Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Thoughts On Thoughts On Thoughts

Daniel Dennett is one of the best known philosophers out there, having published popular books such as Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Freedom Evolves and Breaking The Spell, not to mention co-editing the delightful compendium The Mind's I.  And for a scholar dealing with abstract ideas, he's very readable. His latest, Intuition Pumps And Other Tools For Thinking, is sort of a greatest hits.  It has 77 short chapters dealing with issues in which he's gone into greater detail in previous work.

The first few sections explore various mental tools he's created or learned from others that can help sharpen one's thinking (thus the title).  You want to make sure that arguments, yours and others, don't get away with easy tricks, and you also want to force yourself out of ruts all too easy to fall into. (He also has a detour about computers, which he believes can be helpful in thinking about certain issues.  He actually explains how they work to a reader with essentially no knowledge of them.)

Once these tools are established, Dennett takes us on a quick excursion through issues he's spent most of his career investigating--evolution, consciousness, free will (which are all related).  Some of his views are controversial, but he doesn't demand you agree, just that you consider them.  He then ends with a few bits on philosophy in general.

It's a decent tour of his work. In fact, if you haven't yet read him, this might be a good place to start.

PS  I once met Dennett after he gave a lecture at Caltech.  I found him to be a charming man. We even had a short conversation. Perhaps some day I'll write about it.


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