Dennett’s new book From Bacteria to Bach and Back Again is producing some headlines these days. Some of them are rather positive but there are actually the headlines (again) that Dennett says consciousness does not exist. Take for example this video of Massimo Pigliucci and Dan Kaufman. They have a great talk about the underappreciated philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars. In the discussion of the distinction between the manifest image and the scientific image they are also talking about Dennett’s theory of consciousness.
They think Dennett says that consciousness does not exist. But I think they are just wrong. True, Dennett says that consciousness is like an “user-illusion”. But, first of all, also illusions exist and have effects on us.
They cite the analogy of a desktop PC and it’s user interface. Take the folders you see on your desktop. You put files in it and you can look inside them and so on. But if you look into your computer you won’t find anything that corresponds to the folder, you cannot look into anything that is like a folder and so on. The graphical interface is an useful illusion. Kaufman and Pigliucci agree on this.
On the other hand, they say, consciousness is nothing like that. To say that consciousness is an illusion is like ignoring the data. We know that there is consciousness and cannot just say it does not exist. But Dennett says nothing like that. The user interface also exists but some of its properties are just useful illusions. The same goes for consciousness Dennett’s view, I think. There is consciousness, it is a real phenomenon. I cannot see anywhere that Dennett denies this. But he says, some of the properties we think consciousness has — like infallibility of first person access etc. — especially those that let philosophers think consciousness cannot be a natural phenomenon, are just illusions.
So what does Dennett? He takes our philosophical thoughts about consciousness that come from the manifest image and hinder us in achieving a scientific understanding of the mind and explains how we came to these beliefs and how we can explain them, why they are so compelling. He does not try to eliminate the manifest image of the mind or something like that. He tries to build bridges from the manifest to the scientific image of the mind and in so doing laying some foundations for cognitive science.
If you are interested in logic and where it comes from, this is for you. Kant thought the logic he knew and learned from Aristotle is all there is to know. But actually logic has a significant history of changes nowadays.
There is a debate if serious science can do without evidence. Mostly, because there are some physicists who say that there is no evidence for String Theory to have and that is not a problem for physics. Here is a debate between Massimo Pigliucci, Tara Shears and Rupert Sheldrake.
By the way, Sheldrake is complaining about, that researchers who do investigate telepathy do not get any funding anymore. Maybe that is not because the scientific community is dogmatic and ignorant about the subject, but because research that was done in that field was showing that telepathy is not a thing?! Just guessing so…
America has done it. They really voted trump. Now it is time for some thinking. Noam Chomsky, as always, is on the forefront. He says, the republican party is one of the most dangerous organizations on the globe, especially as they deny climate change.
If you didn’t notice, Massimo Piggliuci started some new experiment in the blogosphere. He is publishing his new book “The Nature of Philosophy: How Philosophy Makes Progress and Why It Matters” in a series on his blog Plato’s Footnote. You can find the entry post here.
In the last post I read he published an interesting graphic that illustrates the influences of different philosophers. He writes about that graphic:
In what follows I enlisted the help of Simon Raper, a contributor to “Drunks&Lampposts.” Simon was as curious as I to figure out whether there is quantitative evidence of the much-talked about differences and relationships among various schools of (largely Western, in this case) philosophy. So he enlisted two 21st century resources in a particularly ingenious fashion. First, he downloaded a file containing all the “influenced by” links for every philosopher listed on Wikipedia.  He then used a program called Gephi, an open software graphing platform, to visualize the influences among philosophers in the form of a network with the size of individual entries (say, for Aristotle) proportional to how many connections to other philosophers they have. Finally, Simon was able to provisionally identify different “schools” of thought by asking the program to depict in different colors groups of people whose within-cluster connections were significantly stronger than the connections to other groups. (If this sounds a lot like the Digital Humanities, it’s because it is. But let’s wait until later in the book to debate the pros and cons of the particular approach.)
This is the graphic:
You can find some more zoomed in pictures in the original blog post. Of cause there are some methodological difficutlies, as many commentators have remarked. But still you can see that there is a split between a tradition ranging from Hegel and Nietzsche and a tradition that has its offspring in Hume, Locke and Mill. But you can also see that there there is a field of connections of the traditions, especially if you consider the node of Kant.
I think that is very intersting. If you develop a methodological more rigorous study it would be a piece of empirical metaphilosophy. But even in this rudimentary form you can see the differences in the tradition and possible lines to overcome it.