I dunno. I mean, there are lots of neat parts in this book, on topics ranging from the evolution of consciousness to the implications of strong AI, but… I guess it just doesn’t coalesce for me. The book is extremely discursive, and I ended up feeling like I was either too stupid to get how it all fit together (still a live possibility) or that this book didn’t so much explain consciousness as talk about a bunch of somewhat relevant related topics.
I also found the discussion of memetics unconvincing. Dennett brings up the fact that many cultural historians feel “memetics” is just a reframing of what they’ve been doing for years. Dennett takes up this argument on the memetics side, but the discussion felt largely semantic to me.
From Bacteria to Bach and Back (Dennett)
This book is hard to describe. It’s partially a history of how we came to understand DNA as the unit of heredity, but also a discussion concerning how information theory has been applied to DNA, sometimes with success and sometimes without. It’s also a discussion of future uses of tools for manipulating the molecules of life. It’s also a discussion, especially toward the end, of philosophy of biology.
In addition to all this, it’s extremely detailed, both in its description of science and history. It’s not exactly light reading, and that’s a good thing. In particular, it offers an in-depth section on the famed race for the double helix. For better or worse, with the added detail, a lot of the drama is gone. In fact, according to Cobb, some of the more interesting moments from James Watson’s famous book didn’t actually happen.
Anyway, it’s not always an easy book, especially when it gets into the minutiae of specific experiments, but it’s pretty darn excellent. Recommended, especially if you’re into biology or the philosophy of biology.
Life’s Greatest Secret (Cobb)
What a great memoir! This book only covers a few years of the author’s life as a small child, caught between his Syrian father and French mother’s cultures. It is beautifully drawn and written, with the tensions arising naturally from the characters’ dialogue. I read it all in one sitting, then immediately ordered the sequel. Wonderful.
The Arab of the Future (Sattouf)