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Cover of Consciousness Explained

Consciousness Explained (published 1991) is a book by the American philosopher Daniel Dennett which attempts to explain how consciousness arises from interaction of physical and cognitive processes in the brain.

The book puts forward a "multiple drafts" model of consciousness. Arguing from research on the brain, it suggests that there is no single central place (a "Cartesian Theater") where conscious experience takes place; instead there are "various events of content-fixation occurring in various places at various times in the brain" (p365). The brain consists of a "bundle of semi-independent agencies" (p260); when "content-fixation" takes place in one of these, its effects may propagate so that it leads to the utterance of one of the sentences that make up the story in which the central character is one's "self".

Dennett places the parallelism of the brain in opposition to the sequentiality of the mind. He shows that there is a distortion in the conscious serial account of the brain processes.

His philosophical method is heterophenomenology, in which the verbal or written reports of subjects are treated as akin to a theorist's fiction – the subject's report is not questioned, but it is not assumed to be an incorrigible report about that subject's inner state. This approach allows the reports of the subject to be a datum in psychological research, thus circumventing behaviorism.

The matter of consciousness is, of course, under constant and heated debate, and there is no firm agreement on the validity of Dennett's arguments. Critics of Dennett's approach, such as David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel, argue that Dennett's argument misses the point of the inquiry by merely re-defining consciousness as an external property and ignoring the subjective aspect completely. Dennett and his supporters, however, respond that the aforementioned "subjective aspect" as commonly used is non-existent, and that his "re-definition" is the only coherent description of consciousness. Nevertheless this argument has earned Dennett's book the nicknames "Consciousness Ignored" and "Consciousness Explained Away". (Barash 2003)


  1. Dennett, Daniel (1991), Consciousness Explained, The Penguin Press, ISBN 0-713-99037-6 (UK Hardcover edition, 1992).
  2. Barash, David P. (March 22 2003), "Dennett and the Darwinizing of Free Will", Human Nature Review, vol. 3:222-225.

See also

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