Jennifer Schuessler of the New York Times has written an interesting profile of Daniel Dennett that also provides a quick peek at his new book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m hoping to pick up a new copy fairly soon.
As I noted in an earlier blog post about Dennett’s recent reassessment of several aspects on his views of computational theories of human cognition, I’ve always admired Dennett as a philosopher who is never afraid to challenge his own beliefs and assumptions, and what’s more, to do so in a public setting. Dennett is of course immensely popular, and has been for decades, but even so, I’m not convinced that his contributions to modern, even mainstream, perspectives on evolution, biology, and certainly cognitive science are as widely recognized as they ought to be. Granted, there are moments when his work seems almost baffling in its attempts to use hard, cold logic to persuade emotionally-oriented readers to accept his claims; the opening sections of Breaking the Spell (2007), in which he compares faith-based religious beliefs to a brain parasite, are only made more awkward by Dennett’s sincerity. But speaking personally, Dennett’s body of work has long been an important foundation for my own awkward, often semi-myopic explorations of human behavior and cognition, a “gateway” philosopher who paved the way for later encounters with the likes of Owen Flanagan, Antonio Damasio, and many others.
In any case, it simply makes me happy to see that Dennett is still — perhaps now more than ever, actually — willing to revisit his theories, examine their failures and strengths, and (usually) emerge with an almost child-like sense of delight at those moments when he finds current science has invalidated or subverted one of those theories. For Dennett, those moments seem to represent a wonderful opportunity to explore new horizons of understanding, an attitude that I hope I am able to cultivate in my own work decades hence.