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Thomas Nagel: Daniel Dennett “maintaining a thesis at all costs” in Bacteria to Bach and Back

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Non-naturalist atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel, author of Mind and Cosmos, reviewing naturalist atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett’s Bacteria to Bach and Back at New York Review of Books:

For fifty years the philosopher Daniel Dennett has been engaged in a grand project of disenchantment of the human world, using science to free us from what he deems illusions—illusions that are difficult to dislodge because they are so natural. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his eighteenth book (thirteenth as sole author), Dennett presents a valuable and typically lucid synthesis of his worldview. Though it is supported by reams of scientific data, he acknowledges that much of what he says is conjectural rather than proven, either empirically or philosophically.

A question that occurs to the improperly educated mind is whether “reams of data” mean anything under the circumstances described.

For this part and much more, you will have to pay:

The trouble is that Dennett concludes not only that there is much more behind our behavioral competencies than is revealed to the first-person point of view—which is certainly true—but that nothing whatever is revealed to the first-person point of view but a “version” of the neural machinery. In other words, when I look at the American flag, it may seem to me that there are red stripes in my subjective visual field, but that is an illusion: the only reality, of which this is “an interpreted, digested version,” is that a physical process I can’t describe is going on in my visual cortex.

…  And he asks us to do this because the reality of such phenomena is incompatible with the scientific materialism that in his view sets the outer bounds of reality. He is, in Aristotle’s words, “maintaining a thesis at all costs.” (paywall) More.

Isn’t that the purpose of the modern university system? We pay, they decide how we should think and live. What could go wrong with that?

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

Thomas Nagel: “The intelligentsia was so furious [at him] that it formed a lynch mob”

Split brain does not lead to split consciousness

and

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

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9 Replies to “Thomas Nagel: Daniel Dennett “maintaining a thesis at all costs” in Bacteria to Bach and Back

  1. 1
    mike1962 says:

    After I read Dennet’s book on consciousness, I lost all interest in him. Barely had any interest prior to that, but I like to know what the materialist rabble has to say in desperation.

  2. 2
    Origenes says:

    … nothing whatever is revealed to the first-person point of view but a “version” of the neural machinery.

    This also goes for scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge is ‘but a “version” of the neural machinery’.

    In other words, when I look at the American flag, it may seem to me that there are red stripes in my subjective visual field, but that is an illusion: the only reality, of which this is “an interpreted, digested version,” is that a physical process I can’t describe is going on in my visual cortex.

    The same goes for a scientific text. It’s may seem to me objective and valuable in my subjective visual field, but that’s an illusion: the only reality, of which this is “an interpreted, digested version,” is that physical processes I can’t describe are going on in my visual cortex and cerebrum.

    … And he asks us to do this because the reality of such phenomena is incompatible with the scientific materialism that in his view sets the outer bounds of reality.

    But that doesn’t make any sense, because nothing — including scientific materialism — is outside of the illusion created by the ‘neural machinery’. IOWs the outer bounds of our reality is set by neural machinery. There can be no ‘escape’ to science.

  3. 3
    Origenes says:

    Correction:

    Origenes: The same goes for a scientific text. It’s may seem to me objective and valuable in my subjective visual field, but that’s an illusion: the only reality, of which this is “an interpreted, digested version,” is that physical processes I can’t describe are going on in my visual cortex and cerebrum.

    What was I thinking?

    “I” — whatever that means under materialism — have no access to reality. Everything that I know, science included, is filtered/produced by the neural machinery. Everything is but an illusion. Including the notion that everything that I know, science included, is filtered/produced by the neural machinery. Including the notion that ‘everything is but an illusion’. Including the notion that includes the notion that ‘everything is but an illusion’. Including the notion ….

  4. 4
    Origenes says:

    Bill Vallicella on Dennett and truth:

    This is a man who holds that consciousness is an illusion. He explains consciousness by explaining it away.
    ….
    But if consciousness, per impossibile, were an illusion, why wouldn’t truth also be an illusion? Consciousness is an illusion because naturalism has no place for it. Whatever is real is reducible to the physical; consciousness is not reducible to the physical; ergo, consciousness does not exist in reality: it is an illusion.

    By the same reasoning, truth ought also to be an illusion since there is no place for it in the natural world. Note also that Dennett obviously thinks that truth is objectively valuable and pursuit-worthy. Where locate values in a naturalist scheme?

    Wouldn’t it be more consistent for Dennett to go whole hog and explain away both consciousness and truth? Perhaps he ought to go POMO. There is no truth; there are only interpretations and perspectives of organisms grubbing for survival. What justifies him in privileging his naturalist narrative?

    [my emphasis]

  5. 5
    drc466 says:

    Whatever is real is reducible to the physical; consciousness is not reducible to the physical; ergo, consciousness does not exist in reality: it is an illusion.

    So, to rephrase your point regarding truth, if consciousness is an illusion, then my perceptions are an illusion. And if my perceptions are an illusion, my version of “whatever is real” is an illusion. And if reality is an illusion, then naturalism is an illusion. So naturalism, as an ideology, rules out naturalism as an ideology.

  6. 6
    Origenes says:

    Drc466,

    Indeed. The puzzling thing is that we find ourselves in a time dominated by a philosophical elite which fails to grasp these basic points.

    Bill Vallicella:

    In general, if there were no knowers, there would be no knowledge. Even if truths can float free of minds, it is self-evident that knowledge cannot. Knowledge exists only in knowers even if truth can exist apart from any knowers.

    And so a worldview that is not anyone’s view is a notion hard to credit.

    Classically, truth is adequation of intellect and thing, and cannot exist without intellects, whether finite or divine. Truth is Janus-faced: it faces the world and it faces the mind. Truth is necessarily mind-involving. I suggest that truth conceived out of all relation to any mind is an incoherent notion.

  7. 7
    tjguy says:

    Origenes @2

    But that doesn’t make any sense, because nothing — including scientific materialism — is outside of the illusion created by the ‘neural machinery’. IOWs the outer bounds of our reality is set by neural machinery. There can be no ‘escape’ to science.

    Exactly! He saws off the branch he is sitting on! lol!

    You would think these intellectual types would be smarter than that.

    Instead they undermine all hope of ever arriving at any kind of truth and applaud themselves for their intellectualism somehow thinking they are really bright!

    How can you live life like that? – I mean if you really believed that, can you really live as if that is true?

    They will espouse any ridiculous worldview to in their effort to support Naturalism. Their commitment to and strong belief in their worldview and beliefs is commendable, but perhaps it has blinded their eyes to reality!

  8. 8
    Origenes says:

    Tjguy: He saws off the branch he is sitting on!

    The branch is a metaphor for what is presupposed. And it is exactly the concept of presupposition that they fail to grasp.

    Bill Vallicella: Consciousness cannot be an illusion for the simple reason that we presuppose it when we distinguish between reality and illusion. An illusion is an illusion to consciousness, so that if there were no consciousness there would be no illusions either.

    Not existing in reality, illusions of all sorts, not just perceptual illusions, exist for consciousness. But then consciousness cannot be an illusion. Consciousness is a presupposition of the distinction between reality and illusion. As such, it cannot be an illusion. It must be real.

    Calling Dennett a sophist is not very nice, even though I have very good reason to impugn his intellectual integrity, as you will discover if you read my entries in the Dennett category. So let me try to be charitable. Our man is a naturalist and an explanatory rationalist: he is out to explain everything. But not everything can be explained. Consciousness is not only presupposed by the distinction between reality and illusion, it is also presupposed by the quest for explanation. For where would explanations reside if not in the minds of conscious beings?

    Tjguy: You would think these intellectual types would be smarter than that.
    Instead they undermine all hope of ever arriving at any kind of truth and applaud themselves for their intellectualism somehow thinking they are really bright!
    How can you live life like that? – I mean if you really believed that, can you really live as if that is true?
    They will espouse any ridiculous worldview to in their effort to support Naturalism. Their commitment to and strong belief in their worldview and beliefs is commendable, but perhaps it has blinded their eyes to reality!

    You are correct, there is no other explanation for this perversion of philosophy.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    Origines, Dennett shows grand delusion on steroids. Utterly, irretrievably incoherent, just set it aside, duly noting what else this carries down with it in its collapse into self falsification. Evolutionary materialist scientism fails again. KF

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