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Reviews for Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking:

1

Jul 15, 2013

I had to quit after 68 pages. Dennett apparently had a class of freshmen review this book - I wish he would have had a couple actual philosophers review it as well. If you have an understanding of philosophy and basic thinking tools, this book is not for you. If you already are an independent thinker, this book is not for you. If you are easily impressed by name-dropping and misleading examples, this book is for you.

The book starts out poorly with way too much name-dropping and Dennett admitting I had to quit after 68 pages. Dennett apparently had a class of freshmen review this book - I wish he would have had a couple actual philosophers review it as well. If you have an understanding of philosophy and basic thinking tools, this book is not for you. If you already are an independent thinker, this book is not for you. If you are easily impressed by name-dropping and misleading examples, this book is for you.

The book starts out poorly with way too much name-dropping and Dennett admitting that he heckles lecturers for fun. He has very basic ideas of "thinking tools" and then uses very complex examples with very limited context. In these examples he takes cheap shots at fellow philosophers, while not providing enough context to really be able to agree that Dennett is in the right.

In chapter 1 he makes an innocuous yet unsound argument, and it is worth mentioning because it shows that he is very careless with his arguments throughout the book (or at least to page 68.) He states: "Evolution works the same way: all the dumb mistakes tend to be invisible, so all we see is a stupendous string of triumphs. For instance, the vast majority - way over 90 percent - of all the creatures that have ever lived died childless, but not a single one of your ancestors suffered that fate."
So...the majority of creatures don't pass on their genes. Dennett calls that an illustrative example of how ALL dumb mistakes are invisible (er..."tend to be invisible", whatever that means.) Who says that the 10 percent procreators aren't passing on dumb mistakes? Who says that sexual selection isn't selecting for "dumb mistakes" (ie. genes that make an animal more noticeable to predators, or genes that inhibit an animal to move swiftly.) His example is crude, and if the response is that "dumb mistakes" are ones that don't permit a creature to pass on its genes, then that just begs the question and proves nothing.

The above example was just a red flag. Things start to get really bad in Sections 13-15.

13. Dennett provides us an example where four characters all come, via different paths, to "believe that a Frenchman has committed murder in Trafalgar Square. He then adds that that proposition ("Frenchman committed murder in TS") does not occur to them. Thus they all have the belief without formulating the proposition. Dennett makes an implicit assumption here that you actually can have a belief without formulating a proposition. An implicit assumption that becomes a painful assumption when he drives his point home that people generally believe: "chairs are larger than shoes, that soup is liquid, that elephants don't fly." If I ask you if you believe that 44 plus 88 is 132, would you say yes? Had you ever formulated that proposition before? Isn't it quite likely that you believed the proposition only after the deduction? Thus, when someone witnesses Jacque shooting Bill, and Bill dying, the belief that a "murder" took place may not happen until post-deduction, that is, until the proposition is actually formed. Or when you're asked, "do elephants fly?" you first think of an elephant and then deduct that it can't fly? Dennett has not shown that I actually believe elephants don't fly without ever articulating the proposition one way or another.

14. "What this intuition pump shows is that nobody can have just one belief." Excuse me? Dennett, read a couple neuroscience books and then just take this section out. Even the pop psychology book Incognito should suffice. Even if Dennett's premises are sound (which at least one isn't), his conclusion isn't. His argument here is so poorly constructed I'm not even sure how to attack it. I think his argument goes like this: 1) Apparently inserting a false "belief" into Tom causes him to say something that he doesn't truly understand. 2) That shows that if we don't truly understand something, it isn't a true belief. 3) That shows that the only way to truly understand something is if it is coherent with other (sound) beliefs that one holds. 4) That shows that beliefs are thus supported by other beliefs. C) Therefore, "nobody can have just one belief."

I'm lost on how he got "beliefs MUST be supported by other beliefs" from the proposition "beliefs are supported by other beliefs." Also, I would re-write proposition 3 as "That shows that the only way to truly understand something is if it is NOT INCOHERENT with other (sound) beliefs." Stated this way, Dennett proves absolutely nothing and wasted 3 pages. I can have a single belief, and no other beliefs, and that single belief is not incoherent with any other belief. It pains me that Dennett is making money off of this book.

15. "Daddy is a doctor." This 1-page section did it in for me, I cannot continue this book. A little girl states the proposition "daddy is a doctor." 20 years later she makes the same proposition, only now she has a more sophisticated understanding of the words "daddy" and "doctor." Dennett writes, "If understanding comes in degrees, as this example shows, then belief, which depends on understanding, must come in degrees as well, even for such mundane propositions as this."

No! I am not convinced! A five-year old girl who utters the proposition "Daddy is a doctor" can have a full 100% belief in that proposition. 20 years later she can make the proposition, with a more sophisticated understanding, and still have a full 100% belief. Dennett, how does the 5-year old "fall short" of a full belief? Does she know that "daddy" refers to the person who tucks her in at night? Does she know that this person helps sick people in exchange for money? Then WHERE IS SHE FALLING SHORT?!!?!??! Maybe with other arguments not in his book, I could be convinced that I'm wrong and Dennett is right - but his one page argument is far from convincing and far from sound.

EDIT: I was so mad at Dennett that I didn't properly attack his argument. I will use an analogy: You have a lightbulb. At first, you can just turn a switch to turn the light on. But you get bored, and decide to make it more fun. You add a second mechanism - the switch needs to be flipped, and then you have to clap before the light goes on. You get bored again, and tweak it one more time: You have to turn the switch, then clap a specific pattern in order to turn the light on. No matter how sophisticated or complicated your INPUT might be, has absolutely no bearing on how sophisticated the OUTPUT might be. Any computer scientist or civil engineer could have told Dennett this.


Conclusion: I can't take any more poor logic from someone who is so pompous, name-drops relentlessly, and criticizes other philosophers without providing sufficient context for the reader to actually evaluate the criticism. ...more
3

May 07, 2013

"Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking" is a mixed bag of goods. Dont let the title fool you: this books is less about "thinking tools" than it is about Daniel Dennet's favorite philosophical thought experiments. Dennet devotes a short and wanting section to general 'thinking tools' (think Okhams razor), but otherwise spends the majority of your time laying out his personal ideas concerning evolution, meaning, mind, and free will.

First, the pros: the subject matter is fascinating, and "Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking" is a mixed bag of goods. Don’t let the title fool you: this books is less about "thinking tools" than it is about Daniel Dennet's favorite philosophical thought experiments. Dennet devotes a short and wanting section to general 'thinking tools' (think Okham’s razor), but otherwise spends the majority of your time laying out his personal ideas concerning evolution, meaning, mind, and free will.

First, the pros: the subject matter is fascinating, and Dennet's treatment is unusually accessible. Most chapters consist of self-contained thought experiments, and the flanking discussions are written in simple, direct prose.

And there are a couple of gems here. In "Trapped in the Robot Control Room," Dennet convinces you that the mind doesn't enter this world as a 'blank slate.' In "Mary the Color Scientist," he forcefully refutes a famous argument in support of qualia. In fact, the entire section about free will (and how it's not incompatible with determinism – a philosophical position called compatibilism) is really quite good.

Unfortunately, as a whole, the book falls short. The writing never feels very tight –it's as if the book were written in one sitting, without the oversight of an editor. 'Braindump' isn't the right word, but it's the first word that comes to mind. And when your subject matter concerns such fuzzy and controversial topics such as meaning and consciousness and, this laziness is unforgivable.

Additionally, Dennet often takes on a weird, personal, I-hate-this-philosopher-I'm-refuting tone that comes across as strikingly unprofessional, and generally made me feel pretty uncomfortable ("There is a good project for a student of rhetoric: combing through Gould’s huge body of publications and cataloging the different species of boom crutches [Dennet’s word for 'deplorable aids to obfuscation'] he exploited"). This disparaging tone is rather ironic, as it is completely at odds with Dennet’s own advocacy of 'Rapoport’s Rules' in chapter 3 – essentially, the idea that you should be as generous and charitable of your opponent's views as humanely possible.

On the whole, I'm glad I read "Intuition pumps." At his best, Dennet is thoughtful and provocative. He doesn't hide behind complex philosophical jargon, and his passionate tone mostly refreshing. It's just a shame that he's kind of an ass, and that he seemingly pumped this book out without much post-processing. Give him an editor that will call him out for his shit, and we'll talk again. Until then – there's plenty of other fish in the sea.

Fun quotes
"[the layperson thinks:] 'I can’t change the past, but if indeterminism is true, I can change the future.' Nope. Change the future from what to what? From what it was going to be to what it is going to be? You can no more change the future than you can change the past. The concept is incoherent." (391)

"Can you conceive of string theory? … it is unintelligible to be, but for that very reason, I wouldn't be willing to declare it inconceivable or impossible." (289)

"When other people start getting inquisitive, they find that 'God works in mysterious ways' is a convenient anti-thinking tool… I think we should stop treating this ‘pious’ observation as any kind of wisdom and recognize it as the transparently defensive propaganda it is." (430)
...more
4

Apr 22, 2013

If you've read other Dennett masterpieces, you come away thinking both that the man is a genius and that he's a genius that tends to ramble on. That is not the case in his latest work. He combines many of his previous ideas and some new thoughts into this volume of brief insightful chapters.

Dennett covers a wide range of philosophy favorites including consciousness, free will, determinism, artificial life, evolution, and meaning. He gives the reader tools to use when thinking about complex If you've read other Dennett masterpieces, you come away thinking both that the man is a genius and that he's a genius that tends to ramble on. That is not the case in his latest work. He combines many of his previous ideas and some new thoughts into this volume of brief insightful chapters.

Dennett covers a wide range of philosophy favorites including consciousness, free will, determinism, artificial life, evolution, and meaning. He gives the reader tools to use when thinking about complex problems. Some of these ideas include:

- When does a robot become complex enough to become "life"? If you gave a robot the tools that evolution uses, is it capable of evolution or merely following a program? Are you merely following a program? How would one know the difference?

- If a tool takes on a new use, does it take on a new purpose? Is the old purpose gone? Was there ever a meaningful intrinsic purpose?

- How many different creatures could be produced with a library of DNA genomes?

These are a few of the questions that you'll contemplate as you navigate this mind-penetrating volume. It's written in the familiar Dennett style with plenty of quirky fabricated terms and odd scenarios that only a philosopher could conjure. It also delves deep into the science of evolution which Dennett never fails to mention. The author views this process of our origin as pertaining to every phenomenon that must be contemplated by our species, and so it does. For those with a shorter attention span, the chapters have been prepared succinctly but with all of the thoughtfulness of the author's longer tomes.

If you feel that the unexamined life is not worth living, then this book will give you some new tools for that examination as well an entertaining look into the mind of one of the remaining philosophers that is always worth a read. Dennett doesn't disappoint.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the fine publisher W.W. Norton free of charge for the purpose of review through goodreads' "First Reads" program.

Further disclaimer: Any publisher that sends me a quality book free of charge will be referred to as a "fine publisher". ...more
4

May 25, 2013

An intuition pump is a thought experiment or similar cognitive "device" designed to elicit answers to difficult philosophical problems. In --Intuition Pumps And Other Tools For Thinking-- Dennett uses his favorite intuition pumps to (sort of) dismantle difficult philosophical questions such as: evolution, meaning, mind, and free will.

I avoided Dennett for a long time because he comes off as such a grumpy old dick in his lectures and Ted talks. I am pleasantly surprised to find that his writing An intuition pump is a thought experiment or similar cognitive "device" designed to elicit answers to difficult philosophical problems. In --Intuition Pumps And Other Tools For Thinking-- Dennett uses his favorite intuition pumps to (sort of) dismantle difficult philosophical questions such as: evolution, meaning, mind, and free will.

I avoided Dennett for a long time because he comes off as such a grumpy old dick in his lectures and Ted talks. I am pleasantly surprised to find that his writing is a lot of fun and quite accessible. Reading this book is like being invited into a cool (not creepy) old dudes garage. He's got all kinds of cleaver little home made gadgets laying around, and its fun as hell to sit there and watch him tinker.

I'd give this book 5 (rather than 4) stars if the book didn't lose momentum in the third quarter. But it does. So out comes the 4 paddle. It's still a brilliant book by a brilliant guy. Well worth the investment. ...more
4

Dec 04, 2014

I have enjoyed reading Dennett long before he became one of the four horsemen. I discovered him in the nineties and enjoyed his take on evolution and the mind-body problem as well as the problem of consciousness. He is a good writer and clear. He is also probably the least abrasive of the new atheists. He writes in an enjoyable way about deep topics in the philosophy of mind, evolution, and religion. I don't agree with him on consciousness. I think the hard problem can't be dissolved away as I have enjoyed reading Dennett long before he became one of the four horsemen. I discovered him in the nineties and enjoyed his take on evolution and the mind-body problem as well as the problem of consciousness. He is a good writer and clear. He is also probably the least abrasive of the new atheists. He writes in an enjoyable way about deep topics in the philosophy of mind, evolution, and religion. I don't agree with him on consciousness. I think the hard problem can't be dissolved away as Dennett suggests but I also like engaging with his arguments. This book is a summation of his earlier works in a single volume digestible form. If you are not familiar with Dennett this would be a good book to start.

Update 12/29/2019
Dennet is wordy no doubt but he wants to get his perspective understood and sometimes this can be overkill. Still, he does a good job of getting his views on life and consciousness across if the reader has patience. I think there is a lot to be gained by reading him if only not to get caught in a lot of intellectual traps that I for one often fall into. ...more
2

Nov 30, 2013

Reading this book is basically like reading Daniel Dennett in blog format.

I read a lot of Dennett's work as an undergraduate and it had a fairly profound impact on me -- I think the collection "The Mind's I" that he edited with Douglas Hofstadter is essentially my atheist bible. I hadn't realized just how much of his work I had read -- almost nothing in this recent collection was new to me. I guess I hadn't realized (or had forgotten) that Dennett is a big fan of Sturgeon's Law (90% of Reading this book is basically like reading Daniel Dennett in blog format.

I read a lot of Dennett's work as an undergraduate and it had a fairly profound impact on me -- I think the collection "The Mind's I" that he edited with Douglas Hofstadter is essentially my atheist bible. I hadn't realized just how much of his work I had read -- almost nothing in this recent collection was new to me. I guess I hadn't realized (or had forgotten) that Dennett is a big fan of Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crap; it's like he's a Redditor) and I was unfamiliar with his advice to would-be philosophers (in short, don't get sucked into pointless debates that don't matter just to score points; ditto on him being a Redditor).

Early in the book there is a section where he characterizes a number of mental tools and pitfalls. There are some oddly personal attacks on people like Stephen J Gould and Ned Block in this section. The whole enterprise of cataloging rhetorical moves and the like with cute names is pretty annoying, and the personal attacks actually undermine the project: "I am a master of the mind who knows all the moves and all the missteps, and I'm going to name the missteps after particular people who used them in particular debates with me." As a result of this Dennett comes across less as a brilliant guy who has thought deeply and successfully about some of the more challenging philosophical problems out there, and more as an asshole who takes things awfully personally for a guy who is always right.

...more
1

Oct 12, 2013

It's ironic that Dennett concludes his book with a chapter on why philosophy is still valuable, because halfway through it I was starting to toy with the idea that the world would be better off if philosophy departments all over it were shut down and its inhabitants told to find a real job :-) But first, a disclaimer: I am firmly in the positivist camp, Dan is basically preaching to the choir here. Only he's doing it badly.
But wait! What's this about preaching? Isn't this book about thinking It's ironic that Dennett concludes his book with a chapter on why philosophy is still valuable, because halfway through it I was starting to toy with the idea that the world would be better off if philosophy departments all over it were shut down and its inhabitants told to find a real job :-) But first, a disclaimer: I am firmly in the positivist camp, Dan is basically preaching to the choir here. Only he's doing it badly.
But wait! What's this about preaching? Isn't this book about thinking tools? Weeell...sorta, but no. The beginning is though, but even that he does badly. The intuition pump (thought experiment for us mere mortals) with tunable knobs was neat, though that's Hofstadters apparently. Occam's razor was a bit of a letdown, he treats it as a common sense rule of thumb and seems oblivious of the fact that it can be derived from Bayesian theory. There's his utterly childish refutation against Roger Penrose's theory (which is IMO both wrong and extremely interesting, and which I suspect Dennett doesn't really understand in the first place, given his stated aversion for quantum mechanics). Then there's the distasteful naming of a number of rhetoric tricks as 'Goulding', after the late SJ Gould. What the feud between Gould and the Dawkins clan was about is still beyond me, as it always seemed to be about technicalities, and I often wonder what real working evolutionary biologists think of the bitchfight between these two pop-sci prima donnas and their supporters.
After that it quickly devolves into an overly long regurgitation of Dennett's well-known positions on evolution, consciousness and free will. Nothing against that, but it shouldn't be in this book. This is not a collection of thinking tools, this is a defense of his ideas. And again, if you ask me, not a very good one. The endless exposé on what is a computer? Conway's game of life, again? There's much more interesting things to say about these topics, and they can be said in a much shorter span as well.
I remember being impressed with Dennett a long time ago, maybe I've come too far since then, or maybe he's been stuck in the same arguments. It's much clearer to me now that his understanding of science itself is not as impressive as it seems, as for example his position on quantum mechanics, and his statement that he tried and failed to understand its mathematics (honestly, it's not that hard), seem to indicate. Which explains why his advocacy of science as a worldview often seems to do more damage than good. Hence my initial (and possibly overreacting) remark: philosophers of the world, get off your ass en get a real job dammit! Maybe do some actual science. ...more
2

May 26, 2013

I liked this well enough. Dennett can write clearly and engagingly. But I never got over the nasty taste in my mouth induced by some really mean-spirited drive-by ad hominem assassination of someone I guess Dennett still holds a shiv for -- Stephen Jay Gould. The odd thing is that, on the issues in question, intellectually I would side with Dennett rather than Gould. But continuing to attack an opponent after the person in question is dead and in no position to mount a defence strikes me as I liked this well enough. Dennett can write clearly and engagingly. But I never got over the nasty taste in my mouth induced by some really mean-spirited drive-by ad hominem assassination of someone I guess Dennett still holds a shiv for -- Stephen Jay Gould. The odd thing is that, on the issues in question, intellectually I would side with Dennett rather than Gould. But continuing to attack an opponent after the person in question is dead and in no position to mount a defence strikes me as being both unnecessarily shrill and betraying an unattractive insecurity of his own at some level.

Anyway, if you can overlook the nastiness of the chapter attacking Gould (in which the arguments may have merit, but the tone is unforgivable and inappropriate), this is a pretty decent book.

The last quarter of the book is the weakest, where his arguments linking consciousness and evolution simply fail to gel, in my opinion. But the rest of it is a pretty good read. ...more
3

Nov 30, 2014

As clearly advertised on the front cover, this is a book about "tools for thinking"and, yes, the first 12 chapters, out of 77, are devoted precisely to that.

In contrast, the remaining 65 chapters are summaries, in easy to consume bites, of most of the other books that Dennett has published during the last 20 or 30 years, on the topics of meaning and content, evolution, consciousness, and free willeach updated with relevant new results and references. As such, he presents, and effectively argues As clearly advertised on the front cover, this is a book about "tools for thinking"—and, yes, the first 12 chapters, out of 77, are devoted precisely to that.

In contrast, the remaining 65 chapters are summaries, in easy to consume bites, of most of the other books that Dennett has published during the last 20 or 30 years, on the topics of meaning and content, evolution, consciousness, and free will—each updated with relevant new results and references. As such, he presents, and effectively argues for, his own previously published ideas (with the updates). I don't think Dennett's motives here are selfish or disingenuous, rather, we have a major contemporary philosopher summing up his life's work, and pointing the way forward.

For deepest understanding, it's better to read the compete original works (Consciousness Explained, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, etc). Hence the middling, but not bad, rating: this is mostly not new material but would serve well for those interested in an overview of Dennett's work. ...more
5

Oct 26, 2014

A very interesting book, though Dennett could certainly have stood to tighten up the prose and organize it better. I think the title also doesn't reflect the contents of the book very well. The book describes Dennett's theories of the philosophy of mind, using what he calls "intuition pumps". An intuition pump is basically a thought experiment, designed to poke/pump your intuitions about a topic, like Einstein's clock thought experiments or Searle's Chinese Room argument. I sort of dislike the A very interesting book, though Dennett could certainly have stood to tighten up the prose and organize it better. I think the title also doesn't reflect the contents of the book very well. The book describes Dennett's theories of the philosophy of mind, using what he calls "intuition pumps". An intuition pump is basically a thought experiment, designed to poke/pump your intuitions about a topic, like Einstein's clock thought experiments or Searle's Chinese Room argument. I sort of dislike the term (I think thought experiment is a better and more standard term), but it's still a good book.

I loved the parts involving the Chinese Room argument, an argument I've found unconvincing, but never quite been able to put my finger on why. Dennett "turns the knobs" on this experiment, pointing out a huge number of issues with it, notably that the description of the "Chinese Room" is deceptively simple. In order for a machine to succeed in passing the Turing test, it would require an enormous amount of code and an enormous number of instructions. Our intuitions fail on that scale: the argument is less convincing if it takes 20 years of laborious efforts to generate a single response. Simulating a brain or AI is a lot of *work*, and not work that humans are cut out for. His response to Searle's arguments against the "systems response" (that the human/room system is conscious, even if no individual part is) is also interesting. Imagine the Chinese room being taught differential equations by the interlocutor, and eventually it becomes proficient at them. Competence (if not consciousness) was created through the process, but it's clearly not in Searle's head. The competence has to be in the system.

The sections on free will were more tedious. Dennett presents a very interesting thought experiment about three chess programs, all of which make use of pseudo-random decision making processes. He then proceeds to show how it's "possible" for a given program to have "decided" whether to castle (i.e. some form of agency), while for another program the move was "impossible". It's an interesting and very clever argument. But I don't find free will as conceived in the Judeo-Christian tradition to be a particularly compelling idea in the first place, especially as it relates to moral culpability. Rationality necessarily boxes in non-determinism, and "free will" without rationality is facile: if we have "genuine agency" that's not based on anything then it loses the "will" part, it's merely random.

I think the most important lessons of the book are:
- Don't let hidden complexity force you to think things are simpler than they are. Most arguments against the possibility of computers being conscious boil down to "I can't conceive of a computer complex enough that it could be conscious. Look at these simple computers: they're clearly not conscious!" Changes in the scale and complexity of processes can break our intuitions.
- If an argument seems intuitively compelling, try to alter parts of it to see when causes it to become non-compelling or more compelling.
- Causal explanations need to occur at the right level to be meaningful. There's a sense in which everything derives from physics, but a molecule-by-molecule or a transistor-by-transistor history of Big Blue's execution during a chess match can't really explain why Big Blue beat Kasparov. You need to go to a different descriptive level for that.

From a religious/spiritual viewpoint, this was an important book to me. I have "Saganism" listed as my religion on Facebook, and it's only half joking. The discussion of agency and evolution clarifies why we exist: we are a designed solution to a problem (survival and reproduction), and our agency and intentions derive in a sense from the "designer" of natural selection. This matches well with my own intuitions about how my mind works. A lot of emotional drives clearly relate to survival and reproduction: sexual desire, the need to connect to other humans, enjoyment of food, etc. Without the supplier of our "utility functions", we'd be little more than dumb, inert intelligences with no problems to solve, nowhere to go. But with the "intentionality" imbued by evolution, we are goal-directed beings, built from smaller subsystems each of which has its own set of things it "wants", down to neurons which "want" to survive and connect, down to enzymes that "want" to build/repair, down to DNA that "wants" to reproduce.

Some would look on this view and find it cold and devoid of meaning; I side with Darwin and Dennett "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." I find the idea that I exist as part of this ongoing process inspiring: our ancestors have been the toughest, the smartest, the most able to love and care for their children, and down the line for billions of years. Forged by evolution, human life and human consciousness are an expression of a fundamental process of the universe. We've been elevated from inanimate matter into something capable of writing books about where meaning comes from. ...more
2

Jan 04, 2017

Didn't finish bc tons of unnecessary acerbic ad hominem attacks on Gould started to get very annoying. Superficial otherwise too.
5

Jun 12, 2018

This is a very interesting and clever book. Critics will complain the author has an agenda. Others will recognize this agenda as narrative. The author does an excellent job choosing intuition pumps to make his point while providing a narrative to tie it all altogether in a readable package. You don't have to believe it, you can simply regard it as information. But you could also re-frame your current beliefs by devaluing their truth while regarding them simply as information too. Throughout this This is a very interesting and clever book. Critics will complain the author has an agenda. Others will recognize this agenda as narrative. The author does an excellent job choosing intuition pumps to make his point while providing a narrative to tie it all altogether in a readable package. You don't have to believe it, you can simply regard it as information. But you could also re-frame your current beliefs by devaluing their truth while regarding them simply as information too. Throughout this book, the author leads us to conclusions but sometimes leaves it up to the reader to make the relevant connections for ourselves. His take on freewill is different than I've read before and I enjoyed it.
So what is the narrative? When it comes to the complexities of human consciousness, Intelligent Design seems optional. We all are complex "AI" machines with billions of years of development and design behind us. All and all it's very interesting information. ...more
4

Jul 18, 2016

This was a great primer to philosophy to the novice. Dennett uses some clever thinking tools to cut to the heart of some classic problems in philosophy. I especially liked his take-down of the idea that free will depends on non-determinism.
2

Mar 15, 2020

First off, the title is a misnomer -- a clickbait of sorts. The discussion on intuition pumps lasts 40 pages (more on that later). The rest of it is tearing apart often ridiculous (to me at least) philosophical positions other philosophers had such as insisting on consciousness and free will are a black and white thing (false dichotomy). For instance, here is one on "understanding", which is a center piece target of Dennett's criticism and is the so-called Chinese Room thought experiment.

Here's First off, the title is a misnomer -- a clickbait of sorts. The discussion on intuition pumps lasts 40 pages (more on that later). The rest of it is tearing apart often ridiculous (to me at least) philosophical positions other philosophers had such as insisting on consciousness and free will are a black and white thing (false dichotomy). For instance, here is one on "understanding", which is a center piece target of Dennett's criticism and is the so-called Chinese Room thought experiment.

Here's the rundown, if you haven't heard of this: Someone (a non-clear-thinker, let's call him NCT) insists a strong AI doesn't have a mind like a human does. The logic is this: NCT himself does not speak Chinese but can be locked inside a room equipped with the English-version of the said AI software (complete with databases and scratch paper) and can in principle answer questions written in Chinese and fed into the room thus faking comprehension. Since NCT doesn't understand Chinese, the AI system doesn't either and thus it doesn't have a mind as we do. The analogy is clearly wrong because while NCT doesn't speak Chinese, the Chinese room practically does (unless you define "speak" so narrowly that only human being can "speak" a language - by definition.) NCT can make the point that the *hardware alone* (the counterpart of NCT in the room) doesn't speak Chinese or have a mind.

Assuming my oversimplified argument here is clear, if you agree with NCT's position, then maybe reading this book can be helpful. If you agree that NCT is not a clear thinker then this book of Dennett's will be like preaching to the choir.

Even if such logic problems are worth clarifying, this book is extremely verbose and digressive in my opinion. If I'm allowed a career stereotying joke: A newly appointed university president was amazed at the difference in funding requirement of different departments: the physicists needed billions of dollars for an accelerator; the mathematicians only needed paper, pencils, and a waste basket; heck the philosophy department doesn’t even need a waste basket.

So back to the intuition pumps. What are they? They are a particular type of thought experiment: one that reduces the complexity to the bare minimum (which can be a good thing) and then, anybody can intuitively answer the question in an unambiguous manner (e.g., does NCT speak Chinese). Clearly, in the NCT example, the reason you can intuit is because important details get swept away. Other commonly misused intuition pumps include "surely" and "rathering". "Surely" is the act of prefacing a wrong statement with "surely" and pass it on as an obvious truism. (e.g., Surely only humans can have a mind). Rathering is to refute A because B is clearly the case (e.g., Donald Trump is not evil, rather he is stupid.)

These are simply logic fallacies. The latter is called false dichotomy. There are webpages discussing the common ones. The book discussed a grand total of 12 pumps, 6 positive, 6 negatives. So what about the positive intuition pumps. Well, I hate to disappoint, but there is really just one, which is try to use "reductio ad absurdum". Others are some wise remarks that do not IMO count as thought experiment let alone intuition pumps (remember the latter is a special case of the former). Here is one example called Sturgeon's law. Science fiction writer Sturgeon agrees 90% of science fiction is crud. But 90% of anything is crud. So don't waste time hooting at the crap.

Surely, I'm not hooting at the crap. Rather, I'm warning you of the relatively low density of intellectual wisdom. ...more
3

Apr 29, 2013

Daniel C. Dennett cites himself a lot. Just sayin'.

Right, so his thing is that free will and determinism are not incompatible. He's really big into non-incompatibles. the idea that you can predict the choice someone will make does not effect his ability to make that choice. So, its predictable that i would write this... but i still also made a choice to write it. i really hope he explains how this is so because i still don't get it.

I had no idea this book would be so much about rhetoric, Daniel C. Dennett cites himself a lot. Just sayin'.

Right, so his thing is that free will and determinism are not incompatible. He's really big into non-incompatibles. the idea that you can predict the choice someone will make does not effect his ability to make that choice. So, its predictable that i would write this... but i still also made a choice to write it. i really hope he explains how this is so because i still don't get it.

I had no idea this book would be so much about rhetoric, linquistics, etc. a delightful surprise as I love that stuff (for example, every time I malapropriate I cover with the declaration that "I love malapropisms!" because 1) it makes me look clever when I was looking dumb and 2) its true - I love the fact that I can use the wrong word for something and my intentionality/meaning is still conveyed intact - at least much of the time). I can't wait to apply his nasty little tools, like "rathering" to my own writing b/c I also agree with him in that there is often nothing more fun than realize how wrong you are - mistakes are such a juicy opportunity for growth.

so far this book reminds me of Jonah Leher's "How we decide." (I still find myself wanting to champion him despite his unfortunate debacle - his writing was nice and clear and interesting and I still trust it in the main [self plagiarizing is nonsense, and I'm somehow not too bothered by the other stuff...])

I still don't really understand where Dennett falls in the dualist/materialist etc camp (I know most assume he's a strict materialist, but the way he complains about being misunderstood..and at times seems to discuss the reality of qualia confuses me).. need to read more of him.

I like this quote: "Let's stipulate at the outset that there is a great deal of deplorable, stupid, second-rate stuff out there, of all sorts. Now, in order not to waste your time and try our patience, make sure you concentrate on the best stuff you can find, the flagship exexamples, extolled by the leaders of the field, the prize-winning entries, not the dregs." I wonder if he'll discuss how people's tendency to do this is just 'cause they're insecure and it makes them feel good to tear apart weak scholarship or weak anything, really. probably he won't. speaking of , this is an angry statement. dennett is quite an angry man.

still judging dennett's ability to write/speak clearly about complex stuff, so far, he's doing pretty well. I was having a conversation with Ariel the other day about how it's so annoying how people will write really convolutedly with lots of big words (or worse a bunch of terminology specific to your field ["word-dropping"]) and stuff to sound intelligent, and it can be, like, a lot of quantity and stuff, but she said something like - the more words you're using and the longer your sentences, likely the less you're actually saying. i think she probably quoted someone who said it better. but anyway, this is true also of novelists, she was probably thinking about healy's "how i became a famous novelist"... everyone should just read and follow chicago's manual of style. k? thanks.

another thing i was thinking about along the line of phonies is, like, i know it's a fine line between original ideas and copying and nothing new under the sun and all, but you know it when you see it? in that, it seems that often a person instead of being inspired by an idol in the same field to create someone of their own or copying their style in a way to express their own stuff - the best they can do is just copy the obvious mannerisms or personaility quirks or things unrelated to the particular craft really, you know a caricature, like someone puffing on a pipe and reading a book by the sea who actually hates to read, or someone who is all angry like dennett and thinks that's his "persona" or something and it's his duty to set the score with his "philosopher" friends as if he were a big wig within a community or something, because really, he just likes dennett's persona and wants desperately to believe that he is just like that..... ...more
1

Jul 22, 2017

I stayed with it until Consciousness, where I lost mine several times before limping to the end. The title is a misnomer; it is not a handy guide to navigating your decisions in life, etc, or even a practical 80 steps to improving your mind. It is a series of short chapters of philosophical tidbits designed to introduce as much of Dennett's own nomenclature as possible to see what sticks (immortality!), and in the meantime showing how terribly misguided his fellow philosophers are, supported by I stayed with it until Consciousness, where I lost mine several times before limping to the end. The title is a misnomer; it is not a handy guide to navigating your decisions in life, etc, or even a practical 80 steps to improving your mind. It is a series of short chapters of philosophical tidbits designed to introduce as much of Dennett's own nomenclature as possible to see what sticks (immortality!), and in the meantime showing how terribly misguided his fellow philosophers are, supported by lots of references to his own work. I've never read a book that references its own author so frequently. In general, it made my head hurt, and paralysed me from reading other things until I had stubbornly finished it. For which I hate it. Especially for taking advantage of my good nature and forcing me to slog through how computer programs work. Did I add I hated it? I've read other Dennett books, but I think I will stop now. He's clever, I get it. ...more
5

Feb 17, 2016

What a mind... Dennett is that rarest of beings: a philosopher who presents his ideas undumbed down, and with crystal clarity, for a lay readership. Not only does he respect his untrained readers, he genuinely strives to educate them and to spur their own deeper learning and inquiry. The long and the short is this: every time I finish one of his books, I am (I think) smarter than I was when I began. It's amazing how much food for thought Dennett packs between the covers of each, and how artfully What a mind... Dennett is that rarest of beings: a philosopher who presents his ideas undumbed down, and with crystal clarity, for a lay readership. Not only does he respect his untrained readers, he genuinely strives to educate them and to spur their own deeper learning and inquiry. The long and the short is this: every time I finish one of his books, I am (I think) smarter than I was when I began. It's amazing how much food for thought Dennett packs between the covers of each, and how artfully he composes them. In addition to being a first-rate thinker, Dennett is a superb stylist. And so I say, of yet another Dennett title: I loved it! Here's hoping Dennett has many years of writing still to come. ...more
2

Oct 03, 2014

Summary: There's a lot of interesting stuff here if you can struggle through it and are prepared to put in some hard thinking time over it (which you should be, if you're reading a book on philosophy). It's like taking a journey which you have heard is arduous but rewarding. However in this case the journey is also uneven and sometimes tedious, and your companion won't stop playing a Spice Girls medley on the kazoo.

In a bit more detail:

First off, this is a hard book. It wants you to think and it Summary: There's a lot of interesting stuff here if you can struggle through it and are prepared to put in some hard thinking time over it (which you should be, if you're reading a book on philosophy). It's like taking a journey which you have heard is arduous but rewarding. However in this case the journey is also uneven and sometimes tedious, and your companion won't stop playing a Spice Girls medley on the kazoo.

In a bit more detail:

First off, this is a hard book. It wants you to think and it wants you to do the exercises, in fact it needs you to do so to really understand what it's talking about. But what IS it talking about? What ARE intuition pumps? I've finished it but I'm still not sure I could tell you.

The book is broken into lots of short chapters, and the first third of the book is a bit of a trudge, containing lots of common/familiar philosophical problems, and seemingly wandering about over them with little direction. There are some gems in there but nothing really new to me. The middle third turns largely to modelling computation and derives pretty much from first principles an almost-Turing-machine, which is is actually quite nicely done and was interesting to me but flatout stopped my wife reading as it descended into some very technical descriptions. A pity because (as someone already familiar with the field) I actually quite enjoyed this bit. The final third starts to talk about some more interesting and complex philosophical problems such as the theory of mind, and determinism and whether it is compatible with free will. This is occasionally heavy stuff but contains enough to keep me going through it, with some genuinely cute ideas and turns of phrase. Then it all ends a bit abruptly.

All of the above would be worth three stars if it weren't for the author's style of writing. He writes as someone who is extremely condescending and convinced of their own brilliance, explaining it to the pitiful mortals while trying to pretend that he might be a bit like "one of us", despite not actually believing that of himself. It's trying, and annoying. He's clearly very smart and sometimes writes engaging prose, but after a few pages you just feel like you want to slap him. I don't think his communication style is particularly clear either, but that might be fine since the book seems to be aimed at a level a few steps above the usual pop-science type book.

I wouldn't recommend it.
...more
3

Jul 31, 2013

I won't plagiarize another reviewer by pointing any prospective reader of Dennett's book to Sturgeon's Law, but for those listening: consult Sturgeon's Law.

10% of this book is extremely interesting - which for a 500 page book can seem reasonable and tiring on the same plane. Cf. every book Dennett has ever written on consciousness if you want to avoid the hassle (it's the topic he has theorized on tenaciously during his 30-year career as a mainstream philosopher). You'll notice he conveniently I won't plagiarize another reviewer by pointing any prospective reader of Dennett's book to Sturgeon's Law, but for those listening: consult Sturgeon's Law.

10% of this book is extremely interesting - which for a 500 page book can seem reasonable and tiring on the same plane. Cf. every book Dennett has ever written on consciousness if you want to avoid the hassle (it's the topic he has theorized on tenaciously during his 30-year career as a mainstream philosopher). You'll notice he conveniently cites himself far too often (even a forthcoming book at one point) or just lops chunks of his older writings into neat little paragraphs for you to digest. Therefore, this book is a summary mostly.

His objectives seemed vague to me for a few reasons. First, there were often chapters that felt like narrative interludes where Dennett could discuss pure philosophical praxis. What was the point of these sporadic divisions?

Second, the unceasing referrals to parts later in the book that build on earlier topics shows cohesion in the subject matter - an interconnectivity that Dennett himself seems to value. However, this does not lend itself to the most concise structuring of this particular philosophical monograph.

Third, spending time debasing other philosophers, science, science AND philosophy, religion, religion and science, computers, argument-logic, and other intuition pumps (that, by the way, are not meant to be intuition pumps since most are OPTION B: "Name Preservers" [last chapter]) is tiresome and feels wayward from giving us thinking tools about thinking (meta-).

Finally, Dennett gets by on giving us footnotes to arguments and tangible evidence that we need to go and access outside the text. Otherwise, I feel Dennett's own views are obfuscated and each new topic is introduced with critical reviewal and no apparent philosophical "attempt" at an aporetic stance by the end.

Don't look down on me or other philosophy students, Dan. Don't throw us all under the bus too quickly or else you may find you'll have thrown out the proverbial baby with the bath-water, Dan. Don't talk cute to me, Dan, I deserve some formal prose in my philosophy reading. It hurts my feelings and I wasn't expecting a literal coup on my love of philosophy by reading your book, I just wanted to learn something new.
...more
5

Sep 21, 2013

Date first finished: 21 September 2013
Date second finished: 19 January 2014

This is an excellent book that gives a good introduction to some of the ways of doing philosophy. The first section has perhaps some of the most valuable advice for engaging with ideas and their proponents, and is something I will probably return to again and again to sharpen my tools for evaluating claims. The very first thing that Dennett encourages is for thinkers to make mistakes. It is important not to be afraid of Date first finished: 21 September 2013
Date second finished: 19 January 2014

This is an excellent book that gives a good introduction to some of the ways of doing philosophy. The first section has perhaps some of the most valuable advice for engaging with ideas and their proponents, and is something I will probably return to again and again to sharpen my tools for evaluating claims. The very first thing that Dennett encourages is for thinkers to make mistakes. It is important not to be afraid of making mistakes because it is by making mistakes that one is able learn more effectively. Another really interesting set of thinking tools are Rapoport's Rules and Sturgeon's Law. Rapoport's rules are as follows:

1.) Restate the opponents position so fairly and so accurately that the opponent says, "Thanks. I wish I had thought of putting it like that."
2.) Point out anywhere where you and the opponent are in agreement, especially if it is a point not widely held.
3.) Note anything that you have learned from your opponent.
4.) Only then can you offer anything by way of criticism.

Sturgeon's Law is also a very interesting concept that says that as a general rule, 90% of everything is garbage. Even if it is the case that 90% of everything produced by any field is garbage, that does not mean one can dismiss the 10% that is quality work. Instead, it is important engage with that 10%, and use that as the standard of quality.

The last thinking tool I will mention, which will hopefully make readers want to read the rest of the book, is something like a converse to Occam's razor, the law of parsimony that states that one should not multiple assumptions beyond necessity, that is, the simplest explanation is most often the best explanation. Converse to this idea is Occam's broom. Occam's broom is when someone making a claim sweeps inconvenient facts away as an attempt to make his/her case appear more sound than it actually is. As an example, Dennett brings up conspiracy theorists who are masters of wielding Occam's broom in order to make their claims of conspiracy fit the situation by either dismissing or overlooking important facts that would invalidate their cases.

These are just some of the very interesting topics that are brought up in this book. I highly recommend it to everyone who has ever expressed a desire to sharpen their thinking. ...more
4

May 21, 2013

This introduces itself as a collection of tricks and tips for philosophical reasoning. What is an essay papering over a gap? What makes a good thought experiment? When faced with one of the classic philosopher's parables (the Chinese Room, the Duplicating Teleporter) how do you figure out whether it's leading your intuition in a useful direction or only distracting you from the point?

(Some of these tips are nifty examples of "turning the knobs" on thought experiments, creating variants with This introduces itself as a collection of tricks and tips for philosophical reasoning. What is an essay papering over a gap? What makes a good thought experiment? When faced with one of the classic philosopher's parables (the Chinese Room, the Duplicating Teleporter) how do you figure out whether it's leading your intuition in a useful direction or only distracting you from the point?

(Some of these tips are nifty examples of "turning the knobs" on thought experiments, creating variants with different intuitive consequences. Others are simple rules of thumb: if a philosopher uses "surely" or "arguably" in a sentence, watch out!)

After the introductory bits, Dennett starts applying these arguments to his standard topics: evolution, free will, and consciousness. He's still exercising arguments to see how well they stand up, but he's doing it as part of a pocket tour of these pet topics. Which is fine; there's been a lot of back-and-forth in the field since I read _Godel Escher Bach_ and it's good to keep up to date.

Inevitably, there's a lot of "my thought experiments are interesting and my opponents' are broken". Dennett tries not to be a jerk about this -- he prefers to poke holes in his critics' certainties without claiming to be certain about his own beliefs -- but these *are* his topics, and he's opinionated. (Interest: I agree with Dennett's opinions about all this stuff.) For what it's worth, he's also assiduous about referencing both sides of each debate.

I found the thing extremely readable. The book is organized in lots of tiny chapters, each focussing on one point or example of argument. If Dennett's previous books on consciousness and evolution seemed like unscalable walls of text, I'd recommend trying this one. If you're already a Dennett fan, this book will be a quick read with a few interesting updates on the familiar arguments.
...more
3

May 07, 2018

Favorite sections include all/most of Section II: A Donzen General Thinking Tools - a clear set of tools to go out into the world with. "Rather"|"Surely" (ding!) And the following favorite chapters include: Murder in Trafalgar Square, Manifest Image and Scientific Image, The Intentional Stance, The Sorta Operator, The Library of Mendel: Vast and Vanishing, The Zombic Hunch, Zombies and Zimboes, and Heterophenomenology. Dennett is a writer that leads me to believe that I have some kind of Favorite sections include all/most of Section II: A Donzen General Thinking Tools - a clear set of tools to go out into the world with. "Rather"|"Surely" (ding!) And the following favorite chapters include: Murder in Trafalgar Square, Manifest Image and Scientific Image, The Intentional Stance, The Sorta Operator, The Library of Mendel: Vast and Vanishing, The Zombic Hunch, Zombies and Zimboes, and Heterophenomenology. Dennett is a writer that leads me to believe that I have some kind of adult/reading version of ADD. My ability to focus on what he's saying drops dramatically compared with other philosophy readings for some reason. This isn't to say that the writing is bad, I just know now to not read Dennett when I have a lot on my mind. The advice to philosophy students in the ending chapters is honest, and I think it is advice carefully given ..."[D]on't count on the validation of your fellow graduate students or your favorite professors to settle the issue [the issue about whether or not you're doing philosophy "right" or if it's the "career for you."] They all have vested interest in keeping the enterprise going. It's what they know how to do; it's what they are good at. This is a problem in other fields too, and it can be even harder to break out of. (...) My point is that you should not settle complacently into a seat on the bandwagon just because you have found some brilliant fellow travelers who find your work on the issue as unignorable as you find theirs. You may all be taking each other for a ride." (p.422 - 424.) ...more
5

May 15, 2018

Dennett collects in this book an interesting inventory of special thought experiments defined by him as intuition pumps. The definition he proposes goes along with what they really do to you: pump your intuition up. They kind guide your thinking towards the core of the subject matter dealt with.

However, as there are some badly designed thought experiments, this is also true for intuition pumps. Dennets explores the bad ones brilliantly. In some very famous cases, the bad ones hold such strong Dennett collects in this book an interesting inventory of special thought experiments defined by him as intuition pumps. The definition he proposes goes along with what they really do to you: pump your intuition up. They kind guide your thinking towards the core of the subject matter dealt with.

However, as there are some badly designed thought experiments, this is also true for intuition pumps. Dennets explores the bad ones brilliantly. In some very famous cases, the bad ones hold such strong appeal to our intuition that you really need a professional and careful philosopher, such as Dennett, to show you the way out of it.

How Dennett manages to create good intuition pumps as well as spot the failures on the bad ones? I noticed Dennett's approach is very science-oriented making his work likely to belong to the Scientific Realism school of thinking, which is highly recommended if you are to do some thinking without fooling yourself with most of the world’s shenanigans.

So if you care about topics such as Evolution, Consciousness, Artificial Intelligence and Free Will this book falls into the category. It’s not such a heavy reading, as the author's writing is not loaded with jargon and he gets very entertainment at some points. No need to worry about getting bored to death. ...more
3

May 07, 2013

Somehow I didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as I was expecting to. What was I expecting? I dunno... a textbook on critical thinking written from the perspective of a philosopher? A list of important human mental techniques that an ideal AI should contain?

Something was just too folksy-abstract for me to really get into it.

I liked Dennett's books Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness and Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind much better.

But on my library's Somehow I didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as I was expecting to. What was I expecting? I dunno... a textbook on critical thinking written from the perspective of a philosopher? A list of important human mental techniques that an ideal AI should contain?

Something was just too folksy-abstract for me to really get into it.

I liked Dennett's books Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness and Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind much better.

But on my library's 2016 adult reading challenge I'm now down 2, 6 to go! ...more
4

Jan 23, 2015

As usual Daniel Dennett has written another good book. There's a lot to think about in this one. He covers various ways philosophers use to sharpen their thinking--a very admirable collection. He seemed to use the tools for thought, intuition pumps he calls them to make points about some of his favorite topics, such as, consciousness, artificial intelligence, evolution, and free will. I have to say that I disagreed with or had questions about some of what he wrote, which is a good thing to have, As usual Daniel Dennett has written another good book. There's a lot to think about in this one. He covers various ways philosophers use to sharpen their thinking--a very admirable collection. He seemed to use the tools for thought, “intuition pumps” he calls them to make points about some of his favorite topics, such as, consciousness, artificial intelligence, evolution, and free will. I have to say that I disagreed with or had questions about some of what he wrote, which is a good thing to have, especially when reading philosophy. Unfortunately, I can't recall any at the time of writing this review. For the most part, the book was thought provoking and was enjoyable to read. ...more

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