Kinds Of Minds: Toward An Understanding Of Consciousness (Science Masters Series)

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9780465073504: Kinds Of Minds: Toward An Understanding Of Consciousness (Science Masters Series)

Combining ideas from philosophy, artificial intelligence, and neurobiology, Daniel Dennett leads the reader on a fascinating journey of inquiry, exploring such intriguing possibilities as: Can any of us really know what is going on in someone else's mind? What distinguishes the human mind from the minds of animals, especially those capable of complex behavior? If such animals, for instance, were magically given the power of language, would their communities evolve an intelligence as subtly discriminating as ours? Will robots, once they have been endowed with sensory systems like those that provide us with experience, ever exhibit the particular traits long thought to distinguish the human mind, including the ability to think about thinking? Dennett addresses these questions from an evolutionary perspective. Beginning with the macromolecules of DNA and RNA, the author shows how, step-by-step, animal life moved from the simple ability to respond to frequently recurring environmental conditions to much more powerful ways of beating the odds, ways of using patterns of past experience to predict the future in never-before-encountered situations. Whether talking about robots whose video-camera ”eyes” give us the powerful illusion that ”there is somebody in there” or asking us to consider whether spiders are just tiny robots mindlessly spinning their webs of elegant design, Dennett is a master at finding and posing questions sure to stimulate and even disturb.

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Review:

In Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett embarks on the audacious task of explaining human consciousness. He sets his sights even higher for Kinds of Minds, attempting to provide a more general explanation of consciousness. But don't be put off: the book is short, easy to read, and makes a good introduction to Dennett's richly interdisciplinary oeuvre. While beginners will appreciate Dennett's appeals to intuitive moral considerations to emphasize the importance of investigating consciousness, there is much in the book to hold the attention of readers already familiar with his previous work.

At the beginning of Kinds of Minds Dennett asks, "What kinds of minds are there? And how do we know?" These two questions--the first ontological, the second epistemological--set the agenda for the book. Intuitions untutored by theory are not capable of answering these questions, Dennett argues, making it necessary to pursue insight from the evolutionary point of view. Accordingly, subsequent chapters are devoted to phylogenetic speculations about agency and intentionality, sensitivity and sentience, and perception and behavior. Particularly charming is the series of squiggly amoebas--the Darwinian, Skinnerian, Popperian, and Gregorian creatures--that illustrates the hierarchy of cognitive power. In the final chapter, Dennett returns to the original two questions, ending not with their answers, but, he hopes, with "better versions of the questions themselves." --Glenn Branch

About the Author:

Daniel C. Dennett is director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University and the author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life and Consciousness Explained

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Dennett, Daniel C.
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