory, brilliant analogies and examples, all beautifully delivered by a competent voice actor.
To me this is a classic, the one against which I now judge other books.
I've listened to it twice already and will definitely do so again.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Eliel Cohen
  • 04-23-16

ambitious and worth it.

this is just about the most ambitious book title you will come across and although some of the metaphors invoked are probably rightly not in mainstream use, he is nonetheless in my opinion the most full of clarity on the difficult scientific , psychological and philosophical concepts that anyone interested in consciousness has to come up against.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Mimi
  • 06-12-19

Disappointed

I was really looking forward to this book, but ended up being disappointed. There are definitely interesting and enlightening aspects, but it is like walking through treacle to get to them due to the overlong preparatory explanations. An abridged version of around 10 hours listening time that gets quickly to the key concepts would be better.

5 people found this helpful

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  • LC
  • 02-16-18

Interesting but long winded

Not sure it really needed to be so long winded to get the points across.

It was interesting and also good mental exercise to follow all the examples and arguments.

I found that the author came across as quite arrogant, not helped by the style of narration. This was a bit off-putting as it seemed to be more about the author being clever and right than about explaining consciousness.

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  • Craig
  • 07-23-21

A complete waste of bytes to download..

A pointless, unscientific rant. Basically, the author tries to put an argument forward that is you don't agree, you are a fool. yet, the argument presented is vapid.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Don O'treply
  • 04-16-22

The audible reviewing system seems rather clunky.

I was asked to write a review a couple of minutes before the end of the book, which is a little annoying. And then when the book finished my reviewing was interrupted and what I had written discarded, and I was again asked to enter a review. Not ideal.

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  • droy
  • 03-21-17

Worth reading at least twice

If you didn't already know how seriously many philosophers worry about zombies then the chances are this book is not what you might expect. There is a lot to think about in here, and it wasn't until the second time I read it that I felt I understood it. I believe the book really achieves what the title promises and that this is a view that will become less controversial with time and as more becomes known. So much so that the sketch of consciousness presented here will be seen one day as ahead of its time as works such as Wealth Of Nations and Origin of Species is now seen ahead of the time they were written in. That is, a rough brilliant sketch that is mostly right and worth reading again and again and again to fully take in and enjoy.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-25-22

A mind-bending journey

Dennett's theory certainly takes some time to absorb and due to the length of the book, difficult to take into a manageable perspective. I am all but a lay-person coming to this book, my background is in clinical psychology, and I have a concordant understanding of neuro-science and neuro-psychology.
The book opens with a great deal of ground-work to establish the frame of approaching the problems asserting a theory of consciousness inherently involves. This is followed by a long series of thought experiments and analogies to assist the arrival at Dennett's theory. The science that this journey is supported by is certainly fascinating and rewarding to ponder.
I found the book really enjoyable in small chunks, but quite tedious to hold many of the important threads in mind. I find even after a 2nd listen, that I need to give it another listen.
The performance of the audio-book is excellent quality, with perhaps my only criticism being that it is fast-paced (perhaps quite necessarily so).

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  • Michelle_Stone
  • 05-13-15

Great

Probably not as good as reading the books but definitely worth the listen. A lot of fantastic concepts covered. Tom