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Freedom Evolves
 
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Freedom Evolves [Format Kindle]

Daniel C. Dennett

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One widespread tradition has it that we human beings are responsible agents, captains of our fate, because what we really are are souls, immaterial and immortal clumps of Godstuff that inhabit and control our material bodies rather like spectral puppeteers. It is our souls that are the source of all meaning, and the locus of all our suffering, our joy, our glory and shame. But this idea of immaterial souls, capable of defying the laws of physics, has outlived its credibility thanks to the advance of the natural sciences. Many people think the implications of this are dreadful: We don't really have "free will" and nothing really matters. The aim of this book is to show why they are wrong.

Learning What We Are

Sì, abbiamo un anima. Ma è fatta di tanti piccoli robot.
Yes, we have a soul. But it's made of lots of tiny robots.
—Giulio Giorelli

We don't have to have immaterial souls of the old-fashioned sort in order to live up to our hopes; our aspirations as moral beings whose acts and lives matter do not depend at all on our having minds that obey a different physics from the rest of nature. The self-understanding we can gain from science can help us put our moral lives on a new and better foundation, and once we understand what our freedom consists in, we will be much better prepared to protect it against the genuine threats that are so regularly misidentified.

A student of mine who went into the Peace Corps to avoid serving in the Vietnam War later told me about his efforts on behalf of a tribe living deep in the Brazilian forest. I asked him if he had been required to tell them about the conflict between the USA and the USSR. Not at all, he replied. There would have been no point in it. They had never heard of either America or the Soviet Union. In fact, they had never even heard of Brazil! It was still possible in the 1960s for a human being to live in a nation, and be subject to its laws, without the slightest knowledge of that fact. If we find this astonishing, it is because we human beings, unlike all other species on the planet, are knowers. We are the only ones who have figured out what we are, and where we are, in this great universe. And we're even beginning to figure out how we got here.

These quite recent discoveries about who we are and how we got here are unnerving, to say the least. What you are is an assemblage of roughly a hundred trillion cells, of thousands of different sorts. The bulk of these cells are "daughters" of the egg cell and sperm cell whose union started you, but they are actually outnumbered by the trillions of bacterial hitchhikers from thousands of different lineages stowed away in your body (Hooper et al. 1998). Each of your host cells is a mindless mechanism, a largely autonomous micro-robot. It is no more conscious than your bacterial guests are. Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares.

Each trillion-robot team is gathered together in a breathtakingly efficient regime that has no dictator but manages to keep itself organized to repel outsiders, banish the weak, enforce iron rules of discipline—and serve as the headquarters of one conscious self, one mind. These communities of cells are fascistic in the extreme, but your interests and values have little or nothing to do with the limited goals of the cells that compose you—fortunately. Some people are gentle and generous, others are ruthless; some are pornographers and others devote their lives to the service of God. It has been tempting over the ages to imagine that these striking differences must be due to the special features of some extra thing (a soul) installed somehow in the bodily headquarters. We now know that tempting as this idea still is, it is not supported in the slightest by anything we have learned about our biology in general and our brains in particular. The more we learn about how we have evolved, and how our brains work, the more certain we are becoming that there is no such extra ingredient. We are each made of mindless robots and nothing else, no non-physical, non-robotic ingredients at all. The differences among people are all due to the way their particular robotic teams are put together, over a lifetime of growth and experience. The difference between speaking French and speaking Chinese is a difference in the organization of the working parts, and so are all the other differences of knowledge and personality.

Since I am conscious and you are conscious, we must have conscious selves that are somehow composed of these strange little parts. How can this be? To see how such an extraordinary composition job could be accomplished, we need to look at the history of the design processes that did all the work, the evolution of human consciousness. We also need to see how these souls made of cellular robots actually do endow us with the important powers and resultant obligations that traditional immaterial souls were supposed to endow us with (by unspecified magic). Trading in a supernatural soul for a natural soul— is this a good bargain? What do we give up and what do we gain? People jump to fearful conclusions about this that are hugely mistaken. I propose to prove this by tracing the growth of freedom on our planet from its earliest beginnings at the dawn of life. What kinds of freedom? Different kinds will emerge as the story unfolds.

Four and a half billion years ago, the planet Earth was formed, and it was utterly without life. And so it stayed for perhaps half a billion years, until the first simple life-forms emerged, and then for the next three billion years or so, the planet's oceans teemed with life, but it was all blind and deaf. Simple cells multiplied, engulfing each other, exploiting each other in a thousand ways, but oblivious to the world beyond their membranes. Then finally much larger, more complex cells evolved—eukaryotes—still clueless and robotic, but with enough internal machinery to begin to specialize. So it continued for a few hundred million more years, the time it took for the algorithms of evolution to stumble upon good ways for these cells and their daughters and granddaughters to band together into multicellular organisms composed of millions, billions, and (eventually) trillions of cells, each doing its particular mechanical routine, but now yoked into specialized service, as part of an eye or an ear or a lung or a kidney. These organisms (not the individual team members composing them) had become long-distance knowers, able to spy supper trying to appear inconspicuous in the middle distance, able to hear danger threatening from afar. But still, even these whole organisms knew not what they were. Their instincts guaranteed that they tried to mate with the right sorts, and flock with the right sorts, but just as those Brazilians didn't know they were Brazilians, no bison has ever known it's a bison.

In just one species, our species, a new trick evolved: language. It has provided us a broad highway of knowledge-sharing, on every topic. Conversation unites us, in spite of our different languages. We can all know quite a lot about what it is like to be a Vietnamese fisherman or a Bulgarian taxi driver, an eighty-year-old nun or a five-year-old boy blind from birth, a chess master or a prostitute. No matter how different from one another we people are, scattered around the globe, we can explore our differences and communicate about them. No matter how similar to one another bison are, standing shoulder to shoulder in a herd, they cannot know much of anything about their similarities, let alone their differences, because they can't compare notes. They can have similar experiences, side by side, but they really can't share experiences the way we do.

Even in our species, it has taken thousands of years of communication for us to begin to find the keys to our own identities. It has been only a few hundred years that we've known that we are mammals, and only a few decades that we've understood in considerable detail how we have evolved, along with all other living things, from those simple beginnings. We are outnumbered on this planet by our distant cousins, the ants, and outweighed by yet more distant relatives, the bacteria. Though we are in the minority, our capacity for long-distance knowledge gives us powers that dwarf the powers of all the rest of the life on the planet. Now, for the first time in its billions of years of history, our planet is protected by far-seeing sentinels, able to anticipate danger from the distant future—a comet on a collision course, or global warming—and devise schemes for doing something about it. The planet has finally grown its own nervous system: us.
 
We may not be up to the job. We may destroy the planet instead of saving it, largely because we are such free-thinking, creative, unruly explorers and adventurers, so unlike the trillions of slavish workers that compose us. Brains are for anticipating the future, so that timely steps can be taken in better directions, but even the smartest of beasts have very limited time horizons, and little if any ability to imagine alternative worlds. We human beings, in contrast, have discovered the mixed blessing of being able to think even about our own deaths and beyond. A huge portion of our energy expenditure over the last ten thousand years has been devoted to assuaging the concerns provoked by this unsettling new vista that we alone have.

If you burn more calories than you take in, you soon die. If you find some tricks that provide you a surplus of calories, what might you spend them on? You might devote person-centuries of labor to building temples and tombs and sacrificial pyres on which you destroy some of your most precious possessions—and even some of your very own children. Why on earth would you want to do that? These strange and awful expenditures give us clues about some of the hidden costs of our heightened powers of imagination. We did not come by our knowledge painlessly.

Now what will we do with our knowledge? The birth pangs of our discoveries have not subsided. Many are afraid that learning too much about what we are—trading in mystery for mechanisms—will impoverish our vision of human possibility. This fear is understandable, but if we really were in danger of learning too much, wouldn't those on the cutting edge be showing signs of discomfort? Look around at those who are participating in this quest for further scientific knowledge and eagerly digesting the new discoveries; they are manifestly not short on optimism, moral conviction, engagement in life, commitment to society. In fact, if you want to find anxiety, despair, and anomie among intellectuals today, look to the recently fashionable tribe of post-modernists, who like to claim that modern science is just another in a long line of myths, its institutions and expensive apparatus just the rituals and accoutrements of yet another religion. That intelligent people can take this seriously is a testimony to the power that fearful thinking still has, in spite of our advances in self-knowledge. The postmodernists are right that science is just one of the things we might want to spend our extra calories on. The fact that science has been a major source of the efficiencies that created those extra calories does not entitle it to any particular share of the wealth it has created. But it should still be obvious that the innovations of science—not just its microscopes and telescopes and computers, but its commitment to reason and evidence—are the new sense organs of our species, enabling us to answer questions, solve mysteries, and anticipate the future in ways no earlier human institutions can approach.

The more we learn about what we are, the more options we will discern about what to try to become. Americans have long honored the "self-made man," but now that we are actually learning enough to be able to remake ourselves into something new, many flinch. Many would apparently rather bumble around with their eyes closed, trusting in tradition, than look around to see what's about to happen. Yes, it is unnerving; yes, it can be scary. After all, there are entirely new mistakes we are now empowered to make for the first time. But it's the beginning of a great new adventure for our knowing species. And it's much more exciting, as well as safer, if we open our eyes.

 

 

One widespread tradition has it that we human beings are responsible agents, captains of our fate, because what we really are are souls, immaterial and immortal clumps of Godstuff that inhabit and control our material bodies rather like spectral puppeteers. It is our souls that are the source of all meaning, and the locus of all our suffering, our joy, our glory and shame. But this idea of immaterial souls, capable of defying the laws of physics, has outlived its credibility thanks to the advance of the natural sciences. Many people think the implications of this are dreadful: We don't really have "free will" and nothing really matters. The aim of this book is to show why they are wrong.

Learning What We Are

Sì, abbiamo un anima. Ma è fatta di tanti piccoli robot.
Yes, we have a soul. But it's made of lots of tiny robots.
—Giulio Giorelli

We don't have to have immaterial souls of the old-fashioned sort in order to live up to our hopes; our aspirations as moral beings whose acts and lives matter do not depend at all on our having minds that obey a different physics from the rest of nature. The self-understanding we can gain from science can help us put our moral lives on a new and better foundation, and once we understand what our freedom consists in, we will be much better prepared to protect it against the genuine threats that are so regularly misidentified.

A student of mine who went into the Peace Corps to avoid serving in the Vietnam War later told me about his efforts on behalf of a tribe living deep in the Brazilian forest. I asked him if he had been required to tell them about the conflict between the USA and the USSR. Not at all, he replied. There would have been no point in it. They had never heard of either America or the Soviet Union. In fact, they had never even heard of Brazil! It was still possible in the 1960s for a human being to live in a nation, and be subject to its laws, without the slightest knowledge of that fact. If we find this astonishing, it is because we human beings, unlike all other species on the planet, are knowers. We are the only ones who have figured out what we are, and where we are, in this great universe. And we're even beginning to figure out how we got here.

These quite recent discoveries about who we are and how we got here are unnerving, to say the least. What you are is an assemblage of roughly a hundred trillion cells, of thousands of different sorts. The bulk of these cells are "daughters" of the egg cell and sperm cell whose union started you, but they are actually outnumbered by the trillions of bacterial hitchhikers from thousands of different lineages stowed away in your body (Hooper et al. 1998). Each of your host cells is a mindless mechanism, a largely autonomous micro-robot. It is no more conscious than your bacterial guests are. Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares.

Each trillion-robot team is gathered together in a breathtakingly efficient regime that has no dictator but manages to keep itself organized to repel outsiders, banish the weak, enforce iron rules of discipline—and serve as the headquarters of one conscious self, one mind. These communities of cells are fascistic in the extreme, but your interests and values have little or nothing to do with the limited goals of the cells that compose you—fortunately. Some people are gentle and generous, others are ruthless; some are pornographers and others devote their lives to the service of God. It has been tempting over the ages to imagine that these striking differences must be due to the special features of some extra thing (a soul) installed somehow in the bodily headquarters. We now know that tempting as this idea still is, it is not supported in the slightest by anything we have learned about our biology in general and our brains in particular. The more we learn about how we have evolved, and how our brains work, the more certain we are becoming that there is no such extra ingredient. We are each made of mindless robots and nothing else, no non-physical, non-robotic ingredients at all. The differences among people are all due to the way their particular robotic teams are put together, over a lifetime of growth and experience. The difference between speaking French and speaking Chinese is a difference in the organization of the working parts, and so are all the other differences of knowledge and personality.

Since I am conscious and you are conscious, we must have conscious selves that are somehow composed of these strange little parts. How can this be? To see how such an extraordinary composition job could be accomplished, we need to look at the history of the design processes that did all the work, the evolution of human consciousness. We also need to see how these souls made of cellular robots actually do endow us with the important powers and resultant obligations that traditional immaterial souls were supposed to endow us with (by unspecified magic). Trading in a supernatural soul for a natural soul— is this a good bargain? What do we give up and what do we gain? People jump to fearful conclusions about this that are hugely mistaken. I propose to prove this by tracing the growth of freedom on our planet from its earliest beginnings at the dawn of life. What kinds of freedom? Different kinds will emerge as the story unfolds.

Four and a half billion years ago, the planet Earth was formed, and it was utterly without life. And so it stayed for perhaps half a billion years, until the first simple life-forms emerged, and then for the next three billion years or so, the planet's oceans teemed with life, but it was all blind and deaf. Simple cells multiplied, engulfing each other, exploiting each other in a thousand ways, but oblivious to the world beyond their membranes. Then finally much larger, more complex cells evolved—eukaryotes—still clueless and robotic, but with enough internal machinery to begin to specialize. So it continued for a few hundred million more years, the time it took for the algorithms of evolution to stumble upon good ways for these cells and their daughters and granddaughters to band together into multicellular organisms composed of millions, billions, and (eventually) trillions of cells, each doing its particular mechanical routine, but now yoked into specialized service, as part of an eye or an ear or a lung or a kidney. These organisms (not the individual team members composing them) had become long-distance knowers, able to spy supper trying to appear inconspicuous in the middle distance, able to hear danger threatening from afar. But still, even these whole organisms knew not what they were. Their instincts guaranteed that they tried to mate with the right sorts, and flock with the right sorts, but just as those Brazilians didn't know they were Brazilians, no bison has ever known it's a bison.

In just one species, our species, a new trick evolved: language. It has provided us a broad highway of knowledge-sharing, on every topic. Conversation unites us, in spite of our different languages. We can all know quite a lot about what it is like to be a Vietnamese fisherman or a Bulgarian taxi driver, an eighty-year-old nun or a five-year-old boy blind from birth, a chess master or a prostitute. No matter how different from one another we people are, scattered around the globe, we can explore our differences and communicate about them. No matter how similar to one another bison are, standing shoulder to shoulder in a herd, they cannot know much of anything about their similarities, let alone their differences, because they can't compare notes. They can have similar experiences, side by side, but they really can't share experiences the way we do.

Even in our species, it has taken thousands of years of communication for us to begin to find the keys to our own identities. It has been only a few hundred years that we've known that we are mammals, and only a few decades that we've understood in considerable detail how we have evolved, along with all other living things, from those simple beginnings. We are outnumbered on this planet by our distant cousins, the ants, and outweighed by yet more distant relatives, the bacteria. Though we are in the minority, our capacity for long-distance knowledge gives us powers that dwarf the powers of all the rest of the life on the planet. Now, for the first time in its billions of years of history, our planet is protected by far-seeing sentinels, able to anticipate danger from the distant future—a comet on a collision course, or global warming—and devise schemes for doing something about it. The planet has finally grown its own nervous system: us.
 
We may not be up to the job. We may destroy the planet instead of saving it, largely because we are such free-thinking, creative, unruly explorers and adventurers, so unlike the trillions of slavish workers that compose us. Brains are for anticipating the future, so that timely steps can be taken in better directions, but even the smartest of beasts have very limited time horizons, and little if any ability to imagine alternative worlds. We human beings, in contrast, have discovered the mixed blessing of being able to think even about our own deaths and beyond. A huge portion of our energy expenditure over the last ten thousand years has been devoted to assuaging the concerns provoked by this unsettling new vista that we alone have.

If you burn more calories than you take in, you soon die. If you find some tricks that provide you a surplus of calories, what might you spend them on? You might devote person-centuries of labor to building temples and tombs and sacrificial pyres on which you destroy some of your most precious possessions—and even some of your very own children. Why on earth would you want to do that? These strange and awful expenditures give us clues about some of the hidden costs of our heightened powers of imagination. We did not come by our knowledge painlessly.

Now what will we do with our knowledge? The birth pangs of our discoveries have not subsided. Many are afraid that learning too much about what we are—trading in mystery for mechanisms—will impoverish our vision of human possibility. This fear is understandable, but if we really were in danger of learning too much, wouldn't those on the cutting edge be showing signs of discomfort? Look around at those who are participating in this quest for further scientific knowledge and eagerly digesting the new discoveries; they are manifestly not short on optimism, moral conviction, engagement in life, commitment to society. In fact, if you want to find anxiety, despair, and anomie among intellectuals today, look to the recently fashionable tribe of post-modernists, who like to claim that modern science is just another in a long line of myths, its institutions and expensive apparatus just the rituals and accoutrements of yet another religion. That intelligent people can take this seriously is a testimony to the power that fearful thinking still has, in spite of our advances in self-knowledge. The postmodernists are right that science is just one of the things we might want to spend our extra calories on. The fact that science has been a major source of the efficiencies that created those extra calories does not entitle it to any particular share of the wealth it has created. But it should still be obvious that the innovations of science—not just its microscopes and telescopes and computers, but its commitment to reason and evidence—are the new sense organs of our species, enabling us to answer questions, solve mysteries, and anticipate the future in ways no earlier human institutions can approach.

The more we learn about what we are, the more options we will discern about what to try to become. Americans have long honored the "self-made man," but now that we are actually learning enough to be able to remake ourselves into something new, many flinch. Many would apparently rather bumble around with their eyes closed, trusting in tradition, than look around to see what's about to happen. Yes, it is unnerving; yes, it can be scary. After all, there are entirely new mistakes we are now empowered to make for the first time. But it's the beginning of a great new adventure for our knowing species. And it's much more exciting, as well as safer, if we open our eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel C. Dennett is a brilliant polemicist, famous for challenging unexamined orthodoxies. Over the last thirty years, he has played a major role in expanding our understanding of consciousness, developmental psychology, and evolutionary theory. And with such groundbreaking, critically acclaimed books as Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist), he has reached a huge general and professional audience.
 
In this new book, Dennett shows that evolution is the key to resolving the ancient problems of moral and political freedom. Like the planet's atmosphere on which life depends, the conditions on which our freedom depends had to evolve, and like the atmosphere, they continue to evolve—and could be extinguished. According to Dennett, biology provides the perspective from which we can distinguish the varieties of freedom that matter.  Throughout the history of life on this planet, an interacting web and internal and external conditions have provided the frameworks for the design of agents that are more free than their parts—from the unwitting gropings of the simplest life forms to the more informed activities of animals to the moral dilemmas that confront human beings living in societies.

As in his previous books, Dennett weaves a richly detailed narrative enlivened by analogies as entertaining as they are challenging. Here is the story of how we came to be different from all other creatures, how our early ancestors mindlessly created human culture, and then, how culture gave us our minds, our visions, our moral problems—in a nutshell, our freedom.

 

 

One widespread tradition has it that we human beings are responsible agents, captains of our fate, because what we really are are souls, immaterial and immortal clumps of Godstuff that inhabit and control our material bodies rather like spectral puppeteers. It is our souls that are the source of all meaning, and the locus of all our suffering, our joy, our glory and shame. But this idea of immaterial souls, capable of defying the laws of physics, has outlived its credibility thanks to the advance of the natural sciences. Many people think the implications of this are dreadful: We don't really have "free will" and nothing really matters. The aim of this book is to show why they are wrong.

Learning What We Are

Sì, abbiamo un anima. Ma è fatta di tanti piccoli robot.
Yes, we have a soul. But it's made of lots of tiny robots.
—Giulio Giorelli

We don't have to have immaterial souls of the old-fashioned sort in order to live up to our hopes; our aspirations as moral beings whose acts and lives matter do not depend at all on our having minds that obey a different physics from the rest of nature. The self-understanding we can gain from science can help us put our moral lives on a new and better foundation, and once we understand what our freedom consists in, we will be much better prepared to protect it against the genuine threats that are so regularly misidentified.

A student of mine who went into the Peace Corps to avoid serving in the Vietnam War later told me about his efforts on behalf of a tribe living deep in the Brazilian forest. I asked him if he had been required to tell them about the conflict between the USA and the USSR. Not at all, he replied. There would have been no point in it. They had never heard of either America or the Soviet Union. In fact, they had never even heard of Brazil! It was still possible in the 1960s for a human being to live in a nation, and be subject to its laws, without the slightest knowledge of that fact. If we find this astonishing, it is because we human beings, unlike all other species on the planet, are knowers. We are the only ones who have figured out what we are, and where we are, in this great universe. And we're even beginning to figure out how we got here.

These quite recent discoveries about who we are and how we got here are unnerving, to say the least. What you are is an assemblage of roughly a hundred trillion cells, of thousands of different sorts. The bulk of these cells are "daughters" of the egg cell and sperm cell whose union started you, but they are actually outnumbered by the trillions of bacterial hitchhikers from thousands of different lineages stowed away in your body (Hooper et al. 1998). Each of your host cells is a mindless mechanism, a largely autonomous micro-robot. It is no more conscious than your bacterial guests are. Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares.

Each trillion-robot team is gathered together in a breathtakingly efficient regime that has no dictator but manages to keep itself organized to repel outsiders, banish the weak, enforce iron rules of discipline—and serve as the headquarters of one conscious self, one mind. These communities of cells are fascistic in the extreme, but your interests and values have little or nothing to do with the limited goals of the cells that compose you—fortunately. Some people are gentle and generous, others are ruthless; some are pornographers and others devote their lives to the service of God. It has been tempting over the ages to imagine that these striking differences must be due to the special features of some extra thing (a soul) installed somehow in the bodily headquarters. We now know that tempting as this idea still is, it is not supported in the slightest by anything we have learned about our biology in general and our brains in particular. The more we learn about how we have evolved, and how our brains work, the more certain we are becoming that there is no such extra ingredient. We are each made of mindless robots and nothing else, no non-physical, non-robotic ingredients at all. The differences among people are all due to the way their particular robotic teams are put together, over a lifetime of growth and experience. The difference between speaking French and speaking Chinese is a difference in the organization of the working parts, and so are all the other differences of knowledge and personality.

Since I am conscious and you are conscious, we must have conscious selves that are somehow composed of these strange little parts. How can this be? To see how such an extraordinary composition job could be accomplished, we need to look at the history of the design processes that did all the work, the evolution of human consciousness. We also need to see how these souls made of cellular robots actually do endow us with the important powers and resultant obligations that traditional immaterial souls were supposed to endow us with (by unspecified magic). Trading in a supernatural soul for a natural soul— is this a good bargain? What do we give up and what do we gain? People jump to fearful conclusions about this that are hugely mistaken. I propose to prove this by tracing the growth of freedom on our planet from its earliest beginnings at the dawn of life. What kinds of freedom? Different kinds will emerge as the story unfolds.

Four and a half billion years ago, the planet Earth was formed, and it was utterly without life. And so it stayed for perhaps half a billion years, until the first simple life-forms emerged, and then for the next three billion years or so, the planet's oceans teemed with life, but it was all blind and deaf. Simple cells multiplied, engulfing each other, exploiting each other in a thousand ways, but oblivious to the world beyond their membranes. Then finally much larger, more complex cells evolved—eukaryotes—still clueless and robotic, but with enough internal machinery to begin to specialize. So it continued for a few hundred million more years, the time it took for the algorithms of evolution to stumble upon good ways for these cells and their daughters and granddaughters to band together into multicellular organisms composed of millions, billions, and (eventually) trillions of cells, each doing its particular mechanical routine, but now yoked into specialized service, as part of an eye or an ear or a lung or a kidney. These organisms (not the individual team members composing them) had become long-distance knowers, able to spy supper trying to appear inconspicuous in the middle distance, able to hear danger threatening from afar. But still, even these whole organisms knew not what they were. Their instincts guaranteed that they tried to mate with the right sorts, and flock with the right sorts, but just as those Brazilians didn't know they were Brazilians, no bison has ever known it's a bison.

In just one species, our species, a new trick evolved: language. It has provided us a broad highway of knowledge-sharing, on every topic. Conversation unites us, in spite of our different languages. We can all know quite a lot about what it is like to be a Vietnamese fisherman or a Bulgarian taxi driver, an eighty-year-old nun or a five-year-old boy blind from birth, a chess master or a prostitute. No matter how different from one another we people are, scattered around the globe, we can explore our differences and communicate about them. No matter how similar to one another bison are, standing shoulder to shoulder in a herd, they cannot know much of anything about their similarities, let alone their differences, because they can't compare notes. They can have similar experiences, side by side, but they really can't share experiences the way we do.

Even in our species, it has taken thousands of years of communication for us to begin to find the keys to our own identities. It has been only a few hundred years that we've known that we are mammals, and only a few decades that we've understood in considerable detail how we have evolved, along with all other living things, from those simple beginnings. We are outnumbered on this planet by our distant cousins, the ants, and outweighed by yet more distant relatives, the bacteria. Though we are in the minority, our capacity for long-distance knowledge gives us powers that dwarf the powers of all the rest of the life on the planet. Now, for the first time in its billions of years of history, our planet is protected by far-seeing sentinels, able to anticipate danger from the distant future—a comet on a collision course, or global warming—and devise schemes for doing something about it. The planet has finally grown its own nervous system: us.
 
We may not be up to the job. We may destroy the planet instead of saving it, largely because we are such free-thinking, creative, unruly explorers and adventurers, so unlike the trillions of slavish workers that compose us. Brains are for anticipating the future, so that timely steps can be taken in better directions, but even the smartest of beasts have very limited time horizons, and little if any ability to imagine alternative worlds. We human beings, in contrast, have discovered the mixed blessing of being able to think even about our own deaths and beyond. A huge portion of our energy expenditure over the last ten thousand years has been devoted to assuaging the concerns provoked by this unsettling new vista that we alone have.

If you burn more calories than you take in, you soon die. If you find some tricks that provide you a surplus of calories, what might you spend them on? You might devote person-centuries of labor to building temples and tombs and sacrificial pyres on which you destroy some of your most precious possessions—and even some of your very own children. Why on earth would you want to do that? These strange and awful expenditures give us clues about some of the hidden costs of our heightened powers of imagination. We did not come by our knowledge painlessly.

Now what will we do with our knowledge? The birth pangs of our discoveries have not subsided. Many are afraid that learning too much about what we are—trading in mystery for mechanisms—will impoverish our vision of human possibility. This fear is understandable, but if we really were in danger of learning too much, wouldn't those on the cutting edge be showing signs of discomfort? Look around at those who are participating in this quest for further scientific knowledge and eagerly digesting the new discoveries; they are manifestly not short on optimism, moral conviction, engagement in life, commitment to society. In fact, if you want to find anxiety, despair, and anomie among intellectuals today, look to the recently fashionable tribe of post-modernists, who like to claim that modern science is just another in a long line of myths, its institutions and expensive apparatus just the rituals and accoutrements of yet another religion. That intelligent people can take this seriously is a testimony to the power that fearful thinking still has, in spite of our advances in self-knowledge. The postmodernists are right that science is just one of the things we might want to spend our extra calories on. The fact that science has been a major source of the efficiencies that created those extra calories does not entitle it to any particular share of the wealth it has created. But it should still be obvious that the innovations of science—not just its microscopes and telescopes and computers, but its commitment to reason and evidence—are the new sense organs of our species, enabling us to answer questions, solve mysteries, and anticipate the future in ways no earlier human institutions can approach.

The more we learn about what we are, the more options we will discern about what to try to become. Americans have long honored the "self-made man," but now that we are actually learning enough to be able to remake ourselves into something new, many flinch. Many would apparently rather bumble around with their eyes closed, trusting in tradition, than look around to see what's about to happen. Yes, it is unnerving; yes, it can be scary. After all, there are entirely new mistakes we are now empowered to make for the first time. But it's the beginning of a great new adventure for our knowing species. And it's much more exciting, as well as safer, if we open our eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel C. Dennett is a brilliant polemicist, famous for challenging unexamined orthodoxies. Over the last thirty years, he has played a major role in expanding our understanding of consciousness, developmental psychology, and evolutionary theory. And with such groundbreaking, critically acclaimed books as Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist), he has reached a huge general and professional audience.
 
In this new book, Dennett shows that evolution is the key to resolving the ancient problems of moral and political freedom. Like the planet's atmosphere on which life depends, the conditions on which our freedom depends had to evolve, and like the atmosphere, they continue to evolve—and could be extinguished. According to Dennett, biology provides the perspective from which we can distinguish the varieties of freedom that matter.  Throughout the history of life on this planet, an interacting web and internal and external conditions have provided the frameworks for the design of agents that are more free than their parts—from the unwitting gropings of the simplest life forms to the more informed activities of animals to the moral dilemmas that confront human beings living in societies.

As in his previous books, Dennett weaves a richly detailed narrative enlivened by analogies as entertaining as they are challenging. Here is the story of how we came to be different from all other creatures, how our early ancestors mindlessly created human culture, and then, how culture gave us our minds, our visions, our moral problems—in a nutshell, our freedom.

 

One widespread tradition has it that we human beings are responsible agents, captains of our fate, because what we really are are souls, immaterial and immortal clumps of Godstuff that inhabit and control our material bodies rather like spectral puppeteers. It is our souls that are the source of all meaning, and the locus of all our suffering, our joy, our glory and shame. But this idea of immaterial souls, capable of defying the laws of physics, has outlived its credibility thanks to the advance of the natural sciences. Many people think the implications of this are dreadful: We don't really have "free will" and nothing really matters. The aim of this book is to show why they are wrong.

Learning What We Are

Sì, abbiamo un anima. Ma è fatta di tanti piccoli robot.
Yes, we have a soul. But it's made of lots of tiny robots.
—Giulio Giorelli

We don't have to have immaterial souls of the old-fashioned sort in order to live up to our hopes; our aspirations as moral beings whose acts and lives matter do not depend at all on our having minds that obey a different physics from the rest of nature. The self-understanding we can gain from science can help us put our moral lives on a new and better foundation, and once we understand what our freedom consists in, we will be much better prepared to protect it against the genuine threats that are so regularly misidentified.

A student of mine who went into the Peace Corps to avoid serving in the Vietnam War later told me about his efforts on behalf of a tribe living deep in the Brazilian forest. I asked him if he had been required to tell them about the conflict between the USA and the USSR. Not at all, he replied. There would have been no point in it. They had never heard of either America or the Soviet Union. In fact, they had never even heard of Brazil! It was still possible in the 1960s for a human being to live in a nation, and be subject to its laws, without the slightest knowledge of that fact. If we find this astonishing, it is because we human beings, unlike all other species on the planet, are knowers. We are the only ones who have figured out what we are, and where we are, in this great universe. And we're even beginning to figure out how we got here.

These quite recent discoveries about who we are and how we got here are unnerving, to say the least. What you are is an assemblage of roughly a hundred trillion cells, of thousands of different sorts. The bulk of these cells are "daughters" of the egg cell and sperm cell whose union started you, but they are actually outnumbered by the trillions of bacterial hitchhikers from thousands of different lineages stowed away in your body (Hooper et al. 1998). Each of your host cells is a mindless mechanism, a largely autonomous micro-robot. It is no more conscious than your bacterial guests are. Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares.

Each trillion-robot team is gathered together in a breathtakingly efficient regime that has no dictator but manages to keep itself organized to repel outsiders, banish the weak, enforce iron rules of discipline—and serve as the headquarters of one conscious self, one mind. These communities of cells are fascistic in the extreme, but your interests and values have little or nothing to do with the limited goals of the cells that compose you—fortunately. Some people are gentle and generous, others are ruthless; some are pornographers and others devote their lives to the service of God. It has been tempting over the ages to imagine that these striking differences must be due to the special features of some extra thing (a soul) installed somehow in the bodily headquarters. We now know that tempting as this idea still is, it is not supported in the slightest by anything we have learned about our biology in general and our brains in particular. The more we learn about how we have evolved, and how our brains work, the more certain we are becoming that there is no such extra ingredient. We are each made of mindless robots and nothing else, no non-physical, non-robotic ingredients at all. The differences among people are all due to the way their particular robotic teams are put together, over a lifetime of growth and experience. The difference between speaking French and speaking Chinese is a difference in the organization of the working parts, and so are all the other differences of knowledge and personality.

Since I am conscious and you are conscious, we must have conscious selves that are somehow composed of these strange little parts. How can this be? To see how such an extraordinary composition job could be accomplished, we need to look at the history of the design processes that did all the work, the evolution of human consciousness. We also need to see how these souls made of cellular robots actually do endow us with the important powers and resultant obligations that traditional immaterial souls were supposed to endow us with (by unspecified magic). Trading in a supernatural soul for a natural soul— is this a good bargain? What do we give up and what do we gain? People jump to fearful conclusions about this that are hugely mistaken. I propose to prove this by tracing the growth of freedom on our planet from its earliest beginnings at the dawn of life. What kinds of freedom? Different kinds will emerge as the story unfolds.

Four and a half billion years ago, the planet Earth was formed, and it was utterly without life. And so it stayed for perhaps half a billion years, until the first simple life-forms emerged, and then for the next three billion years or so, the planet's oceans teemed with life, but it was all blind and deaf. Simple cells multiplied, engulfing each other, exploiting each other in a thousand ways, but oblivious to the world beyond their membranes. Then finally much larger, more complex cells evolved—eukaryotes—still clueless and robotic, but with enough internal machinery to begin to specialize. So it continued for a few hundred million more years, the time it took for the algorithms of evolution to stumble upon good ways for these cells and their daughters and granddaughters to band together into multicellular organisms composed of millions, billions, and (eventually) trillions of cells, each doing its particular mechanical routine, but now yoked into specialized service, as part of an eye or an ear or a lung or a kidney. These organisms (not the individual team members composing them) had become long-distance knowers, able to spy supper trying to appear inconspicuous in the middle distance, able to hear danger threatening from afar. But still, even these whole organisms knew not what they were. Their instincts guaranteed that they tried to mate with the right sorts, and flock with the right sorts, but just as those Brazilians didn't know they were Brazilians, no bison has ever known it's a bison.

In just one species, our species, a new trick evolved: language. It has provided us a broad highway of knowledge-sharing, on every topic. Conversation unites us, in spite of our different languages. We can all know quite a lot about what it is like to be a Vietnamese fisherman or a Bulgarian taxi driver, an eighty-year-old nun or a five-year-old boy blind from birth, a chess master or a prostitute. No matter how different from one another we people are, scattered around the globe, we can explore our differences and communicate about them. No matter how similar to one another bison are, standing shoulder to shoulder in a herd, they cannot know much of anything about their similarities, let alone their differences, because they can't compare notes. They can have similar experiences, side by side, but they really can't share experiences the way we do.

Even in our species, it has taken thousands of years of communication for us to begin to find the keys to our own identities. It has been only a few hundred years that we've known that we are mammals, and only a few decades that we've understood in considerable detail how we have evolved, along with all other living things, from those simple beginnings. We are outnumbered on this planet by our distant cousins, the ants, and outweighed by yet more distant relatives, the bacteria. Though we are in the minority, our capacity for long-distance knowledge gives us powers that dwarf the powers of all the rest of the life on the planet. Now, for the first time in its billions of years of history, our planet is protected by far-seeing sentinels, able to anticipate danger from the distant future—a comet on a collision course, or global warming—and devise schemes for doing something about it. The planet has finally grown its own nervous system: us.
 
We may not be up to the job. We may destroy the planet instead of saving it, largely because we are such free-thinking, creative, unruly explorers and adventurers, so unlike the trillions of slavish workers that compose us. Brains are for anticipating the future, so that timely steps can be taken in better directions, but even the smartest of beasts have very limited time horizons, and little if any ability to imagine alternative worlds. We human beings, in contrast, have discovered the mixed blessing of being able to think even about our own deaths and beyond. A huge portion of our energy expenditure over the last ten thousand years has been devoted to assuaging the concerns provoked by this unsettling new vista that we alone have.

If you burn more calories than you take in, you soon die. If you find some tricks that provide you a surplus of calories, what might you spend them on? You might devote person-centuries of labor to building temples and tombs and sacrificial pyres on which you destroy some of your most precious possessions—and even some of your very own children. Why on earth would you want to do that? These strange and awful expenditures give us clues about some of the hidden costs of our heightened powers of imagination. We did not come by our knowledge painlessly.

Now what will we do with our knowledge? The birth pangs of our discoveries have not subsided. Many are afraid that learning too much about what we are—trading in mystery for mechanisms—will impoverish our vision of human possibility. This fear is understandable, but if we really were in danger of learning too much, wouldn't those on the cutting edge be showing signs of discomfort? Look around at those who are participating in this quest for further scientific knowledge and eagerly digesting the new discoveries; they are manifestly not short on optimism, moral conviction, engagement in life, commitment to society. In fact, if you want to find anxiety, despair, and anomie among intellectuals today, look to the recently fashionable tribe of post-modernists, who like to claim that modern science is just another in a long line of myths, its institutions and expensive apparatus just the rituals and accoutrements of yet another religion. That intelligent people can take this seriously is a testimony to the power that fearful thinking still has, in spite of our advances in self-knowledge. The postmodernists are right that science is just one of the things we might want to spend our extra calories on. The fact that science has been a major source of the efficiencies that created those extra calories does not entitle it to any particular share of the wealth it has created. But it should still be obvious that the innovations of science—not just its microscopes and telescopes and computers, but its commitment to reason and evidence—are the new sense organs of our species, enabling us to answer questions, solve mysteries, and anticipate the future in ways no earlier human institutions can approach.

The more we learn about what we are, the more options we will discern about what to try to become. Americans have long honored the "self-made man," but now that we are actually learning enough to be able to remake ourselves into something new, many flinch. Many would apparently rather bumble around with their eyes closed, trusting in tradition, than look around to see what's about to happen. Yes, it is unnerving; yes, it can be scary. After all, there are entirely new mistakes we are now empowered to make for the first time. But it's the beginning of a great new adventure for our knowing species. And it's much more exciting, as well as safer, if we open our eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revue de presse

“Dennett has taken on really big issues, made them clear, dealt with them seriously and given us much on which to reflect. . . . Crisp and critically insightful.” —The Washington Post Book World



“One of the most original thinkers of our time.” —Science



"Dennett stands as the sharpest, cleverest, most stylish prober of how issues of human consciousness interconnect today with evolutionary theory." —The Philadelphia Inquirer



"A serious book with a brilliant message." —Matt Ridley, The Sunday Telegraph


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Amazon.com: 3.7 étoiles sur 5  58 commentaires
167 internautes sur 178 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Darwinian determinism reconciled with a notion of free will 25 février 2003
Par J Scott Morrison - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
The first point to make about this book is that Daniel Dennett's ability to engage readers is well-nigh unprecedented in current scientific or philosophic writing. Reading him is like watching a lion-tamer whose daring keeps us, breathless, on the edge of our seats.
His basic effort is to reconcile the determinism of Darwinism with the humanist's concern with human freedom. To do so he jettisons the notion that free will is a metaphysical concept. Rather, he explains it in terms of contemporary objective science, specifically via the same sort of evolution that led to the development of the eye or of language. He relies heavily on Richard Dawkin's concept of the evolution of memes: ideas that compete with each other just as other characteristics do via natural selection. In other words he argues that freedom of will grows and evolves. To achieve this conclusion he makes the point that determinism (a cause mechanistically producing an effect) is not the same as inevitability. He uses an example from baseball (shades of the late Stephen Jay Gould!) to make his point. He says that a batter has a choice of turning away from a pitch that is going to hit him or allowing it to hit him, depending on which action will help his team. His action is not determined by the prior history of the universe, but by his own analysis in the moment. In a different game, he might make a different choice. This, and other similar arguments, lead Dennett to the conclusion that the more we know, the more varieties and degrees of freedom we can have. Thus, modern man has more freedom than did, say, the Neanderthal.
Essentially then, Dennett, whose earlier work in the areas of consciousness (another concept that gives determinists fits) are seminal, asserts that natural science is the ally of freedom, not an argument against it. The audacious arguments he posits to support this position are breathtaking in their scope and are, for this reader, convincing.
99 internautes sur 109 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Is that all? 12 mars 2003
Par Paul & Lynda Amore - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Daniel Dennett is attempting a thankless task, but one that is long overdue. Back in 1984, with the publication of Elbow Room, he sought to liberate free will - that perennial hobgoblin of philosophy - from a surplus of metaphysical baggage that is increasingly difficult to justify based on what we know about how brains work and how minds evolved. On these two topics, however, Elbow Room required the reader to reserve judgment. Since then, Dennett has given the world Consciousness Explained (1991), which, as the title implies, tries to tell us how brains work, and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), which tries to explain how minds evolved, and in the process provides one of the most lucid accounts yet of the philosophical implications of Darwinism. Now, with Freedom Evolves, Dennett attempts to tie it all together.
The problem with this book, as far as I am concerned, is that it feels rushed and disjointed. I was more than happy to read all 500+ pages of DDI because the topic deserved that much space and, honestly, that book is a pleasure to read. The topic of free will, if anything, requires even more space to develop, and I would have gladly sat through six or seven hundred pages if necessary. As it is, my understanding of Dennett's arguments is sketchy - even after letting them sink in a few days and re-reading a few sections - so sketchy, in fact, that I won't attempt anything like a synopsis here, for fear of bungling the job. Beyond that, I was a little annoyed with the amount of recycled material from CE and DDI.
So why is Daniel Dennett's task a thankless one? Because he insists that free will is not an "illusion" as some hardcore materialists claim - nor is it some "extra something" in the sense implied by traditional dualist philosophers. There are a lot of feathers to ruffle in this area. Affirming free will on a strict materialist basis would be quite a feat, if done clearly and convincingly. I believe that case can be made, and that it should be made, and that Dennett is qualified to make it. Unfortunately, in Freedom Evolves he didn't do so as clearly and convincingly as I wish he had. Until Dennett or somebody else does so, the task will remain long overdue.
62 internautes sur 68 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Important clarifying work on a central philosophical issue 20 avril 2003
Par Todd I. Stark - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Although this book doesn't introduce anything radically new for those who follow Dennett, it does clarify his previous ideas on consciousness, free will, and human nature, and this
is far from a trivial matter. For anyone seriously interested in the question of how human free will can possibly be compatible with physical laws of cause and effect, and thought that nothing else could be reasonably said on the matter, this book is an essential. It will indeed help you clarify your thoughts, which is afterall one of the best things a work of philosophy can do for you, and one all too rarely accomplished by most philosophers.
For those who wonder about the conditions that foster human freedom and those that suppress it, this book doesn't quite delve into political or social philosophy per se, but it is at least a start at a real answer by providing clear thoughts and useful science and meta-science.
One very good reason for this book is that while Dan Dennett is a clear and vivid writer, particularly for a philosopher, he is also frequently rather badly misunderstood for some reason.
He has been described by reviewers as denying that human beings have free will or conscious awareness, and he has been accused of being an "ultraDarwinist," although he himself disputes these claims. In Freedom Evolves, he ties his previous ideas together and presents them in a way that will resist these misinterpretations of his ideas.

First, Dennett defends the compatibilist tradition (where free will and determinism are considered compatible in principle). He believes that the universe is probably deterministic in its physical nature, but that this doesn't mean our lives are pre-determined, nor does it prevent us from having forms of freedom worth working and fighting for.
This is done by distinguishing determinism clearly from inevitability with the help of his perspective tool of
different 'stances.' The 'stances' help see causation in different terms: mechanical causes from a physical stance vs.
functional causes from a design stance vs. the action of intentional agents from an intentional stance. We perceive inevitability in causal models from the design stance. Then we get confused between free will and determinism because we apply inevitability back to the physical, where it simply doesn't happen.
Then he builds a non-Cartesian account of choice and agency. Rather than distinguishing mind from mechanicals,
he describes different kinds of agency arising as the result of different raw materials available at different times and places. He uses the "toy model" of Conrad's Game of Life as an intuition pump to show how the appearance of agency arises from Darwinian algorithms through patterns like anticipating and avoiding harm.
The fact that the game is implemented on a device that follows instructions to the letter makes it a tough sell I think, and not entirely convincing (something he is acutely aware of, but can't seem to do anything about).
The human kind of agency is introduced by a much clearer discussion of Libet's "half second delay" experiments than he provided in "Consciousness Explained." He makes the point much more directly here how the half second delay can reflect a distributed decision making process rather than demonstrating that "we" are not in charge of our own actions, as the interpretation sometimes goes.
He still follows the basic interpretation used by Tor Norretranders in "User Illusion" and Dan Wegner in
"Illusion of Free Will," (which he has a lot to say about, mostly very good). The fact that there is a reliable
readiness potential prior to reporting our decision to act does mean that in some sense "I" don't directly initiate my actions. But Dennett further shows how we are shrinking this "I" too far when we use this argument to claim that "we" aren't in control or that a mysterious unconscious mind is in control.
"We" are able to disavow responsibility for our own actions under these contrived conditions because we break in
to the middle of the distributed process of decision making. Libet's results demonstrate the separate operation of the parts comprising the whole process, and the flexibility of our sense of self, not the ultimate powerlessness of the "I". This discussion is a high point of the book.
In building a case for the power of the "I" to take responsibility and form committments, Dennett does a brief
review of the literature on evolutionary game theory and the role of committment problems in human social life. He then makes his most important and final argument, that the capacities evolved to solve these problems have become the basis, through cultural evolution, of a fragile and socially and culturally nurtured and exercised ability to internallize reasons for behavior through reflecting on them and communicating them.
The idea that freedom, in the sense used in Dennett's final argument, is so real and yet so fragile is seen in the
way it can be heavily influenced simply by what we believe about it. The metaphor of "bootstrapping" runs throughout
the book, having been introduced in terms of the children's story of Dumbo the elephant. In some sense, we actually rely on useful illusions, such as the 'magic feather' that boosts Dumbo's confidence enough for him to try to fly. A crow flies up to shatter the useful illusion by grabbing the feather away. Dennett refers back to our frequent attempts to "stop that crow !" at various points in the book, pointing out where we may possibly be building real qbilities on the scaffolding of useful illusions, and trying to determine where the scaffolding can potentially be taken down once the real ability is in place.
29 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Indeterminism isn't ? ? ? 29 juillet 2003
Par Dave Kinnear - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
All I can say is "Wow." I admit to struggling with this excellent book for much of the first half, then, after digesting as much as I could, the last half was a bit easier. Dennett does his usual outstanding job of defining and carefully leading us through the many different arguments around his controversial topic of Free Will. Having read both Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Ideas, I was really looking forward to this book as well. Little did I know that it would so challenge my focus and ingrained ideas about determinism and free will.
Dennett shows that determinism does not imply inevitability. As if that isn't enough to struggle with, he then goes on to show that indeterminism doesn't give us free will as most people argue it does. And then, to add insult to injury, Dennett shows clearly how there are real options in a deterministic world. Free will becomes "real, but it is not a preexisting feature of our existence, like the law of gravity. It is also not what tradition declares it to be: a God-like power to exempt oneself from the causal fabric of the physical world. It is an evolved creation of human activity and beliefs, and it is just as real as such other human creations as music and money. And even more valuable."
Since I speak and lecture on Ethics as a Process, I was most interested in Dennett's view on ethics. He gave me much to think about as he states that: "I have not sought to replace the voluminous work in ethics with some Darwinian alternative, but rather to place that work on the foundation it deserves: a realistic, naturalistic, potentially unified vision of our place in nature."
No doubt I will have to return to this book again soon. And there is also no doubt that I will enjoy it even more the next time around and learn perhaps as much as my first time through. This is definitely a five out of five on my review scale!
22 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Depends on what you're looking for 2 mars 2004
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Just because so many of the other reviews are so glowing, I feel the need to interject with a little bit of criticism. First, this really is just old wine in new bottles. If you're interested in the subject of free will and you aren't very familiar with standard philosophical treatments of the issue, Dennett is a wonderful place to start. As always, his writing is greatly entertaining. On the other hand, don't expect to get anything groundbreakingly new here. If Dennett has made a contribution to the issue, that contribution consists largely in popularizing standard (and fairly widely accepted) compatibilist views of free will and in adding nifty scientific flourishes to the discussion, not in adding anything too philosophically original to the debate. Dennett might be the most fun philosopher/scientist to read (although my vote goes to Fodor). He probably isn't, contrary to what another reviewer suggests, one of "the century's top philosophers" though. (There are worse things to be criticized for)
Also, let me add that I suspect that a not insubstantial number of reviewers espousing enthusiasm have misunderstood Dennett's views at least a little bit. Again, this is just good old compatibilism. If you found compatibilism hard to swallow back when you read Hume in your philosophy 101 class, you should probably find it equally hard to swallow here. (If you liked compatibilism back then, though, Dennett will give you some neat new ways to put your views.)
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