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Conversation with Dan Dennett. Part 3

Daniel Dennett, Austin Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University
Why Evolutionary Biology is not helping more in this endeavor of understanding our uniqueness in mind and consciousness? That’s a Good question, Jaume. And I think part of the answer, I don’t know, I think this could be studied empirically and I’m just guessing on the bases of my own experience. I think part of it is that evolutionary biologists are still, and for good reasons, defensive about the science. And they are reluctant to be over-ambitious. And so, they will postpone indefinitely some perfectly good evolutionary questions because they know that their more conservative and hard-beating colleagues will jump on them if they venture into those territories. So they leave that to people like me.
And, all the molecular biology, of neurobiology… We could say that they are far away from being able to tackle these issues. Do you… Do you see that these people will have interesting things to tell us, or not yet? Oh, I think there already have interesting things to tell us, almost in spite of themselves. Darwin got tremendous help from his network of naturalists all over the world who sent him data; and the data are all the more trustworthy because the people who send it to him were not Darwinians yet. So, their data gathering was unbiased; if they’d all been out trying to prove he was right, we would not trust on them in the way the way we do.
And I think something similar is happening in neuroscience, there are a lot of neuroscientists who either don’t want to think about consciousness, or think it’s too early to think about consciousness. Or they may even think it is no harder science. So, they do their science and it’s untainted by wishful thinking about consciousness; and some of that is very valuable. Although it can be a hindrance, too. I think that the main hindrance that I have challenged over the years is, when neuroscientists seem to forget that what they’re trying to explain is consciousness, not television. There’s no place where there’s a screen, where the show happens.
There’s transmission of information, from the retina through the optic nerve, the lateral geniculate nucleus and so forth, and so on. But that isn’t kept reconstituted in a picture show, somewhere inside, as if there was a little television room in there. And a lot of people’s theories tacitly presuppose that is what happens. They don’t realize that that’s not the right way to think about these things.
Daniel Dennett, Austin Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University

He supports a materialist theory of mind and aims to provide a materialist account of the evolutionary origins of the human mind and consciousness.

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