The illusion of consciousness | Dan Dennett

The illusion of consciousness | Dan Dennett

Philosopher Dan Dennett makes a compelling argument that not only don’t we understand our own consciousness, but that half the time our …


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  1. James Havard

    Consciousness is an iterated function between intelligence and the environment to produce a desired outcome. If someone turns the wheel of a speeding smart car towards an obstacle, then the cars 'consciousness' should resist the turn.

  2. Abirdthatflew

    He begins of with:

    1) I'm a philosopher ;

    2) I'm a professor;

    3) name-dropping an unknown philosopher, Robert Nozick;

    4) dismisses anyone who is not an expert or who does not have expertise on consciousness.

    5) Then he says: ‘What you are, what I am, is approximately 100 trillion little cellular robots. That's what we are made of. No other ingredients at all; we're just made of cells, about a 100 trillion of them. Not a single one of those cells is conscious, not a single one of those cells knows who you are, or cares.’

    6)Then he says: ‘What you are, what I am, is approximately 100 trillion little cellular robots. That's what we are made of. No other ingredients at all; we're just made of cells, about a 100 trillion of them. Not a single one of those cells is conscious, not a single one of those cells knows who you are, or cares.’

    7) Later, he says: ‘The brain just makes you think that it's got the detail there – you think the detail's there – but it isn't there. The brain isn't actually putting the detail in your head at all; it's just making you expect the detail.’

    8) Later he quotes: Cognitive Science.

    9) Then he says: ‘If you read that literature, one of the things you have to come to terms with is, even when you’re the subject in the experiment, is that you don’t know.’

    After going through some optical illusions, he concludes:

    10) ‘In fact, you are not the authority on your own consciousness that you think you are, and we’re really making a lot of progress on coming up with the theory of mind.’

    Finally, he name-drops Harvard Medical School.

  3. Will Mosse

    Interesting, but about the contents of consciousness, not consciousness itself. He demonstrates that much of what is within consciousness is illusion, but he does not appear to be saying that consciousness itself is an illusion.

  4. dakrontu

    We are misled by tricks of the brain's perceptual circuitry, indeed, but tricks that are of little consequence in a natural environment, which is what evolution has optimised humans for. That we are aware of these tricks, and they matter to us, is because we are trying to use our evolved brains for purposes that evolution never optimised them for.

    This great adventure, the Human Enterprise, is only possible by hijacking the medium that nature has provided. We are fortunate that it provided it at all. We are an accident, like what happens when you take a large enough vat of explosive liquid and find that inevitably at some point a static discharge or the sun focused through a rain-drop makes it all go up in a big explosion.

    Human culture and science is that explosive wave. Those of us who are alive are riding the crest of that wave. As we do, we discover the astounding capabilities of our thought processes, that have given us the modern world. We also discover that the flaws in those thought processes make us prone to damaging memes that can cause terrible devastation and even our own destruction.

    So I applaud Dennett's work in explaining how memes impact individuals and societies. I think that is more fruitful than his illustrations of problems in our input system, our audiovisual perceptual apparatus, because it has to do with flaws in our actual ability to think rationally. But it is useful to see, as an example, that flaws in our input processing exist, because then we can be more humble and suspicious of our own thought processes that lead to kindred risks.

  5. dakrontu

    If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear, was there a sound?

    I thought he was going to try to persuade me that my consciousness is an illusion. He did not even try. His entire video was about perception. To have perception, even when it is erroneous because of the nature of our perceptual mechanisms, you still have to have consciousness.

    You may try to believe that your own consciousness is an illusion. But wait till you stub your toe and it hurts. If the pain is an illusion, the same as if the neurons delivering the message were triggered by some other method, it would still be felt as pain, if you are conscious.

    The best I can say about this video is that Dennett is not, at all, addressing the matter he claims to address.

    How does the activity in some neural circuit in the brain produce pain, pleasure, the smell of peppermint, or the colour red? If each of those is an illusion, WHO or WHAT is it that is having the illusion? This is the kind of thing about which I had hoped me might show some insight.

    Even if consciousness is an illusion, something has to be HAVING that illusion.

    I am a great fan of Dennett. I think he has a LOT to say about such things as memes and how the human brain is so susceptible to them and the damage that memes cause to individuals and society as a whole. But on the subject of consciousness, I am not even sure what he is TRYING to say.

  6. Luca Ferrari

    this guy should be banned. First he starts without a definition of consciousness.
    this serves the purpose of speaking about something which is not consciousness, as already noted, but rather perception and, in any case, not self-awareness for instance.
    In addition, he did not discover any of those brain tricks which are overly famous in the literature.
    In the end, he used the same subtle tricks by means of rhetoric to let you believe what he wanted, i.e., the he could explain consciousness. If was just a poor introduction to the topics and far way less interesting that it actually is – regardless from the field from which the speaker comes from

    nevertheless, he is a wonderful teacher about arrogance

  7. Dan V.

    The mind and the body are symbiotically linked temporarily so as to propagate total consciousness. The body acquires energy (food) for the mind to function and the mind tries to make it easy (invents guns) for the body to do this. The group efficacy in this regard is reflected in social cohesiveness. E.G. America is beginning to lose it; e.g. it is dying.

  8. Chris Lieding

    Consciousness is the given— it is self evident: it allows no proof and demands no proof. It is everything else that is in question. Time-Space-Energy is the inseparable ‘trinity’ of physical reality and by analogy Existence-Identity-Consciousness is the irreducible trinity of Metaphysics.
    It is a materialist-reductionist absurdity to propose that consciousness is “just” neurons (biological switches) or chemical reactions (changing molecular bonds) that trick one into believing one is conscious as this proposal always begs the question— who or what is being tricked?!
    One cannot escape one’s own consciousness; it is the nature of everything else one must discover. With our capacity for perception and imaginative abstraction we use logic and reason (both inductive and deductive) to probe the nature of reality. That which we find identifiable, consistent, repeatable, reasonable (non-contradictory), we conclude is “real”.
    I don’t know about the rest of you but no one and nothing is going to argue me out of my personal awareness of being. Sometimes when I grow impatient with such insupportable nonsense, and am feeling a bit ornery, I think to myself: “We could bring deniers of consciousness back to themselves just my sticking them with a will placed pin.” I read somewhere that pain serves a function beyond physical survival— it can be a vivid undeniable reminder that one exists! Thank you for your attention to my ideas; I solute and celebrate your consciousness.

  9. BANKO007

    The title has a double meaning: it could be that consciousness itself is an illusion (obviously a self-contradictory as consciousness is a prerequisite of an illusion); or that our conscious mind presents us with illusions. The second is the only possible interpretation, but it is a very confusing title.

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