Brainchildren Essay - Critical Essays

Daniel C. Dennett


Daniel C. Dennett asserts that the human mind is so complex because it is both biological and sociological; hence, the interdisciplinary nature of his philosophy. To get an accurate picture of the mind—to understand how it arose and how it works— requires a clear-headed metaphysical analysis backed by scientific research from diverse fields. For pedagogical purposes, the author uses ingenious analogies, stories, and metaphors, such as examples of zombies, multiple personality disorders, and computers, to make it easier for the lay reader to deal with his subject’s inherent complexities.

Dennett is one of the rare thinkers who give artificial intelligence a prominent place in modern, mainstream philosophy. At the same time, he deals with animal minds and our ability to access them. He enlivens his arguments with reports on animal cognition experiments, such as the snake’s multiple-modality approach to hunting and eating its prey. He uses ethological studies to understand the human mind and consciousness within an evolutionary context. He seeks to understand the connection between evolutionary changes of the mind’s structure through sensory interactions with the physical world and the formation of beliefs, opinions, and dispositions. By doing so, he opens the way for alternative and eclectic approaches to the study of human consciousness.

BRAINCHILDREN: ESSAYS ON DESIGNING MINDS deals with the philosophy of mind with a unique, refreshing approach which is Dennett’s literary and intellectual trademark. As in his previous books, BRAINSTORMS: PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS ON MIND AND PSYCHOLOGY (1978) and CONSCIOUSNESS EXPLAINED (1991), he displays a gift for cohesively pulling together philosophy, science, and common sense.

Sources for Further Study

Choice. XXXV, July, 1998, p. 1874.

Library Journal. CXXIII, March 15, 1998, p. 89.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, February 9, 1998, p. 88.

San Jose Mercury News. June 14, 1998, p. B2.

Science News. CLIII, May 16, 1998, p. 306.

Scientific American. CCLXXIX, July, 1998, p. 113.