Archive for the ‘Evolution’ Category

Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett (E-Book)

October 3, 2008

Amazon.com Review
Consciousness is notoriously difficult to explain. On one hand, there are facts about conscious experience–the way clarinets sound, the way lemonade tastes–that we know subjectively, from the inside. On the other hand, such facts are not readily accommodated in the objective world described by science. How, after all, could the reediness of clarinets or the tartness of lemonade be predicted in advance? Central to Daniel C. Dennett’s attempt to resolve this dilemma is the “heterophenomenological” method, which treats reports of introspection nontraditionally–not as evidence to be used in explaining consciousness, but as data to be explained. Using this method, Dennett argues against the myth of the Cartesian theater–the idea that consciousness can be precisely located in space or in time. To replace the Cartesian theater, he introduces his own multiple drafts model of consciousness, in which the mind is a bubbling congeries of unsupervised parallel processing. Finally, Dennett tackles the conventional philosophical questions about consciousness, taking issue not only with the traditional answers but also with the traditional methodology by which they were reached. Dennett’s writing, while always serious, is never solemn; who would have thought that combining philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience could be such fun? Not every reader will be convinced that Dennett has succeeded in explaining consciousness; many will feel that his account fails to capture essential features of conscious experience. But none will want to deny that the attempt was well worth making.

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The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins (Audio Book and E-Book)

October 3, 2008

Amazon.com Review
Just as we trace our personal family trees from parents to grandparents and so on back in time, so in The Ancestor’s Tale Richard Dawkins traces the ancestry of life. As he is at pains to point out, this is very much our human tale, our ancestry. Surprisingly, it is one that many otherwise literate people are largely unaware of. Hopefully Dawkins’s name and well deserved reputation as a best selling writer will introduce them to this wonderful saga.

The Ancestor’s Tale takes us from our immediate human ancestors back through what he calls ‘concestors,’ those shared with the apes, monkeys and other mammals and other vertebrates and beyond to the dim and distant microbial beginnings of life some 4 billion years ago. It is a remarkable story which is still very much in the process of being uncovered. And, of course from a scientist of Dawkins stature and reputation we get an insider’s knowledge of the most up-to-date science and many of those involved in the research. And, as we have come to expect of Dawkins, it is told with a passionate commitment to scientific veracity and a nose for a good story. Dawkins’s knowledge of the vast and wonderful sweep of life’s diversity is admirable. Not only does it encompass the most interesting living representatives of so many groups of organisms but also the important and informative fossil ones, many of which have only been found in recent years.

Dawkins sees his journey with its reverse chronology as ‘cast in the form of an epic pilgrimage from the present to the past [and] all roads lead to the origin of life.’ It is, to my mind, a sensible and perfectly acceptable approach although some might complain about going against the grain of evolution. The great benefit for the general reader is that it begins with the more familiar present and the animals nearest and dearest to us—our immediate human ancestors. And then it delves back into the more remote and less familiar past with its droves of lesser known and extinct fossil forms. The whole pilgrimage is divided into 40 tales, each based around a group of organisms and discusses their role in the overall story. Genetic, morphological and fossil evidence is all taken into account and illustrated with a wealth of photos and drawings of living and fossils forms, evolutionary and distributional charts and maps through time, providing a visual compliment and complement to the text. The design also allows Dawkins to make numerous running comments and characteristic asides. There are also numerous references and a good index.

Audio Book

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E-Book

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