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)
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.
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.
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.).