Sunday, 29 September 2013

A Conversation with Daniel Dennett in 'The Edge'

This is a thought-provoking 'conversation' published in 'The Edge' with the philosopher Daniel Dennett. I find I cannot fault the terms in which he frames his questions.

There are short thoughtful contributions here to cognitive science, the role of philosophy in relation to science, the question of free will, the transmission of culture, how bad ideas persist in society and the survivalist function of false ideas in a human crisis.

Many of the questions suggest something that I believe has long been lacking - an association of philosophy and cognitive science with social psychology and political science though I fear that this is the last thing authority wants. Serious questioning of the basis of our social compliance could be catastrophic to claims of legitimacy. As we have seen in Syria, speaking the truth as we see it may not improve conditions for the masses but may plunge hundreds of thousands of people into misery.

There is nothing here that I do not find to be a question of critical importance to our own determination of what is true in a culture that seems to be able to subsist only on the transmission of untruths. We have come a long way along the path set out by Howard Gardner in 'The Mind's New Science (1984, 1987) but Dennett is reminding us that there has been significant progress even if we do not yet know what we want to know.

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