I make no secret of my admiration for the philosopher Daniel Dennett. His intellectual interests coincide nearly exactly with my own: the puzzle of consciousness, the theory of evolution, the phenomenology of religion, and the question of human freedom in a world apparently ruled by a combination of deterministic and probabilistic laws. He has tilled and seeded these fields for decades now, yielding a bountiful harvest of books, academic papers, lectures, and philosophical insights for the nourishment of interested laymen like me. One needn’t always agree with him — in particular, his “eliminativist” account of consciousness has many harsh critics — but agree or not, there is no denying the unusual fecundity of his intellect, and his remarkable ability to cut away the conceptual underbrush that often surrounds these persistent philosophical conundrums, and to bring what is unclear about the questions themselves sharply into focus.
So, for any of you who might not be familiar with Dennett (though I imagine most of you already are), here are a couple of morsels to whet the appetite. The first is a lecture from the 2002 TED conference† that ranges from ants to jihadists to the potentially lethal effects of global culture, with several stops between. The second is a paper that discusses the distributed, revisionist, and often deceptive workings of consciousness.
I do hope you enjoy them.
- † Haven’t heard of TED? Learn more here.