At the bookstore today I spent some time looking at Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking, Daniel Dennett's new book. I highly recommend his Darwin's Dangerous Idea, discussed earlier here. I'm not a big fan of Dennett's work on free will and determinism (for my views, see this old post and also here), but we seem to share the same opinion of John Searle's Chinese Room.
For more Dennett, see this Stanford Humanities Center lecture (iTunes video).
NYTimes: ... The new book, largely adapted from previous writings, is also a lively primer on the radical answers Mr. Dennett has elaborated to the big questions in his nearly five decades in philosophy, delivered to a popular audience in books like “Consciousness Explained” (1991), “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” (1995) and “Freedom Evolves.”
The mind? A collection of computerlike information processes, which happen to take place in carbon-based rather than silicon-based hardware.
The self? Simply a “center of narrative gravity,” a convenient fiction that allows us to integrate various neuronal data streams.
The elusive subjective conscious experience — the redness of red, the painfulness of pain — that philosophers call qualia? Sheer illusion.
Human beings, Mr. Dennett said, quoting a favorite pop philosopher, Dilbert, are “moist robots.”
“I’m a robot, and you’re a robot, but that doesn’t make us any less dignified or wonderful or lovable or responsible for our actions,” he said. “Why does our dignity depend on our being scientifically inexplicable?”
If he hadn’t grown up in an academic family, Mr. Dennett likes to say, he probably would’ve been an engineer. From his beginnings in the philosophical hothouses of early 1960s Harvard and Oxford, he had a feeling of being out of step joined by a precocious self-confidence.
As an undergraduate, he transferred from Wesleyan University to Harvard so he could study with the great logician W. V. O. Quine and explain to him why he was wrong. “Sheer sophomoric overconfidence,” Mr. Dennett recalled.
As a doctoral student at Oxford, then the center of the philosophical universe, he studied with the eminent natural-language philosopher Gilbert Ryle but increasingly found himself drawn to a more scientific view of the mind.
“I vividly recall sitting with my landlord’s son, a medical student, and asking him, ‘What is the brain made of?’ ” Mr. Dennett said. “He drew me a simple picture of a neuron, and pretty soon I was off to the races.”
In 1969, Mr. Dennett began keeping his “Philosophical Lexicon,” a dictionary of cheeky pseudo-terms playing on the names of mostly 20th-century philosophers, including himself. (“dennett: an artificial enzyme used to curdle the milk of human intentionality.”) Today, his impatience with the imaginary games philosophers play — “chmess” instead of chess, he calls it — and his preference for the company of scientists lead some to question if he’s still a philosopher at all.
“I’m still proud to call myself a philosopher, but I’m not their kind of philosopher, that’s for sure,” he said. The new book reflects Mr. Dennett’s unflagging love of the fight, including some harsh whacks at longtime nemeses like the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould — accused of practicing a genus of dirty intellectual tricks Mr. Dennett calls “goulding” — that some early reviewers have already called out as unsporting. (Mr. Gould died in 2002.)
Mr. Dennett also devotes a long section to a rebuttal of the famous Chinese Room thought experiment, developed by 30 years ago by the philosopher John Searle, another old antagonist, as a riposte to Mr. Dennett’s claim that computers could fully mimic consciousness.
Clinging to the idea that the mind is more than just the brain, Mr. Dennett said, is “profoundly naïve and anti-scientific.”