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. KN:

    …it’s not always clear if Dennett is talking about representings or representeds (this is where Neil got confused, and understandably).

    Neil:

    No, I’m not confused.

    You’re very confused, Neil. You wrote:

    But, instead, he seems to take the scientific image as if it were the world in itself.

    I replied:

    No, he doesn’t, and neither did Sellars. Hence the word ‘image’ in ‘scientific image’.

    An image of something is obviously not the thing itself. Dennett knows that even if you don’t.

  2. KN,

    One worry that I do have about Dennett’s general project here is that he doesn’t seem clear about when he’s talking about representings and when he’s talking about representeds.

    I haven’t gotten that impression at all. Could you give an example, in Dennett’s own words?

  3. KN,

    I myself would rather put this point in terms of intentionality, but Dennett can’t use that word because he is committed to a pragmatic anti-realism about intentionality.

    You can’t be serious. The intentional stance is all about intentionality! Dennett doesn’t hesitate to use the word.

  4. walto:
    I don’t mean to sound so harsh, Charlie, but what I’m getting at is that the fact that some particular position appeals to you is not a reason for its truth.You read it in Steiner and (except for the lamb’s bladder thing I guess), you take pretty much everything he wrote as gospel.The thing is, that’s not a reason for anybody else to believe it.The positions you are backing are just old chestnuts from the late 19th Century.They’ve been passed by long ago as largely indefensible.You don’t have any new defenses for these chestnuts, they just appeal to you.

    OK, so you ran across a philosopher you find congenial.That’s nice.I mean it.I do that sometimes too.Good for me.When that happens, it gives one a warm glow.But why do you repeat the chestnuts here?Hug yourself and go on happily.You’re not going to convince anybody with the slightest familiarity with philosophy of Platonism or Hegelianism here or anywhere else–never mind Steinerism! Steiner,as I’ve already told you was never taken seriously by anybody but cultists.An irrelevant backwater.

    It might be responded that some of the stuff and philosophers I like aren’t exactly at the top of the current academic pantheon either.That’s life.

    I have never taken Steiner’s words as gospel. In fact my past readings of his words have produced an initial reaction of unbelief.

    Owen Barfield came across Steiner in the early ’20s and discovered in his writings a confirmation of his own thinking about the development of human consciousness throughout history. He writes in Romanticism Comes of Age (1944):

    Indeed, for those few who have yet been brought by the circumstances of their lives to comprehend how desperately Europe needs what anthroposophy can give her, it is an experience more moving and at the same time very much more bitter than the spectacle of high tragedy to see the indifference, misunderstanding, antipathy and cold suspicion with which Ruldolf Steiner’s works are met on every side. A kind of bigotry and arrogance is sometimes imputed to anthroposophists for their exclusive emphasis upon his work and their movement in so many different departments of life. The answer is in the facts themselves. Those who have accepted Steiner’s priceless gift are not the choice and picked ones of the earth: they are simply those who have felt out of the depths of their being the fearful need of this living, creative thinking. They are only to glad to take and use such thinking wherever they find it. But where do they find it? Does the traveller, dying of thirst, stop to complain because the torrent gushes from a single spring instead of oozing up out of every stone beneath his feet?

    In Saving the Appearances Barfield makes a case that, rather than archaic humans, it is modern thinkers like Dennett who see the world awry.

    It is the common opinion that, whereas we see nature pretty much as she really is, primitive man sees and archaic or early man saw her all awry through the veil of a complicated system of fancies and beliefs. If, however, the general conclusion of Chapter IV are accepted, it is clear that, whether or no archaic man saw nature awry, what he saw was not primarily determined by beliefs. On the other hand it was suggested in Chapter VII that what we see is so determined. If I am right therefore, there is indeed a contrast between primitive and modern consciousness and that contrast is connected with beliefs, but exactly in the opposite way to what is generally supposed. Precisely what beliefs about phenomena have been widely and confidently and long enough held to become part of a representation, is, as I have said, a matter on which opinions may well differ on any particular case. But, whether they are part of our collective representations or not, it is a fact that there are certain beliefs not only about the structure, but also about the history, of the phenomena surrounding them, which are widely, almost universally, shared by civilized men in this second half of this twentieth century. There are also beliefs, only a little less confidently and a little less universally held, about the history of consciousness. As both these sets of beliefs run sharply counter to a good deal of what I have said and intend to say on the same subject, it will be well to give some indication of how and why these (in my view) mistaken beliefs arise.

    The Wikipedia entry on this book can be found here

    According to Steiner and Barfield, archaic human conscious was a picture type consciousness which was wider but more dim than modern Western consciousness, which by contrast is more narrowly focused. It shines the light on details but in so doing disregards the more complete reality.

  5. Neil Rickert: Sorry, no suggestions.

    I do follow the blog Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists, but it is not all that useful.

    That’s OK.

    I was reflecting last night on Gibson’s remark that a niche is comprised of affordances. I think that’s a really nice way of getting us to see what affordances are. A niche or Umwelt (Dennett uses Uexküll’s term) certainly has objective existence, insofar as it is specified from the perspective of the ecologist. Yet it’s not fully specifiable independent of the organism. The niche and the organism are co-specified. Darwin’s breakthrough was to posit a mechanism that explained how this co-specification could come about without being planned in advance.

    (Which is not to say that natural selection has all the wonderful powers that Dennett ascribes to it; I’m much more on Team Self-Organizing Complex Systems myself, with natural selection just being how competition can tend to eliminate non-satisficing phenotypes by affecting differential fecundity.)

    I’ll admit that I’m not crazy about the idea that an organism’s niche is comprised of semantic information. That almost sounds like saying that an organism’s environment “talks” to it. I have no objections to biosemiotics but that seems to be going a bridge (or two) too far.

    For that matter, I’m not sure yet how I feel about free-floating rationales, either.

  6. CharlieM: According to Steiner and Barfield, archaic human conscious was a picture type consciousness which was wider but more dim than modern Western consciousness, which by contrast is more narrowly focused. It shines the light on details but in so doing disregards the more complete reality.

    That sounds nice. Any reason to believe it’s true? For that matter, any reason to believe that there’s a meaningful distinction between ‘archaic consciousness’ and ‘modern consciousness’?

  7. Kantian Naturalist: I was reflecting last night on Gibson’s remark that a niche is comprised of affordances.

    That seems right to me.

    I’ll give an example. As a mathematician, I see mathematics as part of my niche. So a mathematical expression, such as an integral sign, is part of what I perceive. A non-mathematician would just see a squiggly line.

    One point of view is that I perceive a squiggly line, and then unconscious thought processes infer that it is an integral sign.

    The other point of view, which I take to be Gibson’s, is that I directly perceive it as an integral sign and unconscious thought is not involved. I agree with what I take to be Gibson’s view. The idea is that learning to be a mathematician involves tuning of perception to directly recognize things like integral signs.

    Dennett’s view is probably the first that I mentioned. That’s how computationalists typically think of perception. I’m inclined to think that Dennett doesn’t really get the point of affordances.

  8. CharlieM,

    I see you have ignored my suggestion completely, Charles. Again, you will never convert anybody to Steinerism who has ever read much philosophy. Best to enjoy him in your own study and forget about trying to proselytize. It’s just cultism by bad philosophy. I suppose you could work on those as credulous as you are, but it’s kind of like Sal’s classes for toddlers. Kind of distasteful work.

  9. Neil Rickert,

    You might be right that Dennett doesn’t really understand the point of affordances.

    And I agree that computationalists typically have a very ‘internalist’ picture of cognition, where the brain is passively detecting very minimal cues from the world and then builds up a complex inner ‘model’ from them. David Marr’s work on visual perception is a good example of this approach.

    However, it’s less clear to me if computationalism must be internalist.

    In the 1990s, the enactivist approach was hailed as an alternative to the interalism of computationalist approaches. The enactivists looked at Merleau-Ponty and Dewey as offering more biologically realistic ways of thinking about cognition. Michael Wheeler (in Reconstructing the Cognitive World, 2005) calls computationalism an example of “Cartesian cognitive science”.

    Needless to say, Dennett is not a fan of enactivism; see his review (PDF) of Thompson’s Mind in Life. For reasons I don’t fully understand, Dennett gave a much more sympathetic review of Deacon’s very similar Incomplete Nature. There’s a nice comment on this discrepancy here. I think the blogger puts his finger on the right issue: Dennett applies a double-standard to Thompson and Deacon because Thompson uses phenomenology and Deacon doesn’t. My own view is that Dennett has a complaint against phenomenology because he thinks that one cannot do phenomenology without succumbing to the Myth of the Given. In fact I think that some versions of phenomenology do succumb to the Myth of the Given and others don’t. I have a short essay on this in the appendix to my book but I think the issue needs to be treated much more extensively. (That might be my next writing project.)

    That aside, there’s also the question as to whether the predictive processing model of neurocomputation should be read as a continuation of Marr-style internalism or as neurocomputational correlate to Gibson-style externalism. There are provocative thinkers on both sides, with some like Hohwy and Frith urging the former (everything cognitive goes on inside the brain, with cues from the senses for when predictions go wrong) and others, like Andy Clark, urging the latter. In fact Hohwy and Clark had a productive exchange in the literature about this very issue in 2015, in the journal Nous.

  10. walto,

    Fair enough, but you know, once a mind has gravitated to a specific thinker, getting it dislodged is really hard. Just like with me and Sellars. 🙂

  11. CharlieM: Do you believe that human consciousness has remained the same throughout history? The various languages reflect the consciousness of those that use them.

    Carpentry tools have changed over time, does that reflect a change in consciousness as well?

  12. Kantian Naturalist: However, it’s less clear to me if computationalism must be internalist.

    Computationalism is based on computation. So it must presuppose data (to be used in the computation).

    I cannot find any basis for that presupposition.

    Yes, there are lots of natural signals, and computationalists assume those are data. But data is very different from natural signals.

    Thanks for those links on enactivism.

    There’s a nice comment on this discrepancy here.

    That link begins with a quote from Fodor “Over the years, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to figure out which bits of Daniel Dennett’s stuff are supposed to be the arguments and which are just rhetorical posturing.” And that’s a pretty good description of my reaction to “From bacteria to Bach and back.”

  13. newton: Carpentry tools have changed over time, does that reflect a change in consciousness as well?

    Activities such as carpentry are a part of the culture to which they belong and so are linked to consciousness.

    Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe that the common ancestor of chimps and humans had the same level of consciousness as modern humans and that chimps are at the same level? If you think that consciousness has changed do you think that the first humans had a level of consciousness that has remained constant until now?

  14. I do think that consciousness and cognition are biological categories, and that they have evolved over millions of years. And there’s plenty of experimental work on the cognitive differences between humans and other primates.

    But even then new data are always being collected and old experiments re-interpreted. It used to be accepted that chimpanzees could not pass the false-belief task. Now it seems that this was because of the paradigm used to operationalize the task. With a different operationalization, they do seem to pass it.

    But I see the relevant time-frame for the evolution of consciousness and cognition to lie in hundreds of thousands to millions of years. I don’t see any major differences in cognition or consciousness within the time-frame of the past three thousand years. There’s been plenty of cultural evolution in that time but I don’t see evidence that it has affected underlying conceptual capacities or degrees of awareness.

  15. John Harshman:
    Kantian Naturalist,

    Perhaps Charlie is a fan of Julian Jaynes?

    Ha! I was actually thinking of Jaynes earlier in connection with Charlies’s assumptions!

    I don’t think that Charlie has read Jaynes, but it does make me wonder if Jaynes was influenced at all by Barfield.

  16. Neil:

    I’m inclined to think that Dennett doesn’t really get the point of affordances.

    KN:

    You might be right that Dennett doesn’t really understand the point of affordances.

    I’m not sure what you two think is the point of affordances, but Dennett certainly gets Gibson’s point:

    Let’s return once more to simple organisms. The idea that every organism has its ontology (in the elevator sense) was prefigured in Jakob von Uexküll’s (1934) concept of the organism’s Umwelt, the behavioral environment that consists of all the things that matter to its well-being. A close kin to this idea is the psychologist J. J. Gibson’s (1979) concept of affordances: “What the environment offers the animal for good or ill.” Affordances are the relevant opportunities in the environment of any organism: things to eat or mate with, openings to walk through or look out of, holes to hide in, things to stand on, and so forth. Both von Uexküll and Gibson were silent about the issue of whether consciousness (in some still-to-be-defined sense) was involved in having an Umwelt populated by affordances, but since von Uexküll’s case studies included amoebas, jellyfish, and ticks, it is clear that he, like Gibson, was more interested in characterizing the problems faced and solved by organisms than on how, internally, these solutions were carried out. The sun is in the ontology of a honey bee; its nervous system is designed to exploit the position of the sun in its activities. Amoebas and sunflowers also include the sun in their Umwelten; lacking nervous systems, they use alternative machinery to respond appropriately to its position. So the engineer’s concept of elevator ontology is just what we need at the outset. We can leave until later the questions of whether, when, and why the ontology of an organism, or a lineage of organisms, becomes manifest in consciousness of some sort and not just implicit in the designed responses of its inner machinery. In other words, organisms can be the beneficiaries of design features that imply ontologies without themselves representing those ontologies (consciously, semiconsciously, or unconsciously) in any stronger sense.

  17. Neil,

    Computationalism is based on computation. So it must presuppose data (to be used in the computation).

    I cannot find any basis for that presupposition.

    Yes, there are lots of natural signals, and computationalists assume those are data. But data is very different from natural signals.

    The data are extracted from the natural signals, obviously. Gibson got this, and so does Dennett:

    Gibson says “the information is in the light” and it is by “picking up” the information that animals perceive the world. Consider the reflected sunlight falling on the trunk of a tree, and on the squirrel clinging to the trunk. The same potential information is in the light for both tree and squirrel, but the tree is not equipped (by earlier R&D in its lineage) to make as much from the information in the light as the squirrel does.

  18. keiths: I’m not sure what you two think is the point of affordances, but Dennett certainly gets Gibson’s point

    In order to persuade me that Dennett does get the point of affordances, you quote one of the passages that leads me to suspect that he doesn’t get the point.

    But you always deny that there is any miscommunication between us.

  19. Neil,

    But you always deny that there is any miscommunication between us.

    I deny miscommunication when it’s clear that we aren’t miscommunicating. It remains to be seen whether that is the case here.

    In order to persuade me that Dennett does get the point of affordances, you quote one of the passages that leads me to suspect that he doesn’t get the point.

    So tell us what the point of affordances is, in your opinion.

  20. Neil,

    It’s about perception. It isn’t about ontology.

    It’s about both, of course. In a section called “How do brains pick up affordances?”, Dennett writes:

    A recurring theme so far has been that all organisms, from bacteria to us, are designed to deal with a set of affordances, the “things” that matter (in a broad sense of “thing”), and that this catalogue, an organism’s Umwelt, is populated by two R&D processes: evolution by natural selection and individual learning of one sort or another. Gibson was notoriously silent on how organisms pick up the information needed to notice, identify, and track their affordances, and I have been postponing the question as well, up to now. Here’s what we have figured out about the predicament of the organism: It is floating in an ocean of differences, a scant few of which might make a difference to it. Having been born to a long lineage of successful copers, it comes pre-equipped with gear and biases for filtering out and refining the most valuable differences, separating the semantic information from the noise. In other words, it is prepared to cope in some regards; it has built-in expectations that have served its ancestors well but may need revision at any time. To say it has these expectations is to say that it comes equipped with partially predesigned appropriate responses all ready to fire. It doesn’t have to waste precious time figuring out from first principles what to do about an A or a B or a C. These are familiar, already solved problems of relating input to output, perception to action.

    Like Dennett, Gibson also understands that it’s about both perception and ontology.

    You’re way behind, Neil. You can’t very well disagree with Dennett if you don’t even understand what he’s saying.

  21. keiths: In a section called “How do brains pick up affordances?”, Dennett writes

    That introduced another quote which suggests that Dennett doesn’t get the point of affordances.

  22. “you always deny that there is any miscommunication between us.”

    Ever thought it might save y’all a bit time by finally confronting directly the Extended Mind Thesis, enabling ya to skip some of the ‘externalist’ nonsense parading as ‘knowledge’ (with philosophistic slip showing underneath)? Nah, that’d put too much pressure on the pro-Dennett matter-uber-alles, un-soulish imbeciles for ‘skeptic’ comfort.

    Continue in your collective willful ‘not getting it’ standard. Don’t *EVER* discuss the Extended Mind here.

  23. That introduced another quote which suggests that Dennett doesn’t get the point of affordances.

    Dennett and Gibson get it, Neil. You don’t.

  24. Gregory,

    You’re welcome to present an argument.

    I keep encouraging you to do so. Why won’t you?

  25. Here’s some guidance. Pick a statement of Dennett’s that you disagree with. Quote it here, providing enough context so that people can grasp its intended meaning. Then explain why you disagree with it, offering an analysis of where and why you think it goes wrong. You know — an actual, rational argument.

    Give it a shot.

  26. Gregory: Don’t *EVER* discuss the Extended Mind here.

    Sounds like a good OP to me, then you can see who does not partake. Up for it?

  27. “I keep encouraging you to do so. Why won’t you?”

    1) You do not ‘encourage’ in anything I’ve ever seen you write. Yours is the opposite of ‘encouragement.’ It is anti-religious provocation because that is what flows from what’s left of your heart.

    2) As much as possible, I don’t feed anti-theist voices. They are desperate sometimes and need a mechanical cat to pet, soul-less as they believe everything is.

    If YOU can’t figure out the importance of Extended Mind Thesis, it just shows you’re not paying attention or have no knowledge about it. Out of the loop, full of something else. There’s nothing new about ‘skeptics’ missing out or making self-belittling excuses for it.

    I will not be part of doing any work to make this site attractive when it is spiritually ugly because of the completely unrepentant majority atheists (the few who are not ‘anti-theism’ do not control the discourse space). And with great respect for natural scientists and philosophers who do good science without emptying themselves to atheism, the abysmally weak sociological argument for atheism/agnosticism stands on its own.

  28. Neil Rickert: It’s about perception. It isn’t about ontology.

    I think that this not quite right, or not right in the right way.

    It is true that Gibson stresses that (a) affordances are what an organism directly perceives of its environment and (b) affordances are not objects.

    If by “ontology” one means “what really exists, independent of what is perceived” then it seems quite clear that Gibson isn’t doing ontology. And this is even more clear if one thinks that ontology involves asking “what kinds of objects are there?”

    It’s a problem for Dennett that he describes what an environment affords to an animal in terms of the potential semantic information available from the objects in the environment. He doesn’t connect affordances to possibilities of movement (which is quite central to Gibson) but only to possibilities of detection. The reason why a tree has different affordances to a beaver and to a tree frog is because of their characteristically different ways of interacting with their environments. The beaver and the tree frog do not share a niche, even if they are part of the same ecosystem. I think this is crucial to stress because affordances are elements of niches, not of ecosystems.

    At the same time, I’m actually fine with Dennett using the word “ontology” in a broad sense like “the ontology of the manifest image.” The ontology of the manifest image is how the world shows up relative to the conceptual framework of ordinary life. For Sellars and Dennett, the ontology of the manifest image would be found in works like Strawson’s descriptive metaphysics in Individuals or Ryle’s The Concept of Mind: a high-level description of the most generic features of our conceptual framework. (Personally I find Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty far more compelling, but that’s just me.)

    One of the nice insights that Dennett has in FBBB is that we can connect what Sellars says about the manifest image — “the descriptive metaphysics of everyday life”, as he calls it — to what Uexküll called the Umwelt. I think that Dennett’s definitely on the right track that explaining the manifest image in terms of the scientific image has got to be done in evolutionary terms, from the manifest image (if there is one) of bacteria to the manifest images of primates, of hominids, and of humans. And there does seem to be something right about relating the manifest image back to affordances. But I’m not convinced that Dennett has done the hard work necessary to relate Sellars and Gibson. (That’s actually very good for me — it means that there’s more work for me to do!)

  29. walto:
    CharlieM,

    I see you have ignored my suggestion completely, Charles.Again, you will never convert anybody to Steinerism who has ever read much philosophy.Best to enjoy him in your own study and forget about trying to proselytize.It’s just cultism by bad philosophy.I suppose you could work on those as credulous as you are, but it’s kind of like Sal’s classes for toddlers.Kind of distasteful work.

    I’m not arguing for Steiner, I am arguing against Dennett’s materialistic, Darwinian fiction.

  30. OMagain: Sounds like a good OP to me, then you can see who does not partake. Up for it?

    I don’t know. Gregory on “Extended Mind” seems like a contradictio in adjecto to me.

  31. CharlieM: I’m not arguing for Steiner, I am arguing against Dennett’s materialistic, Darwinian fiction.

    Right, but you base your objections to materialism and Darwinianism on…..uh….Steiner.

  32. walto: Right, but you base your objections to materialism and Darwinianism on…..uh….Steiner.

    You misunderstand: Charlie isn’t arguing for Steiner; he’s assuming Steiner in order to argue against Dennett.

  33. Kantian Naturalist: I think that this not quite right, or not right in the right way.

    I was mostly reacting to the quote that keiths gave. In that quote, Dennett says that the sun is in the bee’s ontology. To me, that seems like a wild jump to conclusions.

    Yes, we know that the bee uses sunlight to navigate. My take would be that the bee is directly perceiving directional information. Whether it is actually perceiving the sun, is something we would have to ask the bee (and bees aren’t talking).

    It looks to me as if Dennett is seeing the sun as an affordance for the bee, while I am seeing directional information as an affordance.

    If Dennett wants to say that the sun is in the bee’s Umwelt, I’m okay with that. But Umwelt is not the same as the set of affordances. Umwelt is the organism’s important environment, as seen by us (since Umwelt is our word).

  34. Neil Rickert,

    I agree that it’s more precise to say that directional information is an affordance for the bee, rather than sun, since that is what the bee is directly perceiving.

    On that basis, however, I’m not comfortable with saying that the sun is in the bee’s Umwelt. I take an Umwelt to be a niche, and a niche as a set of affordances. The fact that “Umwelt” is our word doesn’t make a difference here — after all, “affordance” is one of our words, too!

  35. Gregory,

    Suit yourself.

    You’ll fail either way. I just think you’d feel better about yourself if you tried to defend your views rather than running away.

    FMM is a disaster at rational argumentation, but at least he tries.

  36. KN,

    It’s a problem for Dennett that he describes what an environment affords to an animal in terms of the potential semantic information available from the objects in the environment. He doesn’t connect affordances to possibilities of movement (which is quite central to Gibson) but only to possibilities of detection.

    Are we reading the same book? Here’s Dennett:

    Affordances are the relevant opportunities in the environment of any organism: things to eat or mate with, openings to walk through or look out of, holes to hide in, things to stand on, and so forth.

    I don’t understand how you and Neil manage to miss things that Dennett states so clearly.

  37. Neil,

    I was mostly reacting to the quote that keiths gave. In that quote, Dennett says that the sun is in the bee’s ontology. To me, that seems like a wild jump to conclusions.

    Dennett is clear about what he means by that:

    The sun is in the ontology of a honey bee; its nervous system is designed to exploit the position of the sun in its activities. Amoebas and sunflowers also include the sun in their Umwelten; lacking nervous systems, they use alternative machinery to respond appropriately to its position.

    You’re really reaching if you disagree with that.

  38. Here is a Youtube video of a lecture by Danial Dennett.
    He gives us a demonstration of his logic at around the 23 minute mark:

    Termites are not intelligent designers, beavers are not very intelligent designers, we are the first intelligent designers in the tree of life.

    Are beavers intelligent designers or are they not? How about weaver birds, are they intelligent designers? He doesn’t seem to know the difference between “not very” and “not”!

    He tells us that there is a lot of meanings and signalling going on without comprehension and there doesn’t have to be comprehension, it just has to work. So why do we have comprehension? Could we not function just as well without comprehension?

    We are apes with infected brains. Memes are changing the functional architecture of our brains.

    Non material entities changing material substance. Who would have thought it?

    As he says:

    Being alive is not a requirement for evolution by natural selection. Being a material thing is not required for natural selection.

    He goes on to say:

    What we should realise is that the original memes down in the bottom layer when human cultural evolution was very Darwinian, they were pretty much exactly what Dawkins said they were and they’ve since become more and more intelligently designed, more and more domesticated to where we now have memes, we’ll still call them that even though they are not products of Darwinian natural selection they are products of intelligent design.

    How does he know all this? Where are his examples of these original memes down at the bottom of cultural evolution?

    And he continues:

    Human fitness is not the end and be all that it is, that the species fitness is in other species. How many of you think that having the most grandchildren is the most important thing in life? I don’t see many hands. In other words unlike any other species on the planet, you have things that you think are more important.That’s because your head is full of memes. If it weren’t you’d be like every other living thing on the planet and all of your energies would be for having more offspring.

    Is it true that every other creature expends all its energy having offspring?

    Dennett makes many assumptions here.

  39. Kantian Naturalist: Ha! I was actually thinking of Jaynes earlier in connection with Charlies’s assumptions!

    I don’t think that Charlie has read Jaynes, but it does make me wonder if Jaynes was influenced at all by Barfield.

    You’d be right as far as I can remember.

  40. “Where are his examples of these original memes down at the bottom of cultural evolution?” – CharlieM

    Somebody send the stuck-backwards Dennett-worshippers a text telling them the ideology of ‘memetics’ (“look for ‘memes’ everywhere, you will find them!”) died along with the Journal of Memetics in 2005. Dennett is still using memetics!! Again, what a maroon. 🙁

    Why does Dennett still push ‘memetics,’ keiths and KN? They WILL NOT answer. They cannot. It would ultimately (require them to) destroy their idol worship of Dennett. To admit that minds, selves, souls ‘extend’ into the world, from inside to outside would put the ‘personhood’ back into life.

    And if it’s one thing his philosophistry *doesn’t* want, in it’s ‘western, analytic, naturalistic’ current variety, it’s to talk about persons, characters and agents, including their (willful) decision-making, choices and directions of action. More than just Umwelt. That just wouldn’t do for them to honestly, openly, sincerely address; it would stand their hairs on their ends, as much as (the ‘evolutionary universal’ known today as) ‘religion’ already doesn’t (because they’re the ‘happily disenchanted’?).

    KN gave 1 sentence & a throwaway Andy Clark reference on the EMT (Supersizing is mediocre). Why not more? What is not written, instead of what is written in this case trumps KN’s throwaway play.

    Do you know why Clark’s co-author Chalmers scares the Dennett-deluded and cult worshippers so much? It would destroy KN’s worship of Dennett, Sellars, Brandom, et al. and likely call into question all the whack-a-mole atheists and the scientism he prefers in his reading list. In the renewed post-Cartesian landscape, human beings don’t have to believe only in ‘material extension’ anymore, and ‘memetics’ gives us nothing further that shows cultural depth and personal or social importance.

    That scares the Dennett worshippers here at TSZ. They are a dying last bastion of the “Are you THAT stupid and callous that you excuse Dennett’s continued usage of ‘memetics’ when most people have outgrown that Dawkins’ cultural theory fart just because you want so desperately to continue to be an ideological materialist?” ignorance that is being peddled in some distant pockets of the USA nowadays. That is where the foolish Dennettians in this thread are from and live, after all.

    Again, there’s heart around the corner of the mind, waiting for recognition…

  41. CharlieM:

    Are beavers intelligent designers or are they not? How about weaver birds, are they intelligent designers? He doesn’t seem to know the difference between “not very” and “not”!

    It’s almost as if intelligence comes in degrees, isn’t it?

    He tells us that there is a lot of meanings and signalling going on without comprehension and there doesn’t have to be comprehension, it just has to work. So why do we have comprehension? Could we not function just as well without comprehension?

    There are two different questions here: what drove the evolution of comprehension, and is human life possible without comprehension? I take it that the second question has an obvious response — no, we couldn’t function without comprehension. Without comprehension there is no human form of life.

    What drove the evolution of comprehension is interesting. I haven’t gotten to Dennett’s answer yet. My own conjecture is that comprehension is a result of the need for social cooperation.

    Non material entities changing material substance. Who would have thought it?

    Dennett quotes approvingly from Norbert Weiner, “information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism that does not admit this can survive at the present day.”

    How does he know all this? Where are his examples of these original memes down at the bottom of cultural evolution?

    Are you asking for examples of the very first words ever uttered or gestured by a prehistoric hominid?

    Is it true that every other creature expends all its energy having offspring?

    No, and that’s not what he said, either. Dennett said that successful reproduction is the final goal or purpose of every organism — the ultimate for-the-sake-of-which. It doesn’t have to expend all its energy doing that one thing in order for that action to the final goal of the organism’s life-history.

    Dennett makes many assumptions here.

    It probably seems that way to you because you don’t know much biology.

  42. Dennett:

    We are apes with infected brains. Memes are changing the functional architecture of our brains.

    CharlieM:

    Non material entities changing material substance. Who would have thought it?

    KN:

    Dennett quotes approvingly from Norbert Weiner, “information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism that does not admit this can survive at the present day.”

    It’s worth emphasizing that a materialism that does admit that remains a materialism, as long as it holds that information is always physically instantiated. I await examples of information that is not physically instantiated, from Charlie or anyone else.

  43. keiths,

    Neil wrote:Dennett says that the sun is in the bee’s ontology. To me, that seems like a wild jump to conclusions.

    Keith replied: Dennett is clear about what he means by that:

    The sun is in the ontology of a honey bee; its nervous system is designed to exploit the position of the sun in its activities. Amoebas and sunflowers also include the sun in their Umwelten; lacking nervous systems, they use alternative machinery to respond appropriately to its position.

    You’re really reaching if you disagree with that.

    That is an interesting word, “Unwelt”.

    I found a reference to it here

    The small subset of the world that an animal is able to detect is its umwelt. The bigger reality, whatever that might mean, is called the umgebung.

    The interesting part is that each organism presumably assumes its umwelt to be the entire objective reality “out there.” Why would any of us stop to think that there is more beyond what we can sense?

    Well my answer to that question would be that animals in general do not stop to think that there is anything beyond their senses, but humans do, and that is a major difference between us and them. And plants do not even reach that level of awareness.

    From the book Essential Readings in Biosemiotics: Anthology and Commentary by Donald Favareau.

    Given the absence of a functional cycle, plants cannot have an Unwelt. As Jacob von Uexkull points out: “The plant does not possess Unwelt-organs, it is directly immersed into its habitat. The relationship of the plant to its habitat are quite different from those of the animal to its Umwelt.” While humans and animals each have their own Umwelt, plants are confined to their casing.

    The book explains that plants have a feedback cycle but what is meant by “functional cycle” requires a nervous system with receptors and effectors.

    All of this fits in nicely with my understanding of the living world and the differences between the kingdoms.

    Plants exhaust their energies on living and growing. I would say they possess a life principle. Animals go a stage further and have internal sensations. On top of the life principle they have a sentient principle, they possess Unwelt-organs. We humans have all of these things and over and above this we possess a self conscious ego principle, we have Umwelt-organs and also an ego. And because we have this ego it gives us the objectivity to understand that there is an Umgebung, a higher reality to which our senses do not give us access.

    My argument is that the likes of Dennett understands life as having originated from his Umwelt which is a product of his Umwelt-organs, whereas I see life as having originated from the Umgebung.

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