21.4.04

A Guardian biographical piece on Daniel Dennet, the "semantic engineer" author of "Consciousness Explained" and "Freedom Evolves". In his new book, "Breaking the spell", Dennett will take on supernaturalism with the declared intention to "extirpate" it.

Daniel Dennett (homepage) is certainly a profoundly extropian philosopher, even if he probably doesn't know it ;-)

A few quotes from the article:

"The essential doctrine that Dennett took from Quine was that knowledge -and philosophy - had to be understood as natural processes. They have arisen as part of the workings of the ordinary world, which can be scientifically studied, and are not imposed or injected from some supernatural realm. So there is nothing magical about human brains - no ghost in the machine, to use Ryle's phrase. When we talk about "intelligence" we are describing behaviour, or a propensity towards certain behaviour, and not the exercise of some disembodied intellect."

"Darwinism gives us a perspective to see how meaning and function and purpose can come to exist in a world that is intrinsically meaningless and functionless - not just biological purpose and function, but in the end, moral purpose and the meaning of life. In the beginning, there wasn't any design. Nothing was designed. Nothing had a function. It is life that gives birth to reasons and functions. There were reasons before there were things that could think about reasons. For example, there's a reason why the baby cuckoo pushes the other baby out of the nest, but it is clueless about why it's doing it. Reasons predate reasoners."

"The trouble with the word atheism is that there are so many different concepts of God it would be foolish to take them all on at once and say they are all rubbish. Apparently that's what the atheist does. But I don't believe in anything supernatural. That's naturalism, I guess. But the main thing is that it's not supernatural. I have absolutely no doubt that the secular and scientific vision is right and deserves to be endorsed by everybody, and as we have seen over the last few thousand years, superstitious and religious doctrines will just have to give way."

The full article

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