Friday, July 28, 2017

Daniel Dennett - From Bacteria To Bach And Back (Allen Lane, 2017) ***

In this ambitious book, American philosopher Daniel Dennett describes the evolution of mind and consciousness as the result of biological adaptations in a very Darwinian way. No problem with that of course. And to a large extent you can only agree with all the different facts that support his vision.

But then he suddenly makes a jump to the description of consciousness which is, if I understand him well, an illusion. I can understand that the perception of the ego is an illusion, but consciousness itself? He calls it a 'user-illusion' at the same level as the color that stays on your retina after you've closed your eyes, a kind of imprint of continuity that does not exist in reality. I have no problem with this either, but he does not substantiate this fully, apart from a philosophical plausible explanation. Suddenly, the facts are no longer there, only the analogy with visual illusions.

At the same time you wonder who is writing for? The language is too complicated and the arguments too subtle to be read by mass audiences. But then why does he spend so much time on attacking "Intelligent Design", when surely none of his readers will need to be convinced of its stupidity? Why does he need to attack Noam Chomsky in such a way, when it's not even needed for his reasoning? Why does he refer so often to his own work to make his point?

In the end the reader will have read an interesting overview of a selection of scientists working in the area between biology and cognitive science, or seperately but brought together by Dennett in a synthesis of current thinking, with a original viewpoint of his own. At the same time, it is needlessly complicated, with divergence and repetitions that could have been avoided.

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