Daniel Dennett
Professor of Philosophy and Co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University
02:56

When Daniel Dennett Changes His Mind

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When Daniel Dennett Changes His Mind.

Daniel Dennett

Daniel C. Dennett is the author of Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, Breaking the Spell, Freedom Evolves, and Darwin's Dangerous Idea and is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He lives with his wife in North Andover, Massachusetts, and has a daughter, a son, and a grandson. He was born in Boston in 1942, the son of a historian by the same name, and received his B.A. in philosophy from Harvard in 1963. He then went to Oxford to work with Gilbert Ryle, under whose supervision he completed the D.Phil. in philosophy in 1965. He taught at U.C. Irvine from 1965 to 1971, when he moved to Tufts, where he has taught ever since, aside from periods visiting at Harvard, Pittsburgh, Oxford, and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

His first book, Content and Consciousness, appeared in 1969, followed by Brainstorms (1978), Elbow Room (1984), The Intentional Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1991), Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), Kinds of Minds (1996), and Brainchildren: A Collection of Essays 1984-1996. Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, was published in 2005. He co-edited The Mind's I with Douglas Hofstadter in 1981 and he is the author of over three hundred scholarly articles on various aspects on the mind, published in journals ranging from Artificial Intelligence and Behavioral and Brain Sciences to Poetics Today and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.

Dennett gave the John Locke Lectures at Oxford in 1983, the Gavin David Young Lectures at Adelaide, Australia, in 1985, and the Tanner Lecture at Michigan in 1986, among many others. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987.

He was the Co-founder (in 1985) and Co-director of the Curricular Software Studio at Tufts, and has helped to design museum exhibits on computers for the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Science in Boston, and the Computer Museum in Boston.

Transcript

Question: When have you changed your mind about something?

Dennett:    Yeah, and fairly recently.  For years, well I’m going to try 2 that really faded.  In my first book, I disparaged models as I said replace the little man on their brain with a committee, I said that seem to only make matters worst, “They are no, no.”  If it’s a committee of dances, each of them does only part of the job that’s far for me he matters [IB] that’s progress and that lead to what’s called by some people homuncular functionalism where you take the whole self, the whole agent the whole person and you break that person down into sub-agencies that are themselves agencies they had their own sort of agendas and they have, they have this information they have is the, you might say they have their own beliefs and desires and they work together to achieve the larger person.  That’s not entirely figured if you talk to someone that’s deeply, deeply predictive and explanatory and here’s where the mistake comes, and I imagine said that we can do a sort of a Russian dolls cascade, we’ve start with these large fancy agents and we make them up out of smaller agents so we make those up by the smaller agents until we get down to an agent that can be replaced by a machine and then we discharged all the homunculus, homunculi, and this is a finite regress, its not an infinite regress and I imagine by the time we got down at the level of the neuron, a neuron was something that can be replaced by a machine.  Well, I think I stopped.  I said that the regress stopped a few stages too early.  I think a neuron is better viewed, a single neuron is better viewed as a little agent of it’s own than it is a sort of selfish agent that the activities of an individual neuron in effect reaching out and then contracting it’s dendritic]branchings.  It’s got some purposes, it’s got some reward systems of its own. It is a little skin area and agents on sorts.  And of course it is an ultimately a machine but it’s also a very much of an agent and that’s something that I’ve recently been thinking about it and I think I was really wrong about that. 

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