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FleshFactor: Whether it is possible to disagree with Dennett



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A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"
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>Daniel Dennett:  I think we philosophers should help people get over
>their anxiety about being machines, since it is no longer possible to
>deny it, unless one chooses to be weirdly uninformed.

(end quote)


This has got to be a typo, or perhaps something that Dr. Dennett tossed
off without thinking it over very carefully (hardly unusual with
e-mail). It's hard for me to believe that, at the end of a century that
has seen such startling and radical shifts in scientific thought as
special and general relativity, quantum theory, Godel's Proof, black
holes, the discovery of Archaean life forms, and (just last week)
snowballs from space, a distinguished professor is uttering statements
of the form "it is no longer possible to deny X."

Most scientists I've been exposed to are physicists. Physics is quite a
bit more mathematical in nature than neurophysiology, and testing the
validity of physics hypotheses, while not always easy, is a clear-cut
affair. Nonetheless, most physicists are extremely cautious about
issuing categorical statements as to what can or cannot be believed.

Perhaps, we are meant to interpret Dennett's statement in some sort of
very general way, e.g., "no reasonable person can deny that when people
get bashed on the head it has observable effects on neurological
functioning."

Or perhaps Dennett is voicing the observation "most people who disagree
with me strike me as being weirdly uninformed."

(N.B. when I allude to relativity, quantum theory, etc. above, I'm not
trying to assert that these particular discoveries somehow overturn
computational theories of the mind, or that they absolve us from needing
to think about things rationally. I'm simply pointing out that the
reliably unpredictable nature of scientific research demands that we
proceed with all due caution. Or to put it another way, I'm not even
saying that I disagree with Dennett. I'm taking issue with his assertion
that it is impossible for informed people to disagree with him.)

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