Episode from the podcastSean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas

Daniel Dennett on Minds, Patterns, and the Scientific Image

Released Monday, 6th January 2020
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Wilfrid Sellars described the task of philosophy as explaining how things, in the broadest sense of term, hang together, in the broadest sense of the term. (Substitute “exploring” for “explaining” and you’d have a good mission statement for the Mindscape podcast.) Few modern thinkers have pursued this goal more energetically, creatively, and entertainingly than Daniel Dennett. One of the most respected philosophers of our time, Dennett’s work has ranged over topics such as consciousness, artificial intelligence, metaphysics, free will, evolutionary biology, epistemology, and naturalism, always with an eye on our best scientific understanding of the phenomenon in question. His thinking in these areas is exceptionally lucid, and he has the rare ability to express his ideas in ways that non-specialists can find accessible and compelling. We talked about all of them, in a wide-ranging and wonderfully enjoyable conversation.

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Daniel Dennett received his D.Phil. in philosophy from Oxford University. He is currently Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is known for a number of philosophical concepts and coinages, including the intentional stance, the Cartesian theater, and the multiple-drafts model of consciousness. Among his honors are the Erasmus Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year award. He is the author of a number of books that are simultaneously scholarly and popular, including Consciousness Explained, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and most recently Bacteria to Bach and Back.

Fantastic extended episode of Mindscape. Daniel Dennett is an incredible thinker and this episode reveals his thoughts and logic on some of his key ideas very well. The main points touched on in this episode include: Real patterns - patterns can be real and helpful if they come along with some predictive power. A nice example to show how helpful higher level patterns can be in compressing meaningful information starts with a conversation where someone says "I'm bringing the boss home for dinner and wine in 30 minutes" and then two people walk through the door around 30 minutes later with a bottle of wine. Technically Laplace's Demon could have made the same prediction but the amount of information processing needed to deduce the result would be astronomical. Intentional Stance - helpful vocabulary for describing actions of agents in terms of their beliefs/desires. Thermostat example is given. Non-equilibrium physics - Sean mentions how this field is exciting. The idea of "scarring" and "responding to your past" offers a possible defining line for what might count as an agent. Electrons don't carry scars around. People do. Do tornadoes? Dennett does not think tornadoes count as agents. I am not clear how you can make the fine differentiation here. It seems as though tornadoes obviously can carry scars (past interactions effect present state) as they evolve over time in response to their environment. Do they not count because the governing physics is simple and easily understood? Seems as though if we are calling macroscopic systems "real" when it helps to describe the actions of the system versus the individual constituents then the tornado is "real" and should qualify for agency. Language as a basis for reason - With human language comes the ability to reason. You can't persuade a bear, you can't convict a bear for murder, because they don't have the ability to reason (source?) like humans can (source?). Consciousness is not binary - The idea that consciousness is on or off is a terrible construct. Rather it is built. The boundary is soft "like defining the line between night and day" Theory of consciousness - most theories only do the upward path (how does physical stimuli create conscious experience?) but we need to be asking the question "And then what happens?" Most theories ignore this bit. Dennett calls this the hard question. Recursive reflection - The ability for the mind to reflect on itself, and reflect on that, seems to be a special feature of human consciousness. 1st/3rd person theory of consciousness - Dennett refutes the possibility of a philosophical zombie. We need to disregard the notion of theories that rely on the 1st person point of view. I am not sure how I feel about this. There is an instinctual urge to refute this idea, it seems at such a basic level that the 1st person experience is what we are trying to explain here and the conversation is impossible to have if you neglect the experience bit. Sean brings up the same point that he did in his talk with David Chalmers about refuting p-zombies by saying they would be impossible to differentiate from conscious creatures, they would go so far as to say they are conscious and describe their conscious experiences. This is well and good, and true, but it does not mean the zombie is having a conscious experience like I am certain I am having. I believe this means I fall directly into the bucket Dennett is describing but just can't wrap my head around a way out. Free will and determinism - "if you think free will is incompatible with, say, determinism, then there’s no free will". Free will is a useful thing to talk about due to explanatory power. Morality - Religion was a scaffold to build society upon (I like that analogy). We can do away with it now as society can be functioning and stable without it. We do not, however, want to lost the good parts of religion: ceremony, community, music, art, and celebration. Dennett's idea for generating a set of moral guidelines for a society would be to start with a group of people and have new moral rules brought to the table and available for debate. If these rules can be agreed upon without saying something like "I'm an Xist and Xists believe this" then it might be a valid rule that everyone should abide by. The inability to reason about beliefs or to appeal to the supernatural should not be tolerated in these conversations.
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51061738
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78
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Length
2h 1m 35s
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Episode
78
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Full

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