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)
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.
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)
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.
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)