Dennett in The New Yorker

I wanted to bring to your attention a lovely profile piece on Dan Dennett, “Daniel Dennett’s Science of the Soul“.  It’s nice to see a philosopher as respected and well-known as Dennett come alive as a human being.

I’d also like to remind those of you interested in this sort of thing that Dennett has a new book out, From Bacteria to Bach And Back: The Evolution of Minds. The central project is to do what creationists are always saying can’t be done: use the explanatory resources of evolutionary theory to understand why we have the kinds of minds that we do. There are decent reviews here and here, as well as one by Thomas Nagel in New York Review of Books that I regard as deliberately misleading (“Is Consciousness an Illusion?“).

[Note: The profile and/or the Nagel review may be behind paywalls.]

 

211 thoughts on “Dennett in The New Yorker

  1. walto: What an incredibly long and productive career he’s had. First book in 1964, most recent last year. I half-thought there were two philosophers by that name. But maybe I was thinking of Richard Taylor, who lived in Ithaca when I did.(He was somewhat notorious for marrying someone in her 20’s when he was in his 70’s, IIRC.)

    No, just one Charles Taylor in philosophy. There’s also a Charles Taylor who is a Liberian warlord. Richard Taylor did some work in modal logic and free will. (I know this because David Foster Wallace wrote his senior thesis on Richard Taylor.)

    I haven’t gotten around to The Language Animal yet, though I might tackle it this summer. Taylor is certainly one of the philosophers I need to be in conversation with.

  2. Kantian Naturalist: But he isn’t denying that there’s subjective experiences, either.

    He doesn’t exactly deal with subjective experience. He doesn’t even really bother with the fact that there’s a great deal of unconscious brain, then there’s the conscious brain.

    He’s arguing that we can explain subjective experiences in terms of what brains do, based on in part on how they process information they receive from their environments and in part on how a shared language is used in how we describe our own experiences as well as those of others.

    Well he hardly explains, does he? Basically, he just says the brain is the explanation. I don’t doubt that the brain is responsible, in fact, but Dennett’s doing little more than saying “it’s evolution” as the cause of life, rather than actually explaining anything, or coming up with any kind of model that may be able to explain something.

    It’s really not assuring that Dennett’s complete lack of explanation, or even of addressing the matters of consciousness, is somehow treated as meaningful by American philosophy.

    Glen Davidson

  3. GlenDavidson,

    I think that one of the issues here is whether or not “the hard problem of consciousness” (as David Chalmers calls it) is worth taking seriously. Chalmers and Dennett have been going back and forth on this for twenty years now — ever since Chalmers wrote The Conscious Mind in response to Consciousness Explained.

    Dennett’s basic point, I take it, is that we should only accept in our ontology those things that can be publicly verified, even though there is no single correct strategy of verification. (The intentional stance counts as a way of verifying the existence of beliefs and desires, for example.) But “qualia”, the odd medium of consciousness beloved of anti-materialists, cannot be publicly verified. (They are pretty much designed not to be!)

    In Consciousness Explained, an anonymous philosopher is quoted as saying, “But Dan, qualia are what make life worth living!” Subsequently, it came out that the anonymous philosopher was Wilfrid Sellars.

    My point here is that if you really want to defend the idea that there’s a hard problem of consciousness, don’t attack materialism (metaphysics); you need to attack the verificationism (epistemology).

    Earlier someone asked me what I thought Dennett’s major contribution to philosophy was. I would say that Dennett’s major contribution is to construct a comprehensive account of minds based on a commitment to verificationism as a criterion of epistemic significance. That’s not a small accomplishment. Hume tried to do exactly that, but Hume’s project is ultimately scuppered by a completely misguided theory of conceptual content.

    I would not say that Dennett entirely succeeds. I would say that his project allows us to see the limits of verificationism as well as its strengths. At the end of the day, I do think that Dennett’s project involves throwing too much of phenomenology under the bus. Taylor Carman is extremely good on this point; for the interested, here’s his “On the Inescapability of Phenomenology“.

  4. Kantian Naturalist:
    GlenDavidson,

    I think that one of the issues here is whether or not “the hard problem of consciousness” (as David Chalmers calls it) is worth taking seriously. Chalmers and Dennett have been going back and forth on this for twenty years now — ever since Chalmers wrote The Conscious Mind in response to Consciousness Explained.

    Why is it even framed by these two people? Because American philosophy can’t think beyond two rather dimwitted forms of reductionism? I can’t see how either Dennett or Chalmers ever wrote much of value on consciousness. Dennett ignores it while claiming to explain it, and Chalmers babbles on and on about qualia and what a hard problem they are

    Dennett’s basic point, I take it, is that we should only accept in our ontology those things that can be publicly verified, even though there is no single correct strategy of verification. (The intentional stance counts as a way of verifying the existence of beliefs and desires, for example.) But “qualia”, the odd medium of consciousness beloved of anti-materialists, cannot be publicly verified. (They are pretty much designed not to be!)

    Qualia are a mess, because where do they end? I think they have some value as words, but not as hard concepts. Colors as qualia seem reasonable, but then you’re wondering what abstract thoughts are supposed to be, or verbal thinking. Qualia? Not much like color or dulcet tones. That said, I’m not about to ignore what are called “qualia” either, nor the fact that consciousness and “subjective experience” are the non-public phenomena to be explained.

    In Consciousness Explained, an anonymous philosopher is quoted as saying, “But Dan, qualia are what make life worth living!”Subsequently, it came out that the anonymous philosopher was Wilfrid Sellars.

    My point here is that if you really want to defend the idea that there’s a hard problem of consciousness, don’t attack materialism (metaphysics); you need to attack the verificationism (epistemology).

    Why would I want to defend the idea that there’s a hard problem of consciousness? Dennett’s not right because Chalmers is pretty much prattling nonsense.

    Earlier someone asked me what I thought Dennett’s major contribution to philosophy was. I would say that Dennett’s major contribution is to construct a comprehensive account of minds based on a commitment to verificationism as a criterion of epistemic significance. That’s not a small accomplishment. Hume tried to do exactly that, but Hume’s project is ultimately scuppered by a completely misguided theory of conceptual content.

    I’ve not seen it.

    I would not say that Dennett entirely succeeds. I would say that his project allows us to see the limits of verificationism as well as its strengths. At the end of the day, I do think that Dennett’s project involves throwing too much of phenomenology under the bus. Taylor Carman is extremely good on this point; for the interested, here’s his “On the Inescapability of Phenomenology“.

    Ignoring what you’re asked to explain doesn’t get you anywhere. Except, I guess, a high position in academia.

    Glen Davidson

  5. GlenDavidson,

    Just as I wondered why Fifth and Charlie don’t have it out over alleged Biblical inerrancy, I also wonder why you and keiths don’t see fit to argue about the value of Dennett’s philosophy. It mostly seems to me to reduce to a matter of personal dislikes when people are quick to fight with person A when s/he says something, but they are silent when person B says the same stuff.

    Since I’ve been here, keiths has been the biggest Dennett defender on the board, but you have reserved your arrows for KN–a more muted supporter–apparently because of some kind of personal resentment of his “high position in academia.”

  6. walto,

    Since I’ve been here, keiths has been the biggest Dennett defender on the board…

    The existence of the hard problem is actually one of my points of disagreement with Dennett, though I’m open to being persuaded.

  7. walto:
    GlenDavidson,

    Just as I wondered why Fifth and Charlie don’t have it out over alleged Biblical inerrancy, I also wonder why you and keiths don’t see fit to argue about the value of Dennett’s philosophy.

    Um, what would we argue about?

    More to the point, did he write an OP on Dennett and a large number of words in comments about it? I don’t recall that he did. I don’t know that much about what keiths thinks about Dennett.

    It mostly seems to me to reduce to a matter of personal dislikes when people are quick to fight with person A when s/he says something, but they are silent when person B says the same stuff.

    Well, you figured out that the personal is involved. Is that shocking? Still, I don’t think that has a great deal to do with whom I disagreed with here. The discussion I was paying most heed to was Erik vs. KN, and what got me to respond was the claim that Dennett doesn’t dismiss the subjective. No, not deliberately, he just ignores its importance when that is all important.

    I was dealing with substance, since that’s what matters.

    Since I’ve been here, keiths has been the biggest Dennett defender on the board, but you have reserved your arrows for KN–a more muted supporter–apparently because of some kind of personal resentment of his “high position in academia.”

    That’s quite a diagnosis based on, well, nothing at all. I don’t know that KN has any high position in academia (does he?), but I do resent the fact that Dennett writes a lot of fairly dumb things (I’ll echo Gregory (!), memetics? Anything much worse than that?) and gets away with it because he’s Dennett. Fuck that.

    And it’s absurd for you to write of “arrows” aimed at KN, when I never even responded until today, and I think substantively. Had keiths been responding to Erik and had defended Dennett quite like KN did, there’s a good chance that I would have responded to him. As it is, what would I be saying to keiths? He really hasn’t said much substantive about Dennett. Sorry for caring about substance instead of attacking keiths.

    Glen Davidson

  8. GlenDavidson: Um, what would we argue about?

    Whether Dennett is a good philosopher. You both seem to have strongly held views on that subject.

    Sorry for caring about substance instead of attacking keiths.

    No, no. Not ATTACK! None of us would ever do THAT! Just, you know, discuss! I mean, none of us care for anything but substance around here. 😉

  9. walto: Whether Dennett is a good philosopher.

    I care a lot more about the wasted space in New Yorker and elsewhere treating the subjective/consciousness as if it comes down to a fight between Dennett and Chalmers. Typical homage to big names, rather than concern about ideas. I did mention that, after all.

    You both seem to have strongly held views on that subject.

    Well, he can disagree with me on the issues if he wishes. What was I supposed to do, tell him that Dennett sucks? Recap what Neil and he did? Really, I don’t care that much for or about Dennett, he seems stuck in analytic philosophy pitfalls (do I really believe that the “subjective” is not “public info” as other things supposedly are? No, because everything’s “subjective” at the end of the day) that don’t really concern me.

    No, no.Not ATTACK!None of us would ever do THAT!Just, you know, discuss!I mean, none of us care for anything but substance around here.

    I thought maybe some things were worth discussing. I guess I was supposed to just disagree with keiths. rather than discussing what I think matters.

    Glen Davidson

  10. GlenDavidson: I guess I was supposed to just disagree with keiths. rather than discussing what I think matters.

    Well, in a perfect world what we’d all be doing is discussing what Patrick thinks matters–while polishing our weaponry, natch.

  11. Kantian Naturalist: I’m about 60 pages in myself.

    Hard to compare, since I have kindle locations rather than page numbers. I’m probably at somewhere around page 100.

    In any case, I have just moved on to chapter 6, which is about information.

    Dennett has a fundamental misunderstanding of information. I’ll admit, however, that this is a very common misunderstanding.

    Given his view of information, it now seems clear that the best that Dennett can come up with is an elaboration of Berkeley’s idealism. He won’t recognize that, of course. Dennett says that he is a materialist. But it now seems apparent that he is an immaterialist. His immaterial substance is what he calls “semantic information”. And what he considers material is built out of that immaterial substance.

  12. Neil:

    But it now seems apparent that he [Dennett] is an immaterialist.

    Only to the lone (and very confused) inhabitant of Planet Neil.

    His immaterial substance is what he calls “semantic information”. And what he considers material is built out of that immaterial substance.

    How on earth did you get that impression?

  13. “Dennett writes a lot of fairly dumb things (I’ll echo Gregory (!), memetics? Anything much worse than that?) and gets away with it because he’s Dennett. Fuck that.”

    Yup. It seems like a kind of personality worship. Dennett’s ideological evolutionism has no clothes. And KN & keiths applaud his gorgeous, brilliant, “well-known & respected” apparel.

    It would be humourous if it weren’t so sad. 🙁

  14. “Taylor is certainly one of the philosophers I need to be in conversation with.”

    Amen to that! I wrote on his ‘accommodements raissonables’ (‘reasonable accommodations’) in my dissertation some years back. Taylor just switched his position in support of religious freedom and his co-investigator Bouchard the historian-sociologist isn’t happy about it.

    His ‘social imaginaries’ you have already used. But the Judeo-Christian message in Taylor (don’t hide it away in your kangaroo pouch) isn’t what you are accustomed to reading. It is not philosophistry with nothing to stand on in the end but one-Self. May it treat you well, since only in your memory have you forgotten; the temporal bones don’t tell the same story.

  15. Gregory,

    I’m curious to know if you can actually defend a position. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you do it.

    How about quoting an excerpt of Dennett’s writing, indicating what within it you disagree with, and supporting your position with a rational argument of the kind produced by actual intellectuals?

  16. Hang on a second, do you claim to be an ‘actual intellectual,’ blogger known at TAMSZ as ‘keiths’? Will you show us some of your ‘intellectual’ productivity? Such a cow you seem to think you are showing here, but just sound like: moo.

    I’ve published papers using thankfully few pieces from Dennett as needed before (doh!) and certainly have no plans to publish a paper specifically on him. He has “terminological headaches” and knows he and his ‘ilk’ are “burdened with legacies of ideological conflict.” It’s not a pretty picture.

    Translation: He’s a hyper-evolutionist superficial nut-job dressed as a philosophy professor quacking like an anti-creationist (lots of people like such sounds!) in the USA. He simply could not happen outside of the USA, due to the proliferation of YECism there. He’s as disgusting, deluded & self-righteous as Ken Ham. Most sane people I know agree that evolutionistic (creationistic) ideology used to preach (hey diddle D.S.!) ‘evolution (natural scientifically verifiable creation) of everything’ actually just makes one sound like a pretentious exaggerative bum.

    He doesn’t know my ‘position’ (which is widely shared, the ‘I’ being such a small part of it) on purpose because he is an atheist (cough, agnostic, confused, ex-religious, but not really, angry at religion [& IDism], etc.), who has *NO INTENTION* of *EVER* seeking Mercy, Grace or Divine Judgement. Never (self-righteous Nixon), right ‘keiths’? It’s all ‘just academic’ to him, so it’s worth little to respond.

    All this place is for: skeptical KN & keiths dance with words … and no one is inspired because they aren’t inspiring or inspired themselves. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” – Psalm 14:1

  17. ” “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” – Psalm 14:1″ said the fool.

  18. Heh.

    I knew the moment I issued the challenge that Gregory would try to evade it. For a man who supposedly has God on his side, Gregory isn’t very confident.

  19. Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds

    Page xiv: Our access to our own thinking, and especially to the causation and dynamics of its subpersonal parts, is really no better than our access to our digestive processes; we have to rely on the narrow and heavily edited channel that responds to our incessant curiosity with user-friendly deliverances, only one step closer to the real me than the access to the real me that is enjoyed by my family and friends.

    Dennett doesn’t understand thinking. We can think about thinking, we can think about digestion, but it is meaningless to say that we can digest about digestion. What he has in mind is not thinking but some process which he ‘thinks’ to be lying at the root of thinking. He demonstrates the same thinking as Kant with his “thing-in-itself” where it is posited that there is a reality behind our world of experience. The only problem is that we cannot help but to give to this “thing-in-itself” qualities that we have borrowed from the world of our experiences. The neumena are given the qualities of phenomena. We do not need to look for anything behind our own thinking because it is an activity which we experience directly in its true nature.

  20. CharlieM: We do not need to look for anything behind our own thinking because it is an activity which we experience directly in its true nature.

      

    Interesting assertion, but what’s your basis for it? After all, many other items or processes that seemed intuitively to be one thing were later learned to be another. Think of magnetism, for example, or static electricity or weather. What makes you so sure you understand consciousness so perfectly?–especially given the fact that, much of the time it seems to be outside the realm of our attention–even when we’re trying to attend.

  21. walto:

    CharlieM: We do not need to look for anything behind our own thinking because it is an activity which we experience directly in its true nature.

    Interesting assertion, but what’s your basis for it? After all, many other items or processes that seemed intuitively to be one thing were later learned to be another. Think of magnetism, for example, or static electricity or weather.What makes you so sure you understand consciousness so perfectly?–especially given the fact that, much of the time it seems to be outside the realm of our attention–even when we’re trying to attend.

    Tell me, how have you attained knowledge about any of these other processes you mention?

  22. You asked:

    walto: Interesting assertion, but what’s your basis for it

    I base it on my own experience.

    I’ve discussed this on previous occasions. We can all, by the use of thinking, arrive at the concept “triangle”. This concept is singular, it is a unity, no matter who grasps it. In other words it is not somewhere in my head, it exists independent of whoever grasps it. There are not as many concepts “triangle” as people thinking about it.

    If you understand this you will see that the physical, material world is not reality itself but is a reflection of reality.

    Physical triangles are temporary, imperfect entities. The triangle as a concept is a timeless and perfect unity. It is not something we invent, it is something we apprehend.

  23. CharlieM: We can all, by the use of thinking, arrive at the concept “triangle”. This concept is singular, it is a unity, no matter who grasps it. In other words it is not somewhere in my head, it exists independent of whoever grasps it. There are not as many concepts “triangle” as people thinking about it.
    If you understand this you will see that the physical, material world is not reality itself but is a reflection of reality.

    Even if what you say about the common understanding of “triangle” is true, why do you think that it follows that the material world is not reality? That seems clearly NOT to follow.

    CharlieM: Physical triangles are temporary, imperfect entities. The triangle as a concept is a timeless and perfect unity. It is not something we invent, it is something we apprehend.

    OK, you’re a Platonist. So what?

  24. walto,

    Since Plato was obviously right about the nature of concepts — as per CharlieM’s introspective self-report — then Dennett is clearly mistaken.

    QED

  25. Gregory,

    According to you, Dennett is “disgusting, deluded & self-righteous”. You, by contrast, have God on your side.

    Why then are you afraid to tackle my simple challenge?

    I’m curious to know if you can actually defend a position. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you do it.

    How about quoting an excerpt of Dennett’s writing, indicating what within it you disagree with, and supporting your position with a rational argument of the kind produced by actual intellectuals?

  26. CharlieM:

    We do not need to look for anything behind our own thinking because it is an activity which we experience directly in its true nature.

    You need to learn some psychology. There’s tons of evidence that we do not experience thinking “directly in its true nature”.

    Here’s an example I ran across just yesterday:

    Sex Unleashes Your Tongue

    Sexual Priming Motivates Self-Disclosure to a New Acquaintance and Interest in Future Interactions

    Abstract

    Research has demonstrated the contribution of sexual activity to the quality of ongoing relationships. Nevertheless, less attention has been given to how activation of the sexual system affects relationship-initiation processes. Three studies used complementary methodologies to examine the effect of sexual priming on self-disclosure, a relationship-promoting behavior. In Study 1, participants were subliminally exposed to sexual stimuli (vs. neutral stimuli), and then disclosed over Instant Messenger a personal event to an opposite-sex stranger. Results showed that merely thinking about sex, even without being aware of it, encouraged self-disclosure. Study 2 replicated these findings in relatively naturalistic conditions (live face-to-face interactions following supraliminal video priming). Study 3 extended these findings, indicating that sexual priming facilitated self-disclosure, which, in turn, increased interest in future interactions with the stranger. Together, these findings suggest that activation of the sexual system encourages the use of strategies that allow people to become closer to potential partners.

    [Emphasis added]

  27. It’s certainly true that the appearance/reality distinction does not apply to appearance — a logical truth by which Descartes was much impressed — but it only follows that the appearance/reality distinction does not apply to consciousness if one defines consciousness as appearance.

  28. CharlieM: We do not need to look for anything behind our own thinking because it is an activity which we experience directly in its true nature.

    An interesting comment, as others have said. I’m inclined to partially agree with it. But many people disagree.

    In particular, computationalists such as Dennett will disagree. They see thinking as computation. But when we experience thinking, we do not appear to experience computation — except, of course, when thinking about computation.

    My own characterization of thinking is this: we are simulating or modeling some potential behavior. And we are making judgments about our simulated/modeled behavior. We make those judgments using our skills of judging that we have honed in our real world experience, and that has a lot to do with how thinking connects to reality.

    I’m not sure that completely fits CharlieM’s comment about thinking, but at least it is somewhat consistent with that comment.

  29. CharlieM: We can all, by the use of thinking, arrive at the concept “triangle”. This concept is singular, it is a unity, no matter who grasps it. In other words it is not somewhere in my head, it exists independent of whoever grasps it. There are not as many concepts “triangle” as people thinking about it.

    By ‘concept “triangle”‘ you seem to mean ‘ideal triangle’. That’s not what I mean by “concept”. For me, a concept is a repertoire of abilities. So the concept of triangle is a repertoire of abilities that have to do with triangles.

    If you understand this you will see that the physical, material world is not reality itself but is a reflection of reality.

    This does not seem to follow at all.

  30. Neil Rickert,

    Dennett would not say that thinking is explicated in terms of computation; he would say that thinking is explained in terms of computation. This is a crucial difference.

    I should note that this distinction between explication and explanation is my own, though I have reasons to think Dennett would accept it — esp since I treat Gilbert Ryle (Dennett’s DPhil advisor) as a master of explications.

  31. Kantian Naturalist: Dennett would not say that thinking is explicated in terms of computation; he would say that thinking is explained in terms of computation. This is a crucial difference.

    What’s the crucial difference?

  32. Neil,

    Your response to this?

    Neil:

    But it now seems apparent that he [Dennett] is an immaterialist.

    Only to the lone (and very confused) inhabitant of Planet Neil.

    His immaterial substance is what he calls “semantic information”. And what he considers material is built out of that immaterial substance.

    How on earth did you get that impression?

  33. keiths: How on earth did you get that impression?

    He’s reading a book by Dennett, chapter 6. Have you looked at the same thing?

  34. Erik,

    He’s reading a book by Dennett, chapter 6. Have you looked at the same thing?

    Yes, and I see nothing in that chapter to support Neil’s interpretation. Hence my question.

  35. @KN Is this a fair review?

    For Dennett this apparent irreducibility – philosophers call it “the hard problem” – is a false distinction. Consciousness is a system property, and is not reducible: he takes issue with those hard-line molecular biologists, notably DNA pioneer Francis Crick, who seek to locate consciousness in particular ensembles of neurons in specific brain regions. Such ensembles, Dennett argues, are mini-robots, competent in their functions, but only their interactions within the totality of the brain enable comprehension, and with it the “user illusion” that we all share, of being a person in charge of these processes.

    If “user illusion” (a human using the mind) is a direct quote, then what objection can Dennett have when his theory of mind is summarized as “consciousness is an illusion”?

  36. Kantian Naturalist: Dennett would not say that thinking is explicated in terms of computation; he would say that thinking is explained in terms of computation. This is a crucial difference.

    Erik: What’s the crucial difference?

    Sounds like a cousin of the doubtful/dubious distinction to me. 😉

  37. walto: Even if what you say about the common understanding of “triangle” is true, why do you think that it follows that the material world is not reality? That seems clearly NOT to follow.

    I’m not just talking about the common understanding, I am talking about the essential nature of the entity that is being understood. Look at a pool or snooker triangle, it’s essential nature is relative to other things. This is not the case with the ideal triangle.

    The material world is not in itself reality. It is a partial reality which is dependent on human sense based understanding.

  38. CharlieM: I’m not just talking about the common understanding, I am talking about the essential nature of the entity that is being understood. Look at a pool or snooker triangle, it’s essential nature is relative to other things. This is not the case with the ideal triangle.

    Again, I get that you’re a Platonist. Good for you.

    The material world is not in itself reality. It is a partial reality which is dependent on human sense based understanding.

    And again, that doesn’t follow–even if your Platonism is correct–and, I hasten to add–that alone is highly controversial, and has been so for over 1000 years.

    In sum, good for you, and your inference is fallacious anyhow.

  39. keiths: You need to learn some psychology. There’s tons of evidence that we do not experience thinking “directly in its true nature”.

    Here’s an example I ran across just yesterday:

    Sex Unleashes Your Tongue

    Sexual Priming Motivates Self-Disclosure to a New Acquaintance and Interest in Future Interactions

    Abstract

    Research has demonstrated the contribution of sexual activity to the quality of ongoing relationships. Nevertheless, less attention has been given to how activation of the sexual system affects relationship-initiation processes. Three studies used complementary methodologies to examine the effect of sexual priming on self-disclosure, a relationship-promoting behavior. In Study 1, participants were subliminally exposed to sexual stimuli (vs. neutral stimuli), and then disclosed over Instant Messenger a personal event to an opposite-sex stranger. Results showed that merely thinking about sex, even without being aware of it, encouraged self-disclosure. Study 2 replicated these findings in relatively naturalistic conditions (live face-to-face interactions following supraliminal video priming). Study 3 extended these findings, indicating that sexual priming facilitated self-disclosure, which, in turn, increased interest in future interactions with the stranger. Together, these findings suggest that activation of the sexual system encourages the use of strategies that allow people to become closer to potential partners.

    I am talking about pure rational, objective thinking. I would agree that this example is not of that nature. It is a thinking which is based on personal feelings. There are different types and levels of thinking. Would you say that when the subjects look back with hindsight and examined their behaviour and activities during the experiment that this subsequent reflective thinking can be judged in the same way that their thoughts were judged during the experiment?

    The whole scientific endeavour is to eliminate personal feelings as much as possible. Would you agree that having control over ones desires is a good thing and that some are better at it than others?

  40. Kantian Naturalist:
    It’s certainly true that the appearance/reality distinction does not apply to appearance — a logical truth by which Descartes was much impressed — but it only follows that the appearance/reality distinction does not apply to consciousness if one defines consciousness as appearance.

    I am not talking about consciousness, I am talking about pure thinking.

    When we perceive a tree we do not have it’s full reality. We come closer to it’s reality when, through thinking, we add the concepts which belong to the tree’s essential nature. Concepts such as growth and decay, organism, species, reproduction, all these concepts add to the reality of the tree. When we add the concept “thinking” to our own thinking, we are not adding anything new to the perception. Appearance and reality are one.

  41. CharlieM: When we perceive a tree we do not have it’s full reality. We come closer to it’s reality when, through thinking, we add the concepts which belong to the tree’s essential nature. Concepts such as growth and decay, organism, species, reproduction, all these concepts add to the reality of the tree.

    OTOH, when we merely think about a tree, we lose a lot about it too. Its color, texture, hardness, smell, etc. As Kant said, even if intuitions without concepts are blind, concepts without intuitions are EMPTY.

    Anyhow, for about the fifth time, nothing whatever follows about the non-reality of the material world from your Platonic musings.

  42. Neil Rickert: Neil Rickert April 6, 2017 at 12:38 am

    CharlieM: We do not need to look for anything behind our own thinking because it is an activity which we experience directly in its true nature.

    An interesting comment, as others have said. I’m inclined to partially agree with it. But many people disagree.

    In particular, computationalists such as Dennett will disagree. They see thinking as computation. But when we experience thinking, we do not appear to experience computation — except, of course, when thinking about computation.

    It is interesting that after the industrial revolution humans and other organisms were thought of in a machine like way, When electricity was being made use of in our everyday lives, our nervous systems were thought of as analogous to electrical circuits. Now that we are well into the computer and IT age Dennett compares the workings of our minds and brains to that of a computer.

    I wonder, what will be the next technical innovation to which the likes of Dennett will declare, “That is what we are”?

    We are machines, we are electrical circuits, we are computers, we are computer simulations. What next?

  43. CharlieM: We come closer to it’s reality when, through thinking, we add the concepts which belong to the tree’s essential nature.

    You seem to be hung up on essences.

  44. CharlieM: We are machines, we are electrical circuits, we are computers, we are computer simulations. What next?

    Ghosts.

  45. Kantian Naturalist: There’s much to admire in Rorty as well. And Rorty and Dennett are very good when writing about each other. I think that much of Dennett’s project is about cashing out what Rorty calls “introducing as few discontinuities as possible into the story of how we got from the apes to the Enlightenment.”

    Right now we should be worrying more about how we are getting from the Enlightenment to apes…

  46. Neil Rickert: By ‘concept “triangle”‘ you seem to mean ‘ideal triangle’. That’s not what I mean by “concept”. For me, a concept is a repertoire of abilities. So the concept of triangle is a repertoire of abilities that have to do with triangles.

    I don’t understand what you mean by repertoire of abilities.

    For me the concept triangle is what we mean by triangle in it’s essential nature, with all the extraneous features removed. Ability is not something I associate with triangle.

  47. CharlieM: Ability is not something I associate with triangle.

    Maybe not, but Neil was talking about the concept of Concept there (not of Triangle). What he said was that he associates Concepts with abilities. Thus, I take it, Neil believes that to understand the concept of triangle is to have certain abilities with respect to triangular (or presumably near-triangular) objects. Recognize them, be able to make one with sticks, etc.

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