I find it a little hard to call what Dennett does science. Social science maybe. More like philosophy with lots of anecdotes. Yes, he is very analytical but in a scattered, unfocused way. I’ve read a lot of good scientific reviews of fields, but reading “Breaking the Spell” has been like getting a bad case of attention deficit disorder. He can’t stay focused on the same idea even within a single sentence in some cases. He cites quite a bit of work done by various anthropologists, which is great, and the book finally starts to get somewhere by Chapt 8, but I found Sam Harris’ “End of Faith” much more coherent and engaging (even though I agree more with Dennett than Harris). There are some nice gems in “Breaking the Spell”, but, sheesh, you have to do so much sifting and untangling to find them.
Perhaps you can recommend a better book by Dennett. Unfortunately, I have to read a lot more of his work.
You’ve described Dennett’s writing style quite well, actually, rgill. His longer books can be quite maddening to read; there are lots of long digressions. He tends to be light on actual arguments and heavy on what he terms “intuition pumps”, that is, experiments that get you to reframe certain subjects and look at them in a new way. For that reason, he can be maddening to some philosophers, who tend to consider his books more a sort of “popular philosophy”, even if they might agree with certain of his conclusions.
I particularly liked his earlier book Elbow Room, about free will, because it is shorter and hence more to the point.
He’s a very nice guy, BTW, and I think actually a better interviewee or lecturer than a writer of long books.