Friday, June 28, 2013

The Usefulness of What Is Not

Caspar Melville:

For Dennett there is no hard problem of consciousness at all, and the fact we think so is a consequence of misdirection by philosophers like David Chalmers and illusions created within our own brains – we may think that we are something more than chemicals, and that our mind is not confined inside our skulls, or that we have a soul that transcends the plane of mere matter, but we’d be wrong. “There’s nothing immaterial,” he says; “consciousness isn’t immaterial any more than centres of gravity are immaterial.” Does this include my sense of self?

“Oh, yes, in exactly the same way as the centre of gravity is. The centre of gravity is a nice concept, because it’s physics, it’s not sociology or psychology. It’s a term well regarded in the physical sciences. And yet it’s not an atom, not a particle. It’s a mathematical point, an abstraction. A very, very useful abstraction. And the self is another very, very useful abstraction. It’s not made of anything, any more than the centre of gravity is made of something. But its features are not arbitrary and they are entirely fixed, in the end, by the chemistry of the atoms that compose the phenomenon.”

I think it would be funny to start referring to Dennett as a Taoist sage, though I suspect he might not appreciate being associated with mysticism even in jest.