Receive the Spirit

Daniel Dennett

This morning I read the profile of Dan Dennett in the March 27 New Yorker. It is a delightful portrait, but I found myself surprised in a few places as I was agreeing with Dennett. I've never felt agreement with Dennett other than on the basic point that I'm a physicalist and not a dualist, though I characterize the physical in a way that is pan-experientialist and he doesn't.

But reading here his view seems closer to mine than I had ever thought before. Particularly at this point:

He told Chalmers that there didn't have to be a hard boundary between third-person explanations and first-person experience--between, as it were, the description of the sugar molecule and the taste of sweetness. Why couldn't one see oneself as taking two different stances toward a single phenomenon? It was possible, he said, to be "neutral about the metaphysical status of the data." From the outside, it looks like neurons; from the inside, it feels like consciousness. Problem solved.

That penultimate sentence sounds very like my dissertation.

P. S.  The profile made me a little envious of his rich personal life.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Robert Asbell

this reminds me of an argument I had with a dentist. It went something like this:

me: Ow!
dentist: Settle Down! You are completely numb! You are not feeling anything ... it's all in your mind
me: No fucker! that really hurt!

I lean towards the hard line

Robert Asbell

It has been over a decade since I read any phil of mind books. Chalmers was the first person I read( after that, Dennet, Searle, Churchland, and Plantinga was in there too). It knocked me on my butt. Not because it challenged me. I was thinking about that stuff in high school ... but detached from the literature. I can remember asking Mr. Harvey questions along those lines, but in a very un-developed way. I remember his answers left me feeling very unsatisfied. I don't think he understood what I was getting at ... partly because I didn't have the conceptual machinery nailed down to communicate it. Partly because I don't think he had thought very deeply about it. I think I frustrated him.

Well reading that Chalmers book really excited me, because It opened wider a world already familiar to me. I didn't know that there were other people thinking about that stuff. And deeper and better ... and more formalized.
See, I knew I wasn't taking crazy pills!

I don't remember the much of the arguments ... but I do remember the how each book affected me. I remember snippets of interviews with the autors here and there.

I would probably say react critically to someone like Dan Dennet. Not because I have plumbed the depths of his arguments ... to be honest, all of that literature is/was beyond my grasp. But here are some reactions I have to Dennett.

I read Darwin's Dangerous Idea ... Here's how I would characterize it: Damage Control. Too many thinkers not towing the line. Definitely protecting something.

Rule Setting: He talks about cranes and skyhooks ... and then sets the rules of discourse to mandate that any theory about the mind has to ultimately be grounded in the materieal. My reaction when I read that part of his book was literally, verbally, and audibly: Fuck You!

Leon Wieseltier: I remember that article in the New Yorker about scientism. Dennet's reaction was priceless! It was something like: Leon Doesn't know ... He doesn't even know that he doesn't know.
My reaction: Hiding behind pretension ... It made me feel like a severe blow had been struck.

I think I'm ready for round two of reading the literature again. I don't really know anymore what position I would take ... I'm all over the map. I used to identify with dualism ... but I'm not so sure any more. But what I do know is that it is important. I think it is deeply related on how we see people. I think it is deeply related to identity politics of the left and the right. It is related to sexuality, the category of sexual identity, transgenderism, etc.

After 7 years of parenting, and recovering from exhaustion, I'm ready to read again. This time with a maturity that can take in historical context and moral import. This is what college was supposed to be. I missed the boat .... perhaps I'll catch the ferry.

Any advice?


I think this is the best recent book on philosophy of mind, Alva Noe's Out of Our Heads.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)