Freedom Evolves has ratings and reviews. Samir said: Renowned philosopher Daniel Dennett emphatically answers “yes!” Using an array of. Can there be freedom and free will in a deterministic world? Renowned philosopher Daniel Dennett emphatically answers “yes!” Using an array. Galen Strawson reviews book Freedom Evolves by Daniel C Dennett; drawings ( M).
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Evolvse our uniqueness as reflective, communicating animals does not require any ‘human exceptionalism’ that must shake a defiant fist at Darwin We may thus concede that material feeedom ultimately govern behaviour, and yet at the same time reject the notion that people are always and everywhere motivated by material self-interest.
This is the burden of Daniel Dennett’s new book and it is really welcome. As he points out, educated people today are often trapped in a strange kind of double-think on this topic.
Officially, they believe physical science calls for determinism, which proves they have no control over their lives. But in actual living, most of freecom time they assume they do have this control. They ignore their supposedly scientific beliefs rather as their ancestors often ignored threats of eternal punishment. Yet those beliefs can still cause deep underlying anxiety, confusion, guilt and a sense of futility. Dennett shows he has grasped this odd situation.
Freedom Evolves – Wikipedia
He quotes, dennwtt some alarm, a passage from a science-fiction book in which an amoral character triumphantly cites Dennett’s book Consciousness Explained as proving finally that we have no free will, we cannot control our actions, and thus that we can have no duties.
He rightly insists he never said this. But he does see now why people may think he did.
The trouble is that, in these discussions, what chiefly gets across to the reader is not so much the detailed arguments as the general tone, the rhetoric, the way the emphasis lies. And writers like Dennett, who want to promote a worldview centring on science, are indeed often feredom hostile to dxniel concept of free will.
They treat it as an ally of traditional religion and a prop of the penal system. They do not readily notice that it is just as necessary to today’s secular morality, which centres on personal autonomy.
These campaigners aim to get rid of the immortal soul. But the last thing they want to do is to lose individual freedom. In this book Dennett does at last grasp this nettle. He tries much harder than he has before to show that he understands the importance of our inner life. He devotes much of the book to dissecting the mistaken notion that “science” dwnnett us to write off that inner life as an ineffectual shadow.
Determinism, he says, is not fatalism. Fatalism teaches that human effort makes no difference to what happens, and we know this is false. Human effort often does make that difference. What makes this effectiveness seem impossible is not science but the rhetoric that has depicted the mind as a separate, helpless substance being pushed around by matter.
That rhetoric grew out of Descartes’ dualism and an atomistic simplification that dates from the 17th century – the conviction that a single simple pattern, found in the interaction of its smallest particles, must govern the whole of nature. Particle physics, which at that time dealt in very denndtt ultimate particles like billiard balls, must therefore supply the model for all other interactions. All complexity was secondary and somehow unreal. Since that time, as Dennett points out, all the sciences, including physics, have dropped that over-simple model.
They find complexity and variety of patterns everywhere. That is why we now need scientific pluralism – the careful, systematic use of different thinking in different contexts to answer different questions. In particular, we are freerom finding steadily increasing complexity throughout the developing spectrum of organic life.
The more complex creatures become, the wider is the range of activities open to them. And with that increase goes a steadily increasing degree of freedom: Human freedom, in part a product of the revolution begat of language and culture, is about as different from bird freedom as language is different from birdsong.
But to vennett the richer phenomenon, one must first understand its more modest components and predecessors. Interestingly, this evolutionary view of human freedom is quite close to the one Steven Rose suggested in his excellent book Lifelines.
Thus, two writers who started from opposite positions in the sociobiology debate have both, on reflection, reached similar conclusions on the relation between freedom and evolution. They both make the central point that our conscious inner life is not some sort of irrelevant supernatural intrusion on the working of our physical bodies but a crucial part of their design.
We have evolved as beings that can feel and think in a way that makes us able to direct our actions. This means, of course, that the self is a much larger and more complex thing than the detached soul which Descartes thought was dennet essence of our being. We operate as whole people. Our minds and bodies are aspects of us, not separate items.
They do not need to compete for the driving seat. Freeeom Dennett points out, this holistic approach certainly works better than the simple libertarian attempt to avoid fatalism by interrupting determinism with patches of quantum indeterminacy – an attempt that could only produce spasms of randomness, not freedom.
Dennett’s and Rose’s path between randomness and fatalism is surely essentially the right one. But it needs to be worked out with great care and sensibility. In this book Dennett does, on the whole, supply these excellent qualities.
Fate by fluke
He uses a much more conciliatory tone than he did in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. There is no more fighting talk here of Darwinism being a “universal acid”, eating through all other thought-systems and radically transforming them. There is not much rhetoric about sky-hooks, and there is absolutely nothing about the fashionable doctrine now known as “evolutionary psychology”. Only one relic of extreme neo-Darwinism remains, namely, the doctrine of memes. Memes are supposed to be a kind of parasitical quasi-organism that function as genes or possibly as units of culture, producing behaviour patterns by infesting evoves minds just as biological parasites infest their bodies.
These mythical entities were invented, somewhat casually, by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene as a dahiel to his story of the causal supremacy of genes, and the current huge popularity treedom evolutionary thinking has caused the idea to catch on despite its wildness.
It supplies people outside the physical sciences with something that looks to them like a scientific explanation of culture – “scientific” because it looks vaguely like genetics, and because it does not mention human thought and feeling. In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea Dennett ardently embraced this story, offering memetics as the only truly scientific way of explaining culture.
But in Freedom Evolves he does not really need this device any longer. The need for it has vanished because he is now endorsing human thought and feeling as real parts of nature – genuine activities, not supernatural extras – part of normal causality and therefore capable of explaining what happens in culture.
Yet, quite gratuitously, alongside this admirably realistic approach, Dennett still insists that memes – he explains them as comparable to liver-flukes, genuinely external to humans and having their own interests to promote – are its true scientific explanation. Occam, however, was surely wise in suggesting that we should not multiply entities beyond necessity.
Might we not reasonably ask: On memetic principles, the only reason why he and others campaign so ardently for neo-Darwinism must be that a neo-Darwinist meme or fluke has infested their brains, forcing them evolevs act in this way. That is, of course, a less welcome notion than the similar explanation of the idea of God which is their favourite example. As Dawkins put it, God is perhaps a computer virus. But if you propose the method seriously you must apply it consistently. And if you ffeedom that, you should surely see that it is pure fatalism.
This quaint remnant is perhaps the only serious flaw in an otherwise really admirable and helpful book. Higher education Science and nature books Philosophy books Daniel Dennett reviews.