Daniel C. Dennett is a brilliant polemicist, famous for challenging unexamined orthodoxies. Over the last thirty years, he has played a major role in expanding our understanding of consciousness, developmental psychology, and evolutionary theory. And with such groundbreaking, critically acclaimed books as Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist), he has reached a huge general and professional audience. In this new book, Dennett shows that evolution is the key to resolving (...) the ancient problems of moral and political freedom. Like the planet's atmosphere on which life depends, the conditions on which our freedom depends had to evolve, and like the atmosphere, they continue to evolve-and could be extinguished. According to Dennett, biology provides the perspective from which we can distinguish the varieties of freedom that matter. Throughout the history of life on this planet, an interacting web and internal and external conditions have provided the frameworks for the design of agents that are more free than their parts-from the unwitting gropings of the simplest life forms to the more informed activities of animals to the moral dilemmas that confront human beings living in societies. As in his previous books, Dennett weaves a richly detailed narrative enlivened by analogies as entertaining as they are challenging. Here is the story of how we came to be different from all other creatures, how our early ancestors mindlessly created human culture, and then, how culture gave us our minds, our visions, our moral problems-in a nutshell, our freedom. (shrink)
In Herbert Roitblat, ed., _Comparative Approaches to Cognitive Sciences_ , MIT Press, 1995. Daniel C. Dennett <blockquote> Do Animals Have Beliefs? </blockquote> According to one more or less standard mythology, behaviorism, the ideology and methodology that reigned in experimental psychology for most of the century, has been overthrown by a new ideology and methodology: cognitivism. Behaviorists, one is told, didn't take the mind seriously. They ignored--or even denied the existence of--mental states such as beliefs and desires, and mental (...) processes such as imagination and reasoning; behaviorists concentrated exclusively on external, publicly observable behavior, and the (external, publicly observable) conditions under which such behavior was elicited. Cognitivists, in contrast, take the mind seriously, and develop theories, models, explanations, that invoke, as real items, these internal, mental, goings-on. People (and at least some other animals) have minds after all--they are rational agents. (shrink)
Daniel C. Dennett Is Perception the 'Leading Edge' of Memory? Consciousness appears to us to consist of a sequence of contentful items, arranged in a sequence, the so-called "stream of consciousness," in which each item in turn bursts quite suddenly into consciousness and thereby enters memory, perhaps only briefly to be remembered, and then forgotten. I think that hidden in this comfortable and largely innocent picture of consciousness is a deep and seductive mistake. I intend to expose and (...) elucidate that mistake, and describe an alternative vision. (shrink)
Consciousness appears to us to consist of a sequence of contentful items, arranged in a sequence, the so-called "stream of consciousness," in which each item in turn bursts quite suddenly into consciousness and thereby enters memory, perhaps only briefly to be remembered, and then forgotten. I think that hidden in this comfortable and largely innocent picture of consciousness is a deep and seductive mistake. I intend to (...) expose and elucidate that mistake, and describe an alternative vision. (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)
In a survey of issues in philosophy of mind some years ago, I observed that "it is widely granted these days that dualism is not a serious view to contend with, but rather a cliff over which to push one's opponents." (Dennett, 1978, p.252) That was true enough, and I for one certainly didn't deplore the fact, but this rich array of essays tackling my book amply demonstrates that a cliff examined with care is better than a cliff ignored. (...) And, as I have noted in my discussion of the blind spot and other gaps, you really can't perceive an edge unless you represent both sides of it. So one of the virtues of this gathering of essays is that it permits both friend and foe alike to take a good hard look at dualism, as represented by those who are tempted by it, those who can imagine no alternative to it, and those who, like me, still find it to be--in a word--hopeless. (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)
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)
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).
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)
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)
No response that was not as long and intricate as the two commentaries combined could do justice to their details, so what follows will satisfy nobody, myself included. I will concentrate on one issue discussed by both commentators: the relationship between evolution and teleological (or intentional) explanation. My response, in its brevity, may have just one virtue: it will confirm some of the hunches (or should I say suspicions) that these and other writers have entertained about my views. For more (...) closely argued defenses of my points, see Dennett 1990a,b,c; 1991a,b. (shrink)
_Raritan: A Quarterly Review_ , IX, 68-98, Summer 1989. Reprinted (with footnotes), _Occasional Paper #8_ , Center on Violence and Human Survival, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, 1991; Daniel Kolak and R. Martin, eds., _Self & Identity: Contemporary Philosophical Issues_ , Macmillan, 1991.
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)
David Carr complains, in "Dennett Explained, or The Wheel Reinvents Dennett," (Report #26), that I have ignored deconstructionism and Phenomenology. This charge is in some regards correct and in others not. Briefly, here is how my own encounters with these fields have looked to me.
Paul Churchland's book (hereafter ER)is an entertaining and instructive advertisement for a "neurocomputational" vision of how the brain (and mind) works. While we agree with its general thrust, and commend its lucid pedagogy on a host of difficult topics, we note that such pedagogy often exploits artificially heightened contrast, and sometimes the result is a misleading caricature instead of a helpful simplification. In particular, Churchland is eager to contrast the explanation of consciousness that can be accomplished by his "aspiring new (...) structural and dynamic cognitive prototype: recurrent PDP networks" (p.266) with what strikes him as the retrograde introduction by Dennett of a virtual von Neumannesque machine--a "failed prototype"--as the key element in an explanation of human consciousness (in
_Explained_, 1991, hereafter, CE). We will try to show that by oversimplifying Dennett's alternative, he has taken a potential supplement to his own view--a much needed supplement--and transformed it in his imagination into a subversive threat. In part 1, we will expose and correct the mistaken contrasts. In part 2, we will compare the performance of the two views on Churchland's list of seven features of consciousness any theory must account for, showing that Dennett's account provides more than Churchland has recognized, and indeed offers answers to key questions that Churchland's account is powerless to address. At that point, Churchland's project and Dennett's could be seen to collaborate in a useful division of labor instead of being in mortal combat, were it not for what appears to be a fairly major disagreement about consciousness in non-human animals. Part 3 briefly examines this issue. It may be due to a misunderstanding, which when cleared up might restore the happy prospect of unification. (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)
The authors show that some long-standing confusions and problems can be avoided by thinking of perception in terms of sensorimotor contingencies, a close kin to my heterophenomenological approach (Dennett 1991). However, their claim that subjects do not have any commitments about the resolution of their visual fields is belied by the surprise routinely expressed by subjects when this is demonstrated to them.
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)
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)
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)
Paul Churchland's book (hereafter ER)is an entertaining and instructive advertisement for a "neurocomputational" vision of how the brain (and mind) works. While we agree with its general thrust, and commend its lucid pedagogy on a host of difficult topics, we note that such pedagogy often exploits artificially heightened contrast, and sometimes the result is a misleading caricature instead of a helpful simplification. In particular, Churchland is eager to contrast the explanation of consciousness that can be accomplished by his "aspiring new (...) structural and dynamic cognitive prototype: recurrent PDP networks" (p.266) with what strikes him as the retrograde introduction by Dennett of a virtual von Neumannesque machine--a "failed prototype"--as the key element in an explanation of human consciousness (in Consciousness Explained, 1991, hereafter, CE). We will try to show that by oversimplifying Dennett's alternative, he has taken a potential supplement to his own view--a much needed supplement--and transformed it in his imagination into a subversive threat. In part 1, we will expose and correct the mistaken contrasts. In part 2, we will compare the performance of the two views on Churchland's list of seven features of consciousness any theory must account for, showing that Dennett's account provides more than Churchland has recognized, and indeed offers answers to key questions that Churchland's account is powerless to address. At that point, Churchland's project and Dennett's could be seen to collaborate in a useful division of labor instead of being in mortal combat, were it not for what appears to be a fairly major disagreement about consciousness in non-human animals. Part 3 briefly examines this issue. It may be due to a misunderstanding, which when cleared up might restore the happy prospect of unification. (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)
Are there really beliefs? Or are we learning (from neuroscience and psychology, presumably) that, strictly speaking, beliefs are figments of our imagination, items in a superceded ontology? Philosophers generally regard such ontological questions as admitting just two possible answers: either beliefs exist or they don't. There is no such state as quasi-existence; there are no stable doctrines of semi-realism. Beliefs must either be vindicated along with the viruses or banished along with the banshees. A bracing conviction prevails, then, to the (...) effect that when it comes to beliefs (and other mental items) one must be either a realist or an eliminative materialist. (shrink)
What is a self? I will try to answer this question by developing an analogy with something much simpler, something which is nowhere near as puzzling as a self, but has some properties in common with selves. What I have in mind is the center of gravity of an object. This is a well-behaved concept in Newtonian physics. But a center of gravity is not an atom or a subatomic particle or any other physical item in the world. It has (...) no mass; it has no color; it has no physical properties at all, except for spatio-temporal location. It is a fine example of what Hans Reichenbach would call an abstractum. It is a purely abstract object. It is, if you like , a theorist's fiction. It is not one of the real things in the universe in addition to the atoms. But it is a fiction that has nicely defined, well delineated and well behaved role within physics. (shrink)
"Qualia" is an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to us. As is so often the case with philosophical jargon, it is easier to give examples than to give a definition of the term. Look at a glass of milk at sunset; the way it looks to you--the particular, personal, subjective visual quality of the glass of milk is the quale of your visual experience at the moment. (...) The way the milk tastes to you then is another, gustatory quale, and how it sounds to you as you swallow is an auditory quale; These various "properties of conscious experience" are prime examples of qualia. Nothing, it seems, could you know more intimately than your own qualia; let the entire universe be some vast illusion, some mere figment of Descartes' evil demon, and yet what the figment is made of (for you) will be the qualia of your hallucinatory experiences. Descartes claimed to doubt everything that could be doubted, but he never doubted that his conscious experiences had qualia, the properties by which he knew or apprehended them. (shrink)
_Behavioral and Brain Sciences_ , 15, 183-247, 1992. Reprinted in _The Philosopher's Annual_ , Grim, Mar and Williams, eds., vol. XV-1992, 1994, pp. 23-68; Noel Sheehy and Tony Chapman, eds., _Cognitive Science_ , Vol. I, Elgar, 1995, pp.210-274.
Knock-down refutations are rare in philosophy, and unambiguous self-refutations are even rarer, for obvious reasons, but sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes philosophers clutch an insupportable hypothesis to their bosoms and run headlong over the cliff edge. Then, like cartoon characters, they hang there in mid-air, until they notice what they have done and gravity takes over. Just such a boon is the philosophers' concept of a zombie, a strangely attractive notion that sums up, in one leaden lump, almost everything that (...) I think is wrong with current thinking about consciousness. Philosophers ought to have dropped the zombie like a hot potato, but since they persist in their embrace, this gives me a golden opportunity to focus attention on the most seductive error in current thinking. (shrink)
Theorists are converging from quite different quarters on a version of the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness, but there are residual confusions to be dissolved. In particular, theorists must resist the temptation to see global accessibility as the cause of consciousness (as if consciousness were some other, further condition); rather, it is consciousness. A useful metaphor for keeping this elusive idea in focus is that consciousness is rather like fame in the brain. It is not a privileged medium of (...) representation, or an added property some states have; it is the very mutual accessibility that gives some informational states the powers that come with a subject's consciousness of that information. Like fame, consciousness is not a momentary condition, or a purely dispositional state, but rather a matter of actual influence over time. Theorists who take on the task of accounting for the aftermath that is critical for consciousness often appear to be leaving out the Subject of consciousness, when in fact they are providing an analysis of the Subject, a necessary component in any serious theory of consciousness. (shrink)
Is the view supported that consciousness is a mysterious phenomenon and cannot succumb, even with much effort, to the standard methods of cognitive science? The lecture, using the analogy of the magicians praxis, attempts to highlight a strong but little supported intuition that is one of the strongest supporters of this view. The analogy can be highly illuminating, as the following account by LEE SIEGEL on the reception of her work on magic can illustrate it: Im writing a book on (...) magic, I explain, and Im asked, Real magic? By real magic people mean miracles, thaumaturgical acts, and supernatural powers. No, I answer: Conjuring tricks, not real magic. Real magic, in other words, refers to the magic that is not real, while the magic that is real, that can actually be done, is not real magic. I suggest that many, e.g., DAVID CHALMERS has (unintentionally) perpetrated the same feat of conceptual sleight-of-hand in declaring to the world that he has discovered The Hard Problem of consciousness. It is, however, possible that what appears to be the Hard Problem is simply the large bag of tricks that constitute what CHALMERS calls the Easy Problems of Consciousness. These all have mundane explanations, requiring no revolutions in physics, no emergent novelties. I cannot prove that there is no Hard Problem, and CHALMERS cannot prove that there is. He can appeal to your intuitions, but this is not a sound basis on which to found a science of consciousness. The magic (i.e., the supposed unexplainability) of consciousness, like stage magic, defies explanation only so long as we take it at face value. Once we appreciate all the non-mysterious (i.e., explainable) ways in which the brain can create benign userillusions, we can begin to imagine how the brain creates consciousness. (shrink)
Everyone agrees that consciousness is a very special phenomenon, unique in several ways, but there is scant agreement on just how special it is, and whether or not an explanation of it can be accommodated within normal science. John Searle's view, defended with passion in this book, is highly idiosyncratic: what is special about consciousness is its "subjective ontology," but normal science can accommodate subjective ontology alongside (not within) its otherwise objective ontology. Once we clear away some widespread confusions about (...) what science requires, and dismiss the misbegotten field of cognitive science that has been engendered by those confusions, the subjective ontology of the mind, he claims, will lose its aura of unacceptable mystery. (shrink)
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)
The idea that a computer could be conscious--or equivalently, that human consciousness is the effect of some complex computation mechanically performed by our brains--strikes some scientists and philosophers as a beautiful idea. They find it initially surprising and unsettling, as all beautiful ideas are, but the inevitable culmination of the scientific advances that have gradually demystified and unified the material world. The ideologues of Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been its most articulate supporters. To others, this idea is deeply repellent: philistine, (...) reductionistic (in some bad sense), as incredible as it is offensive. John Searle's attack on "strong AI" is the best known expression of this view, but others in the same camp, liking Searle's destination better than his route, would dearly love to see a principled, scientific argument showing that strong AI is impossible. Roger Penrose has set out to provide just such an argument. (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.
In Word and Object, Quine acknowledged the "practical indispensability" in daily life of the intentional idioms of belief and desire but disparaged such talk as an "essentially dramatic idiom" rather than something from which real science could be made in any straightforward way.Endnote 1 Many who agree on little else have agreed with Quine about this, and have gone on to suggest one or another indirect way for science to accommodate folk psychology: Sellars, Davidson, Putnam, Rorty, Stich, the Churchlands, Schiffer (...) and myself, to name a few. This fainthearted consensus is all wrong, according to Fodor, whose new book is a vigorous--even frantic--defense of what he calls Intentional Realism: beliefs and desires are real, causally involved, determinately contentful states. "We have no reason to doubt," Fodor says, "that it is possible to have a scientific psychology that vindicates commonsense belief/desire explanation." (p.16). (shrink)
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Here is one good way of looking at the problem of consciousness: (Saul Steinbergâ€™s New Yorker cover). If this is the metaphorical truth about consciousness, what is the literal truth? What is going on in the world, (largely in this chapâ€™s brain, presumably) that makes it the case that this gorgeous metaphor is so apt?
The strategy of divide and conquer is usually an excellent one, but it all depends on how you do the carving. Chalmer's attempt to sort the "easy" problems of consciousness from the "really hard" problem is not, I think, a useful contribution to research, but a major misdirector of attention, an illusion-generator. How could this be? Let me describe two somewhat similar strategic proposals, and compare them to Chalmers' recommendation.
But perhaps we really don't want to know the answers to these questions. We should not despise the desire to be kept in ignorance--aren't there many facts about yourself and your loved ones that you would wisely choose not to know? Speaking for myself, I am sure that I would go to some lengths to prevent myself from learning all the secrets of those around me--whom they found disgusting, whom they secretly adored, what crimes and follies they had committed, or (...) thought I had committed! Learning all these facts would destroy my composure, cripple my attitude towards those around me. Perhaps learning too much about our animal cousins would have a similarly poisonous effect on our relations with them. But if so, then let's make a frank declaration to that effect and drop the topic, instead of pursuing any further the pathetic course many are now embarked upon. (shrink)
One of the striking, even amusing, spectacles to be enjoyed at the many workshops and conferences on consciousness these days is the breathtaking overconfidence with which laypeople hold forth about the nature of consciousness Btheir own in particular, but everybody =s by extrapolation. Everybody =s an expert on consciousness, it seems, and it doesn =t take any knowledge of experimental findings to secure the home truths these people enunciate with such conviction.