Dennett’s Speculative Bet

Still not quite finished my final thorough read of Dennett’s Bacteria to Bach and Back (“B2BnB”) and, apart from his focus on “words” in linguistic development, I’d still say the whole is an improvement — a consolidation, clarification and most importantly an evolution — of his life’s work. Highly recommended for that reason, as I’ve said.

How much it actually advances his thesis — on the evolved reality of conscious self — in the wider world of “accepted fact” is of course a wide open question.

Julian Baggini is one of many published reviewers of B2BnB and one for whose philosophical intelligence I have a lot of time, and I was moved to add this comment to his Prospect review:

I think the following is key when it comes to those critics who demand an answer to their “hard question” — how to explain “subjective experience”.
You quote Dennett’s response: “if you debate on your opponents’ terms, you have already lost. To win, you must set the agenda. His bet is that if you understand consciousness in the right way, the Hard Problem will be exposed as an artefact of an outmoded way of thinking — a pseudo-problem”
Yes he uses the throwaway “life’s too short” response in his conclusions, but the real answer is in the quote above. Notwithstanding the need to (eventually) have agreed, documented versions of Dennett’s ontology of consciousness — to satisfy the expectations of rational philosophy — I’d be interested in your own view of his speculative bet?
All too easy to predict his (existing) critics view, he does it himself. A large part of his book is in fact a plea to suspend disbelief on that bet. So, in that spirit …. are you a critic or a betting man?

He does of course address many of his critics points in B2BnB as well as in much previous work, but he makes no apology here for sticking to his own agenda to work through his arguments his way. A strange loopy journey to evolve our understanding of our evolved conscious self, rather than fit simple syllogistic logic to the arguments of others.

So no prizes for spotting that there is more work to be done before his critics can be satisfied and brought on board, but I tend to agree with Dan, that this is work for the rest of us. It cannot be a criticism of his omission in B2BnB.


Originally published at Psybertron Asks.