Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds

Daniel C. Dennett, Author, Dennett, Author MIT Press (MA) $30 (430p) ISBN 978-0-262-54090-2

The author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained here collects essays from conference volumes and ""specialized journals"" that have appeared from 1984 to 1996, with the idea of making them available ""for students and other readers."" But any reader curious about the nuts and bolts of recent theories of mind and our attempts at modeling it will find even Dennett's technical side accessible enough, given a willingness to be occasionally thrown in medias res. The lead essay, ""Can Machines Think?"" is a clearly formulated reassessment of current contenders for passing the Turing test--the criterion by which thinking machines are judged. ""Speaking for Our Selves"" evaluates claims for the legitimacy of multiple personality disorder, and extends the discussion into questioning the notion of selfhood. ""Real Patterns,"" which Dennett calls ""utterly central to my thinking,"" is tougher going, as Dennett seems to be addressing an ongoing dispute among philosophers about what it might mean for a belief to be ""real,"" but the essay rewards repeated reading. A section on animal cognition and one on the philosophical possibility of zombies are further draws, but many of the other essays and reviews will hold interest only for the specialist. Throughout, however, Dennett's careful attention to word choice and definition helps the uninitiated along, and reveals one of our most celebrated--and controversial--philosophers of mind at work. (Mar.)
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