This is point of inquiry from Monday, June 10th, 2013, and this week’s show, Indri talks to American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett about his latest book, Intuition, Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.
Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Indre Viskontas point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast or the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots, having spent 50 years as an influential thinker, Dan Dennett has earned the right to tell us how to think. His latest book is a collection of 77 Tools for Thinking, which every self respect and critical thinker should consider, if not actively use intuition. Pumps are thought experiments designed to coax us to examine our intuitive answers to a particular problem. It’s a term that Dennett coined and first use pejoratively, as sometimes these intuitive answers lead us down the wrong path. But in his new book, he demonstrates their usefulness and shines a light into the murky world of our minds, noted American philosopher and author Daniel C.. Dennett is perhaps best known in cognitive science for his multiple drafts or fame and the brain model of human consciousness. And he is among the most influential philosophers of our day. He is the Austin B. Fletcher, professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is the author of 16 books, including Elbow Room The Intentional Stance Consciousness explained Darwin’s dangerous idea and most recently, intuition, pumps and other tools for thinking. Professor Dennett has also published more than 300 scholarly articles and was awarded the Erasmus prize for his contributions to society. In 2012. Welcome to Point of Inquiry, Dan Dennett.
Hi, it’s good to be with you.
It’s great to have you back on our show. It’s been about two years since we’ve last heard from you. And in the meantime, you’ve written another book. This one, though, compared to other books, seems to be the most autobiographical. Is that fair to say?
I suppose in a way, it’s reached the point in my career where I thought, well, I’ve got a lot of tricks and tools that I’ve developed over the years, and it would be sort of fun at this point to to share them with my readers and try to construct some some new readers and how I go about my work. And this is the result.
So I’ve I’ve read a little a few criticisms online of that particular idea in that, you know, some of your philosophical colleagues argue that, in fact, they are just tricks, though I think they’re quite insightful.
So I was wondering if you would respond to that particular criticism.
Oh, I haven’t seen that. You’ll have to direct me to those Web sites afterwards so I can check them out.
Are they tricks? No, they’re they’re tools and they are designed to shake you up. Now now philosophers have to realize that.
In the world of philosophy, nobody ever makes progress by simply laying out in excruciating detail a formal, rigorous argument with lots of quantifiers. Nobody will read that. Nobody pay attention to it. And besides, the things that are hanging people up are usually the sort of emotional allegiances and failures of imagination. And if you really want to get.
Underneath the skin of these problems, you have to you have to resort to rhetorical tricks, but also to imagination amplifiers, mnemonic AIDS focus holders. It’s a I have always viewed the field as one which requires you to approach every issue strategically and ask the question. Why don’t people get this? What are we? What are we missing? And it’s not that people are dumb. Of course, it’s rather that people are making assumptions which seem, on the face of it, quite innocent. And the more you probe, you find they’re not. So a lot of a lot of the tools in the book are designed to expose dubious ideas, which at first blush seem just, you know, unimpeachable.
So how are these intuition, POM’s different from cognitive biases that have been talked about in the psychological literature?
Well, I suppose some of them might might count as that, but they’re all in in a way, rather specialized early. Many of them in the book are particular problems that arise in particular areas of philosophy or cognitive science or evolutionary theory. Just a mindset. And I wouldn’t call it a cognitive bias because it isn’t very general. And if you’re not up on the topic, then you wouldn’t really have the mindset. These are the what you might call them, the the the professional foibles of the field. And they they require special treatment. What a intuition pump is, is a thought experiment. But it’s not usually a formal argument. It’s more a little story, a little vignette which is designed to enliven a possibility that you hadn’t thought about before.
So can we talk a little bit about maybe a few of the intuition pumps that you think would be most useful for a general audience to know about?
Yeah. Do you have a favorite you’d like? Well, we would discuss.
Well, because we have a primarily rational and skeptical audience. I do want to get into some of the tools for skeptics that you describe. So Rapports Rules and Sturgeon’s Law. But I thought first we could start out with some of the ways in which you talk about thinking about the theory of mind, which I know is a term you don’t like. And instead, you talk about intentional stance.
Yeah, well, everybody every normal human being. Even even young children are very good at interpreting other human beings. And for that matter, animals. In terms of what the. Are seeing what they want, what they think. And we do this all very unselfconsciously and it gives us a wealth of really quite accurate anticipations of what our fellow agents are doing in the world. And I call this the intentional stance. I don’t call it theory of mind, because that makes it sound as if you’ve got a theory with with a theorems and and LeMans and you’re generating all of these predictions like a scientist deducing them from a theory. And I think that is deeply misleading. It’s very intellectualized. I think we’ve got a knack for this, a talent for it. It’s something we’re very good at. It’s a habit we have. But to call it a theory tends to lead people in the wrong in the wrong directions.
So sometimes, though, when you see children trying to do as they’re developing what people call theory of mind, they do seem to go through a process of discovery and elimination of things that are untrue. Do you see that as something that’s happening more innate and less sort of deliberate?
Well, I think it certainly isn’t deliberate, it’s seldom deliberate, and children just think of the SALLYANNE tests, which is the the the the tests that actually grew out of a proposal of mine and is now spawned, I guess, thousands of experiments. And this is where children are shown a puppet. There’s two puppet Sally in an and and Sally. In one instance, would maybe put some candies in a basket and then leave the room and then and moves the candies out of that basket into the box. And then Sally comes back in the room and the question is, where will Sally look for the candies in the basket where she put them or in the box where were and put them in after she left the room. Well, if the thing is done right. Children show that really very early on. They are alert to the fact that Sally has a false belief that she expects the candies to be where she left them and they’re not. That’s that’s a classic test. And the problem with many of the experiments was that test does it instead of giving the child a sort of natural behavior to elicit what they thought, they asked them point blank, where do you think she’s going to look? And young children are sort of baffled by this. And I often give the wrong answer. But if you just change the test a little bit, they give the right answer. Even at a much earlier age, there’s been a lot of back and forth in the literature over the years on this. I’ve held out for using surprise, which is readily distinguishable response in the children to show that they expected something else even when they can’t articulate it. So if you if Sally goes directly to the box, which you should be going to the basket and the children are not the least bit surprised by this, that’s one thing.
If they sort of do a double take that that shows that they were onto what was going on.
Hmm. So it’s even preverbal then that you think that this kind of intentional stance develops?
Well, preverbal is very young. Some people have argued that there are signs of that and there may. Well, because I think there is a I think there is an innate bias. I think it’s in fact, it’s much wider than just human beings. It’s at least a mammalian bias when something interesting or puzzling, particularly something puzzling or a little bit trifle happens. The first instinct of any mammals. Who’s there? Everyone is always looking for an agent. And there’s a good reason for that because maybe there’s an agent there. Maybe it wants you to eat or to mate with. In any case, you always want to know when there’s another agent present and that they think is a is an instinctual curiosity on the part of of all young mammals. So it’s not surprising that human beings have it.
So that brings me to my next big topic, which is this sense of agency and the these sort of dual topics of consciousness and free will. So one of my my perhaps for me anyway, the most compelling view of consciousnesses is yours. And so I was hoping that maybe you could take a couple of minutes and enlighten our listeners with a pretty simplified view of how your view of consciousness differs from the sort of dual idea that the mind and brain are not ours are two separate things or other ideas of consciousness.
Well, sure, doing it in a few minutes is a tall order. But let’s let’s get something out. Everybody should know that when light photons arrive at your eyes, they strike the rods and cones in the retina. And that gets turned into a signal in the nerves. These are nerves, spike trains and nerves and neurons. And that that change, that transformation is called transduction. So the rods and cones transducer light and turn the signal into spike trains. Voltage differences that move up the the neurons from neurons in neuron. The same thing happens in the ear and hair cells touch, smell, taste. All your senses transduced energy in one form or another and turn it into signals. And the signals are all is the same in one regard. They’re always trains of voltages and neurons. Now, OK, then what happens? The most tempting idea in the world is somewhere in the middle of the brain. A second transduction happens and all of those nerve spikes get turned back into those subjective colors and sounds striking up the little orchestra and the mind and so forth. The idea that there’s a recreation of a scene with with colors and shapes and sounds and smells and all the rest somewhere in the middle of the brain. It seems that that’s just gotta be true. But it can’t be true. There is no second transduction. But if there were. Then you’d have to be a third transduction to get it back out of that medium. And who knows what that maybe it might be back in the spike trains? Because if you’re gonna be able to have memories about what you just saw or be able to talk about it, you’re gonna have to get that all transduced in the spike trains so that you can move your lips, so that you can talk, so that you can point, so that you can push buttons and all the rest. So one of the key features of my theory of consciousness on which everything else is based is there is no second transduction. It’s Spike trains all the way. That’s what’s going on in your brain now. That does seem to leave out the mind. But I think that’s an illusion. The mind is there. All right. Because the responses to those bike trains are just what they what they have to be to be the way a conscious mind reacts to things that it is aware of. Let’s take an example of fiction. Sherlock Holmes. Does he exist? No. He’s a fiction. Does not exist. Yeah. That he lived in Baker Street and smoked pipe. Yeah. But he didn’t exist. Now there’s representations of Sherlock Holmes. Some of them are rendered in ink in books and some of them are rendered in spike trains and people’s minds when they read those books. And some of them are rendered on film and there’s actual colors on the screen and others are rendered in people’s brains when they watch those movies. What we’re talking about is the renderings in people’s brains. They are, if you know what they’re made of. They’re not made of ink. They are made of spike chains. But wait a minute. What happened to the caller? What happened to the sound? Well, there’s a representation of the power in your brain. There’s a representation of the sound in your brain. But those representations are not themselves allowed or or colored.
So taking this idea one step further and I think you’ll agree with this, it would be possible then to create an artificial brain that is conscious.
Absolutely. Sure. Possible. Unlikely. Very unlikely. Just because the complexities ah ah. Are staggering. It’s very hard to keep track of just how complicated this would be to do. But in principle, you could do it.
And a lot of money now is being spent into two projects in particular, whose end goal, even though it might not be, you know, told as such, is really, I think this this artificial consciousness that and the two parties that I’m referring to, of course, the brain mapping initiative that Obama is just put one hundred and one hundred million dollars behind. And the Blue Brain project that Henry Markram has been working on in Switzerland.
Yeah, yeah. Those are two big projects there. They’re they’re sort of inspired by the Human Genome Project. And I think they’re unlikely to be as useful as the Human Genome Project. I think country a lot of critics, the Human Genome Project is turning out to be remarkably useful. And the pace is going to be quick and soon. I think that Chris Mooney is going to be pretty obvious that that was a that was a good use of scientific funding. I’m less sure that the these big brain projects will be as useful because. Well, you know, we know what DNA does. We know what it’s job, what it what it has to do. But we’re we’re still far from a good theory of what the neural circuits do in the way of computation. We know they’re doing they’re doing a kind of information transformation. And that for me means we can call that computation. But nobody has a very good grip on just what the computations are.
And I think that simply getting the wiring diagram clearer is that there’s much less of the task. Some people think it is. I mean, let’s compare it to something else. And some Martians come to Earth in their spaceship and they said, well, look, look at these amazing things on the coasts. What they’re looking at is cities, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Let’s let’s map those so that we can understand what goes on. And they do a very, very elaborate maps of all the telephone lines and all the electric cables and all the highways and all the sidewalks.
And they’re sitting there saying, well, we’ve got a tape now. We can understand how cities work. Well, you know, they’re leaving out an awful lot, aren’t they? They’re leaving out the activities of all the inhabitants of the cities, only a few of which really get visible in in transmission. Yes, I know we’re getting more wired all the time, but still only a small fraction of that were the work being done by a city. This is being done by electronic transmissions through wires.
So that is sounding a little bit to me like you’re offering another transduction. So how where do we go? Where do we look for the neural signature of consciousness? If not in the wiring of the brain and understanding every biological aspect of it?
Well, let’s go back to the early days of cognitive science and the famous book by David Marr on Vision, where he talked about breaking up the problem into several problems on the highest level problem. He called, I think, mistakenly, the computational level. What he really was talking about was, let’s figure out what the brain does. What is its job? It’s not for cooling the blood. It’s not it’s not for making a little television studio inside your head. What is its what is its task? And I think the answer now is pretty clear what its task is. It’s a it’s an elaboration on what people have been saying for many years. Its task is to generate expectations on the fly, constantly updating and every fraction of a second to be anticipating the world. That’s what brains are for there for producing future. Now, we’re finally beginning to get some models, Bayesian models that are statistical, that are looking closely at how brains do the work that. Is their job, which is to detect the opportunities in the world that matter to whichever organism it is and take the appropriate steps. The psychologist JJ Gibson called these affordance is an affordance. A window is an affordance. It affords looking out the doors and affordance that the permits are growing in and going out a hole is an affordance. You can put something in. A truck is an affordance for picking it up and drinking a liquid and so forth. What our senses do. They are they are confronted with a torrent of information just in the life, in the sound, in the structure of the environment and what their job is, is to extract from that torrent to distill, if you like, from that torrent. The affordance. Is that matter the most to us? Well, we human beings have a lot more references than, you know, pigeons or dolphins or clams. But so our senses are attuned to picking up a whole lot of information that other species just don’t have any need for and don’t try to get. So if we start thinking about how we can implement in the architecture of the nervous system the specifications that. James Gibson, among others, particularly that. I think we’ll we’ll start making progress on what consciousness is.
Well, it also seems that one of the things that makes us different from these other animals is that their sensory world is so distinctive and so highly evolved to the environment in which they’re they are living.
And, you know, of course, you know, a pigeon will be able to sense things that, of course, we have no ability to sense. And it just seems that our minds have evolved for, you know, some other you know, our senses are good, but they’re not as good as the best eye or ear or sense of smell out in the animal kingdom. That’s certainly true. So people might argue then that part of the job of the mind is to understand the intentions, the behaviors of others because, you know, be involved at a time during a time in which we started living in social groups more and more. So I’m referring to the social brain hypothesis. So what do you think about that idea that, in fact, part of our the evolution of our consciousness really comes from this need to understand the intentions and behavior of people around us?
Absolutely. That’s in fact, in my view for many years. And it’s been an elaboration of the views of Nicholas Humphrey and Alison Júlia and others who put first put forward the hypothesis of the social function of of our intelligence. I think they’re on the right track. And I think that my own views her consonant with that and articulate an articulation of of that view. After all, many of the importances to use Gibson’s term for us are the informants and allies and friends and enemies and lovers and pals and mothers and fathers that we find in the world. It’s important that we identify them, that we can track them, that we can pick them out of a crowd and so forth.
And one caller then of living in these social groups is that when somebody does something bad, considered bad by the social group, they need to be punished to prevent that behavior in the future. So this leads me to the idea of free will. And, you know, there’s been a flurry of neuroscientists who have come out now and said, well, because of the way our brains are built, freewill is an illusion and therefore we need to completely rethink our justice system. And I know that you don’t agree with that view. So I wanted to get give you a moment to articulate your views on the topic.
Yes. And then taking just a moment will be difficult because I have so much to say on this score. I think the neuroscientists who have argued this have made a sort of rookie mistake, philosophical mistake. They have taken the least sophisticated. And as it were, the sort of science unfriendly vision of freewill from the philosophers and decided that’s the right vision of freewill to go with. And then they said, well, that’s that’s an illusion, Wolf. You know, they’re right. That view of freewill is his illusory. And people have been arguing that for hundreds of years, at least since Hume in the 18th century. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t another vision of freewill, which is sain important.
The grounds are laws that grounds our system of punishment. If they really want to say that free will is an illusion, they should consider the following implications of that. And that strong sense in which some of them say it must mean that they themselves do not have the moral compass and say to sign a contract. To buy a car, to buy a house, to have a mortgage. Why? Because you’ve got to have free will to sign those documents. Sign of your own free will. I think they would insist that they have the moral competence to sign a contract to make a promise. Well, that shows they have by their own lights the kinds of free will, which is not in the least bit jeopardized by anything that neuroscience has learned. And then when you look at the evidence that they cite from neuroscience under the famous or infamous experiments of Benjamin Limit and then a few more recent ones like soon at all. And their interpretation of these experiments is is really simplistic. It takes me a little bit of time to show what’s wrong with it. But I think they’re making a just really simple mistakes in their interpretation of that evidence. And I think this is important because when they tell the general public. That neuroscience shows that they don’t have free will there. That’s a fairly mischievous act, that is a socially dangerous act, because if people get the idea that they’re not responsible and start running around just indulging in their every whim. Because neuroscience tells them that they’re not responsible. This could lead to real, real social deterioration.
So I want to remind our listeners that Daniel Dennett’s new book, Intuition, Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, is available through our Web site Point of inquiry dot org.
But is that the best book for our listeners to go to? To read more about your views on free will, or should they go to some of your previous books where you’ve covered the topic in more detail?
Well, imagine this. I wrote two whole books on Free Will. The first one that I published. Elbow Room way back in 84 is short and sweet. And maybe that’s the book they want to look at, because I think everything in it stands up well after all these years. But there’s a whole section on free will in the new book. And this is more recent thought experiments that I designed to try to quell certain misunderstandings that perennially arise about freewill. People have it in their head that freewill and determinism are incompatible. I want to show there’s no evidence of that at all. Freewill and determinism are simply orthogonal. It doesn’t matter whether the world is determined or undetermined, where the physics is deterministic or un deterministic. Freewill is is a phenomenon that does not depend on indeterminism at any level.
So just so that our listeners can get it from the horse’s mouth. Sam Harris doesn’t accuse you of moving the goalposts in terms of the definition of free will. But can you give us a definition of what you mean by free will so that we can take that along in our arguments with people who disagree?
Yeah. OK, yeah. Free freewill is moral competence of the following sort of person. An agent has free will who is well-informed and has well ordered desires and preferences, who is good at detecting when he or she is being manipulated by other agents and who is good at. Protecting itself from moler manipulation by others. And oh, and also in order to have freewill and the requisite sense you’ve got to have, as the power players say, you’ve got to have skin in the game. You’ve got to be. Punishable. You’ve got to be. That’s why a robot, if you want to give a robot free will, you better give it something to worry about so that it can it can be actually motivated not to do things because it would hate to be punished.
So then it seems, of course, that children would develop at some point free will because of infants. You know, when they’re first born, really don’t have any ability.
And indeed, that’s right. That’s the way we treat them. We don’t hold them responsible for their deeds. And we we give them a moral education such as it is. But if we’re good parents, we we devote quite a lot of time and energy to getting them up for freewill, giving them. And freewill is something which you acquire gradually. There’s no moment when the bell rings and now you have free will. It’s not a question of cutting your mind free from causation. That is a ridiculous idea. Has nothing to do with free will. In fact, you want to be embedded in the in the causation around. Do you want to be caused by the environment to have the information that causes you to make the choices that best meet your well ordered desires? And if you’ve got that and you’re not being manipulated and you have free will.
And of course, our legal system arbitrarily puts that age at 18.
Do you think that that’s an appropriate time or do you think that for different different aspects of free will we should really consider earlier or older ages?
That’s a good question. And it’s one that I look at in some detail in my 2003 book called Freedom Evolves. And I look at what what are the worst case scenarios and the best case scenarios. Are there any important thresholds of maturation. That we really should be paying attention to that we’re not paying attention to? Or is it a sort of gradual climb? If if we could detect by some measure or other some some really quite sharp turns in the curve, then we could we could set a threshold 18 and who knows, maybe it’s 19, maybe it’s 20. Maybe it’s 16. It’s like the driving age. The law needs a an arbitrary boundary simply in order to set the burden of proof. If you’re not 16, don’t even ask for a driver’s license. It doesn’t matter how mature you are. That’s just the rule. And we need a rule and that’s the one we’ve chosen. We can move that line if you want to. We can come up with reasons for and against. So now you ask. What about 18? Is that a good. Is that a good choice? Seems to be pretty good, actually. I haven’t seen any evidence that would encourage me to move the line down or up. That is earlier or later. Eighteen year old brains are pretty mature. They’ve got enough information. If they had a good education, then then they they should be well enough informed to fend for themselves, to protect themselves from evil influences and to start holding themselves responsible.
And if you think of freewill as being synonymous with moral competence, that’s about the same time that the frontal lobes come into their full development, which, of course, is the part of the brain that is involved in high level decision making and being able to weigh outcomes. So it makes sense, even from a neuroscientist perspective.
Yeah, that’s that’s what I had in mind. That’s absolutely right. It’s a neuroscience can indeed tell us things like this. They can tell us when, how brains mature, when they mature, when they develop the sort of competence that’s necessary. Now, those facts are deeply relevant to our system of law. And of course, when we discovered that some people have seriously pathological brains in some regard, they are unable to control their acts or they’re unable to shake free from obsessions or fears or something. Then we have cases of diminished responsibility and neuroscience can enter into that. But the idea that learning that. With no careful data gathering, you can learn enough about a person’s brain to be able to predict in principle in advance which of two choices, left or right, they’re going to choose. But this shows we don’t have free will. That’s that’s just a big mistake.
So armed with that argument, I also want to equip our listeners with some of your tools that seems to be specifically designed for skeptics. So let’s start with rapports rules. Can you describe those for us?
Yeah. Anatol Rappaport was a social psychologist and he said, if you’re going to rebut anybody, you’re going to write a criticism of anybody’s work. Here’s how you should do it. First. Restate your targets. Thesis so well, so vividly, so clearly that your target is moved to say, gee, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way. That’s how I am going to put it in the future. Course, you can’t always achieve that. But that’s your goal. That’s the idea. You want to make sure that you put it even better than your target has put. Number two, anything that you and your target agree upon that the average run of people in the field don’t agree on? Mentioned that you and I are allies in the controversy and such and such, and we agree about this and that. So you should mention that to then anything you’ve learned from the target you mentioned, not only after you’ve done those three things, should you say a word of criticism if you do that when you criticize? First of all, your target is going to be an eager listener because you’ve proven that you understand the targets of you and you’re smart enough to have learned something from the target and to agree with the target on some things. So your opinion should count for something. And this takes away a lot of the antagonism that is actually a built in part of not just philosophy, but science in general. It is an opponent process. We’re always trying to argue each other into or out of Fuze. That’s the way it should be. That’s where a lot of the power of scientific investigation comes from. But people get carried away and then they get unsympathetic and they start caricaturing the other side. And Rappaport’s rules are a really good way of protecting yourself from falling into the sin of caricature.
Yeah, I think that these are really great rules to live by for people who want to engage an outgroup, you know, a series of people that have very different beliefs. So, for example, skeptics versus people who have some kind of new age or alternative medicine beliefs that are not supported by scientific evidence. It seems that by acknowledging, you know, what the person is trying to say or the belief there and then underlining what it is that people do agree on. Establishes a kind of rapport that then allows that person to be heard by the other opponent.
And I think that’s that’s a good case in point. It’s it’s not hard to see what wouldn’t work. Talking to a devotee of New Age medicine and what might well work, you might acknowledge that that establishment medicine has made many big mistakes, has been overconfident about many things, has been proven wrong many times. Yes, we can agree on that. We can we we can agree that that. Some of the some of the treatments that are now widely used in modern establishment medicine started out being viewed with great skepticism as quackery. We can go through a few cases like that. But then. But then. Now, let’s look at your particular cases and and see what you think is going for them. Try to make the best case for what they think is going further and that will in itself lead you directly to the issue. And what are the results? Does it is evidence that it really works? Is the evidence just anecdotal? What would you consider a proper scientific proof? And what you may discover, of course, is they just say, well, I don’t care about science. Well, at that point, you’ve learned something very important, namely that your efforts are more or less wasted on this person because they they do not think that this is an issue of fact that needs to be determined.
They’re announcing a sort of blind faith, and that leads us to, I think, a trap that a lot of people in the skeptic community often fall into, and that is that they don’t understand Sturgeon’s Law.
Yes, I’ve been very pleased by the reception. The surgeons like I remember where I first picked it up at a philosophy conference. Somebody mentioned it and I checked it out. And sure enough, Ted Sturgeon, a science fiction writer, promulgated it in the Sturgeon’s Law as a 90, 90 percent of everything is crap.
And that’s true whether you’re talking about physics or chemistry or or evolutionary psychology or sociology or or medicine or you name it is rock music, country western, 90 percent of everything is crap.
So don’t waste our time and yours hooting at the crap. Good for the good stuff. If you want to criticize something and there are many things that deserve criticism. Not. Abuse. Your privilege before wasting our time and yours by pointing out the dismal features of the worst stuff at the bottom of the barrel. It’s just it’s it just shows that you’re not serious here if you’re serious. Go after the go after the very best stuff.
Get advice. Towards the end of your book, you also spend a little bit of time giving advice to people who might want to consider a philosophy as a career. So I wanted to end by asking you, what do you think is the role of philosophy in today’s modern world?
I think the role of philosophy was actually quite beautifully expressed in a famous oracular statement by the philosopher Wilfred Sellars, who said that. Philosophy is the question of how things in the broadest sense of the term hang together in the broadest sense of the term. Now that sounds almost comically abstract, but think about it for a minute. I’m going to list off a broad variety of different kinds of things. On the one hand, we have atoms and proteins and quarks and strings and molecules and neuron cells are scientific sort of things way over. On the other end of the spectrum, we have.
Opportunities, haircuts, colors, Tounes dollars, poems, very different sorts of things. They’re all things. How did they hang together? You can’t give the chemical formula for an opportunity. Does that mean that opportunities aren’t real? No. You can’t give a you know, a dollar doesn’t have an atomic weight or anything like it. In fact, dollars turn out to be very abstract. Like words are like poems. Do they even exist? Well, there are things, very important things in a very. Unusual and hard to describe sense. So the philosopher’s job and it’s nobody else’s job, is to look at all the things that we talk about that we take seriously. And see how to try the. Harmonize them in a single picture. Neither a purely scientific picture nor purely unscientific picture. We’ve got to make the two sides go together. Scientists when they try to do this often. End up with really quite preposterous views. Colors don’t exist. Dollars don’t exist. Well, really, does that mean that Sherwin Williams paint company should be charged with fraud for selling colors? I don’t think so. Yeah, there’s a sense in which colors don’t exist. But there’s a more important sense in which they do. So negotiating all of these claims is is a is a job for philosophers in their other areas, particularly in ethics, where where the claims matter even more. Question of whether anybody has Will. Question of. What’s the status of moral right and wrong? Those are big issues that are nobody else’s issues. And we still haven’t solved them.
Well, you’ve certainly given us a lot to think about, so thank you very much for being on point of inquiry, Dan Dennett.
Oh, you’re very welcome. I enjoyed talking with you.
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