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Human mind: “Dead Horse” Dennett kicks Darwin’s nag again

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From Dan Jones, reviewing naturalist philosopher Daniel Dennett’s Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds at Nature:

Dennett reprises his long-held counter-intuitive idea that consciousness is a ‘user illusion’ similar to the interface of an app, through which people interact with the program without understanding how it works. Memetic apps in our brains, Dennett argues, create a ‘user interface’ that “renders the memes ‘visible’ to the ‘self’”, authoring “both words and deeds”.

Critics often quip that Dennett doesn’t explain consciousness so much as explain it away, or duck the challenge entirely, and this chapter is unlikely to bring them around. When it comes to plugging the hole of subjective experience, sceptics are likely to see his solution as barely touching the sides. Dennett might well reply that a lack of imagination prevents them from seeing how his theory supports a version of consciousness devoid of over-inflation. For the philosophical background to these hard-to-swallow ideas, see Dennett’s Consciousness Explained (Little, Brown, 1991). More.

Hard to swallow? It’s just plain ridiculous, and so are the people who continue to attend to this rubbish.

What can it mean for one consciousness (a user illusion) to say to other consciousnesses (user illusions) that they “lack imagination”? This goes on year after year and no one is allowed to question it, only to develop new casuistries whose the key achievement is grantsmanship. If that’s all they want, sure… But where is the public value?

Added: A relevant question is: Why is Dennett’ stuff in Nature? Why is it supposed to be science?

See also: Split brain does not lead to split consciousness


Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?

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9 Replies to “Human mind: “Dead Horse” Dennett kicks Darwin’s nag again

  1. 1
    Origenes says:

    At first, he writes, words evolved to better fit the brains they had to colonize.


  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    “Dennett might well reply that a lack of imagination prevents them from seeing how his theory supports a version of consciousness devoid of over-inflation.”

    And exactly how is an illusion of the brain suppose to suffer from a ‘lack of imagination’?

    By his own materialistic precepts, we are nothing but imagination!

    Truth be told, Dennett and his materialistic comrades suffer from severely overactive imaginations and not nearly enough grounding in good old fashion common sense and empirical science.

    “(Daniel) Dennett concludes, ‘nobody is conscious … we are all zombies’.”
    J.W. SCHOOLER & C.A. SCHREIBER – Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of Introspection – 2004

    And there you have it folks, absolute proof that when you deny the reality of your own mind you have in fact completely lost your mind!

    picture – Daniel Dennett contemplating his own ‘mind’

    Dennett might think he is an illusion but I know for a fact that I exist as a real person. It is the most sure thing that I can possibly know about reality. I directly experience the reality of my own personhood every waking moment of my life!:

    8.) The argument from personal existence
    1. If naturalism is true, I do not exist.
    2. I do exist!
    3. Therefore naturalism is not true.
    Is Metaphysical Naturalism Viable? – William Lane Craig – video

    “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
    George MacDonald – Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood – 1892

    Further notes: In direct contradiction to the atheistic claim that our thoughts are merely the result of whatever state our material brain happens to be in, ‘Brain Plasticity’, the ability to alter the structure of the brain from a person’s focused intention, has now been established by Jeffrey Schwartz, as well as among other researchers.

    The Case for the Soul – InspiringPhilosophy – (4:03 minute mark, Brain Plasticity including Schwartz’s work) – Oct. 2014 – video
    The Mind is able to modify the brain (brain plasticity). Moreover, Idealism explains all anomalous evidence of personality changes due to brain injury, whereas physicalism cannot explain mind.

    The Case for the Soul: Quantum Biology – (7:25 minute mark – Brain Plasticity and Mindfulness control of DNA expression)

    Moreover, as alluded to in the preceding video, and completely contrary to materialistic thought, mind has been now also been shown to be able to reach all the way down and have pronounced, ‘epigenetic’, effects on the gene expression of our bodies:

    Scientists Finally Show How Your Thoughts Can Cause Specific Molecular Changes To Your Genes, – December 10, 2013
    Excerpt: “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
    “Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.,,,
    the researchers say, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the start of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice. In addition, several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that the mindfulness practice specifically affected certain regulatory pathways.

    Then there is also the well documented placebo effect in which a person’s beliefs have pronounced physiological effects on their body

    placebo effect; plural noun: placebo effects
    a beneficial effect, produced by a placebo drug or treatment, that cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment.

    Placebos can produce some objective physiological changes, such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and chemical activity in the brain, in cases involving pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue

    Human mind: Knowingly taking fake pills actually eases pain – October 17, 2016
    Excerpt: Taking a pill in the context of a patient-clinician relationship — even if you know it’s a placebo — is a ritual that changes symptoms,,,


    Romans 12:2
    “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind; that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

  3. 3
    Origenes says:

    A few notes to J.W. SCHOOLER & C.A. SCHREIBER – Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of Introspection – 2004, linked by Bornagain77 in post #2.

    Indeed, as Descartes (1637) noted long ago, nothing seems to offer more ontological certainty than introspection, as nothing is more incontrovertible than one’s knowledge of partaking in experience. If you can introspect, then you may be dreaming, you might be a brain in a vat, but there seems absolutely no question but that you are having an experience.

    This emphasis on experience is missing the point — the undeniability of one’s existence. Perhaps a Lügen-Geist is feeding me with lies about the external and inner world, but I must exist in order to be lied to. If I doubt my existence, I must exist in order to do that.
    ‘I think therefor I am’, properly understood, shows that whatever I experience, I must exist in order for me to have that experience.

    Although subjectively incontrovertible, it is impossible to directly assess the contents of experience, and thus no decisive way to empirically determine when reported introspections accurately vs. inaccurately characterize underlying experience….

    There are no external means to assess the contents of personal experience. There is no measurement device to determine the size and weight of one’s thoughts and feelings.

    … The empirical elusiveness of subjective experience is powerfully illustrated by Dennett’s (1991) claim that qualia itself is an illusion.

    Like so many materialists, Dennett holds that the empirical can exist independently from the subjective. The truth is that empirical evidence of anything cannot exist without a personal rational subjective mind. At the end of the day, it is one’s subjective notion that X is empirically evidenced. It is one’s subjective notion that gravity is empirically evidenced.
    IOWs empirical evidence is a subset of subjective experience.

    Dennett’s argument builds on the observation that the fact that we believe ourselves to possess qualia does not in itself provide evidence that we necessarily do.

    (1) Beliefs are qualia.
    (2) We believe ourselves to possess qualia.
    (3) We possess qualia.

  4. 4
    News says:

    A relevant question is: Why is Dennett’ stuff in Nature? Why is it supposed to be science?

  5. 5
    gpuccio says:

    What can we expect from one of the champions of compatibilism? 🙂

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Origenes, you stated:

    “Like so many materialists, Dennett holds that the empirical can exist independently from the subjective. The truth is that empirical evidence of anything cannot exist without a personal rational subjective mind. At the end of the day, it is one’s subjective notion that X is empirically evidenced. It is one’s subjective notion that gravity is empirically evidenced.
    IOWs empirical evidence is a subset of subjective experience.”

    And this is born out in our very best, cutting edge, science. Namely, this subjective experience versus empirical evidence dichotomy is born out in quantum mechanics.

    John von Neumann stated the dichotomy as such

    How (conscious) observation is inextricably bound to measurement in quantum mechanics:
    Quote: “We wish to measure a temperature.,,,
    But in any case, no matter how far we calculate — to the mercury vessel, to the scale of the thermometer, to the retina, or into the brain, at some time we must say: and this is perceived by the observer. That is, we must always divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer.”
    John von Neumann – 1903-1957 – The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, pp.418-21 – 1955

    Stephen M. Barr put the situation thusly,,

    Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God? Stephen M. Barr – July 10, 2012
    Excerpt: Couldn’t an inanimate physical device (say, a Geiger counter) carry out a “measurement” (minus the ‘observer’ in quantum mechanics)? That would run into the very problem pointed out by von Neumann: If the “observer” were just a purely physical entity, such as a Geiger counter, one could in principle write down a bigger wavefunction that described not only the thing being measured but also the observer. And, when calculated with the Schrödinger equation, that bigger wave function would not jump! Again: as long as only purely physical entities are involved, they are governed by an equation that says that the probabilities don’t jump.
    That’s why, when Peierls was asked whether a machine could be an “observer,” he said no, explaining that “the quantum mechanical description is in terms of knowledge, and knowledge requires somebody who knows.” Not a purely physical thing, but a mind.

    Steven Weinberg, an atheist, rightly rejects the ‘realist approach’ to quantum mechanics mainly because of ‘many worlds interpretation’, but, on the other hand, it is interesting to note the main reason for why he, as an atheist, rejects the ‘instrumentalist approach’ to quantum mechanics:

    The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics – Steven Weinberg
    – January 19, 2017
    Excerpt: The instrumentalist approach,, (the) wave function,, is merely an instrument that provides predictions of the probabilities of various outcomes when measurements are made.,,
    In the instrumentalist approach,,, humans are brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level. According to Eugene Wigner, a pioneer of quantum mechanics, “it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.”11
    Thus the instrumentalist approach turns its back on a vision that became possible after Darwin, of a world governed by impersonal physical laws that control human behavior along with everything else. It is not that we object to thinking about humans. Rather, we want to understand the relation of humans to nature, not just assuming the character of this relation by incorporating it in what we suppose are nature’s fundamental laws, but rather by deduction from laws that make no explicit reference to humans. We may in the end have to give up this goal,,,
    Some physicists who adopt an instrumentalist approach argue that the probabilities we infer from the wave function are objective probabilities, independent of whether humans are making a measurement. I don’t find this tenable. In quantum mechanics these probabilities do not exist until people choose what to measure, such as the spin in one or another direction. Unlike the case of classical physics, a choice must be made,,,

    Since Weinberg rejects the instrumentalist approach to quantum mechanics since it undermines Darwin’s goal of trying to explain humans as purely the result of the laws of nature, if I had the pleasure, I would like to ask Weinberg exactly who discovered the standard model? Weinberg or the laws of nature?

    Here are a few more related quotes:

    He goes toe-to-toe with science big wigs… and so far he’s undefeated. – interview
    Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: You see we always start from the fact that we are conscious. Consciousness is the only carrier of reality and existence that we can know. Everything else is abstraction; [they] are inferences we make from consciousness.

    “In any philosophy of reality that is not ultimately self-defeating or internally contradictory, mind – unlabeled as anything else, matter or spiritual – must be primary. What is “matter” and what is “conceptual” and what is “spiritual” can only be organized from mind. Mind controls what is perceived, how it is perceived, and how those percepts are labeled and organized. Mind must be postulated as the unobserved observer, the uncaused cause simply to avoid a self-negating, self-conflicting worldview. It is the necessary postulate of all necessary postulates, because nothing else can come first. To say anything else comes first requires mind to consider and argue that case and then believe it to be true, demonstrating that without mind, you could not believe that mind is not primary in the first place.”
    – William J. Murray

    “No, I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
    Max Planck (1858–1947), the originator of quantum theory, The Observer, London, January 25, 1931

    “Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”
    Schroedinger, Erwin. 1984. “General Scientific and Popular Papers,” in Collected Papers, Vol. 4. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences. Friedr. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig/Wiesbaden. p. 334.

    Moreover, the obvious fact that consciousness must be primary for empirical science to even be possible is, ‘surprisingly’, born out empirically. In fact, it is one of the most ‘counter-intuitive’ findings of Quantum Mechanics:

    Experiment confirms quantum theory weirdness – May 27, 2015
    Excerpt: The bizarre nature of reality as laid out by quantum theory has survived another test, with scientists performing a famous experiment and proving that reality does not exist until it is measured.
    Physicists at The Australian National University (ANU) have conducted John Wheeler’s delayed-choice thought experiment, which involves a moving object that is given the choice to act like a particle or a wave. Wheeler’s experiment then asks – at which point does the object decide?
    Common sense says the object is either wave-like or particle-like, independent of how we measure it. But quantum physics predicts that whether you observe wave like behavior (interference) or particle behavior (no interference) depends only on how it is actually measured at the end of its journey. This is exactly what the ANU team found.
    “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” said Associate Professor Andrew Truscott from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.
    Despite the apparent weirdness, the results confirm the validity of quantum theory, which,, has enabled the development of many technologies such as LEDs, lasers and computer chips.
    The ANU team not only succeeded in building the experiment, which seemed nearly impossible when it was proposed in 1978, but reversed Wheeler’s original concept of light beams being bounced by mirrors, and instead used atoms scattered by laser light.
    “Quantum physics’ predictions about interference seem odd enough when applied to light, which seems more like a wave, but to have done the experiment with atoms, which are complicated things that have mass and interact with electric fields and so on, adds to the weirdness,” said Roman Khakimov, PhD student at the Research School of Physics and Engineering.

    “Reality is in the observations, not in the electron.”
    – Paul Davies

    “We have become participators in the existence of the universe. We have no right to say that the past exists independent of the act of observation.”
    – John Wheeler

    This post would not be complete without Einstein’s ‘does the moon exist if you are not looking at it’ question:

    Einstein: An Exchange – 2007
    Excerpt: In fact, a quantum mechanician like Bohr would say that, in the absence of an experiment to determine them, these quantities have no existence at all. This is what Einstein objected to. He once walked back from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton with the late Abraham Pais. The moon was out and Einstein asked Pais, “Do you really believe the moon is not there when you are not looking at it?”

    And yet, despite how counter-intuitive it may be for materialists, quantum mechanics backs up the Theistic claim that consciousness must be primary for reality to even exist in the first place:

    “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” lead researcher and physicist Andrew Truscott said in a press release.

    The Mental Universe – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, Physicists shy away from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental universe is to invoke “decoherence” – the notion that “the physical environment” is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in “Renninger-type” experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.


    “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”
    Niels Bohr


    John 3:12
    If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

  7. 7
    Origenes says:


    Thank you for pointing out the connection with quantum mechanics. Very very interesting.
    It may also be valuable to investigate the naturalistic concept of the relationship (or non-relationship) between consciousness/subjectivity and empirical facts. When Dennett claims that ‘nobody is conscious … we are all zombies*’ — IOWs nobody has internal experiences — then one has to wonder how, according to Dennett, we have access to empirical facts. How does Dennett experience the empirical facts that lead him to conclude that he has no internal experiences?

    – – – –
    *zombies: “philosophical constructs who appear and behave exactly like humans but who lack internal experience” (J.W. SCHOOLER & C.A. SCHREIBER).

  8. 8
    Axel says:

    Good to see you quote an excerpt from William J Murray’s works concerning the ‘philosophical reality’ to which QM points, among those of the acknowledged, stellar authorities on QM, BA77. He seems to both reason and express himself with such ease in the most abstrusely profound, even arcane, of areas. I wonder how many philosophers were able to express their reasoning as fluently.

    I was also pleased to notice that you entered your initial reference to counter-intuitiveness in the context of the paradoxes and mystery of QM, between quotation marks. I understand that for the most part, one has to act according to the conventions.

    The term, ‘counter-intuitiveness’, as so often used by the materialists, is beyond risible.

    ‘One day, my son, this whole universe will be like an open book to us, a children’s book….. (accompanied, of course by the customary wide sweep of the arm). Our unaided Reason will conquer all !’

  9. 9
    Truthfreedom says:

    Have you seen “Truth”?
    Excellent and brief video 🙂

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