Daniel Dennett Will Teach You How To Use Your Brain
The tools that philosophers use are also tools for everyday life.
Born and raised in New York City, Nick studies philosophy at Trinity College Dublin, specializing in Mathematical Logic and in the crossroads of free will, determinism, and personhood. His particular interests are: Logic, Philosophy, Motorsports, Kurt Vonnegut, Bertrand Russell, 20th Century American Literature, The Automotive Industry, and Debate.
Daniel Dennett is a philosopher and cognitive scientist who works out of Tufts University. He is famous for, among other things, his outspoken atheism, his belief that the mind is entirely physically explained, and his belief that free will is compatible with a world determined by physical laws.
The most important idea he promotes is that the tools of philosophy are the tools of everyday life.
His latest book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, chronicles tools, tricks, arguments, and other so-called "brain hacks" which philosophers use, but which are just as useful and applicable for anyone. Each of these things, alone, is not a big idea, but together they represent Dennett's biggest idea: Bringing high level thought down from the ivory tower.
Dennett, himself a hugely eminent philosopher, has long been a critic of the typical behaviors and interests of academic philosophers in general. In particular, he believes that the work of philosophers of mind and of cognitive scientists are not fundamentally distinct. In his estimation, the biggest questions about perception and consciousness remain open only because philosophers stop at the line of what they think is "in the realm of science" and scientist stop at what they think is "in the realm of philosophy".
That brings us back to the tools of philosophy, and why Dennett's idea that they are also tools for everyday life is such a big one. Basically, the tools that philosophers use exploit or employ the cognitive functions, idiosyncrasies failings, or skills of the human brain.
As a student of both cognitive science and of philosophy, Dennett simply asks: Why don't these tools apply wherever and whenever our experience is guided by the characteristics of the human brain?
It so happens that everywhere and always is where and when our experiences are guided by the characteristics of the human brain, so Dennett sees fit to apply them as broadly as possible.
For an example of these tools for thinking, check out the video below. Much more will be available in an upcoming Big Think Mentor workshop with Dennett.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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