1033 Daniel Dennet and Consciousness

If you want to find out what consciousness is and you don’t know Daniel C. Dennett, this is a great introduction to one of the world’s most eloquent scientist / philosophers.

I have read his book Consciousness Explained some twenty years ago. At about 500 very scientific pages it requires dedication and stamina of the reader, but the rewards are great. 

I have two essays:  CONSCIOUSNESS 1  and  CONSCIOUSNESS 2

The book is controversial [Wikipedia]; it's been said that in Dennett's view, there is no consciousness in addition to the computational features - that he talks about in this video - because that is all that consciousness amounts to for him. Critics call the book 'Consciousness Explained Away'.

I am happy to accept that aspect in the context of this talk about Human Consciousness. Myself, I differentiate between the latter (which probably arose 70,000 years ago during the Paleolithic Cognitive Revolution, see my essay THREE THOUSAND) and the dualism of universal consciousness, which probably existed before the creation arose: "The dualists believe that science can uncover only half of the picture: it can’t explain what Nabokov called “the marvel of consciousness - that sudden window swinging open on a sunlit landscape amidst the night of non-being.” The New Yorker. 

The GuardianFrom Bacteria to Bach and Back by Daniel C Dennett review – consciousness explained? There is no ‘hard problem’ and consciousness is no more mysterious than gravity, Dennett claims in this study of the evolution of minds.

Read about Dan Dennett in:

The New YorkerDaniel Dennett’s Science of the Soul. A philosopher’s lifelong quest to understand the making of the mind. Daniel Dennett’s naturalistic account of consciousness draws some people in and puts others off. “There ain’t no magic here,” he says. “Just stage magic.”

So, nevertheless, I like this little gem of a talk:

“For millennia people had it in minds that all the beautiful things that existed must be due to a fabulously intelligent designer, a creator, and so it was … until Darwin came along and turned that up-side-down. In principle he realized that there could be a process with no intelligence, no purpose that would just inexorably grind out, algorithmically, better and better designs of all sorts and create the living world where there had been just life-less matter before. This was a shocking idea! But he was right.”

Dennett then explains the Turing machine … and talks about ‘competence without comprehension’. Methinks the video gets very interesting at 4:20 when he gets to cultural evolution (but do listen to the whole talk, it is very short) …

"… we don’t get our intelligence from our genes, in fact very little. This is where Turing’s ideas (about the Turing machine, precursor of the computer) come in very handy … if you take Richard Dawkins’ idea of the meme as a unit of cultural evolution and Turing’s idea about a programmable computer and put them together you get the idea of a meme as a thing made of information, it’s like an app, which you download to your neck-top and a brain filled with apps is a human mind. 

"And if you don’t download all the apps you’re not going to be able to think very well. That’s why no creature on the planet how ever intelligent they are in some regard, they can’t hold a candle to us because they can’t download the apps of culture, and that is because they don’t have a language and it’s language which is itself composed of memes. Words are memes.

"It’s language that is the backbone of cultural evolution and what it permits is for cultural evolution to become ever less Darwinian, ever more intelligent. And now we’re living in the age of intelligent design. We have scientists and engineers and artists and musicians and composers, all these designers of wonderful things … poems, bridges, airplanes, theories … and they are intelligent designers. 

"But if you want to know how they managed to have that intelligence you have to go back and look at their brains as ultimately like Turing’s machine, they’re composed of actually trillions of moving parts that are all just as stupid as posts. They don’t understand a thing, they don’t have to understand a thing … you put them together in the right way, you get comprehension, and, eventually, consciousness."