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Daniel Dennett

Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor, Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is the author of Content and Consciousness; Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology; Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting; The Intentional Stance; Consciousness Explained; Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life; Kinds of Minds: Toward an Understanding of Consciousness; Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds; Freedom Evolves; Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness; and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Dennett's research centers on philosophy of mind and philosophy of science, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is perhaps best known for his concept of intentional systems, and his multiple drafts model of human consciousness, which sketches a computational architecture for realizing the stream of consciousness in the massively parallel cerebral cortex. His uncompromising computationalism has been opposed by philosophers such as John Searle and Jerry Fodor, who maintain that the most important aspects of consciousness – intentionality and subjective quality – can never be computed. He is the philosopher of choice of the AI community, and also a major contributor to the understanding of the conceptual foundations of evolutionary biology.

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Daniel Dennett Quotes

I think many people are terribly afraid of being demoted by the Darwinian scheme from the role of authors and creators in their own right into being just places where things happen in the universe.

The problem is that no ethical system has ever achieved consensus. Ethical systems are completely unlike mathematics or science. This is a source of concern.

The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight – that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether.

I think that there are no forces on this planet more dangerous to us all than the fanaticisms of fundamentalism, of all the species: Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, as well as countless smaller infections. Is there a conflict between science and religion here? There most certainly is.

If you want to reason about faith, and offer a reasoned (and reason- responsive) defense of faith as an extra category of belief worthy of special consideration, I'm eager to play. I certainly grant the existence of the phenomenon of faith; what I want to see is a reasoned ground for taking faith seriously as a way of getting to the truth, and not, say, just as a way people comfort themselves and each other (a worthy function that I do take seriously). But you must not expect me to go along with your defence of faith as a path to truth if at any point you appeal to the very dispensation you are supposedly trying to justify. Before you appeal to faith when reason has you backed into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side.

The evidence of evolution pours in, not only from geology, paleontology, biogeography, and anatomy (Darwin's chief sources), but from molecular biology and every other branch of the life sciences. To put it bluntly but fairly, anyone today who doubts that the variety of life on this planet was produced by a process of evolution is simply ignorant – inexcusably ignorant, in a world where three out of four people have learned to read and write.

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed for the remarkable fact of our own existence, indeed the existence of all life wherever it may turn up in the universe. It is the only known explanation for the rich diversity of animals, pants, fungi and bacteria.

Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself, 'Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?' And next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them, 'What kind of evidence is there for that?' And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.

As a Darwinian, the aspect of religion that catches my attention is its profligate wastefulness, its extravagant display of baroque uselessness. Nature is a miserly accountant, grudging the pennies, watching the clock, punishing the smallest waste. If a wild animal habitually performs some useless activity, natural selection will favor rival individuals who instead devote time to surviving and reproducing. Nature cannot afford frivolous jeux desprits. Ruthless utilitarianism trumps, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.