In the eyes of Weird Studies though, he's the worst philosopher, kind of emblematic of everything they hate. I have a weak goal of convincing them otherwise, but I feel I have about as much chance of doing that as of convincing Marvin Minsky to take Heidegger seriously
something I actually tried to do – pretty ambitious of me in retrospect. If I had succeeded it would have been quite a feat of intellectual peacemaking and diplomacy
This was inspired by a rather offhand sneer at Dennett on a WS episode Weird Studies/Spiritual Science. They aid something like:
"... the scientistic view that animals can't have minds, that no other non-human can have a mind....shift to unembodied minds...the most radical is the ultramaterialist that there is simply nothing that is not material, which can lead to a position like Daniel Dennett's that you aren't actually conscious." (paraphrased)
expressed as if that were the most obviously ridiculous and/or repulsive thing in the world.
One more time
Forgive me for introducing a much more boring form of philosophy, but I've had this thought rattling around my head for weeks now and need to get it out. It was inspired by an offhand remark in the podcast ep 152, JFM and PF were sort of jointly sneering at Daniel Dennett, something like "... the scientistic view that animals can't have minds, that no other non-human can have a mind.....the most radical is the ultramaterialist that there is simply nothing that is not material, which can lead to a position like Daniel Dennett's that you aren't actually conscious."
I don't really want to be in the position of defending Dennett around here – he's earned some sneers. But in this case I think his position is being distorted. He would not say "you aren't actually conscious", what he says is more like, consciousness is not what we think it is, it is something more like a mechanically-generated illusion. We are neuron-based computers, or assemblages of them, and consciousness is a puppet show the computer puts on for itself.
The mechanical aspect of this story can put people off, because no matter what machines can do we like to think we are something special, something more. But forget that part and focus on the illusion, which is the more salient point. It is a hard thing to grasp, because an illusion needs an audience and this theory means that the audience is as illusory as the show. What does it mean to say that consciousness is an illusion?
Here's the interesting bit, maybe: what it means is very similar to the Buddhist view of mind, AND it is also very compatible with "weirdism", by which I mean the emerging viewpoint around here. Buddhism holds not that the mind is unreal but that it has the nature of an illusion (according to my limited understanding, I would welcome correction from any actual Buddhists). This is practically the same thing as Dennett, properly understood.
As to weirdism (and I apologize for that term), here is where I push Dennett past where he would like to go. The consequences of his theory is that all consciousness is profoundly imaginal. We don't experience an objective reality, we are more like co-creators of a collective hallucination. You can be as hard-assed about physics and neurobiology as you like, but human life is still lived mostly in the fictions we spin on top of these mechanical layers, gods and heroes and stories are perfectly real despite their fictional nature, and our selves share this fictional nature as well as the coarser constraints of biology. Gods are as real as our selves – that is to say, partially.
Dennett probably would not accept this conclusion, but surely the thought must have occurred to him
Dennett claims to explain consciousness, not explain it away
His critics say he does exactly that however.
I'm not sure he puts it this way, but what he is saying is not exactly "consciousness is an illusion", it's more like "consciousness just is illusion", that is its nature, everything we think we know is part of this illusion created for us by our powerful brains. It's all we have!
This view is very consonant with Buddhist attitude toward the self as I understand it (poorly). Not so much that it doesn't exist, but its nature is not what we think it is, it is real but not solid, not thing-like, not graspable, a kind of elaborate self-generating network of words and images, endlessly trying to make itself solid and failing.
Dennett is very anti-postmodernism, but that's because he doesn't follow the consequences of his own theory. If all we have are sketches of reality, we don't have a good basis for declaring that some things are realer than others, ie we will grant reality to rocks but not to gods.
I sort of think as Dennett as a more polite and genteel atheist compared with the crudities of Dawkins, but they were lumped together as leaders of the so-called New Atheists (no longer new if they ever were). So, I am not surprised to find he is hated by people with any sort of spiritual leaning.
More specifically, is is foundational conviction of Weird Studies that your weird experience (mystical revelation, synchronicity, UFO sighting, etc) are real, if only because they are your real experiences, and Dennett's brand of science seems to say, no, nobody's experience is real, it's all just brain hiccups, only we in our lab coats and presigious university jobs are allowed to say what is real.
From WS perspective, they are marginal people being victimized by The Combine of techne. And – they have an absolute point!
That is to say, PF's sneer at Dennett was perfectly justified, because Dennett and his establishment colleagues have been sneering at him, with quite a lot of noise and fanfare.
Core idea here: if all we have are illusions, than we also have the freedom to select which illusions we count as real or not. If a mechanist, represetnationist, multiple-draft theater theory of mind is correct, as Dennett holds and I pretty much do too – then voila, not only do we have postmodernist world-as-text, we also have full justification for religion.
Dennett wants to break the spell of religion (title of one of his books). But if he was consistent, he would have to give up on the difference bettween "spells" and other forms of knowledge. It's all spells.
It's fine to want to break the spell of religion. More power to you. But not if you think you are somehow above the fray of spells. If you attack the spell of religion, it is in the name of some other ideology, that is, a competing set of spells.
Note: this point is so obvious I should see if Dennett addesses it.