Today’s Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good and Getting Better ed. John Brockman, Harper Perrennial, 2007, pp. xvii-xxii; also appears in The Wall Street Journal Online January 25th, 2008, http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB120120661987514417.html.
Making mistakes is the key to making progress. There are times, of course, when it is important not to make any mistakes--ask any surgeon or airline pilot. But it is less widely appreciated that there are also times when making mistakes is the secret of success. What I have in mind is not just the familiar wisdom of nothing ventured, nothing gained. While that maxim encourages a healthy attitude towards risk, it doesn't point to the positive benefits of not just (...) risking mistakes, but actually of making them. Instead of shunning mistakes, I claim, you should cultivate the habit of making them. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are. You should seek out opportunities to make grand mistakes, just so you can then recover from them. (shrink)
Here, we argue that any neurobiological theory based on an experience/function division cannot be empirically confirmed or falsified and is thus outside the scope of science. A ‘perfect experiment’ illustrates this point, highlighting the unbreachable boundaries of the scientific study of consciousness. We describe a more nuanced notion of cognitive access that captures personal experience without positing the existence of inaccessible conscious states. Finally, we discuss the criteria necessary for forming and testing a falsifiable theory of consciousness.
tephen Jay Gould complains that in Darwin's Dangerous Idea I attack his views via "hint, innuendo, false attribution," and "caricature" [NYR, June 26]. That is false. On the contrary, I went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that my account of his views was fair and accurate. One does not lightly embark on the course of demonstrating that a figure as famous and as honored as Stephen J a y Gould—"America's evolutionist laureate"—has misled his huge public about the theories in (...) his field. I knew he was going to hate my book, and given the effectiveness of his past public attacks on sociobiology, IQ testing, and other targets of his disfavor, prudence alone would dictate that I should secure my criticisms against easy rebuttal and condemnation. (shrink)
Anybody interested in evolutionary explanations of social phenomena (and every philosopher should be) will learn a lot from Unto Others. In addition to its cornucopia of fascinating empirical findings from biology and psychology, it is chock full of arresting perspectives, ingenious thought experiments, and clear expositions of difficult-indeed, treacherous-concepts that should be in every philosopher's kit. What philosophers will not learn, however, is the status of group selection in current evolutionary theory, because while Sober and Wilson (hereafter S&W) strive intelligently (...) to clarify and unify the issues, some of their efforts muddy the waters instead. This is mainly due to the lingering effects of ancient feuds and score-settling on both sides. So far as I can see, nobody has yet been able to come up with a judicious overview of the whole scene. Evolutionists love to pick a fight. Why propose a friendly amendment when you can claim to overthrow some major edifice of orthodoxy with your revolutionary idea? And what could be more satisfying than resurrecting a derided heresy? Stephen Jay Gould briefly tried to restore Goldschmidt's "hopeful monster" saltationism as part of his campaign for punctuated equilibrium, which was itself not as revolutionary as he claimed (Dennett, 1995); hardly a year goes by without somebody declaring that something they have discovered is, actually, a genuine instance of Lamarckianism. There is usually a grain of truth, or more, in these dramatic claims. Prions really do constitute a major exception to Crick's Central Dogma about the direction of information flow between DNA and proteins.. (shrink)
In my opinion, the two main topics in the philosophy of mind are content and consciousness, and they have received about equal attention from me. As the title of my ﬁrst book, Content and Consciousness (1969) suggested, that is the order in which they must be addressed: ﬁrst, a theory of content or intentionality--a phenomenon more fundamental than consciousness--and then, building on that foundation, a theory of consciousness. Over the years I have found myself recapitulating this basic structure twice, (...) partly in order to respond to various philosophical objections, but more importantly, because my research on foundational issues in cognitive science led me into diﬀerent aspects of the problems. The articles in the ﬁrst half of Brainstorms (1978a) composed in eﬀect a more detailed theory of content, and the articles in the second half were concerned with speciﬁc problems of consciousness. The second recapitulation devoted a separate volume to each half: The Intentional Stance (1987a) is all and only about content; Consciousness Explained (1991a) presupposes the theory of content in that volume and builds an expanded theory of consciousness. My more recent books, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995) and Kinds of Minds (1996), extend the scope of my earlier work, bringing out the evolutionary foundations of both the theory of intentional systems and the theory of consciousness. A summary of both of these in their current versions follows a review of how I got there. (shrink)
I have learned a lot from Evan Thompson’s book–his scholarship is formidable, and his taste for relatively overlooked thinkers is admirable–but I keep stumbling over the strain induced by his self-assigned task of demonstrating that his heroes–Varela and Maturana, Merleau-Ponty and (now) Husserl, Oyama and Moss and others–have shattered the comfortable assumptions of orthodoxy, and outlined radical new approaches to the puzzles of life and mind. The irony is that Thompson is such a clear and conscientious expositor that he makes (...) it much easier for me to see that the ideas he expounds, while often truly excellent, are not really all that revolutionary, but, at best, valuable correctives to the sorts of oversimplifications that tend to get turned into mantras by sheer repetition, in the textbooks and popular accounts of these topics in the media. (shrink)
Weaver birds create intricate nests; sculptors and other artists and artisans also create intricate, ingenious constructions out of similar materials. The products may look similar, and outwardly the creative processes that create those processes may look similar, but there are surely large and important differences between them. What are they, and how important are they?Â The weaverbird nestmaking is â€˜instinctual,â€™ and â€˜controlled by the genesâ€™ some would say, but we know that this is a crude approximation of a more interesting (...) truth, involving an intricate interplay between genetic variation, long-term developmental and environmental interaction and short-term environmental variationâ€“in opportunities and materials accessible at the time of nest building.Â And on the side of the human creator, a similarly complex story must be told. Genes play some role surely (think of the likelihood of heritable differences in musical aptitude, for instance), but so do both long-term and short-term environmental interactions. The myth of the artist â€œblessedâ€ by a spark ofÂ â€˜divine geniusâ€™ is even cruder and more distorted than the myth of the birdnest as a simple product of a geneâ€“as if it were a protein. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Our thinking about human creativity is pulled out of shape somewhat by a famous contrast introduced to the world by Darwin. One of his earliestâ€“and most outragedâ€“critics summed it up vividly:Â Â Â In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that, IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL MACHINE, IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express, in condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory, and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin's meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the achievements of creative skill.. (shrink)
There are systemic features of contemporary Christianity that create an almost invisible class of non-believing clergy, ensnared in their ministries by a web of obligations, constraints, comforts, and community. Exemplars from five Protestant denominations, Southern Baptist, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Christ, were found and confidentially interviewed at length about their lives, religious education and indoctrination, aspirations, problems and ways of coping. The in-depth, qualitative interviews formed the basis for profiles of all five, together with general (...) observations about their predicaments and how they got into them. The authors anticipate that the discussion generated on the Web (at On Faith, the Newsweek/Washington Post website on religion, http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith//2010/03/disbelief_in_the_pulpit/all.html) and on other websites will facilitate a larger study that will enable the insights of this pilot study to be clarified, modified, and expanded. (shrink)
Is mathematics a religion at all? Is science? One often hears these days that science is "just" another religion. There are some interesting similarities. Established science, like established religion, has its bureaucracies and hierarchies of officials, its lavish and arcane installations of no utility apparent to outsiders, its initiation ceremonies. Like a religion bent on enlarging its congregation, it has a huge phalanx of proselytizers--who call themselves not missionaries but educators.
Consider this chess puzzle. White to checkmate in two. It appeared recently in the Boston Globe, and what startled me about it was that I had thought it had been proven that you can’t checkmate with a lone knight (and a king, of course). This is a counterexample, a strange circumstance that can arise in a legal game of chess. This fact is a higher-order truth of chess, namely that the “proof” that you can never checkmate with a lone knight (...) and king is unsound. Now let’s consider chmess (I made up the term); it’s the game that you get by allowing the king to move two spaces, not one, in any direction. I made it up and I don’t know if anybody has ever played it. I have no idea whether it’s worth playing. Probably it isn’t, but it doesn’t matter; it’s not even worth our attention long enough to figure out. But a moment’s reflection reveals that there are exactly as many higher-order a priori truths of chmess as there are of chess, namely, an infinity of them. And no doubt they would be roughly as difficult to discover and to prove as the higherorder truths of chess. There are people who make a living working out the truths of chess and certainly it’s been a big avocation for many other people. But I doubt if anybody yet has spent more than 5 minutes trying to work out the a priori truths, and the higher-order truths, of chmess. (shrink)
Allen Funt was one of the great psychologists of the twentieth century. His informal demonstrations on Candid Camera showed us as much about human psychology and its surprising limitations as the work of any academic psychologist. Here is one of the best (as I recall it many years later): he placed an umbrella stand in a prominent place in a department store and filled it with shiny new golf-cart handles. These were pieces of strong, gleaming stainless steel tubing, about two (...) feet long, with a gentle bend in the middle, threaded at one end (to screw into a threaded socket on your golf cart) and with a handsome spherical plastic knob on the other end. In other words, about as useless a piece of stainless steel tubing as you could imagine, unless you happened to own a golf cart missing its handle. He put up a sign. It didn't identify the contents but simply said: "50% off. Today only! $5.95." Some people purchased them, and, when asked why, they were quite ready to volunteer one confabulated answer or another. They had no idea what the thing was, but it was a handsome thing, and such a bargain! These people were not brain-damaged or drunk; they were normal adults, our neighbors, ourselves. (shrink)
Are there clergy who don’t believe in God? Certainly there are former clergy who fall in this category. Before making their life-wrenching decisions, they were secret nonbelievers. Who knows how many like-minded pastors discover that they simply cannot take this mortal leap from the pulpit and then go on to live out their ministries in secret disbelief? What is it like to be a pastor who doesn’t believe in God? John Updike gave us a moving account in his brilliant novel, (...) In the Beauty of the Lilies, which begins with the story of Reverend Wilmot, a Lutheran minister whose life is shattered by his decision to renounce the pulpit in the face of his mounting disbelief. But that is fiction and Wilmot’s period of concealment is short-lived. What is it like to be a pastor who stays the course, in spite of sharing Wilmot’s disbelief? (shrink)
After decades of persistent work by researchers in many fields, building foundations and patiently filling in details, the gigantic jigsaw puzzle of consciousness is beginning to come into focus. As large assemblies fall into place with a gratifying convergence of details drawn from different disciplines, the pace is quickening. Everybody wants to be in on the delicious task of describing what the Big Picture is going to look like, predicting the outlines before the mopping up operations confirm them. Well, not (...) quite everybody. There are also those who dislike what they see happening: consciousness is turning out to be "just" a great big jigsaw puzzle. What? No cosmic revolutions in quantum (or meta-) physics? No Impenetrable Mysteries? Bummer! (shrink)
We would all like to have a good theory of perception. Such a theory would account for all the known phenomena and predict novel phenomena, explaining everything in terms of processes occurring in nervous systems in accordance with the principles and laws already established by science: the principles of optics, physics, biochemistry, and the like. Such a theory might come to exist without our ever having to answer the awkward "philosophical" question that arises.
I have learned a lot from Evan Thompson’s book — his scholarship is formidable, and his taste for relatively overlooked thinkers is admirable — but I keep stumbling over the strain induced by his selfassigned task of demonstrating that his heroes — Varela and Maturana, Merleau-Ponty and (now) Husserl, Oyama and Moss and others — have shattered the comfortable assumptions of orthodoxy, and outlined radical new approaches to the puzzles of life and mind. The irony is that Thompson is such (...) a clear and conscientious expositor that he makes it much easier for me to see that the ideas he expounds, while often truly excellent, are not really all that revolutionary, but, at best, valuable correctives to the sorts of oversimplifications that tend to get turned into mantras by sheer repetition in the textbooks and popular accounts of these topics in the media. Philosophers have a delicate task: squeezing the tacit assumptions and unnoticed implications out of every ill-considered dogma without lapsing into nitpicking or caricature. Thompson does better than most; he is not a gotcha!-monger or sea lawyer, but he does set up a few strawmen (strawpersons?) which I will duly expose as such, while showing that his revolutionaries are not really so revolutionary after all. Reformers are the bane of would-be rebels, of course, taking the wind out of their sails just as they get started, and in the cases I will discuss, reform-minded critics — myself among them — have already pointed out the caveats that pre-empt these assaults on orthodoxy. Might these caveats and concessions be mere lip service? Have the reformers underestimated the seriousness of the challenges, papering over the cracks that will in due course bring down their edifice? (shrink)
We have values and aspirations. What of other animals? Are their "values" different from ours? Animals manifestly prefer having plenty of food to starvation, and comfort to pain, and they will work hard to obtain a mate. But beyond these "creature comforts," they seem to be largely indifferent to the prospects and anxieties that make up human life. A suitable coverall term for human aspiration would be the pursuit of happiness, bearing in mind that happiness is many different things to (...) different people. This already sets us aside from our fellow creatures. To put it vividly, Mother Nature doesn't care whether we are happy--but we care (and Mother Nature doesn't care that we care). That is, it would be naive to suppose that the process of natural selection has somehow endorsed our pursuit of happiness as the proximal mechanism for maximizing our genetic fitness. It is consistent with what we know of evolution to suppose that the process of natural selection--Mother Nature--would design us to experience however much anxiety and torment is consistent with making more grandchildren. Our values are, like everything else in our extended phenotypes, products of evolutionary processes, but we misread them if we see them to be just like the "values" of other animals, which can indeed be viewed as the straightforward result of Mother Nature's project of installing an optimally reliable fitness-enhancing set of preferences. The difference arises, I will argue, from the fact that we have culture, and culture provides a medium in which a radically different--indeed, orthogonal--set of selection pressures can re-direct evolutionary processes into unprecedented channels. (shrink)
There is much good work for philosophers to do in cognitive science if they adopt the constructive attitude that prevails in science, work toward testable hypotheses, and take on the task of clarifying the relationship between the scientiﬁc concepts and the everyday concepts with which we conduct our moral lives.
In earlier ages reliable information was rather hard to get, and in general people could be excused for taking the founding myths of their religions on faith. These were the "facts" that "everyone knew," and anybody who had a skeptical itch could check it out with the local priest or rabbi or imam, or other religious authority. Today, there is really no excuse for such ignorance. It may not be your fault if you don't know the facts about the (...) history and tenets of your own religion, but it is somebody's fault. Or more charitably, perhaps we have all been victimized by an accumulation of tradition that.. (shrink)
There is a pattern of miscommunication bedeviling the people working on consciousness that is reminiscent of the classic Abbott and Costello ‘Who’s on First?’ routine. With (...) class='Hi'>the best of intentions, people are talking past each other, seeing major disagreements when there are only terminological or tactical preferences — or even just matters of emphasis — that divide the sides. Since some substantive differences also lurk in this confusion, it is well worth trying to sort out. Much of the problem seems to have been caused by some misdirection in my apologia for heterophenomenology (Dennett, 1982; 1991), advertised as an explicitly third-person approach to human consciousness, so I will try to make amends by first removing those misleading signposts and sending us back to the real issues. On the face of it, the study of human consciousness involves phenomena that seem to occupy something rather like another dimension: the private, subjective, ‘first-person’ dimension. Everybody agrees that this is where we start. What, then, is the relation between the standard ‘third-person’ objective methodologies for studying meteors or magnets (or human metabolism or bone density), and the methodologies for studying human consciousness? Can the standard methods be extended in such a way as to do justice to the phenomena of human consciousness? Or do we have to find some quite radical or revolutionary alternative science? I have defended the hypothesis that there is a straightforward, conservative extension of objective science that handsomely covers the ground — all the ground — of human consciousness, doing justice to all the data without ever having to abandon the rules and constraints of the experimental method that have worked so well in the rest of science. This third-person methodology, dubbed heterophenomenology (phenomenology of another not oneself), is, I have claimed, the sound way to take the first person point of view as seriously as it can be taken.. (shrink)
predators stalk their chosen prey, and so forth. The genius of â€œinstinctâ€ comes in abundant variety, and breeds true. â€œIt must be in the genesâ€â€“thatâ€™s what we tend to conclude. But when we do, we may be jumping to conclusions, because there are other possibilities: the clever behavior we observe could be the do-it-yourself invention or discovery of the individual behaver or it could be a clever trick copied from an elder member of its species, most likely one of its (...) parents. This last possibility is an ancient doctrine, enshrined in folklore about animal parents sternly but lovingly training their young, and in countless anecdotes, but this appealing idea of animals benefitting from hand-me-down wisdom from earlier generations much the way we do has recently languished in the shadow of the genes, an oversight this book seeks to correct.Â The folklore is not all fanciful; some of it can be supported by good science, which moreover will open up surprising vistas on the role of individual behavior in evolution. The book is fascinating on at least three levels: first, it provides a vivid and insightful survey.. (shrink)
In a second there is also time enough, we might add. In his dichotomizing fervor, Bogen fails to realize that our argument is neutral with respect to the number of consciousnesses that inhabit the normal or the split-brain skull. Should there be two, for instance, we would point out that within the neural network that subserves each, no privileged locus should be postulated. (Midline location is not the issue--it was only a minor issue for Descartes, in fact.).
Paul Valéry1 Valéry’s “Variation sur Descartes” excellently evokes the vanishing act that has haunted philosophy ever since Darwin overturned the Cartesian tradition. If my body is composed of nothing but a team of a few trillion robotic cells, mindlessly interacting to produce all the large-scale patterns that tradition would attribute to the nonmechanical workings of my mind, there seems to be nothing left over to be me. Lurking in Darwin’s shadow there is a bugbear: the incredible Disappearing Self.2 One of (...) Darwin’s earliest critics saw what was coming and could scarcely contain his outrage. (shrink)
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research , L, Supplement, 177-94, Fall 1990. Reprinted in M. Losonsky, ed., Language and Mind: Contemporary Readings in Philosopohy and Cognitive Science, Blackwells, 1995.
Incompatibilism, the view that free will and determinism are incompatible, subsists on two widely accepted, but deeply confused, theses concerning possibility and causation: (1) in a deterministic universe, one can never truthfully utter the sentence “I could have done otherwise,” and (2) in such universes, one can never really receive credit or blame for having caused an event, since in fact all events have been predetermined by conditions during the universe’s birth. Throughout the free will literature one finds variations on (...) these two themes, often intermixed in various ways. When Robert Nozick2 describes our longing for “originative value” he apparently has thesis (2) in mind, and thesis (1) may underlie his assertion that “we want it to be true that in that very same situation we could have done (significantly) otherwise.” John Austin, in a famous footnote, flirts with thesis (1). (shrink)
Incompatibilism, the view that free will and determinism are incompatible, subsists on two widely accepted, but deeply confused, theses concerning possibility and causation: (1) in a deterministic universe, one can never truthfully utter the sentence "I could have done otherwise," and (2) in such universes, one can never really take credit for having caused an event, since in fact all events have been predetermined by conditions during the universe's birth. Throughout the free will literature one finds variations on these two (...) themes, often intermixed in various ways. When Robert Nozick(1) describes our longing for "originative value" he apparently has thesis (2) in mind, and thesis (1) may underlie his assertion that "we want it to be true that in that very same situation we could have done (significantly) otherwise." John Austin, in a famous footnote, flirts with thesis (1). (shrink)
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Descartes, in the _Meditations_ (1641), notes that "there are only two ways of proving the existence of God, one by means of his effects, and the other by means of his nature or essence.” (AT VII, 120). The latter, _a priori _path, represented paradigmatically by the Ontological Argument of Saint Anselm (and its offspring, including Descartes’s own version), has perennial appeal to a certain sort of philosopher, but leaves most people cold. The former, represented paradigmatically by the Argument from Design, (...) is surely the most compelling of all arguments against atheism, and it apparently arises spontaneously whenever people anywhere are challenged to justify their belief in God. William Paley’s example of finding a watch while strolling on the heath epitomizes the theme and leads, he says, to “the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker-that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use.” (_Natural Theology_, 1800) Until Darwin came along, this was a respectable argument, worthy of Hume’s corrosive but indecisive broadside in his _Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion_ (1779). Descartes himself subscribed to a version of the Argument from Design, in his notorious Third Meditation argument that his idea of God was too wonderful to have been created by him. Though Descartes surely considered himself intelligent, and moreover an accomplished designer of ideas, he could not imagine that he could be the intelligent designer of his own idea of God. (shrink)
I want to try to do something rather more speculative than the rest of you have done. I have been thinking recently about how one might explain some features of human reflective consciousness that seem to me to be very much in need of an explanation. I'm trying to see if these features could be understood as solutions to design problems, solutions arrived at by evolution, but also, in the individual, as a result of a process of unconscious self-design. I've (...) been trying to think of this in the context of work in AI on the attempt to design intelligent robots – not "bed-ridden" expert systems, but systems that have to act in real time in the real world. If you want to think about something like this, you have to stray fairly far from experiments and hard empirical data; you have to get fairly speculative. Nevertheless the design efforts of people in AI do seem to bring home to conviction – if not to prove – various design constraints looming large and inescapable. If we can come to see why a system – or an organ or a behavior-pattern – must have certain features or a certain structure in order to do its task, this may help us ask the right questions, or at least keep us from dwelling on some of the wrong questions when we try to explain the machinery in the brain that is responsible for intelligent action. (shrink)
The differences Block attempts to capture with his putative distinction between P-consciousness and A-consciousness are more directly and perspicuously handled in terms of differences in richness of content and degree of influence. Block's critiques, based on his misbegotten distinction, evaporate on closer inspection.
Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection unifies the world of physics with the world of meaning and purpose by proposing a deeply counterintuitive ‘‘inversion of reasoning’’ (according to a 19th century critic): ‘‘to make a perfect and beautiful machine, it is not requisite to know how to make it’’ [MacKenzie RB (1868) (Nisbet & Co., London)]. Turing proposed a similar inversion: to be a perfect and beautiful computing machine, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is. Together, these (...) ideas help to explain how we human intelligences came to be able to discern the reasons for all of the adaptations of life, including our own. (shrink)
If there is one proposition that would-be memeticists agree on, it is that the flourishing of an idea-its success at replicating through a population of minds-and the value of an idea-its truth, its scientific or political or ethical excellence-are only contingently and imperfectly related. Good ideas can go extinct and bad ideas can infect whole societies. The future prospects of the meme idea are uncertain on both counts, and the point of this book is not to ensure that the meme (...) meme flourishes, but to ensure that if it does , it ought to. It works toward this worthy end by creating a landmark, a fixed point not of doctrine but of evidence and methods, some shared acknowledgment among some leading proponents and critics about how the issues ought to be addressed. (shrink)
Intentional systems theory is in the first place an analysis of the meanings of such everyday ‘mentalistic’ terms as ‘believe,’ ‘desire,’ ‘expect,’ ‘decide,’ and ‘intend,’ the terms of ‘folk psychology’ (Dennett 1971) that we use to interpret, explain, and predict the behavior of other human beings, animals, some artifacts such as robots and computers, and indeed ourselves. In traditional parlance, we seem to be attributing minds to the things we thus interpret, and this raises a host of questions about the (...) conditions under which a thing can be truly said to have a mind, or to have beliefs, desires and other ‘mental’ states. According to intentional systems theory, these questions can best be answered by analyzing the logical presuppositions and methods of our attribution practices, when we adopt the intentional stance toward something. Anything that is usefully and voluminously predictable from the intentional stance is, by definition, an intentional system. The intentional stance is the strategy of interpreting the behavior of an entity (person, animal, artifact, whatever) by treating it as if it were a rational agent who governed its ‘choice’ of ‘action’ by a ‘consideration’ of its ‘beliefs’ and ‘desires.’ The scare-quotes around all these terms draw attention to the fact that some of their standard connotations may be set aside in the interests of exploiting their central features: their role in practical reasoning, and hence in the prediction of the behavior of practical reasoners. (shrink)
If Dinesh D'Souza knew just a little bit more philosophy, he would realize how silly he appears when he accuses me of committing what he calls "the Fallacy of the Enlightenment." and challenges me to refute Kant's doctrine of the thing-in-itself. I don't need to refute this; it has been lambasted so often and so well by other philosophers that even self-styled Kantians typically find one way or another of excusing themselves from defending it. And speaking of fallacies, D'Souza contradicts (...) himself within the space of a few paragraphs. If, as he says, Kant showed that we humans "will never know" the universe in itself, then theists couldn't "know that there is a reality greater than, and beyond, that which our senses and our minds can ever comprehend." They may take this on faith, if they wish, but they mustn't claim to know it, on pain of contradiction. We brights see no good reason to join them in their conviction, and they must admit that they see no good reason either. If they did, it wouldn't be purely a matter of faith. (shrink)
We agree about most matters, and have learned a lot from each other, but on one central issue we are not (yet) of one mind: Dawkins is quite sure that the world would be a better place if religion were hastened to extinction and I am still agnostic about that. I don’t know what could be put in religion’s place–or what would arise unbidden–so I am still eager to explore the prospect of reforming religion, a task that cries out for (...) a better understanding of the phenomena, and hence a lot more research than has yet been attempted. (shrink)
In 1990, a conference was held at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, to explore the prospects for a new school of research: cognitive archeology. The fruits of that conference are now published; they are uneven in quality, but provocative. Archeology at its best is detective work that rivals anything in science or fiction--from Crick and Watson to Holmes and Watson. At its worst, it is imagination run wild, underconstrained speculations that often have the added vice of permanently distorting the data, through (...) erroneous "restorations" or just spuriously authoritative labels that then make alternative interpretations of those objects and sites all but unthinkable. It is hard to resist the gravitational pull of a good story, apparently, especially when one has just spent a long hot summer and a sizeable grant (or a lifetime and a fortune) painstakingly wresting an unprepossessing pile of ancient leftovers from the earth. One has to make something from these fragments, if not the lost city of Atlantis, then at least some exciting conclusions about the exotic habits, beliefs or rituals of the people who made them. So it is not surprising that the early romantic excesses of archeology--Agamemnon's tomb and all that--provoked a positivistic reformation movement. Parallel to the behaviorists' efforts to turn their field of psychology into hard science with all the trappings, the "processual" school of archeology demanded scrupulous data-gathering and forbade all but the most rigorously constructed interpretations, echoing Lloyd Morgan's Canon of Parsimony: thou shalt not impute more Mind than is strictly necessary to account for the data. One could venture cautious conclusions about the diet, tools and building materials, and size of the groups, but precious little else--next to nothing, of course, about what or how these ancient people thought. (shrink)
This essay [by Boone and Smith] brings into sharp relief a ubiquitous confusion that has dogged discussions of cultural evolution, deriving, I suspect, from a subtle misreading of Darwin's original use of artificial selection (deliberate animal breeding) and "unconscious" selection (the unwitting promotion of favored offspring of domesticated animals) as bridges to his concept of natural selection. While it is true that Darwin wished to contrast the utter lack of foresight or intention in natural selection with the deliberate goal-seeking of (...) the artificial selectors, in order to show how the natural process could in principle proceed without any mentality at all, he did not thereby establish (as many seem to have supposed) that deliberate, goal-directed, intentional selection is not a subvariety of natural selection! The short legs of dachshunds, and the huge udders of Holsteins are just as much products of natural selection as the wings of the eagle; they just evolved in an environment that included a particularly well-focussed selective pressure consisting of human agents. These phenotypes fall under the same laws of transmission genetics, the same replicator dynamics, as any others--as special and extreme cases in which the default "randomness" or noisiness of selective pressure has been greatly reduced. (shrink)
One critic complained that my argument was ‘philosophical’, as though that was sufficient condemnation. Philosophical or not, the fact is that neither he nor anybody else has found any flaw in what I said. And ‘in principle’ arguments such as mine, far from being irrelevant to the real world, can be more powerful than arguments based on particular factual research. My reasoning, if it is correct, tells us something important about life everywhere in the universe. Laboratory and field research can (...) tell us only about life as we have sampled it here. (The Selfish Gene (second edn, p322 in endnotes). (shrink)
There are two likely paths for philosophers to follow in their encounters with Artificial Life: they can see it as a new way of doing philosophy, or simply as a new object worthy of philosophical attention using traditional methods. Is Artificial Life best seen as a new philosophical method or a new phenomenon? There is a case to be made for each alternative, but I urge philosophers to take the leap and consider the first to be the more important and (...) promising. (shrink)
Somewhere in the collective psyche a dam broke, releasing a flood of books and articles by distinguished scientists as well as philosophers about how (or whether) the brain could be the seat of consciousness. Many of the literally hundreds of books that have appeared have a single idea about the key to solving the mystery, and perhaps the stampede was provoked by their authors’ sense that we were entering the end game, and if they wanted to share in the glory, (...) they had.. (shrink)
The vivid terms, "Top-down" and "Bottom-up" have become popular in several different contexts in cognitive science. My task today is to sort out some different meanings and comment on the relations between them, and their implications for cognitive science.
One of the virtues of Fred Dretske's recent work has been the salutary openness with which he has described the motivations he discovers controlling his thought, and this candor has brought a submerged confusion close to the surface. Since this confusion is widely shared by philosophers and others working on the problem of content ascription, an analysis of its influence on Dretske will at the same time illuminate the difficulties it is creating for other writers.
As of January 25, 2006, readers have identified the following errors in Darwin's Dangerous Idea. (I have considered other criticisms offered by readers, but decided that they were in error. Further criticisms are, of course, invited.).
On the back of the dust jacket of this fine book, one can barely make out two representations of a customized penny for our thoughts, drawn by John Haugeland. Accompanying Honest Abe on the heads side appear the words AExistential Commitment,@ AThought,@ and ASelf;@ while tails shows the Lincoln Memorial and E pluribus unum , surrounded by two unlikely additions: AConstituted Domain, @ and AObjects@. Haugeland explains: AThe basic Kantian/Heideggerian conclusion can be summed up this way: the constituted objective world (...) and the free constituting subject are intelligible only as two sides of one coin. @ Not everything with eyes and ears and a brain is a Afree constituting subject @; apes and dogs and dolphins don =t have ontologies because they don =t have thoughts; they don =t have thoughts because they don =t have the Acensoriousness@ in their cultures or social structures that provides the leverage for Understanding, distinguishing a true thought from a false thought, and without that, thoughts cannot really have content. There are, to be sure, important differences in the Umwelt or manifest image of different species, but cats have no more metaphysics than clams or chrysanthemums do. Objects are constituted by people only, and our ultimately moral sense of norms, of AExistential@ commitment, far from being a sort of ethical add-on to the factual world of objects and properties, is the very ground on which our capacity to know, and reflect upon, objects depends. (shrink)
Suppose we discovered that all the women in the Slobbovian culture exhibit a strong preference for blue-handled knives and red-handled forks. They would rather starve than eat with utensils of the wrong color. We’d be rightly puzzled, and eager to find an explanation. ‘Well,” these women tell us, “blue-handled knives are snazzier, you know. And just look at them: these red-handled forks are, well, just plain beautiful!” This should not satisfy us. Why do they say this? Their answers may make (...) sense to them, and even to us, once we’ve managed to insert ourselves to some degree into their culture, but that is not the end of it. We want to know why there is a culture with such apparently arbitrary and unmotivated preferences. To us outsiders, the need for an answer stands out, even if the Slobbovians themselves think their answers are self-evident and quite satisfying. Similarly, we may think it is just obvious that laughter (as opposed to, say, scratching one’s ear or belching) is the appropriate response to humor. Why are some female shapes sexy and others not? Isn’t it obvious? Just look at them! But that is not the end of it. The universalities, regularities and trends in our responses to the world do indeed guarantee, trivially, that they are part of “human nature,” but that still leaves the question of why. Something must pay for these extravagant features. What? To answer, we need to adopt an evolutionary point of view, which encourages us to look at all aspects of.. (shrink)
Clark and Karmiloff-Smith (CKS) have written an extraordinarily valuable paper, which sympathetically addresses what has all too often been an acrimonious and ideology-ridden "debate" and begins to transform it into a multi-perspective research program. By articulating the submerged hunches on both sides in a single framework, and adding some powerful new ideas of their own, they dispel much of the smoke of battle. What we can now see much more clearly is the need for a model of a brain/mind that, (...) as they say, "enriches itself from within by re-representing the knowledge that it has already represented.". (shrink)
Back and forth swings the pendulum. It is remarkable that Baars can claim that “many scientists now feel that radical behaviorists tossed out the baby with the bathwater” while not being able to see that his own efforts threaten to be an instance of the complementary overshooting–what we might call covering a nice clean baby with dualistic dirt . Yes indeed, radical behaviorism of Skinner’s variety fell from grace some years ago, with the so-called cognitive revolution, to be replaced by (...) a sort of cognitivistic behaviorism that has plenty of room for inner processes, for talking to yourself, for mental imagery, for hunches, feelings, pains, dreams, beliefs and hopes and expectations, but only so long as these are understood to be physical (“informational” or “computational”) processes that could be accomplished by the machinery of the brain. It is an interesting speculative question whether William James would have been a wholehearted cognitivist, or whether he would have insisted that what he meant by the stream of consciousness had to be sharply distinguished from the streams of mere information-manipulation discernible in the activities of cortical subsystems, etc., etc. Making a home for consciousness in the brain, for a distinction between unconscious information-transformations and conscious ones, for instance, is now the work of many hands in many fields (See, e.g., Dennett, 2001, and the other essays in the special issue of Cognition devoted to the cognitive neuroscience of consciousness). The main methodological principle of this research is one shared with the radical behaviorists: only intersubjectively accessible data are to be admitted in this natural science of consciousness. If that allegiance, by itself , counts as ‘behaviorism,” then we should all be behaviorists, and indeed the very researchers Baars cites (Singer, Ericsson and Simon, Hilgard, Crick, and Edelman) scrupulously and unapologetically are behaviorists in this minimal sense. They interview their subjects, under controlled conditions, and take their reports seriously–but not as infallible guides to their subjects’ subjectivity.. (shrink)
When one says that cultures evolve, this can be taken as a truism, or as asserting one or another controversial, speculative, unconfirmed theory. Consider a cultural inventory at time t: it includes all the languages, practices, ceremonies, edifices, methods, tools, myths, music, art, and so forth, that compose a culture. Over time, the inventory changes. Some items disappear, some multiply, some merge, some change. (When I say some change, I mean to be neutral at this point about whether this amounts (...) to their being replaced by similar items, or their undergoing a transformation.) A verbatim record of this history would not be science; it would be a data base. That is the truism: cultures evolve over time. Now the question remains: how are we to explain the patterns found in that data base? Are there any good theories or models of cultural evolution? (shrink)
Sometimes the way to make progress on a topic is to turn your back on it for a few years. At least I hope so, since I have just returned to the Frame Problem after several years of concentrating on other topics. It seems to me that I may have picked up a few odds and ends that shed light on the issues.
(1) I am grateful for the information about von Schilcher and Tennant's book, which unaccountably had not crossed my path before. I am not the only author to have overlooked it, and a cursory reading shows that it does anticipate points in many more recent books, including my own. And Mulhauser is right that Sampson and Montague would have been valuable allies had I developed my critique of Chomsky further--but that is a tangential issue in an overlong book.
In his critique of my recent book, Breaking the Spell, Alister McGrath is pounding on an open door. Yes, of course, scientific ideas are memes and atheism is a meme. That’s not the point. The point is not to criticize anything by calling it a meme. On the contrary, it is to provide an explanatory basis. So, of course, psychologist and memeticist Susan Blackmore was right to say that atheism is a meme.
All human groups, it seems, have had religion. There have been groups without agriculture, without clothing, without money, without the wheel, without laws, without writing, but not, it seems, without religion. Ritual burial of our hominid ancestors may even predate spoken..
In 1979, Douglas Hofstadter published Gödel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid , a brilliant exploration of some of the most difficult and fascinating ideas at the heart of cognitive science: recursion, computation, reduction, holism, meaning, "jootsing" (jumping out of the system), "strange loops", and much, much more. What made the book's expositions so effective were a family of elaborate (and lovingly elaborated) analogies: the mind is like an anthill, a formal system is like a game, theorem and nontheorem are (...) like figure and ground, Bach's Inventions are like dialogues, and much, much more. The whole analogy-package was wrapped in layers of self-conscious reflection. "Anything you can do I can do meta-" was one of Doug's mottos, and of course he applied it, recursively, to everything he did. (shrink)
There was language long before there was writing, a fact that we literate investigators tend to underestimate. Today we are building the information superhighway, and for several millennia the written word has been the primary medium of cultural transmission, but for at least a thousand millennia before that, the main medium of information transfer from generation to generation--standing alongside the genome itself and the information embodied directly in artifacts--was the well-beaten path of word of mouth. Language was already a highly (...) refined biological product, complete with all its modern appurtenances, long before writing was invented. (shrink)
In other words, it's a perfect season for naysayers, and philosophers have risen to the occasion. The most radical is Colin McGinn, former Wilde Reader of Mental Philosophy at Oxford, who has recently taken a position at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The Problem of Consciousness is a collection of eight essays, two of which have not previously been published. McGinn's central thesis is that the problem of consciousness is systematically insoluble by us (Martians or demigods might have better luck). (...) Our brains just weren't meant to get a grip on this tough problem, but--there, there, it's all right--we mustn't draw the conclusion from the fact that we can't understand it, that the mind is intrinsically mysterious. After all, whoever promised that we should be able to understand all possible good science? (shrink)
The institution of book reviews, flawed though it may be, still performs a crucial service of resource enhancement for a discipline, funneling informed attention to at least some of the best among a superfluity of publications. During the last quarter century, Thomas Nagel's book reviews and critical essays have played a major role, shaping opinion, and thereby shaping the field. Now he has gathered his favorites in a collection, ten in philosophy of mind, and a dozen in ethics and political (...) philosophy, supplemented by the view from today: brief reactions to the individual pieces, and a fascinating introduction, part intellectual autobiography and part reflection on the state of the discipline. The other minds of the title are those of Freud (and Richard Wollheim and Adolf Grünbaum), Wittgenstein (and David Pears), Noam Chomsky, Jerry Fodor, David Armstrong, myself, Brian O'Shaughnessy and John Searle in the philosophy of mind, and Aristotle (and John Cooper), John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Richard Hare, Bernard Williams, Thomas Schelling, Ronald Dworkin, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Leszek Kolakowski in ethics and political philosophy. Do not be misled by the dust jacket. The picture of brains is as inappropriate as it is ugly; Nagel's interest in the mind has always been more driven by his interest in the mind's role in ethics, than by a fascination with neuroscience. He is a "moral psychologist," not a "cognitive scientist.". (shrink)
The time for unification in cognitive science has arrived, but who should lead the charge? The immunologist-turned-neuroscientist Gerald Edelman (1989, 1992) thinks that neuroscientists should lead--or more precisely that he should (he seems to have a low opinion of everyone else in cognitive science). Someone might think that I had made a symmetrically opposite claim in Consciousness Explained (Dennett, 1991): philosophers (or more precisely, those that agree with me!) are in the best position to see how to tie all the (...) loose ends together. But in fact I acknowledged that unifying efforts such as mine are proto-theories, explorations that are too metaphorical and impressionistic to serve as the model for a unified theory. Perhaps Newell had me in mind when he wrote in his introduction (p.16) that a unified theory "can't be just a pastiche, in which disparate formulations are strung together with some sort of conceptual bailing wire," but in any case the shoe more or less fits, with some pinching. Such a "pastiche" theory can be a good staging ground, however, and a place to stand while considering the strengths and weaknesses of better built theories. So I agree with him. (shrink)
In 1956, the mathematician John McCarthy coined the term "Artificial Intelligence" for a new discipline that was emerging from some of the more imaginative and playful explorations of the new mind-tool, the computer. A few years later he developed a radically new sort of programming language, Lisp, which became the lingua franca of AI. Unlike the sturdier, stodgier computer languages created by and for business and industry, Lisp was remarkably open-ended and freewheeling. Instead of concentrating on numbers, it was designed (...) to take any symbols or symbol strings (lists) as its objects, and since its own machinery consisted of just such lists (and lists of lists . . . ), Lisp creations easily inhabited the very world they acted upon, and hence could reflect upon themselves and their own reflections indefinitely, revising and reinventing themselves, breaking down the artificial barrier between program and data. Seymour Papert was one of the most playful of the AI pioneers, and more than any of the others, his own reflections turned to the nature of that very playfulness and its role in learning and discovery. In 1980, he published Mindstorms, in which he presented his utopian vision of computers in the classroom, centering on Logo, a dialect of Lisp that he and others had developed specifically for very young children. The key design element was Turtle graphics, an inspired interface which made the children's interactions with Logo not just visible, but instantly comprehensible--feelable, you might say. The tales he told of those early encounters were compelling. They became an important ingredient in the barrage of persuasions that led teachers and schools all over America, and indeed all over the world, to invest huge sums in "computerizing the classroom." Thousands of teachers tried their hand at Logo in the classroom, with mixed results. (shrink)
Cognitive science, as an interdisciplinary school of thought, may have recently moved beyond the bandwagon stage onto the throne of orthodoxy, but it does not make a favorable first impression on many people. Familiar reactions on first encounters range from revulsion to condescending dismissal--very few faces in the crowd light up with the sense of "Aha! So that's how the mind works! Of course!" Cognitive science leaves something out , it seems; moreover, what it apparently leaves out is important, even (...) precious. Boiled down to its essence, cognitive science proclaims that in one way or another our minds are computers, and this seems so mechanistic, reductionistic, intellectualistic, dry, philistine, unbiological. It leaves out emotion, or what philosophers call qualia, or value, or mattering, or . . . the soul. It doesn't explain what minds are so much as attempt to explain minds away. (shrink)
I've been looking forward to seeing Jerry Fodor's reaction to my book, since his candidly avowed antipathy toward evolutionary arguments was one of the spurs for writing it. For instance, it was his brusque comment to me in 1985 to the effect that Searle was right about robots lacking original intentionality that set me to writing "Evolution, Error and Intentionality" (1987), and that contributed in turn to some of his recent outbursts against evolutionary approaches to these issues. Nothing clears the (...) air quite so briskly as one of Jerry's jaunty tantrums. He is a master of blithe self-exposure, and on this occasion he is true to form. (shrink)
When Professor Orr published his hostile review of Darwin's Dangerous Idea in the biology journal, Evolution, last February, I was not pleased. His review was full of falsehoods and misconstruals, but I had no recourse; that journal, like most academic journals, does not permit authors to respond to reviews. Luckily for me, Orr has been so eager to warn the world of my errors that he has restated his attack, with embellishments, in the Boston Review, which has invited me to (...) respond. Months have passed, the damage has been done, but at least I get to set the record straight. (shrink)
PRESIDENT BUSH, announcing this month that he was in favor of teaching about "intelligent design" in the schools, said, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." A couple of weeks later, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, made the same point. Teaching both intelligent design and evolution "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone," Mr. Frist said. "I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about (...) education and training people for the future.". (shrink)
Let us begin with what all of us here agree on: folk psychology is not immune to revision. It has a certain vulnerability in principle. Any particular part of it might be overthrown and replaced by some other doctrine. Yet we disagree about how likely it is that that vulnerability in principle will turn into the actual demise of large portions--or all--of folk psychology. I am of the view that folk psychology is here for the long haul, and for some (...) very good reasons. But I am not going to concentrate on that in my remarks. What nobody has bothered saying here yet, but is probably worth saying, is that for all of its blemishes, warts and perplexities, folk psychology is an extraordinarily powerful source of prediction. It is not just prodigiously powerful but remarkably easy for human beings to use. We are virtuoso exploiters of not so much a theory as a craft. That is, we might better call it a folk craft rather than a folk theory. The.. (shrink)
We human beings may not be the most admirable species on the planet, or the most likely to survive for another millennium, but we are without any doubt at all the most intelligent. We are also the only species with language. What is the relation between these two obvious facts?
How is it possible for a physical thing--a person, an animal, a robot--to extract knowledge of the world from perception and then exploit that knowledge in the guidance of successful action? That is a question with which philosophers have grappled for generations, but it could also be taken to be one of the defining questions of Artificial Intelligence. AI is, in large measure, philosophy. It is often directly concerned with instantly recognizable philosophical questions: What is mind? What is meaning? What (...) is reasoning, and rationality? What are the necessary conditions for the recognition of objects in perception? How are decisions made and justified? (shrink)
There is no doctrine about determinism and freedom that has proved to be as resilient over the past century as that of Compatibilism. It is, of course, the doctrine that we can be both free and also subject to a real determinism. If it goes back at least to Hobbes and Hume, it was strengthened and refurbished throughout the 1900's. Part of its strength has been the extent to which it has satisfied theses that in fact seem to be the (...) very substance of the doctrine opposed to it. This is Incompatibilism. What follows here is the most recent and the very best attempt to steal what has appeared to be the thunder of Incompatibilism. Professors Taylor and Dennett make use of a certain amount of technicality in giving sense, on the assumption of determinism, to the ideas that we can nevertheless do otherwise than we actually do and we can also really take credit for things. It is not my own view, but it is one that must be reckoned with by all who struggle with the problem. Put in some effort with the formalism if you have to, find out a little about possible worlds. It is certainly worth the effort. (shrink)
In "The pitfalls of heritability," a review of Edward O. Wilson’s Consilience Times Literary Supplement, Feb 12, 1999, p33], Jerry Hirsch claims to have convicted Wilson of a "confusion about genetic similarity and difference." In his book, Wilson claims that if we assume that "a mere one thousand genes out of the fifty to a hundred thousand genes in the human genome were to exist in two forms in the population," the probability of any two humans--excluding identical siblings--having the same (...) genotype is vanishingly small. Hirsch points out that a single genotype can be produced in more than one way, thus increasing the likelihood of a single genotype recurring in the human population. Hirsch’s point is fair enough as far it goes, but it does not go nearly far enough. Hirsch has failed to carry out all the relevant calculations needed to determine the probability of two humans having the same genotype. In the realm of Vast numbers ("Very much greater than ASTronomical"--Dennett, 1995, p109), increased likelihood in and of itself tells us nothing. Here, then, are some of the relevant calculations. (shrink)
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction (APA, 2000). Successful social interaction relies, in part, on determining the thoughts and feelings of others, an ability commonly attributed to our faculty of folk or common-sense psychology. Because the symptoms of autism should be present by around the second birthday, it follows that the study of autism should tell us something about the early emerging mechanisms necessary for the development of an intact faculty of folk psychology. Our aims (...) in this chapter are threefold; (1) to examine the literature on "socialunderstanding" mechanisms in autism, particularly those assumed to develop in the first years of life; (2) to examine the related literature on typically developing infants and toddlers, and (3) to examine the theoretical approaches that attempt to characterize the early stages and development of this impressive skill. In doing so, we hope to help resolve some of the disagreements and sticking points that riddle the topic. In particular we will attempt to shift the focus from whether children have this or that specific mental-state concept (which they use to predict behavior of others) to a more developmentally friendly approach centered around the notion of reasons, recognizing that they may well exist before they are represented, and hence before they can be appreciated, or expressed. The peer commentary in Behavioral and Brain Sciences following Premack and Woodruff (1978) - "Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind'" - not only introduced the "falsebelief' task (Dennett, 1978; Wimmer & Perner, 1983), but addressed a host of issues surrounding the characterization of second-order intentional systems, systems that may (or must) be interpreted as having beliefs about beliefs (or desires or intentions .... (shrink)
One of today's most controversial and heated issues is whether or not the conflict between science and religion can be reconciled. In Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, renowned philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and Alvin Plantinga expand upon the arguments that they presented in an exciting live debate held at the 2009 American Philosophical Association Central Division conference. An enlightening discussion that will motivate students to think critically, Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? opens with Plantinga's assertion that Christianity is (...) compatible with evolutionary theory because Christians believe that God created the living world, and it is entirely possible that God did so by using a process of evolution. Dennett vigorously rejects this argument, provoking a reply from Plantinga, another response from Dennett, and final statements from both sides. As philosophers, the authors possess expert skills in critical analysis; their arguments provide a model of dialogue between those who strongly disagree. Ideal for courses in philosophy of religion, science and religion, and philosophy of science, Science and Religion is also captivating reading for general readers. (shrink)
Descartes’s proof of the existence of God in the third ’Meditation’ can be interpreted as a version of the argument from design. He cannot point to the marvels of nature, since all he has after the second ’Meditation’ is his ideas, but his idea of God serves as the brilliantly designed entity that he claims he cannot have authored on his own. Several passages in his replies to commentators support this interpretation, and when one considers what Descartes believed he had (...) deduced from this idea, it is understandable that he could consider it a wonderful idea. (shrink)
Descartes’ Method of Radical Doubt was not radical enough. –A. Marcel (2003, 181) In short, heterophenomenology is nothing new; it is nothing other than the method that has been used by psychophysicists, cognitive psychologists, clinical neuropsychologists, and just about everybody who has ever purported to study human consciousness in a serious, scientific way. –D. Dennett (2003, 22).
Bennett and Hacker’s _Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience_ (Blackwell, 2003), a collaboration between a philosopher (Hacker) and a neuroscientist (Bennett), is an ambitious attempt to reformulate the research agenda of cognitive neuroscience by demonstrating that cognitive scientists and other theorists, myself among them, have been bewitching each other by misusing language in a systematically “incoherent” and conceptually “confused” way. In both style and substance, the book harks back to Oxford in the early 1960's, when Ordinary Language Philosophy ruled, and Ryle and (...) Wittgenstein were the authorities on the meanings of our everyday mentalistic or psychological terms. I myself am a product of that time and place (as is Searle, for that matter), and I find much to agree with in their goals and presuppositions, and before turning to my criticisms, which will be severe, I want to highlight what I think is exactly right in their approach–the oft-forgotten lessons of Ordinary Language Philosophy. (shrink)
Abstract Many projects in contemporary philosophy are artifactual puzzles of no abiding significance, but it is treacherously easy for graduate students to be lured into devoting their careers to them, so advice is proffered on how to avoid this trap.
Mesoudi et al. overlook an illuminating parallel between cultural and biological evolution, namely, the existence in each realm of a continuum from intelligent, mindful evolution through to oblivious, mindless evolution. In addition, they underplay the independence of cultural fitness from biological fitness. The assumption that successful cultural traits enhance genetic fitness must be sidelined, as must the assumption that such traits will at least be considered worth having. (Published Online November 9 2006).
Dearly beloved, I want to thank Brother Tim O’Connor for his candid reactions to my published sermons this Sunday morning, and I welcome you all, in the spirit of ecumenicism, to the Church of Fundamentalist Naturalism. Before the collection plate is passed, let me tell you a bit more about the Church. Our symbol is of course the Darwin-fish, the four-legged evolver that echoes the ancient fish symbol of Christianity. I was wearing my Darwin-fish lapel pin at an evolutionary theory (...) conference a few years ago, and the physicist Murray Gell-Mann came up to me and after reminding me of what he said was the first known acronym-- I?1??, the Greek word for fish-- I??”?? ??4??”? 1,”< ?4”? ???0?, Jesus Christ, God the son and savior–he asked me what D-A-R-W-I-N stood for. I said I’d get back to him and went off to have a cup of coffee while dredging up what I could of my high school Latin. I came up with something I’m quite happy with: Delere Auctorem Rerum Ut Universum Infinitum Noscere: Destroy the Author of things in order to understand the infinite universe! That, it seems to me, is our key insight about Darwin’s dangerous idea: in a single non-miraculous stroke, it unites the world of meaning and purpose and design with the world of meaningless matter and mechanism, cause and effect. (shrink)
Three critics of Freedom Evolves (Dennett 2003) bring out important differences in philosophical outlook and method. Mele’s thought experiments are supposed to expose the importance, for autonomy, of personal history, but they depend on the dubious invocation of mere logical or conceptual possibility. Fischer defends the Basic Argument for incompatibilism, while Taylor and I choose to sidestep it instead of disposing of it. Where does the burden of proof lie? O’Connor’s candid expression of allegiance to traditional ideas that I reject (...) highlights a fundamental difference in assumptions about howFand whyFto do philosophy. There are indeed deﬁnable varieties of free will that are incompatible with determinism. Do they matter? I have argued, against philosophical tradition, that they don’t. (shrink)
For a solid quarter century Paul Churchland and I have been wheeling around in the space of work on consciousness, and though from up close it may appear that we =ve been rather vehemently opposed to each other =s position, from the bird =s eye view, we are moving in a rather tight spiral within the universe of contested views, both staunch materialists, interested in the same phenomena and the same empirical theories of those phenomena, but differing only over where (...) the main chance lies for progress. (shrink)