How To Build Persuasion Machines
You can create mental machinery for decision making.
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.
Intuition pumps are sometimes called thought experiments. But they’re not really formal arguments typically. They’re stories. They’re little fables. In fact, I think they’re similar to Aesop’s fables in that they’re supposed to have a moral. They’re supposed to teach us something. And what they do is they lead the audience to an intuition, a conclusion, where you sort of pound your fist on the table and you say, “Oh yeah, it’s gotta be that way, doesn’t it.” If it achieves that then it’s pumped the intuition that was designed to pump. These are persuasion machines. Little persuasion machines that philosophers have been using for several thousand years.
I think that intuition pumps are particularly valuable when there’s confusion about just what the right questions are and what the right – what matters. What matters to answer the question. I think we’re all pretty good at using examples to think about things and intuition pumps are usually rather vivid examples from which you’re supposed to draw a very general moral. And they come up in many walks of life.
Anytime you’re puzzled or confused about what to do next or whether something’s true or false, you might cast about for an intuition pump that could help you.
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