I read Dennett's Consciousness Explained several months ago. What next?
January 11, 2004 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I read Dennett's Consciousness Explained several months ago. What next? [more inside]
posted by DevilsAdvocate to Science & Nature (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: For those unfamiliar with the book, the title goes too far, I think. It isn't so much "consciousness explained" as "consciousness explainable"--a strong first step towards showing that a purely material explanation for consciousness is possible.

It had some very intersting ideas, at a fairly accessible level--there were some difficult parts, but nothing, I felt, that was completely over my head. I'm interested in learning more about this area. I'd be especially interested in anything good written since CE which takes it into account (CE was published in 1991), and even more interested in alternate views, someone who disagrees with Dennett, so I can get more of a feel for some of the disputes and issues in this field.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:48 AM on January 11, 2004

I remember finding The Creative Loop: How the Brain Makes a Mind by Erich Harth pretty interesting, although I don't remember it clearly enough to tell you how where his ideas stand in relation to Dennett's.
posted by staggernation at 8:15 AM on January 11, 2004

almost anything else be dennett. he's a brilliant writer and thinker.

i've just read elbow room (twice). it addresses the problem of free will - if we can explain consciousness in "mechanical" terms, then are we "just" machines? if so, "what about free will"?

you might also enjoy stuff by hofstadter - the only book of his that i'd recommend is "fluid concepts and creative analogies", which you could read as a notes on a (very) initial attempt at solving some of the computational problems involved.

looking more towards evolution, the book is dawkin's "the extended phenotype" (and my copy has a foreword by dennett).

there are also some good collections of papers out there that you might enjoy - margaret boden edited "the philosophy of artificial intelligence" and rosenthal "the nature of mind".

this is just from my own reading and is probably a little old-fashioned. i'm not involved in, and don't follow, current work (but would be interested in anyone else's recommendations).

and, of course, you can go to amazon and see "what other people also bought"...

oh, and for "classical" ai, norvig's book on ai programming is a classic, particularly if you're a programmer.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:35 AM on January 11, 2004

for an extreme opposing view, see searle's chinese room argument. he probably appears in both the collections i mentioned.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:37 AM on January 11, 2004

You might also enjoy Radiant Cool by Dan Lloyd. And Minsky's The Society of Mind is still worthwhile.
posted by rushmc at 10:06 AM on January 11, 2004

i just added minsky's book to my wish list and amazon recommended two excellent cds that i don't own. artificial intelligence is already here :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 10:24 AM on January 11, 2004

The Mind's Eye is a Dennett/Hofstader-edited collection of short works regarding the concept of self and mind.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:27 AM on January 11, 2004

Pinker - How the mind works, The Blank Slate
Antonio R. Damasio as well.
posted by srboisvert at 11:05 AM on January 11, 2004

Funny, I was just reading one of Dennett's selections in The Mind's Eye last night. I'll second that work.

It's less to do with mind, specifically, but I recommend Hofstedter's Godel, Escher, Bach for anyone who likes exploring the nature of mind, matter, reductionism, holism, and the like. I will warn though, that Hofstedter's works are rather too much to eat as one meal, so to speak. Andrew Cooke, is that why you don't recommend his other works?
posted by notsnot at 11:20 AM on January 11, 2004

i haven't read mind's eye, but i thought geb was self-indulgent and took way too long to make a relatively simple point (maybe i just didn't "get it"?). metamagical themas didn't seem to have much that was interesting (apart from those patterns that distort, whose name i can't remember). i guess i was a bit sweeping in my condemnation, because they're the only three (inc fluid concepts) books i've read of his. dennett refers to him quite a bit, which always strikes me as odd because i never felt he was in the same league - obviously he's very clever, but he never seems to be as good as dennett (but then who is? ;o)

hmm. i'm probably going way over the mark here, but i think the difference is one of taste. hofstadter doesn't seem to have the judgement to pick out the good stuff from the details. hence the meandering nature of geb and the confused (imho) architecture of letter spirit (neither neural net nor classical ai). maybe it's that the time isn't right - we're still at the stage where dennett's broad brush approach is more appropriate than hosftadter's attention to detail.


and i think what i'd like to read next is a good book on the biology/chemistry of the brain. i bet that's an interesting field...
posted by andrew cooke at 12:12 PM on January 11, 2004

Mind's Eye: Good. GEB: Very Good. Chinese Room: Rather Silly, but interesting from a historical perspective I suppose.

Also of interest, if you like popular physics, is Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind (not that I 'agree with' all of it, but it definately has some good stuff and some stuff to make you think).
posted by fvw at 12:21 PM on January 11, 2004

If you can find them, publications from past Tucson consciousness conferences can be quite interesting (in college, I used to work in the Advanced Biotechnology Lab out of which the conference first arose).
posted by rushmc at 12:44 PM on January 11, 2004

rushmc points toward the Consciousness Conferences stuff, and a book that's come from that direction is Chalmer's new one, "The Conscious Mind: In seach of a fundamental theory". I haven't read it yet, but apparently the guy is a bit of cartesian dualist -- and has interesting things to say about the materialists. Dennett is not, as I understand, totally a materialist, but still, there's probably an interesting enough discussion between these two works.
posted by zpousman at 1:06 PM on January 11, 2004

FYI, it's "The Mind's I" not to be confused with "Splinter of the Mind's Eye".
posted by plinth at 2:15 PM on January 11, 2004

Roger Penrose's Shadows of the Mind is newer than the afforementioned Emporer's New Mind and addresses some of the problems with his theories and arguments.
posted by weston at 2:36 PM on January 11, 2004

  • Andy Clark's Being There
  • Dennet's Darwin's Dangerous Idea is a good jumping off point to a lot of his and Dawkin's stuff - more of an eagle's eye view, but a very good read.
  • Second the vote for Fluid Analogies...
  • Susan Blackmore's and Dawkin's The Meme Machine. (Full disclosure: haven't read it, but it's in the pile on the advice of a friend).
On a Hofstadter tangent, I enjoyed Le Ton Beau de Marot enough to forgive the sometimes-preciousness of GEB.
posted by shemol at 3:53 PM on January 11, 2004

In The River Of Consciousness

In the latest issue of The New York Review Of Books, Oliver Sacks's essay surveys

The Principles of Psychology
by William James

Creative Evolution
by Henri Bergson

The Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychological Theoryby Donald Hebb

Neural Darwinism: The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection
by Gerald M. Edelman

Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness
by Gerald M. Edelman

The Physiology of Truth: Neuroscience and Human Knowledge
by Jean-Pierre Changeux

The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul
by Francis Crick
posted by y2karl at 10:48 PM on January 11, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the suggestions. I have read some of Hofstadter's stuff, including GEB (but that was several years ago, and probably needs a re-read), but not FC&CA.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:08 AM on January 12, 2004

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