Professor Daniel Dennett has long been in quest of the explanation for human consciousness. In this book, he draws from many fields. These are not self-indulgent digressions, but tools and building blocks necessary to weave his explanation of consciousness. He begins with two inversions of reasoning, much like the Copernican inversion. Darwin showed us design can be bottom-up, Turing showed us competence without comprehension. Humans have several mental competences. These competencies have slowly evolved bottom up – tool-making, drawing, speaking, writing - with fitness-enhancing ones surviving. We attribute greater intentional design to these cultural artifacts, because we do not have a trail record of the gradual improvements, least of all of the outright failures. Some competences and tools now give us the capacity for top-down design – e.g. mathematics, microscopes. Words and concepts are things for us, as sticks and stones are. Manipulating these to posit an intentional agent in our heads (who is doing this?) gives us a “narrative center of gravity”. It is a name for “how it feels”. But it is not a homunculus in the center of the head watching the Cartesian theatre (leading to endless regression) nor is it an elusive essence (leading to the supernatural). Just as the set of things that termites additively do is called “collaboration”, or “planning”, or “mound design”, the set of things we do adds up to consciousness. Just as a center of gravity in physics is a useful construct, but it would be futile to go looking for it inside an object, so too consciousness is a useful construct, but is a user illusion. Some people may not like to hear consciousness described as a user illusion. That's probably because the word illusion has connotations of deception, or even unreality. If you prefer to believe that consciousness is a mysterious essence to be discovered sitting somewhere, or granted by a supernatural creator, this book will stick in your craw. But if you grant the workings of your digestion are inaccessible to you, and need the tools of chemistry physics, and biology to understand, then you will grant that the workings of your mind too need these tools and more - language, culture, and the two inversions mentioned earlier. Professor Dennett’s exposition is masterful, and so is his use of language. He ignites your mind, and it will fire on all cylinders. The book requires close reading, but is not difficult. It will install additional tools and apps in your head to apply to this ancient conundrum.
Daniel Dennett is one of the most amazing present day philosophers. His perspectives are unique. If you have followed philosophy from the academic perspective, compared to ancient philosophers and even medieval philosophers to all the way upto Bertand Ressel, Daniel brings a unique and interesting perspective. Like he also says, he is well read in terms of computer science and evolution of computers and computing in general. This brings into place his unique metaphors all the way upto equivalent of JVM which he calls EVM ( evolution virtual machine). His competence v/s comprehension is unique concept. What I call as intellectual scaffolding for me. Also his 4 levels of competence/comprehension starting from 1. Darwinian: Hard wired, bringing survival and competition in natural sense 2. Skinnerian: all about stimulas /response style behaviorism 3. Popperian: All about knowledge of system, comprehension without competence, and Generate and Test analogy 4. Gregorian: With higher level thinking tools and pattern based thinking. This 4 level thinking is the most amazing thing which I have gathered, as AI scientist, this gave me almost like a new direction to think about, or what Dawkin calls it is thinking "Meme" for me. I am reading this book at the same time listening to the same on Audible. The Strange Inversion of Reasoning is also amazing concept, starting from Hume to Darwin to Turing ! For anybody who wants to study study AI/Cognitive science/Philosophy this book is must in book shelf !