So I've finished Dennett's 'Consciousness Explained' and I almost entirely agree with his ideas about what consciousness is. An extract:
Are zombies possible? They're not just possible, they're actual. We're all zombies. Nobody is conscious - not in the systematically mysterious way that supports such doctrines as epiphenomalism! I can't prove that no such sort of consciousness exists. I also cannot prove that gremlins don't exist. The best I can do is show that there is no respectable motivation for believing it. (p.406)
In a nutshell then, Dennett has proposed that consciousness is an illusion and the self is akin to a centre of gravity, around which the narrative of our lives is constructed. What we may describe as a unified stream of consciousness is merely the outpouring of various competing units, which attempt to make our job of surviving in the world easier. Conscious explained then. One final extract:
Treating a corpse "badly" may not directly harm any dying person, and certainly doesn't harm the corpse, but, if it became common practice and this became widely known (as it would), this would significantly change the belief environment that surrounds dying. People would imagine the events that were due to follow their demise differently from the way they now imagine them, and in ways that would be particularly depressing. Maybe not for any good reason but so what? If people are going to be depressed, that in itself is a good reason for not adopting a policy. (p.453)
Is this why Dennett disagreed that everything is pointless? Because even though consciousness is an illusion, and there is no god, Dennett does not want to depress everyone with that particular truth? But who gets to decide who understands the truth and reality? Science is about the truth, regardless of whether we like the answers we find or not, and ignoring reality is often a recipe for disaster.
I've not read Dennett's latest book 'Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon' but I have read an interesting review of it. From the World Socialist Website:
What Engels wrote of Feuerbach could be justly applied to Dennett: “In the form he is realistic since he takes his start from man; but there is absolutely no mention of the world in which this man lives; hence, this man remains always the same abstract man who occupied the field in the philosophy of religion.” To put it somewhat differently, because Dennett never really examines the social history of man, his hypotheses about the development of religion after agricultural societies arose have a contrived feel to them. Man as Dennett imagines him, naturalistically, substitutes for historical man. An imagined history is substituted for the real one.
And perhaps this is my beef with Dennett. Like George Orwell's attack on H.G. Wells for being 'all talk and no trousers' (my paraphrasing), Dennett's consideration of the political (and often nefarious and `Machiavellian) motivations for behaviour, is glaring in its absence. Wells urged for an open scientific conspiracy against corrupt political leaders, and Orwell criticised Wells for not being prepared to fight. At times Dennett seems worried that his ideas may destroy consciousness or lead to a worldwide epidemic of depressed zombies, pissed off with Dennett personally, for taking all the fun out of life.
Reality is simpler. Consciousness is an illusion. Everything is pointless. Humans often abuse other humans (for their own benefit or amusement). Death will come sooner than you like. Be happy, but be prepared to fight to enjoy life, if you have to.Go Top