|Daniel Clement Dennett|
|Full name||Daniel Clement Dennett|
|Born||March 28, 1942
|Era||20th / 21st-century philosophy|
|Main interests||Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of biology
Philosophy of science
Multiple Drafts Model
Daniel Clement Dennett (born March 28, 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts) is an American philosopher whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and a University Professor at Tufts University. Dennett is a noted atheist and secularist as well as being a prominent advocate of the Brights movement.
Dennett spent part of his childhood in Lebanon, where, during World War II, his father was a covert counter-intelligence agent with the Office of Strategic Services posing as a cultural attaché to the American Embassy in Beirut. The young Dennett and family returned to Massachusetts in 1947 after his father died in an unexplained plane crash. His sister is the investigative journalist Charlotte Dennett.
He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and spent one year at Wesleyan University before receiving his B.A. in philosophy from Harvard University in 1963, where he was a student of W.V. Quine. In 1965, he received his D.Phil in philosophy from Hertford College, Oxford, where he studied under the ordinary language philosopher Gilbert Ryle.
Dennett is currently (April 2009) the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, University Professor, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies (with Ray Jackendoff) at Tufts University.
Dennett describes himself as "an autodidact — or, more properly, the beneficiary of hundreds of hours of informal tutorials on all the fields that interest me, from some of the world's leading scientists."
Dennett gave the John Locke lectures at the University of Oxford in 1983, the Gavin David Young Lectures at Adelaide, Australia, in 1985, and the Tanner Lecture at Michigan in 1986, among many others. In 2001 he was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize and gave the Jean Nicod Lectures in Paris. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987. He was the co-founder (1985) and co-director of the Curricular Software Studio at Tufts University, and has helped to design museum exhibits on computers for the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Science in Boston, and the Computer Museum in Boston. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. The American Humanist Association named him the 2004 Humanist of the Year.
While he is a confirmed compatibilist on free will, in "On Giving Libertarians What They Say They Want" - Chapter 15 of his 1978 book Brainstorms, Dennett articulated the case for a two-stage model of decision making in contrast to libertarian views.
The model of decision making I am proposing has the following feature: when we are faced with an important decision, a consideration-generator whose output is to some degree undetermined produces a series of considerations, some of which may of course be immediately rejected as irrelevant by the agent (consciously or unconsciously). Those considerations that are selected by the agent as having a more than negligible bearing on the decision then figure in a reasoning process, and if the agent is in the main reasonable, those considerations ultimately serve as predictors and explicators of the agent's final decision.
- First...The intelligent selection, rejection, and weighing of the considerations that do occur to the subject is a matter of intelligence making the difference.
- Second, I think it installs indeterminism in the right place for the libertarian, if there is a right place at all.
- Third...from the point of view of biological engineering, it is just more efficient and in the end more rational that decision making should occur in this way.
- A fourth observation in favor of the model is that it permits moral education to make a difference, without making all of the difference.
- Fifth — and I think this is perhaps the most important thing to be said in favor of this model — it provides some account of our important intuition that we are the authors of our moral decisions.
- Finally, the model I propose points to the multiplicity of decisions that encircle our moral decisions and suggests that in many cases our ultimate decision as to which way to act is less important phenomenologically as a contributor to our sense of free will than the prior decisions affecting our deliberation process itself: the decision, for instance, not to consider any further, to terminate deliberation; or the decision to ignore certain lines of inquiry.
These prior and subsidiary decisions contribute, I think, to our sense of ourselves as responsible free agents, roughly in the following way: I am faced with an important decision to make, and after a certain amount of deliberation, I say to myself: "That's enough. I've considered this matter enough and now I'm going to act," in the full knowledge that I could have considered further, in the full knowledge that the eventualities may prove that I decided in error, but with the acceptance of responsibility in any case.
Leading libertarian philosophers such as Robert Kane have rejected Dennett's model, specifically that random chance is directly involved in a decision, which eliminates the agent's motives and reasons, character and values, and feelings and desires. They claim that if chance is the primary cause of decisions, then agents cannot be liable for resultant actions.
Dennett and Kane agree that their models do not find the appropriate location in the brain for randomness that will only help and not hurt a model of free will that provides agent control. Kane says:
[As Dennett admits,] a causal indeterminist view of this deliberative kind does not give us everything libertarians have wanted from free will. For [the agent] does not have complete control over what chance images and other thoughts enter his mind or influence his deliberation. They simply come as they please. [The agent] does have some control after the chance considerations have occurred.
But then there is no more chance involved. What happens from then on, how he reacts, is determined by desires and beliefs he already has. So it appears that he does not have control in the libertarian sense of what happens after the chance considerations occur as well. Libertarians require more than this for full responsibility and free will.
Dennett has remarked in several places (such as "Self-portrait", in Brainchildren) that his overall philosophical project has remained largely the same since his time at Oxford. He is primarily concerned with providing a philosophy of mind that is grounded in empirical research. In his original dissertation, Content and Consciousness, he broke up the problem of explaining the mind into the need for a theory of content and for a theory of consciousness. His approach to this project has also stayed true to this distinction. Just as Content and Consciousness has a bipartite structure, he similarly divided Brainstorms into two sections. He would later collect several essays on content in The Intentional Stance and synthesize his views on consciousness into a unified theory in Consciousness Explained. These volumes respectively form the most extensive development of his views.
In Consciousness Explained, Dennett's interest in the ability of evolution to explain some of the content-producing features of consciousness is already apparent, and this has since become an integral part of his program. He defends a theory known by some as Neural Darwinism. He also presents an argument against qualia; he argues that the concept is so confused that it cannot be put to any use or understood in any non-contradictory way, and therefore does not constitute a valid refutation of physicalism. Much of Dennett's work since the 1990s has been concerned with fleshing out his previous ideas by addressing the same topics from an evolutionary standpoint, from what distinguishes human minds from animal minds (Kinds of Minds), to how free will is compatible with a naturalist view of the world (Freedom Evolves). In his 2006 book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Dennett attempts to subject religious belief to the same treatment, explaining possible evolutionary reasons for the phenomenon of religious adherence.
Dennett self-identifies with a few terms:
[Others] note that my 'avoidance of the standard philosophical terminology for discussing such matters' often creates problems for me; philosophers have a hard time figuring out what I am saying and what I am denying. My refusal to play ball with my colleagues is deliberate, of course, since I view the standard philosophical terminology as worse than useless — a major obstacle to progress since it consists of so many errors.
– Daniel Dennett, The Message is: There is no Medium
Yet, in Consciousness Explained, he admits "I am a sort of 'teleofunctionalist', of course, perhaps the original teleofunctionalist'". He goes on to say, "I am ready to come out of the closet as some sort of verificationist". In Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon he admits to being "a bright", and defends the term.
Dennett sees evolution by natural selection as an algorithmic process (though he spells out that algorithms as simple as long division often incorporate a significant degree of randomness). This idea is in conflict with the evolutionary philosophy of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who preferred to stress the "pluralism" of evolution (i.e. its dependence on many crucial factors, of which natural selection is only one).
Dennett's views on evolution are identified as being strongly adaptationist, in line with his theory of the intentional stance, and the evolutionary views of biologist Richard Dawkins. In Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Dennett showed himself even more willing than Dawkins to defend adaptationism in print, devoting an entire chapter to a criticism of the ideas of Gould. This stems from Gould's long-running public debate with E. O. Wilson and other evolutionary biologists over human sociobiology and its descendant evolutionary psychology, which Gould and Richard Lewontin opposed, but which Dennett advocated, together with Dawkins and Steven Pinker. Strong disagreements have been launched against Dennett from Gould and his supporters, who allege that Dennett overstated his claims and misrepresented Gould's to reinforce what Gould describes as Dennett's "Darwinian fundamentalism".
Dennett's theories have had a significant influence on the work of evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller. He has also written about and advocated the notion of memetics as a philosophically useful tool, most recently in his "Brains, Computers, and Minds," a three part presentation through Harvard's MBB 2009 Distinguished Lecture Series.
In October 2006, Dennett was hospitalized due to an aortic dissection. After a nine-hour surgery, he was given a new aorta. In an essay posted on the Edge website, Dennett gives his firsthand account of his health problems, his consequent feelings of gratitude towards the scientists and doctors whose hard work made his recovery possible, and his complete lack of a "deathbed conversion". By his account, upon having been told by friends and relatives that they had prayed for him, he resisted the urge to ask them, "Did you also sacrifice a goat?"
Daniel Dennett (born March 28, 1942) is a prominent American philosopher. Dennett's research centers on philosophy of mind and philosophy of science, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is also a prominent atheist.
Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Having. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-54042-8
The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-54053-3
Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-18065-3
* The analogy between the sea squirt and the associate professor was first pointed out, I think, by the neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinas.
I asked the neurosurgeon if he had asked the patient to sing or hum along with the music, since it would be fascinating to learn how "high fidelity" the provoked memory was. Would it be in exactly the same key and tempo as the record? Such a song (unlike "Silent Night") has one canonical version, so we could simply have superimposed a recording of the patient's humming with the standard record and compare the results. Unfortunately, even though a tape recorder had been running during the operation, the surgeon hadn't asked the patient to sing along. "Why not?" I asked, and he replied: "I hate rock music!"
Later in the conversation the neurosurgeon happened to remark that he was going to have to operate again on the same young man, and I expressed the hope that he would just check to see if he could restimulate the rock music, and this time ask the fellow to sing along. "I can't do that," replied the neurosurgeon, "since I cut out that part." "It was part of the epileptic focus?" I asked, and he replied, "No, I already told you - I hate rock music."
*It would be an act of desperate intellectual dishonesty to quote this assertion out of context!
There is no single, definitive "stream of consciousness," because there is no central Headquarters, no Cartesian Theatre where "it all comes together" for the perusal of a Central Meaner. Instead of such a single stream (however wide), there are multiple channels in which specialist circuits try, in parallel pandemoniums, to do their various things, creating Multiple Drafts as they go. Most of these fragmentary drafts of "narrative" play short-lived roles in the modulation of current activity but some get promoted to further functional roles, in swift succession, by the activity of a virtual machine in the brain. The seriality of this machine (its "von Neumannesque" character) is not a "hard-wired" design feature, but rather the upshot of a succession of coalitions of these specialists.
The basic specialists are part of our animal heritage. They were not developed to perform peculiarly human actions, such as reading and writing, but ducking, predator-avoiding, face-recognizing, grasping, throwing, berry-picking, and other essential tasks. They are often opportunistically enlisted in new roles, for which their talents may more or less suit them. The result is not bedlam only because the trends that are imposed on all this activity are themselves part of the design. Some of this design is innate, and is shared with other animals. But it is augmented, and sometimes even overwhelmed in importance, by microhabits of thought that are developed in the individual, partly idiosyncratic results of self-exploration and partly the predesigned gifts of culture. Thousands of memes, mostly borne by language, but also by wordless "images" and other data structures, take up residence in an individual brain, shaping its tendencies and thereby turning it into a mind.
Dennett, D.C. & Kinsbourne, M. (1995). "Time and the observer: The where and when of consciousness in the brain.". Behavioral and Brain Sciences (15 (2)).
Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80290-2
If I were to give a prize for the single best idea anybody ever had, I'd give it to Darwin for the idea of natural selection – ahead of Newton, ahead of Einstein. Because his idea unites the two most disparate features of our universe: The world of purposeless, meaningless matter-in-motion, on the one side, and the world of meaning, and purpose, and design on the other. He understood that what he was proposing was a truly revolutionary idea.
When all goes well, harmony reigns and the various sources of wisdom in the body cooperate for the benefit of the whole, but we are all too familiar with the conflicts that can provoke the curious outburst "My body has a mind of its own!" Sometimes, apparently, it is tempting to lump together some of the embodied information into a separate mind. Why? Because it is organized in such a way that it can sometimes make independent discriminations, consult preferences, make decisions, enact policies that are in competition with your mind. At such time, the Cartesian perspective of a puppeteer self trying desperately to control an unruly body-puppet is very powerful. Your body can vigorously betray the secrets you are desperately trying to keep - by blushing and trembling or sweating, to mention only the most obvious cases. It can "decide" that in spite of your well-laid plans, right now would be a good time for sex, not intellectual discussion, and then take embarrassing steps in preparation for a coup d'etat. On another occasion, to your even greater chagrin and frustration, it can turn a deaf ear on your own efforts to enlist it for a sexual campaign, forcing you to raise the volume, twirl the dials, try all manner of preposterous cajolings to persuade it.
The MIT Press. ISBN 0262540908
Paper delivered at the 1998 World Congress of Philosophy (13 August 1998)
Breaking the Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon
We all know how hard it is to make the major decisions of life: should I hang tough or admit my transgression, should I move or stay in my present position, should I go to war or not, should I follow my heart or my head? We still haven't figured out any satisfactory systematic way of deciding these things. Anything that can relieve the burden of figuring out how to make these hard calls is bound to be an attractive idea.
Consider flipping a coin, for instance. Why do we do it? To take away the burden of having to find a reason for choosing A over B. We like to have reasons for what we do, but sometimes nothing sufficiently persuasive comes to mind, and we recognize that we have to decide soon, so we concoct a little gadget, an external thing that will make the decision for us. But if the decision is about something momentous, like whether to go to war, or marry, or confess, anything like flipping a coin would be just too, well, flippant.
In such a case, choosing for no good reason would be too obviously a sign of incompetence, and, besides, if the decision is really that important, once the coin has landed you'll have to confront the further choice: should you honor your just-avowed commitment to be bound by the flip of the coin, or should you reconsider? Faced with such quandaries, we recognize the need for some treatment stronger than a coin flip. Something more ceremonial, more impressive, like divination, which not only tells you what to do, but gives you a reason (if you squint just right and use your imagination).
Scholars have uncovered a comically variegated profusion of ancient ways of delegating important decisions to uncontrollable externalities. Instead of flipping a coin, you can flip arrows (belomancy) or rods (rhabdomancy) or bones or cards (sortilege), and instead of looking at tea leaves (tasseography), you can examine the livers of sacrificed animals (hepatoscopy) or other entrails (haruspicy) or melted wax poured into water (ceroscopy). Then there is moleosophy (divination by blemishes), myomancy (divination by rodent behavior), nephomancy (divination by clouds), and of course the old favorites, numerology and astrology, among dozens of others.
The fact that so many people love their religions as much as, or more than, anything else in their lives is a weighty fact indeed. I am inclined to think that nothing could matter more than what people love. At any rate, I can think of no value that I would place higher. I would not want to live in a world without love. Would a world with peace, but without love, be a better world? Not if the peace was achieved by drugging the love (and hate) out of us, or by suppression. Would a world with justice and freedom, but without love, be a better world? Not if it was achieved by somehow turning us all into loveless law-abiders with none of the yearnings or envies or hatreds that are wellsprings of injustice and subjugation.
It is hard to consider such hypotheticals, and I doubt if we should trust our first intuitions about them, but, for what it is worth, I surmise that we almost all want a world in which love, justice, freedom, and peace are all present, as much as possible, but if we had to give up one of these, it wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- be love. But, sad to say, even if it is true that nothing could matter more than love, it wouldn't follow from this that we don't have reason to question the things the we, and others, love. Love is blind, as they say, and because love is blind, it often leads to tragedy: to conflicts in which one love is pitted against another love, and something has to give, with suffering guaranteed in any resolution.
What is particularly cute about this trick is that it is a perfect "wild card," so lacking in content that any sect or creed or conspiracy can use it effectively. Communist cells can be warned that any criticism they encounter is almost sure to be the work of FBI infiltrators in disguise, and radical feminist discussion groups can squelch any unanswerable criticism by declaring it to be phallocentric propaganda being unwittingly spread by a brainwashed dupe of the evil patriarchy, and so forth. This all-purpose loyalty-enforcer is paranoia in a pill, sure to keep the critics muted if not silent.
If anybody ever raises questions of objections about our religion that you cannot answer, that person is almost certainly Satan. In fact, the more reasonable the person is, the more eager to engage you in open-minded and congenial discussion, the more sure you can be that you're talking to Satan in disguise! Turn away! Do not listen! It's a trap!
Did anyone invent this brilliant adaptation, or is it a wild meme that domesticated itself by attaching itself to whatever memes were competing for hosts in its neighborhood? Nobody knows, but now it is available for anybody to use -- although, if this book has any success, its virulence should diminish as people begin to recognize it for what it is.
We have all seen this happen many times, and may even have caught ourselves in the act of forgetting just why we wanted to be leaders in the first place.
--through truly tolerant Eisenhowerian "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply religious belief -- and I don't care what it is" --
1. As a matter of political strategy, the time is not ripe for candid declarations of religious superiority, so we should temporize and let sleeping dogs lie in hopes that those of other faiths can gently be brought around over the centuries.
--to the even milder Moynihanian benign neglect--
2. It really doesn't matter which religion you swear allegiance to, as long as you have some religion.
It it no use asking people which they choose, since both extremes are so undiplomatic we can predict in advance that most people will go for some version of ecumenical tolerance whether they believe it or not. ...
3. Religion is just too dear to too many to think of discarding, even though it really doesn't do any good and is simply an empty historical legacy we can afford to maintain until it quietly extinguishes itself sometime in the distant and unforeseeable future.
We've got ourselves caught in a hypocrisy trap, and there is no clear path out. Are we like families in which the adults go through all the motions of believing in Santa Claus for the sake of the kids, and the kids all pretend still to believe in Santa Claus so as not to spoil the adults' fun? If only our current predicament were as innocuous and even comical as that! In the adult world of religion, people are dying and killing, with the moderates cowed into silence by the intransigence of the radicals in their own faiths, and many afraid to acknowledge what they actually believe for fear of breaking Granny's heart, or offending their neighbors to the point of getting run out of town, or worse.
If this is the precious meaning our lives are vouchsafed thanks to our allegiance to one religion or another, it is not such a bargain, in my opinion. Is this the best we can do? Is it not tragic that so many people around the world find themselves enlisted against their will in a conspiracy of silence, either because they secretly believe that most of the world's population is wasting their lives in delusion (but they are too tenderhearted -- or devious -- to say so), or because they secretly believe that their own tradition is just such a delusion (but they fear for their own safety if they admit it)?
Today we have a similar phenomenon brewing on the religious right: the inevitability of the End Days, or the Rapture, the coming Armageddon that will separate the blessed from the damnned in the final day of Judgment. Cults and prophets proclaiming the imminent end of the world have been with us for several millennia, and it has been another sour sort of fun to ridicule them the morning after, when they discover that their calculations were a little off. But, just as with the Marxists, there are some among them who are working hard to "hasten the inevitable," not merely anticipating the End Days with joy in their hearts, but taking political action to bring about the conditions they think are the prerequisites for that occasion. And these people are not funny at all. They are dangerous, for the same reason that red-diaper babies are dangerous: they put their allegiance to their creed ahead of their commitment to democracy, to peace, to (earthly) justice -- and to truth. If push comes to shove, some of the are prepared to lie and even to kill...
We applaud the wisdom of this course in all other important areas of decision-making (don't try to be your own doctor, the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, and so forth). Even in the case of political decisions, like which way to vote, the policy of delegation can be defended. ... Is the a dereliction of [one's] dut[y] as a citizen? I don't think so, but it does depend on my having good grounds for trusting [the delegate's] judgment. ... That why those who have an unquestioning faith in the correctness of the moral teachings of their religion are a problem: if they themselves haven't conscientiously considered, on their own, whether their pastors or priests or rabbis or imams are worthy of this delegated authority over their own lives, then they are in fact taking a personally immoral stand.
This is perhaps the most shocking implication of my inquiry, and I do not shrink from it, even though it may offend many who think of themselves as deeply moral. It is commonly supposed that it is entirely exemplary to adopt the moral teachings of one's own religion without question, because -- to put it simply -- it is the word of God (as interpreted, always, by the specialists to whom one has delegated authority). I am urging, on the contrary, that anybody who professes that a particular point of moral conviction is not discussable, not debatable, not negotiable, simply because it is the word of God, or because the Bible says so, or because "that is what all Muslims [Hindus, Sikhs ...] [sic] believe, and I am a Muslim [Hindu, Sikh ...]" [sic], should be seen to be making it impossible for the rest of us to take their views seriously, excusing themselves from the moral conversation, inadvertently acknowledging that their own views are not conscientiously maintained and deserve no further hearing.
(written from his hospital bed after surviving an aortic dissection)
In other words, whereas religions may serve a benign purpose by letting many people feel comfortable with the level of morality they themselves can attain, no religion holds its members to the high standards of moral responsibility that the secular world of science and medicine does! And I'm not just talking about the standards 'at the top' — among the surgeons and doctors who make life or death decisions every day. I'm talking about the standards of conscientiousness endorsed by the lab technicians and meal preparers, too. This tradition puts its faith in the unlimited application of reason and empirical inquiry, checking and re-checking, and getting in the habit of asking "What if I'm wrong?" Appeals to faith or membership are never tolerated. Imagine the reception a scientist would get if he tried to suggest that others couldn't replicate his results because they just didn't share the faith of the people in his lab! And, to return to my main point, it is the goodness of this tradition of reason and open inquiry that I thank for my being alive today.