Tag Archives: Dan Dennett

#61 On cranes and skyhooks

Dear Mat,

I’m pondering my reasons for adopting a no skyhooks policy. I’d be genuinely interested in what you think the political agenda is behind my stance. This rambling letter is me trying to figure it out and maybe you’ll spot some clues.

First, I genuinely don’t think it’s political in the way you hint at in letter #60. I’ve just written the final chapter of a PhD about popular science. Ensconced in my ivory tower, I’ve spent the last three years reading the thoughts of philosophers of science, historians of science and — most of all — scientists themselves. I can genuinely attest that the Dennettian anti-skyhook view is highly unorthodox. Indeed Dennett’s long list of skyhook merhcants are professional philosophers and scientists — people nominally committed to naturalism. Continue reading #61 On cranes and skyhooks

#59 On how the question changes the answer

Dear Mat,

Interesting letter. It was a rollercoaster from my POV because the first few paragraphs appeared to be a dastardly warping of what I was saying, yet by the end of the letter I was nodding my head, utterly in agreement. How can this be?

This might seem lame but I think it’s easiest if I just respond to the relevant points inline. This is you:

I was saying adaptations reflect truths, which is to say they somehow represent (I was saying “encode”) some truth. Instead you say it’s more a “hack”, something that exploits the world without awareness certainly but also even without reflecting any truth. This is most obvious if you manipulate the environment so that the hack fails.

I never said “hack”. Bad start. Continue reading #59 On how the question changes the answer

Deduction, subjectivity & culture are all real enough

People and philosophers tend to get bogged down in binary oppositions like objective vs subjective, nature vs culture and inductive vs deductive knowledge. Continental philosophers tend to complicate such binaries, trying to show how both terms are inadequate. Analytic philosophers tend to talk themselves into the ground trying to prove or disprove the existence of one of the terms.

But I think the unusually practical philosopher Daniel Dennett goes about these things the right way and his method is quite generally applicable. Continue reading Deduction, subjectivity & culture are all real enough

Westworld is us

I pitched an article about Westworld to The Conversation and they REJECTED it. Here are some notes towards that unwritten article. There are at least three ideas in here. Spoilers.

A lot has been said about Westworld but the ideas in the show go well beyond facile considerations of the ethics of AI1)The major overt discussion in the show is over whether the hosts are conscious. Yet there is little consideration for refraining from harming the hosts, even if they have not achieved the unified mind of a conscious human. The obvious parallel is with animals. As Jeremy Benthem pointed out about a million years ago now, the relevant point is capacity for suffering, not sentience. Indeed the images of hosts’ dismembered corpses being hosed down by workers in plastic overalls is all too redolent of abattoirs. If we ever create things like hosts, it would be deeply, Nazi-ishly immoral to enslave them in any way. Whether they had real self-awareness or not they feel distress, as much as any non-human animal. If the idea of a machine feeling pain shocks you, you need to learn more about what we’re made of. See above.. They actually concern the basis of consciousness, beauty and life. Westworld is in fact the latest instance of the Nolan brothers’ explorations of reality as the only source of real wonder.

Westworld never veers into the supernatural, but investigates the edge of plausibility. In this sense it recognises that the most strange, unintuitive ideas actually come from reality as revealed by science. The Nolan brothers’ output provides what I think is a body of work representative of the aesthetic of modern science. In a world denuded of superstition and magical explanation, scientific investigations reveal a world that is more wonderful and strange than what folklore, religion and fantasy have supposed. Continue reading Westworld is us

Footnotes

1. The major overt discussion in the show is over whether the hosts are conscious. Yet there is little consideration for refraining from harming the hosts, even if they have not achieved the unified mind of a conscious human. The obvious parallel is with animals. As Jeremy Benthem pointed out about a million years ago now, the relevant point is capacity for suffering, not sentience. Indeed the images of hosts’ dismembered corpses being hosed down by workers in plastic overalls is all too redolent of abattoirs. If we ever create things like hosts, it would be deeply, Nazi-ishly immoral to enslave them in any way. Whether they had real self-awareness or not they feel distress, as much as any non-human animal. If the idea of a machine feeling pain shocks you, you need to learn more about what we’re made of. See above.