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neuroscience and psychology, presumably) that, strictly speaking, beliefs are figments of our imagination, items in a superceded ontology?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)
_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.
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.
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)
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)
" 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)
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)
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)
In _Neuroscience and Philosophy_ three prominent philosophers and a leading neuroscientist clash over the conceptual presuppositions of cognitive neuroscience. The book begins with an excerpt from Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker's _Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience_, which questions the conceptual commitments of cognitive neuroscientists. Their position is then criticized by Daniel Dennett and John Searle, two philosophers who have written extensively on the subject, and Bennett and Hacker in turn respond. Their impassioned debate encompasses a wide range of central themes: the (...) nature of consciousness, the bearer and location of psychological attributes, the intelligibility of so-called brain maps and representations, the notion of qualia, the coherence of the notion of an intentional stance, and the relationships between mind, brain, and body. Clearly argued and thoroughly engaging, the authors present fundamentally different conceptions of philosophical method, cognitive-neuroscientific explanation, and human nature, and their exchange will appeal to anyone interested in the relation of mind to brain, of psychology to neuroscience, of causal to rational explanation, and of consciousness to self-consciousness. In his conclusion Daniel Robinson explains why this confrontation is so crucial to the understanding of neuroscientific research. The project of cognitive neuroscience, he asserts, depends on the incorporation of human nature into the framework of science itself. In Robinson's estimation, Dennett and Searle fail to support this undertaking; Bennett and Hacker suggest that the project itself might be based on a conceptual mistake. Exciting and challenging, _Neuroscience and Philosophy_ is an exceptional introduction to the philosophical problems raised by cognitive neuroscience. (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)
Timothy Williamson is mainly right, I think. He defends armchair philosophy as a variety of armchair science, like mathematics, or computer modeling in evolutionary theory, economics, statistics, and I agree that this is precisely what philosophy is, at its best: working out the assumptions and implications of any serious body of thought, helping everyone formulate the best questions to ask, and then leaving the empirical work to the other sciences. Philosophy – at its best – is to other inquiries roughly (...) as theoretical physics is to experimental physics. You can do it in the armchair, but you need to know a lot about the phenomena with which the inquiry deals. (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)
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.
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)
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).