Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Is the Brain No Different From a Light Switch? The Uncomfortable Ideas of the Philosopher Daniel Dennett
Jonathan Weiner in The Daily Beast:
For Daniel Dennett, philosophers are like blacksmiths: they make their own tools as they go along. Unlike carpenters, who have to buy their drills and saws at Sears, blacksmiths can use their own hammers, tongs, and anvils to pound out more hammers, tongs, and anvils. Dennett, whose famous white beard gives him the look of both a blacksmith and a philosopher, has been particularly industrious at the anvil. He has been working as a philosopher for 50 years, and in his new book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, he shares a few tricks to make the hard work easier. He is a master at inventing tools for thought—metaphysical jokes, fables, parables, puzzles, and zany Monty-Python-like sketches that can help thinkers feel their way forward. Dennett calls them hand tools and power tools for the mind, and he’s built dozens and dozens of them over the years.
“Thinking is hard,” he writes. “Thinking about some problems is so hard that it can make your head ache just thinking about thinking about them.” Thinking tools help philosophers work on the really deep, hard questions about life, the universe, and everything. They facilitate what another philosopher has called Jootsing, which stands for Jumping Out Of the System—the goal is to pop out of the goldfish bowl of commonplace ideas without drowning in thin air. Think of Plato’s Cave, for instance. That little story has helped philosophers puzzle about the nature of reality for more than 23 centuries and counting.
Dennett’s own inventions include “Swampman Meets a Cow-Shark,” “Zombies and Zimboes,” and many other thought experiments that illuminate great questions in philosophy. He focuses on problems of free will, evolution, and consciousness. His ideas about consciousness are rather shocking; he can make you feel that the human brain itself is just a collection of tongs, hammers, and intuition pumps. (More about that in a moment.) Dennett has written more than a dozen books about those deep topics.
Posted by S. Abbas Raza at 11:18 AM | Permalink