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Nagel Review of Dennett's new book 
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Post Nagel Review of Dennett's new book
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/03 ... evolution/

In this review, titled Is Consciousness an Illusion?, Nagel, the author of the famous article on the bat ear view, analyses Dennett's recent book on the evolution of minds.

The main comment I have is about Nagel's statement

Thomas Nagel wrote:
if Dennett is right that we are physical objects, it follows that all the capacities for understanding, all the values, perceptions, and thoughts that present us with the manifest image and allow us to form the scientific image, have their real existence as systems of representation in the central nervous system.


This reduction of ethics to neurology seems to me difficult. While I essentially agree with the theory that all spirit is a function of matter, I also think that intertemporality - the relationship between events at different times - is more complex than neurology alone. Values are embedded in culture so deeply that reduction to brain science seems questionable. It is useful to consider the concept of karma, moral causation, and ask if this can really be understood as residing in the brain alone.

But then Nagel goes even further with his reductionism, saying values are not only neural entities, but neural "systems of representation". A representation is a conscious thought. Given that much of ethics is unconscious, this suggestion that ethical values are conscious thoughts is wrong. I suspect that Nagel may be wrongly summarising Dennett's argument.


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Wed Mar 01, 2017 10:15 pm
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Post Re: Nagel Review of Dennett's new book
Robert Tulip wrote:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/03/09/is-consciousness-an-illusion-dennett-evolution/

This reduction of ethics to neurology seems to me difficult.

Values are embedded in culture so deeply that reduction to brain science seems questionable. It is useful to consider the concept of karma, moral causation, and ask if this can really be understood as residing in the brain alone.

I suspect that Dennett's poetic comments on reductionism may be of use here. It is probably a good idea scientifically to search for the complex matrix of physical, social and internal feedback that results from choices to violate social norms. It is probably not a good idea scientifically to posit external karma: some process by which the interacting QED wave functions sense moral transgressions and inflict negative outcomes on the perpetrators.

My issue is the question of whether scientific accounts of such processes are always the most important ones. We tend to assume that understanding the factual content of our ideas is the prime directive, and no idea which we cannot fully justify in rationalist terms can be held as admissible. I would question that assumption.

Reason has done pretty well by us so far, and we have managed to avoid ending life on earth with a nuclear war, so we conclude that it has to dominate the selection and propagation of ideas in the future. Me, I believe barbarians exist, are capable of bringing down the Empire of Reason, and need to be negotiated with.

Before we discard "skyhooks" and other conceptualizations which don't satisfy philosophers and scientists, it might be a good idea to ask why people believe in these ideas and why they pass them on. If we are pretty sure there is a good substitute available, then fine, throw out the skyhooks. But just because I, in my particular circumstances, can function effectively without external karma or judgment in an afterlife does not mean that enough potential barbarians can. A "good substitute" is not defined philosophically but socially, and assessing its quality is somewhere up there in complexity with assessing climate change.

Robert Tulip wrote:
But then Nagel goes even further with his reductionism, saying values are not only neural entities, but neural "systems of representation". A representation is a conscious thought. Given that much of ethics is unconscious, this suggestion that ethical values are conscious thoughts is wrong. I suspect that Nagel may be wrongly summarising Dennett's argument.

I have been enjoying "The Undoing Project", a book by the estimable Michael Lewis, of "Moneyball" fame, about Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky. Kahnemann's "Thinking, Fast and Slow" spells out in wonderful detail the way our thinking is influenced by "subconscious" factors such as priming. Their work is an extension of the Gestalt psychology which gave us optical illusions and figure-ground diagrams. Essentially, it examines the mind's construction of holistic pictures of the world, and how the shortcuts used by the brain can be exploited to create demonstrable errors.

My point, in response to Robert's cogent observation, is that representations are not necessarily conscious thoughts. Often they blend a lot of work from the "hidden" 90 percent (or so) of our cognitive processing with some key decisions by the "conscious" 10 percent of our processing. Haidt has demonstrated in great detail that our moral judgments, for example, emerge more from our hidden mind than from our reflection process.



Sat Mar 04, 2017 5:12 am
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Post Re: Nagel Review of Dennett's new book
Quote:
if Dennett is right that we are physical objects, it follows that all the capacities for understanding, all the values, perceptions, and thoughts that present us with the manifest image and allow us to form the scientific image, have their real existence as systems of representation in the central nervous system.

I don't have a problem with "capacities for understanding" being embedded in neurons. That seems to agree with the standard materialist view that "the mind is what the brain does." The strongest evidence for these capacities being entirely physical is that we see them deteriorate when the brain is damaged or clogged with plaque. That said, I'm less sure about why we would say the "real existence" of values and thoughts is "as systems of representation in the central nervous system." "Real" here is the same as "physical," and I might have preferred the writer to use that word. It still seems to me that there can be other qualities besides physical ones to consider. The social existence of values isn't necessarily physical, perhaps, but is still real.



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Sat Mar 04, 2017 4:39 pm
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Post Re: Nagel Review of Dennett's new book
Nagel's book "Mind and Cosmos" has the subtitle "Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False."

Here he is getting wrecked in some book reviews:

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.co ... -pummeled/



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Harry Marks, Robert Tulip
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