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)
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neuroscience and psychology, presumably) that, strictly speaking, beliefs are figments of our imagination, items in a superceded ontology?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)
Ethologists and others studying animal behavior in a spirit are in need of a descriptive language and method that are neither anachronistically bound by behaviorist scruples nor prematurely committed to particular Just such an interim descriptive method can be found in intentional system theory. The use of intentional system theory is illustrated with the case of the apparently communicative behavior of vervet monkeys. A way of using the theory to generate data - including usable, testable data - is sketched. The (...) underlying assumptions of this approach can be seen to ally it directly with theorizing in evolutionary biology, which has recently come under attack from Stephen Gould and Richard Lewontin, who castigate it as the Their arguments, which are strongly analogous to B. F, Skinner's arguments against point to certain pitfalls that attend the careless exercise of such thinking (and rival varieties of thinking as well), but do not constitute a fundamental objection to either adaptationist theorizing or its cousin, intentional system theory. (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.
_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.
Damasio remarks, it "informs virtually all research on mind and brain, explicitly or implicitly." Indeed, serial information processing models generally run this risk (Kinsbourne, 1985). The commentaries provide a wealth of confirming instances of the seductive power of this idea. Our sternest critics Block, Farah, Libet, and Treisman) adopt fairly standard Cartesian positions; more interesting are those commentators who take themselves to be mainly in agreement with us, but who express reservations or offer support with arguments that betray a continuing (...) allegiance to one or another tenet of the view we sought to discredit. (shrink)
Two models of consciousness are contrasted with regard to their treatment of subjective timing. The standard Cartesian Theater model postulates a place in the brain where "it all comes together": where the discriminations in all modalities are somehow put into registration and "presented" for subjective judgment. In particular, the Cartesian Theater model implies that the temporal properties of the content-bearing events occurring within this privileged representational medium determine subjective order. The alternative, Multiple Drafts model holds that whereas the brain events (...) that discriminate various perceptual contents are distributed in both space and time in the brain, and whereas the temporal properties of these various events are determinate, none of these temporal properties determine subjective order, since there is no single, constitutive "stream of consciousness" but rather a parallel stream of conflicting and continuously revised contents. Four puzzling phenomena that resist explanation by the standard model are analyzed: two results claimed by Libet, an apparent motion phenomenon involving color change (Kolers and von Grunau), and the "cutaneous rabbit" (Geldard and Sherrick) an illusion of evenly spaced series of "hops" produced by two or more widely spaced series of taps delivered to the skin. The unexamined assumptions that have always made the Cartesian Theater model so attractive are exposed and dismantled. The Multiple Drafts model provides a better account of the puzzling phenomena, avoiding the scientific and metaphysical extravagances of the Cartesian Theater. (shrink)
_Content and Consciousness_ is an original and ground-breaking attempt to elucidate a problem integral to the history of Western philosophical thought: the relationship of the mind and body. In this formative work, Dennett sought to develop a theory of the human mind and consciousness based on new and challenging advances in the field that came to be known as cognitive science. This important and illuminating work is widely-regarded as the book from which all of Dennett’s future ideas developed. It is (...) his first explosive rebuttal of Cartesian dualism and one of the founding texts of philosophy of mind. (shrink)
From an evolutionary standpoint, a default presumption is that true beliefs are adaptive and misbeliefs maladaptive. But if humans are biologically engineered to appraise the world accurately and to form true beliefs, how are we to explain the routine exceptions to this rule? How can we account for mistaken beliefs, bizarre delusions, and instances of self-deception? We explore this question in some detail. We begin by articulating a distinction between two general types of misbelief: those resulting from a breakdown in (...) the normal functioning of the belief formation system (e.g., delusions) and those arising in the normal course of that system's operations (e.g., beliefs based on incomplete or inaccurate information). The former are instances of biological dysfunction or pathology, reflecting limitations of evolutionary design. Although the latter category includes undesirable (but tolerable) by-products of limited design, our quarry is a contentious subclass of this category: misbeliefs best conceived as design features. Such misbeliefs, unlike occasional lucky falsehoods, would have been systematically adaptive in the evolutionary past. Such misbeliefs, furthermore, would not be reducible to judicious action policies. Finally, such misbeliefs would have been adaptive in themselves, constituting more than mere by-products of adaptively biased misbelief-producing systems. We explore a range of potential candidates for evolved misbelief, and conclude that, of those surveyed, only positive illusions meet our criteria. (shrink)
Although our subjective impression is of a richly detailed visual world, numerous empirical results suggest that the amount of visual information observers can perceive and remember at any given moment is limited. How can our subjective impressions be reconciled with these objective observations? Here, we answer this question by arguing that, although we see more than the handful of objects, claimed by prominent models of visual attention and working memory, we still see far less than we think we do. Taken (...) together, we argue that these considerations resolve the apparent conflict between our subjective impressions and empirical data on visual capacity, while also illuminating the nature of the representations underlying perceptual experience. (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)
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 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, 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, 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, is, I have claimed, the sound way to take the first person point of view as seriously as it can be taken. (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 theory of folk psychology is the ideology about the craft, and there is lots of room, as anthropologists will remind us, for false ideology. (shrink)
: In his book Free Will Sam Harris tries to persuade us to abandon the morally pernicious idea of free will. The following contribution articulates and defends a more sophisticated model of free will that is not only consistent with neuroscience and introspection but also grounds a variety of responsibility that justifies both praise and blame, reward and punishment. This begins with the long lasting parting of opinion between compatibilists and incompatibilists. While Harris dismisses compatibilism as a form of theology, (...) this article aims at showing that Harris has underestimated and misinterpreted compatibilism and at defending a more sophisticated version of compatibilism that is imprevious to Harris’ criticism. Keywords : Sam Harris; Free Will; Compatibilism; Incompatibilism; Neuroscience Riflessioni su "Free Will" di Sam Harris Riassunto : Nel suo libro Free Will Sam Harris cerca di persuaderci ad abbandonare l’idea, a suo avviso moralmente perniciosa, del libero arbitrio. Il contributo seguente articola e difende un modello di libero arbitrio che non solo è coerente con le neuroscienze e con l’introspezione, ma che dà anche fondamento a varie responsabilità giustificando encomi e biasimo, premi e punizioni. Questo prende le mosse dalla discussione della disputa di lunga data fra compatibilisti e incompatibilisti. Mentre Harris respinge il compatibilismo alla stregua di una forma di teologia, questo articolo ambisce a mostrare come Harris abbia sottostimato e mal interpretato il compatibilismo e come invece sia possibile enucleare una forma di compatibilismo più sofisticata, insensibile alle sue critiche. Parole chiave : Sam Harris; Libero arbitrio; Compatibilismo; Incompatibilismo; Neuroscienza. (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 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)
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.
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).
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)
Why do we spend so much of our time passing on amusing anecdotes, making wisecracks,watching The Simpsons? In Inside Jokes, Matthew Hurley, DanielDennett, and Reginald Adams offer an evolutionary and cognitive perspective.
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)
I want to explore four different exercises of interpretation: (1) the interpretation of texts (or hermeneutics), (2) the interpretation of people (otherwise known as "attribution" psychology, or cognitive or intentional psychology), (3) the interpretation of other artifacts (which I shall call artifact hermeneutics), (4) the interpretation of organism design in evolutionary biology--the controversial interpretive activity known as adaptationism.
Peter van Inwagen notes: "... almost all philosophers agree that a necessary condition for holding an agent responsible for an act is believing that the agent could have refrained from performing that act." Perhaps van Inwagen is right; perhaps most philosophers agree on this. If so, this shared assumption, which I will call CDO (for "could have done otherwise"), is a good candidate for denial, especially since there turns out to be so little to be said in support of it, (...) once it is called in question. I will argue that, just like those people who are famous only for being famous, this assumption owes its traditional high regard to nothing more than its traditional high regard. It is almost never questioned. And the tradition itself, I will claim, is initially motivated by little more than inattentive extrapolation from familiar cases. To engage the issue, I assert that it simply does not matter at all to moral responsibility whether the agent in question could have done otherwise in the circumstances. (shrink)
Sometimes it takes years of debate for philosophers to discover what it is they really disagree about. Sometimes they talk past each other in long series of books and articles, never guessing at the root disagreement that divides them. But occasionally a day comes when something happens to coax the cat out of the bag. "Aha!" one philosopher exclaims to another, "so that's why you've been disagreeing with me, misunderstanding me, resisting my conclusions, puzzling me all these years!".