Daniel Dennett and Booger Eating

The segment of my video with Dennett & Wright can be seen in a video titled, “Robert Wright interviews Daniel Dennett (2 of 8)” starting at 6:35. At 7:45 Dennett starts talking and says, “I want to deny flat out a premise that you started with, that you mentioned yourself just a minute ago, you said, ‘The future is inevitable if determinism is true.’ First of all I want to say, that phrase, “the future is inevitable” well just doesn’t mean anything. The future’s going to happen, whatever it is. And that’s true whether determinism is true or indeterminism is true; there’s going to be a future. Now in what sense could you talk about the future being inevitable? I don’t know. What we have to talk about is particular events being inevitable, and/or particular types of events. And in order to see what the word inevitable means you have to take it apart. Now, oddly enough, although the words slips off the tongue of everybody who writes about free will and determinism, hardly anybody has ever looked at it. But of course, what it means is unavoidable. Evitable, inevitable, avoidable, unavoidable–that’s all the word means. Now, in order to avoid something, that is what an agent does–an avoider. I mean agent in the broad sense of being an actor that has some sensory capacity and some goals and that acts in the world to accomplish its ends. Now, are there agents that can avoid things. Sure. Tons of them. And in fact, the reason you have to look at free will from an evolutionary point of view is, that’s remarkable that there are agents that avoid things; that’s a remarkable fact. And, there’s many more avoiders now than there used to be. And they’re much better at avoiding now than they used to be. And in fact, it is as good as a definition of intelligence to be an expert avoider, to be able to foresee far into the future, to see things coming down the pike and to take steps in a timely way to prevent those bad things from happening, and in order to foster things that you want to happen. We don’t have a good parallel word…what would it be? Enhancer? Probablifier? There’s no… We avoid harm. And we try to get the good. But there isn’t a single verb for what we do in regard to good things the way it is for avoiding the bad. But now, that means that the whole concept of inevitability gets its meaning from the perspective in which… a perspective, in which there are agents, in which there are agents that might want to avoid something.” (end of video)

So basically Dennett has redefined free will, which according to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1975) originally meant “free will (noun): the power asserted of moral beings of choosing within limitations or with respect to some matters WITHOUT RESTRAINT OF PHYSICAL OR DIVINE NECESSITY OR CAUSAL LAW” (Emphasis mine.) to mean “The choice behavior of an organism that are made in avoidance of harm.” And he basically adds, “that the degree in which an organism is expert and avoiding harm is a good measure of intelligence.”

There are problems with Dennett’s explanation inasmuch as there are a number of factors involved in choice behavior that Dennett himself AVOIDS. His definition avoids dealing with why one person would choose to have same sex relationships while another would choose to avoid them. His definition avoids dealing with why one person would choose to eat meat while another person would choose to avoid omnivorous behavior. His definition avoids dealing with the factors involved in why one person would choose to smoke cannabis while another person chooses to avoid smoking cannabis. And of course, the example in my video points out that his definition avoids dealing with the factors involved in one person choosing to eat his boogers while another person avoids eating such. Dennett’s definition and explanation are overly simplistic.

Also in the video I also point out that when a person WANTS something, or WANTS to avoid something, the sensation of WANT is not a conscious choice. We do not consciously choose nor predetermine the WANT that we are to experience. For instance, when a person WANTS same sex relations, and when another person WANTS to avoid same sex relations, the WANTS are not freely chosen by the person undergoing the WANT.

And also in the video I point out that delving into disputed philosophical discussions while trying to ascertain all the factors involved in the functions and processes of a physical system–even if that physical system happens to be the human brain–only adds unnecessary complexity and confusion to the issue. Rambling on and on and on about determinism versus indeterminism while discussing the solar system or the Milky Way Galaxy makes as much sense as doing so while discussing the human brain. I call it the BBS (befuddling bull shit) strategy. As stated, one should keep unnecessary complexity and disputed philosophical speculations out of discussions of physical systems, biological or otherwise.

Dennett’s definition and explanation sound like rhetoric one would expect to come out of the mouth of a person like Rush Limbaugh, not like logical discourse one would expect to come out of the mouth of an elite intellectual. In fact, since Dennett redefinition and promotion of free will actually helps keep the old superstitious belief in free will alive in the average person’s mind, I can’t help but wonder WTF is going on.


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