Saying Goodbye to an Eminent Philosopher

Saying Goodbye to an Eminent Philosopher

Dennett’s books among some others in my collection.

One of the great philosophers of our time just passed away recently. His name was Daniel Dennett, and he was a cognitive scientist and researcher into the philosophy of mind. He was famously an atheist and a proponent of Darwinist evolutionary biology. I have read a few of his books, and have them on my bookshelf in my curated collection of what I think are among the best or most important books on the philosophy of mind and the meaning of life. Probably Dennett’s best known works are Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained, the latter of which lays out his understanding of what consciousness is.

He was a proponent of the Darwinist idea of traits arising through natural selection because of their adaptiveness, with consciousness being just one more trait that an organism can have. In his view, consciousness was something like an illusory experience that gives us a summary view of reality to help us get along, arising out of the interacting neurons in the brain. He was a materialist who believed that to study conscisousness, you have to look in the brain, its ultimate cause. Below is an interview that will give you an idea of his train of thought.

I have great respect for Daniel Dennett, and admired his gentle and humane nature, and his deep thinking. I really appreciated that he ascribed consciousness to non-human animals, at least those with more advanced brains, and believed consequently that their suffering was real and we should take it seriously.

But I don’t agree with his philosophy. I think that with a materialist, upward causation model, you run into paradoxes when trying to explain consciousness. You can see what I mean if you watch the interview, where Dennett describes how human consciousness is more advanced than animal consciousness because our neurons have representations not just of our sensory data but also of the representations themselves. Layers upon layers. But how do you get to the actual meaning that is being represented; do you just add layers ad infinitum? The subjective experience of meaning is not explained.

I am a proponent of the ideas of a different philosopher, Amit Goswami, of whom I’ve written on this blog before. He has a better model, an idealist one, which puts consciousness ahead of matter instead of the other way around. It’s not a question of mind over matter or of matter over mind when both exist within fundamental consciousness. As the Beatles put it, “it’s all within yourself.” I have a follow up post based on one of his books, which will describe a different way of thinking about the evolution of the human mind.

But I give Dennett his due, as he was a great and wise thinker. I end this post with a link to a full-length album of avant-garde music featuring sampling from one of his lectures. Rest in Peace, o noble born.

4 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to an Eminent Philosopher

  1. Oh no! He was one of my favorite authors. Maybe that’s why he just released his autobiography – he might have sensed his time was limited. I have to admit, the idea of consciousness as an emergent property didn’t appeal to me at first, but I’m starting to come around on it. I’m halfway through a book called “Journey of the Mind” by Ogi Ogas that shows how minds are built evolutionarily, from molecules to neurons to neural modules. I think it will ultimately claim that consciousness is modules comparing models of the world, but I’m not quite to that part yet. But so far the journey has been fascinating.

    1. Hi Brian! Thanks for the reply. That book by Ogas sounds like it is exactly up Dennett’s alley; the way he thought about evolution and how consciousness came about. I will add it to my reading list.

  2. I asked ChatGPT a series of questions and finally got this reply:

    A philosophical framework that integrates quantum physics with materialist and idealist beliefs could be described as follows:

    This philosophy acknowledges the insights of materialism, recognizing that the universe operates according to physical laws and is composed of fundamental material particles. However, it also incorporates aspects of idealism, understanding that consciousness and observation play a significant role in shaping reality.

    In this view, quantum physics provides a bridge between these seemingly disparate perspectives. Quantum mechanics reveals that at the smallest scales, particles exist in a state of superposition, where they can be in multiple states simultaneously. This challenges traditional materialist views of a deterministic, purely physical universe.

    Moreover, the phenomenon of quantum entanglement suggests a deep interconnectedness between particles, implying a holistic nature of reality that resonates with idealist notions of an interconnected, unified consciousness.

    At the same time, the role of observation in quantum mechanics highlights the influence of consciousness on the physical world, supporting idealist beliefs in the active role of the mind in shaping reality.

    Overall, this philosophy proposes a dynamic and interactive view of the universe, where physical laws and material existence are intertwined with consciousness and observation. It suggests that reality is a complex interplay between the material and the mental, where both aspects are essential for a comprehensive understanding of the nature of existence.

    1. I recommend reading a book. I would start with “The Self-Aware Universe” by Amit Goswami.

Write a comment...