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A 1991 book by the cognitive philosopher Daniel Dennett, in which he develops a theory of consciousness. The title is, of course, (deliberately) overly bold, and even people like me, in agreement with his general approach and beliefs, wouldn't find it's entirely satisfactory. But I would very strongly recommend it for anyone interested in the field.

I've been mulling over this node for at least a week now, without rereading the whole book, flipping through it, trying to summarize it mentally, but there's a great deal to it. So I'm going to make this up on the spot and see if that suffices.

The model he proposes can be called the multiple drafts model. He also calls it the Joycean machine. A conscious thought or perception or memory is a competition among different firings in the brain building up networks of associations until one is more or less the dominant pattern. But there is no such place or goal as consciousness, no special new arena for the incomplete thoughts to enter or be received in, to count as conscious.

Also, he is a thoroughgoing materialist, in that he doesn't think there is anything missing in a complete description of mental phenomena in terms of brain states. Very few philosophers or scientists now believe in a separate thing called the mind. That old Cartesian belief was effectively killed half a century ago by Gilbert Ryle in his The Concept of Mind, and Dennett inherits much from his teacher Ryle.

But some (e.g. John Searle, Saul Kripke, David Chalmers) do still conceive of mental processes which are not products merely of the structure of the brain. (Searle insists its actual biology comes into it; the others I don't know.) They think there are qualia, mental qualities that human beings have when they experience something, which a surpassingly well-made robot or zombie still would not have, or might not have, however close their outward appearance might be, however well they might be able to pass the Turing test in describing their own "experiences". Dennett denies the possibility of such zombies. If something gets close enough to that human state, it is having conscious experiences in the way humans have.

It is just as much a scientific book as philosophical. There are many detailed illustrations from psychological experiments and unusual phenomena, and such things as the nature of vision and colour. He brings in evolutionary explanations, and says that the self as we human beings now have it is our intelligent ape ancestor in symbiosis with that new kind of replicator, the meme.

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