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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Consciousness Explained - Daniel C. Dennett A friend urged me to read this book. I got a couple of chapters into it, and found the author was telling me that "we are all novelists", and that a large part of consciousness was going to be explained in terms of the ongoing narrative we spin in our interior monologues. Shortly before, another friend had persuaded me to read some Derrida, and Dennett's arguments sounded a bit familiar. (Oddly enough, the two people in question had been dating at one point). I looked around in Dennett's book, and, as far as I could gather, he had developed his arguments without looking at Derrida at all, though at some point he had been told that he ought to do so; there was a grumpy acknowledgment that there might be a connection. It is of course notorious that the analytical and Continental schools of philosophy don't get on very well.

I read the whole book, but with misgivings about the basic approach. Even leaving aside the question of whether or not Dennett's work is related to Derrida's, I felt that this "novelist" idea oversimplifies the question. OK, let's agree that everyone does have an interior monologue proceeding in their heads, and that it has something to do with consciousness. But calling it a "monologue" is surely not quite right, since there must be more to it than just language. There's an episode in one of the Feynman books where someone asks him to visualize a complex piece of machinery. He does so. "You see," his friend says, "consciousness isn't just an interior monologue." Or words to that effect. So the "monologue" has components of visual images as well, and most likely other things too.

None the less, if Dennett had fully delivered on his promise to explain how the interior monologue part worked, and how it related to consciousness, I would in no way have felt cheated. I never really thought he did, though. He got to the point where I was expecting to get the explanation, and it degenerated into hand-waving and unconvincing examples. Well, philosophy is very often like that - perhaps it's enough that he made me think about the issues.