Thursday, December 21, 2023

Dan Dennett is an arrogant asshole (Also: you don't need free will to be "good")

Happy Solstice!

Many years ago (before we moved to Tucson) I read one of "philosopher" Dan Dennett's books where he claimed that only humans and dogs were conscious, so we can do anything to any other animal we want. 

Isn't that convenient?

He also thinks the hard problem of consciousness doesn't exist. This seems to me like an incredible failure of understanding, or just contrarian arrogance.

More recently, I heard him on a podcast saying that yes, we can know exactly what it is like to be another person. Not some general idea, or even what they are thinking and what they are feeling. Rather, we can know what it is actually like to be them having their own individual subjective experience. 


Now I'm finally reading Robert Sapolsky's Determined. In it, he quotes Dennett claiming that "luck evens out" for everyone, thus, no one has any excuse for anything. 

FU, Dan, you POS.

In  Jerry Coyne's piece on Determined (actually from this, but found at Why Evolution Is True):

Sapolsky is especially critical of compatibilist Daniel Dennett, who has claimed that “luck averages out in the long run.” He responds in characteristically plain-spoken style:

No it doesn’t. Suppose you’re born a crack baby. In order to counterbalance this bad luck, does society rush in to ensure that you’ll be raised in relative affluence and with various therapies to overcome your neurodevelopmental problems? No, you are overwhelmingly likely to be born into poverty and stay there. Well then, says society, at least let’s make sure your mother is loving, is stable, has lots of free time to nurture you with books and museum visits. Yeah, right; as we know your mother is likely to be drowning in the pathological consequences of her own miserable luck in life, with a good chance of leaving you neglected, abused, shuttled through foster homes. Well, does society at least mobilize then to counterbalance that additional bad luck, ensuring you live in a safe neighborhood with excellent schools? Nope, your neighborhood is likely to be gang-riddled and your school underfunded.

The entire piece and the quoted review are worth reading (especially the Massachusetts' friend story in the former - yikes) while you wait for Determined to be available at the library. (It is actually one of the very very few books we purchased (on Kindle).) More from the review:

In coming to terms with determinism and the science behind it, Sapolsky urges [that] we shouldn’t deny the reality of our own causal powers or of our own local control. We don’t need to be exceptions to cause and effect, or ultimately self-caused, to be potent causers and controllers in our own right, and to be held responsible in a forward-looking way that helps to shape behavior for the good. Reliable causal relations between desire, deliberation, intention, and action need to be in place for us to be effective agents.... Seen in this light, determinism is not a bitter pill, not a derogation of human dignity or power, but the very key to agency. ...

Sapolsky reassures us that fostering disbelief in libertarian freedom will not result in moral anarchy. Just as atheists can be good without God, so too can skeptics about the unconditional ability to do otherwise. ...

Acceptance of determinism will depend in large part on how it’s portrayed: not as an affront to a realistic conception of autonomy, but its basis. Not as fatalism, but as key to effective action informed by greater knowledge of the causal and explanatory relations that govern behavior. Not as a blanket excuse, but as an evidence-based view of wrongdoing that will lead to a more humane criminal justice system. Not as universally true, given that indeterminism might exist in nature, but as a pragmatically useful perspective that affords us greater compassion and control, a secure basis on which to understand ourselves in service to human and planetary flourishing.

Determinism is unlikely to go viral any time soon given its image as the enemy of freedom, but that perception may shift as the incoherence of libertarian free will becomes apparent, and as the evidence for our complete inclusion in the causal order grows. Sapolsky has marshalled a compelling case for such inclusion, presented it with unconventional flair, and shown the practical and ethical advantages of taking determinism to heart. His persistence in seeing Determined to completion – a prodigious undertaking – is much to be congratulated, although he would disavow deserving any such praise. Even if he’s right about that, we’re still lucky to have him.

Even if you already believe there is no free will, or even if you are sure you won't change your mind, the book is fantastic in discussing how the mind works.

No comments: