Consciousness Explained?

Ben M. Carter

Marbletree Apts. #2030
4077 N. Beltline
Irving, TX 75038

From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51.2 (June 1999): 78-86.

Beginning with the proposition that the theory of evolution has transformed the mind-body philosophical dilemma into a scientific question, Ben Carter critiques philosopher Daniel Dennett's attempted scientific resolution of the problem. Carter finds five specific reasons for rejecting Prof. Dennett's solution, and argues that Prof. Dennett's solution is too model-bound and too reactive to last. However, Carter agrees that Prof. Dennett raises some important questions, and challenges evangelicals to begin to deal seriously with those questions in terms of the scientific research that has given rise to them.

Julian Jaynes begins his discussion of the origin of consciousness by pointing out that the theory of evolution has transformed the mind-body philosophical problem into a scientific one. Today we are far less concerned with metaphysical speculations on the relationship of mind and body, and far more concerned with scientific investigations of the origin of the mind.1 Science's engagement with metaphysics on this level is unsurprising. As Grant Wacker observed, scientists from Carl Sagan to Theodosius Dobzhansky have admitted that evolutionary cosmology is the metaphysics of modernity.2 Its denial of teleology makes appeals to divine agency redundant. Immanent, relativistic, and completely secular, evolution has provided atheism with a powerful reply to natural theology.3

One philosopher who has embraced the evolutionary approach to metaphysical problems is Daniel Dennett, the Distinguished Arts and Sciences Professor and Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University in Massachusetts. The author of many books and articles, Dennett is an enthusiastic Darwinist who has spent the better part of his professional career attempting to unravel the mystery of consciousness.4 In 1991, he published Consciousness Explained in which he summarized his conclusions. In this paper, I will briefly recount Dennett's argument as it appears in that book and list five objections to his thesis. The first three objections are philosophical, the fourth is scientific, and the last is theological.

A Summary of Consciousness Explained

A book with so impressive a title is bound to either provoke or disappoint. Dennett does both in somewhat equal measure. An unapologetic materialist, Dennett asserts early:

the various phenomena that compose what we call consciousness...are all physical effects of the brain's activities,...these activities evolved, and...give rise to illusions about their own powers and properties.5

One illusion produced by these brain activities is the perception that they are centered, that there is what Dennett calls a conceptual or Cartesian Theater (understood in either dualistic or materialistic terms), a single point in the brain where everything comes together to create our sense that we exist as unified beings. He writes:

 There is no single point in the brain where all information funnels in... 6

 The idea of a special center in the brain is the most tenacious bad idea bedeviling our attempts to think about consciousness.7

Dennett also insists: "We must stop thinking of the brain as if it had such a single functional summit or central point."8 Many neuroscientists agree.

Writing in Scientific American (September 1992), Francis Crick and Christof Koch note:

 [E]xperimentalists have not found one particular region in the brain where all the information needed for visual awareness appears to come together. Dennett has dubbed such a hypothetical place "The Cartesian Theater." He argues on theoretical grounds that it does not exist.

 Awareness seems to be distributed not just on a local scale,...but more widely over the neocortex.

As William H. Calvin puts it:

 There is no one place in the brain where an executive sits, receiving reports and issuing orders...The real me is a little bit of everywhere in there. It's a committee of nerve cells.10

Because a single information point in the brain would create a "single, definitive `stream of consciousness,'" Dennett interprets its absence to mean there is no such stream.11 He argues that what we experience as a unified "stream of consciousness" is discontinuous or "gappy,"12 and is evaluated not by a central witness but by "coalitions of specialists."13 These "specialists" are subprocesses in the brain that, though "`stupid' and mechanical" in themselves, yield due to their "clever organization...a device that takes the place of a knowledgeable observer."14

These subprocesses distributed throughout the brain constantly produce multiple drafts of external events. The drafts, which allow the brain to fix content and then discriminate among that content, are continually edited and eventually produce "something rather like a narrative stream or sequence."15 Dennett describes the process this way:

 [S]timuli evoke trains of events in the cortex that gradually yield discriminations of greater and greater of the brain are caused to go into states that discriminate different features...These localized discriminative states transmit effects to other places, contributing to further discriminations, and so forth... 16

 Some of these distributed contentful states soon die out, leaving no further traces. Others do leave traces...Some of these effects...are at least symptomatic of consciousness. But there is no place in the brain through which all these causal trains must pass in order to deposit their content "in consciousness."17

Consciousness, according to Dennett, is a product built-up incrementally over time from processes that are themselves unconscious, "a mode of action of the brain rather than a subsystem of the brain."18 Consciousness is a complexity evolving from simplicity within a brain that, Dennett tells us, "is a massive parallel processing machine."19

Dennett has provided a way of imagining how consciousness might have been generated through an unconscious random purpose. If Darwinian materialism is true, consciousness must be a function of matter and must have been produced by a random unconscious process. This process, which evolved bodies with their distinct but inner-dependent organ systems, could in the same way have produced a brain that expressed a similar kind of unifying harmony from various, though separated, functions. Dennett is, of course, aware that his model is tentative, may incorporate error, and is in need of significant revision, but he is confident that it is a model that will generate better questions than earlier models have. His is an impressive feat of imagination, and Dennett believes he is on the right track.

There are, I believe, at least five good reasons for suspecting he is on the wrong track.

1. Dennett's model is by his own admission rooted in illusion.

Originally space and time were conceived as distinct entities, and the cosmos was imagined as a three-dimensional box in which things happened. For everyday purposes, this view of events is still adequate, but we now know both theoretically and experimentally that it cannot be an accurate model of the cosmos as it actually is. The three-dimensional box in which things happen, though it seems so objectively true, is a profound illusion.

Dennett would have us believe that our experience of this illusory box is compounded by two related illusions: the illusion of a single self and the illusion that this single self experiences a stream of continuous observed events. Dennett's model—which he readily admits is incomplete and possibly even wrong in some of its particulars—is inserted into the intersection of these three, very powerful illusions. Why should anyone find such a model compelling under such circumstances? Why should the incomplete theories of an illusory self that generates its own illusions within an illusory box be accorded any credence? What we have here is a philosophical dilemma created by a humanistic conceptualism.

Though often quoting fourteenth-century nominalist William of Occam,20 scientists who investigate the workings of the brain actually tend to embrace a form of conceptualism. Their intellectual heritage derives more nearly from Abelard, who lived during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, than from the nominalists, the first of whom, Roscelin21 (c. 1050–1125), was Abelard's teacher. Skeptical of formalism and tempted to a nominalistic denial of universals, Abelard found that he was unable to affirm nominalism's denial of objective universals and its stress on physical particulars, since such an emphasis led one to interpret the Trinity in a tri-theistic way. He eventually came to the position that God thinks in universal concepts and that those concepts are expressed in creation.

In 1092, the Council of Soissons condemned nominalism, but it survived the condemnation and continued to exercise a profound influence on Western thought. Indeed, the conflict between nominalism and conceptualism first experienced by Abelard is a leitmotif in Western philosophy. During the eighteenth century Enlightenment, it surfaced in the dispute between David Hume and Immanuel Kant. In 1781, Kant, a scientist, reacted to Hume's extreme nominalism and the assault on secondary causality afforded by that nominalism. His publication, Critique of Pure Reason, responded to Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). In it, Kant argued that the mind organizes experience by means of universal categories, a position that is pure conceptualism, though conceptualism with a humanistic rather than divine focus.

Kant did not imagine that God created a divine reality according to divine concepts. Instead he believed that humans created a human reality according to human concepts, and that such concepts (or categories) were perfectly adequate for solving the practical problems addressed in science. However, Kant also argued that such categories were ill-equipped to address the larger metaphysical questions. Instead, when wrestling with such questions, philosophers had to rely on "pure reason," and "pure reason," because it was tied to an inevitably inadequate information base, would always generate contradictions. Kant called such contradictions logical antinomies. Contemporary scientific investigators of the brain have tended to substitute neural systems for Kantian categories. They believe that what we experience as reality is a creation of these systems.22

 Dennett, adopting the latest neurobiological models, denies
the reality of the unified self and even the reality of that stream of consciousness by which the self gets its data.

Dennett, a philosopher, has certainly read Kant, but one wonders, "Has he understood him?" If there were ever a scenario in which logical antinomies could rule unchecked, it is here! Kant at least believed in the reality of the unified self. This belief gave him confidence that the world constructed by that self was accurate in an immediate sense. He defined truth as the agreement of the cognition with its object. Kant also accepted Newton's formulation of cosmic reality as an infinite, three-dimensional box. Space, Kant thought, was an aggregate expressed through time. Thus he imagined a cosmos in which a unified self contemplated events as they unfolded in an infinitely large box. Kant sought to rescue science from Hume's radical skepticism by using such categories to bridle reason. But Einstein has snatched the box from us, and now Dennett, adopting the latest neurobiological models, denies the reality of the unified self and even the reality of that stream of consciousness by which the self gets its data. It seems that all three (the box, the self, and its perceptions) are illusions, and illusions cannot bridle reason. Instead they give reason free reign.

One might argue that traditional science need not concern itself too much with whether its theoretical models are ultimately accurate. What matters to traditional scientists is whether the paradigms they develop secure predictability. But when materialists use science to model origins, ultimacy is key. It follows then that the kind of illusions we are describing compromise those models because they suggest that the data upon which scientists construct their explanatory models are penultimate and unreliable.23 Such models are built on partial descriptions of a part of reality, and the data they employ is always subject to modification. This observation brings us to our second objection.

2. Dennett's model ignores too much.

Were the problem of illusion put aside, Dennett would still be confronted with the limitations imposed on him by the paradigm he adopts. The West, as it has struggled to understand the world, has moved through four epistemological paradigms: the mythic paradigm, the substance/form paradigm of Hellenism, the mechanistic Newtonian paradigm, and the current organic/process paradigm. Each paradigm imaged the cosmos in very different ways, asked pointedly different questions about the cosmos, and developed strikingly divergent answers. These questions and answers were system-bound and derived their urgency and conviction from the paradigm that inspired them. However, systems of understanding always eliminate some possibilities, not because those possibilities are not true but simply because they have no place in the system. Dennett is very aware of this problem. He says:

 Of course there has to be some "leaving out"— otherwise we wouldn't have begun to explain. Leaving something out is not a feature of failed explanations, but of successful explanations.24

The problem here is precisely what Dennett has left out. He has sharply truncated the realm of causality for starters. He writes: "Causes must precede effects."25 Is this true? Not quite in the way Dennett suggests. He is concerned primarily with secondary causality, yet three other kinds of causality have been discriminated: formal cause, final cause, and material cause. One can understand why Dennett has ignored formal and final causality. Modern science has ignored both possibilities as scientifically untestable,26 and Dennett is attempting to construct a philosophical model of consciousness based on science. Why, however, has he ignored material causality almost completely? Surely secondary causality produces effects on something. Is it not possible that the properties of that something might influence the kind of effects secondary causality produces?27 Matter is neither passive nor uniform, but reading Consciousness Explained one can easily imagine that it is both. In fact, the only thing matter does in his book is act as a vehicle for eliminating spirit.28

Dennett makes a basic conceptual mistake common to materialists. He assumes that the "really real" is comprised of "stuff" and that everything else is "metaphysical claptrap."29 Perhaps he is concerned that positing some fundamental "mind" capabilities to some forms of matter is too reminiscent of "metaphysical claptrap." But surely it is fair to ask, "Is there any significance to consciousness being found consistently in relation to certain animal proteins?"30 Dennett would say, "No." For him consciousness is an illusion created as information is processed. It is generated by what we might call a program and has nothing to do with the medium that contains the program. Any medium—silicon chips, for example—might serve just as well. Other philosophers, like John R. Searle, who have become interested in the problem, would disagree.

[Dennett] has sharply truncated the realm of causality...

Besides, there are obviously some realities that are metaphysical or nonmaterial. For example, the laws of mathematics and logic are real and can be used to formulate ideas about some underlying order in the cosmos, an underlying order that impacts the behavior of matter. Evolution itself assumes the reality of such nonmaterial laws. In Hellenistic culture, logic and mathematics were subsumed under the rubric "rational principle" and identified with the logos, the reality that Neo-Platonists and Christians posited as uniting the realms of formal and material cause. During the second and third centuries of the current era, the logos became identified with the Christ and reinterpreted as personality.31 The Christian doctrine of Providence was born and given a full articulation by Augustine in his City of God. The resultant theory of history has dominated the West ever since. Even the Marxists, who imagined themselves as thoroughgoing materialists, borrowed heavily from it. So do other evolutionists, and so does Dennett. But by adopting materialism, he imagines that he is able by definition to eliminate the possibility that God is guiding the process. Here we see clearly the deceptive power of models.

In addition to truncating the realm of causality, Dennett, by focusing so completely on a scientific model and stressing secondary cause to the exclusion of all else, has predetermined the results he will get. Quoting Philip Johnson-Laird he writes: "Any scientific theory of the mind has to treat it as an automaton."32 It does? If so, the issue is settled from the outset. By deciding to investigate the mind scientifically, we have already classified it is an automaton. Everything else is simply justification.

What gives Dennett's ideas power is not the data he uses, but the model by which he interprets the data. That model like all others is provisional and limiting. The universe as it is may be peppered with unique events, with events expressing formal and final causality, with spirits that affect events, with hosts of demons masking what is really going on in test tubes, and so forth, but Dennett can say nothing about such a universe. To be scientific, he must assume that the universe expresses laws that are relatively uniform and, therefore, mathematically quantifiable in terms of material and secondary causality. And these assumptions predetermine his conclusions. Note here that such conclusions are not intended to be predictive. They are intended to be descriptive. They are supposed to provide a model of consciousness as it is, but the model eliminates specific possibilities at the outset. As far as Dennett is concerned, the mind—to be explicable scientifically—must be a robot.33

In addition to truncating the realm of causality, Dennett, by focusing so completely on a scientific model and stressing secondary cause to the exclusion of all else, has predetermined the results he will get.

Apparently Dennett is not fully aware of this problem, for he expresses a confidence in raw information that is almost touchingly naïve. He seems to believe quite sincerely that information itself is the final arbiter, that disagreements are expressions of ignorance, and that if enough were known, most fundamental disagreements would evaporate. For example, he genuinely seems to believe that evolution is a settled question and that those who will not acknowledge this are either inexcusably ignorant or fundamentally dishonest.34 Since he believes that "reality" is a construct of brain processes and culture, it seems peculiar that he does not seem to recognize that the problem is not one of information but of how that information is processed.35 Indeed, he is careful to draw to the reader's attention how similar his ideas of the self are to those proposed by deconstructionists.36 One hears a great deal of talk about postmodernism but one wonders if those doing the talking have really grasped its significance.

3. Dennett's conclusions are profoundly counterintuitive and beg the question anyway.

When we discuss consciousness, we must discuss that which remains mysterious by evading our metaphors.37 It is not like anything, yet it creates the empathy upon which the metaphor is grounded. It seems both to be me and to be possessed by me. Consciousness, though invisible, makes the world visible. It recedes beyond the horizons of comprehensibility while tracing those horizons and rendering them comprehensible. And with its absence the corpse seems incomplete. We might expect, given such mystery, that grappling with the riddle of consciousness would lead us to conclusions that are counterintuitive, and this is the case with Dennett's theory. Nevertheless his own metaphors for consciousness are often distressingly revealing. In a letter to me, he described the human soul (which he identifies in some way with consciousness) as comprised of thousands of tiny robots. He imagines the soul as a swarming insectile thing. In Consciousness Explained, he writes:

 So wonderful is the organization of a termite colony that it seemed to some observers that each termite colony had to have a soul (Marais, 1937). We now understand that its organization is simply the result of a million semi-independent little agents, each itself an automaton, doing its thing. So wonderful is the organization of a human self that to many observers it has seemed that each human being had a soul, too...38

After comparing a human soul to a termite colony, he then says that the most important difference between ants and human beings is that ants cannot talk.39 It is frankly unnecessary to caricature such a position. It becomes a parody of itself. Here is a theory that is not only counterintuitive but seems to deny the obvious facts. Like the old canard that if whales had thumbs, they would rule the world, Dennett seems to suggest that if ants had language they would be our equals. Bees, of course, have language. One might even call them the lords of dance. However, one would not call a hive conscious. Something more than robots with language seems to be required.

In fact, and this is the point, Dennett spends more time talking about the self than he does about consciousness per se. Had he entitled his book, The Self Explained, he would have had to change nothing in its pages (although he might have enjoyed fewer sales). This is striking. Certainly consciousness, the awareness of experience, and selfhood, the subject of experience, are two distinct things. We know this because a self may be unconscious and still be a self, and because the existence of a self precedes the appearance of consciousness. After all, there must be a self to be conscious. Dennett never explains consciousness; he explains it away. He presents one possible way the brain organizes information but fails to account for awareness. Indeed, as Searle has pointed out, Dennett ends by affirming the subjective but denying its feelings, denying that conscious states really exist.40 He integrates neurobiology with a problematically-named science, artificial intelligence, to come up with the idea of a brain as a computer.41 Naturally if the brain were a computer, it might organize information as a computer does, but the organization of information does not of itself create consciousness, otherwise filing cabinets and libraries would be sentient beings.

4. Dennett fails to present a credible evolutionary account of human intelligence.

In many ways, this objection may sound strange. Surely, as we observed earlier, evolution is the central idea behind Dennett's speculations. Yet there are two things to notice. First, if high intelligence has survival value, it is strange that it has appeared only once. The survival value of flight, speed, and sight (to use three examples) is obvious. Many creatures possess variations on these capacities. Though they are quite different and express the ability in somewhat different ways, beetles, birds, and bats fly. Flying fish and flying squirrels glide. Yet all receive equivalent survival benefits from their flying ability. Speed is another survival strategy one discovers in a host of different creatures. Also, the eye has assumed myriad forms, as we see in creatures as disparate as the octopus, the spider, and the weasel. High intelligence, however, is found only in humans. Is such a lonely ability what we would expect from a capacity that conveyed unparalleled survival benefits?42 Second, it would seem that more than language is required to produce intelligence (something Dennett implies by the sequence of his own outline of proposed events, as we shall see) and that language can exist apart from noticeably high levels of intelligence, as we saw in the case of bees.

Now having made these two observations, let us discuss Dennett's evolutionary scenario as it applies to the emergence of human intelligence. I will quote at some length to better illustrate my objections. Dennett writes:

 Chimpanzees are our closest kin—genetically closer, in fact, than chimpanzees are to gorillas or orangutans—and current thinking is that we shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees about six million years ago. Since that major break, our brains have diverged dramatically, but primarily in size, rather than structure. While chimpanzees have brains of roughly the same size as our common ancestors... , our hominid ancestors' brains grew four times as large.43

 For several million years after the split with proto-chimpanzees, our hominid ancestors got along with ape-sized brains, in spite of becoming bipedal at least three and a half million years ago. Then, when the ice ages began, about two and a half million years ago, the Great Encephalization commenced, and was essentially completed 150,000 years ago—before the development of languages, of cooking, of agriculture....the innate specializations for language ¼ are a very recent and rushed add-on... 44

Let us consider this scenario, stressing its temporal sequence. Six million years ago our line and that of the chimpanzee diverged. Two-and-a-half million years later our ancestors stood erect. This change in posture had no appreciable effect on the size of their brains or on their brains' basic structure although we might imagine that it would have facilitated an increased use of their hands and an increased potential for tool manipulation. Another million years elapsed. Then in something over two million years ago our ancestors' brains swelled to their current size. This increase in size was not accompanied by language development, cooking (implying no mastery of fire), agriculture, or any of those things we associate with higher intelligence. It seems to have been an increase in potential, nothing more. Of course, Dennett requires this vast potential in order to set the stage for the kinds of neurological processes he believes must have happened. But we have a right to ask, what was its survival value at the time this extraordinary advance took place? What forces were selected for this unprecedented increase in potential?

..our ancestors' brains swelled to their current size [but] this increase in size was not accompanied by language development, cooking (implying no mastery of fire), agriculture, or any of those things we associate with higher intelligence.

Dr. Sherwin Nuland has pointed out, "[M]uch of our brain's structure and function is unique to our species..."45 And he adds:

 Though three pounds [the weight of the brain] represent a mere 2 percent of the body weight of a 150-pound person, the quartful of brain is so metabolically active that it uses 20 percent of the oxygen we take in through our lungs...Fully 15 percent of the blood propelled into the aorta with each concentration of the left ventricle is transported directly to the brain.46

He goes on to say that the brain's cortex is comprised of "10 billion neurons and 60 trillion synapses."47

In other words, this structure, which is four times larger than the brain of a chimpanzee, which puts tremendous metabolic demands on the body, and which is vastly intricate and unique to our species, evolved in a little more than two million years from an ape's brain—an ape's brain that had served quite adequately for three-and-a-half million years and still serves our nearest relatives quite well today. Once this evolution was completed about 150,000 years ago nothing else happened for over a thousand generations until our ancestors discovered how to control fire, then evolved some kind of language,48 and finally about ten or fifteen thousand years ago began to domesticate animals and plants. How random natural selection could have accomplished so wonderful a feat when the evolution of huge, hungry, and unique brains offered no obvious survival value and, once fully formed, would apparently not begin to actualize their potential for many times longer than we have had written history, Dennett leaves to our imagination. One supposes that with the abracadabra of a broad brush and "vast amounts of time" (that favorite mantra of evolutionists), the difficulties in the theory will be painted over.

5. Religious objections

The vast majority of people across time and cultures have been dualists, that is, they have believed that something identified with, but distinct from, a corporeal being animates that being and survives for an indefinite period after corporeal death. Sometimes this something is equated with the principle of life. Sometimes it is identified with personality, intentionality, and the like. Sometimes it is distinguished from, and sometimes used as a synonym for, spirit. We call this something a soul. We might think of a soul as the living essence of a thing, distinct from that thing, but with an intimate correspondence to its many parts. The soul, like the spirit, need not be human. Anything might be imagined to have a soul or to be a soul. But as we are using the term, soul should be understood to mean the human personality that survives the body and is itself immortal.

Despite his rejection of the idea of a unified self, Dennett seems to leave the door opened not only for a sort of soul but also for a sort of immorality.

Dennett is not a dualist. He is a monist who believes that matter is all there is, but that, in and of itself, does not mean that he denies the existence of a soul. Despite his rejection of the idea of a unified self, Dennett seems to leave the door opened not only for a sort of soul but also for a sort of immorality. Dennett asserts:

 [I]f you think of yourself as a center of narrative gravity...your existence depends on the persistence of that narrative...which could theoretically survive indefinitely many switches of medium, be teleported as readily (in principle) as the evening news, and stored indefinitely as sheer information. ...[Y]ou could in principle survive the death of your body as intact as a program can survive the destruction of the computer on which in was created and first run.49

How this transfer or survival of a center of narrative gravity (which is how Dennett and the deconstructionists imagine the self) is possible without some template to carry the information, Dennett does not say, but the passage is an odd one and seems to suggest that his idea allows room for some form of traditional religion.

If that is his intent, he is mistaken. The only religious traditions (besides atheism) that I can think of that might be comfortable with what Dennett has described are the Judaism of the Sadducees and certain types of Buddhism: Theravada Buddhism and Zen in Mahayana. All of the others from so-called animists to yogis believe in souls that are considerably different from Dennett's posited centers of narrative gravity. If Dennett is correct, a huge amount of the "religious wisdom" of all cultures and all ages will be revealed as "metaphysical claptrap." It is not Dennett's implicit atheism that is the problem here. The presence or absence, the existence or nonexistence, of God is not directly affected by anything said in Consciousness Explained. It is instead the nature of human beings as imagined by Dennett that is the problem. If he is right, the anthropologies of many religions will be proved wrong, and that would be excellent grounds for rejecting what those faiths have said about everything else from ethics to God.

This is the dilemma: religions base their faith claims on propositions drawn from myths that ideally cannot be falsified or verified. To a limited extent those myths can survive some adjustment. Christianity, for example, has changed consequent to profound challenges to its story of origins yet remains robust. One can, it seems, accept both Christ and the teachings of Darwin, especially if, as Dennett has argued elsewhere, one does not think too closely about it.50 But at some point something has to give. Faiths cannot be compromised indefinitely before their assertions about everything cease to be credible. And this is the provocative side of Dennett's book. His proposal is disappointing and will in the end be abandoned. It is too model-bound to last, too much a reaction to the mechanistic Newtonian worldview of Descartes (as is revealed in the telling phrase "ghost in the machine" to which Dennett occasionally refers).51 But he does raise important questions that all religious people need to consider. Neurobiology is only beginning to unravel the mystery of brain functions and there will doubtless be many surprises. Religious believers need to engage with this discipline on the level that materialist philosophers like Dennett are engaging with it. Otherwise we will be presented with a fait accompli in the not too distant future, and then it might be difficult to salvage much from the ruins.



1Julian Jaynes, "Introduction: The Problem of Consciousness," in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976), 3.

2Grant Wacker, "Searching for Norman Rockwell," in Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Cromartie, eds., Piety and Politics (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987), 340.

3We should point out that the issue here is not whether science as such can provide us with a useful if tentative description of reality. Instead the issue involves materialism's use of science to address metaphysical questions. Traditionally metaphysics has been conceived in nonphysical terms. Such a conception of the world as comprised of physical and metaphysical realities is called dualism. Materialism was developed as a means of rejecting dualism. And science, because it formulates conclusions predicated on material-based descriptions of phenomena, was adopted by materialists as a convenient ally in their struggle to overcome dualistic assumptions.

4In Darwin's Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), Daniel Dennett says he believes Darwin had "the single best idea anyone has ever had" (Part I, chap. 1, 21).

5Daniel C. Dennett, "Prelude: How Are Hallucinations Possible?" chap. 1 in Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1991), 16.

6Ibid., "Multiple Drafts Versus the Cartesian Theater," in pt. II, "An Empirical Theory of the Mind," 103.

7Ibid., 108.

8Ibid., 111.

9Francis Crick and Christof Koch, "The Problem of Consciousness," Scientific American (September 1992): 158.

10William H. Calvin, The River that Flows Uphill (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1986), Day 6, p. 160.

11Dennett, "The Architecture of the Human Mind," chap. 9 in pt. II of Consciousness Explained, 253.

12Ibid., "Dismantling the Witness Protection Program," chap. 11 in "The Philosophical Problems of Consciousness," pt. III, 356.

13Ibid., 358.

14Ibid., "A Method for Phenomenology," chap. 4 in "Problems and Methods," pt. I, 91.

15Ibid., chap. 5 in pt. II, 113, 135.

16Ibid., 134.

17Ibid., 135.

18Ibid., "Time and Experience," chap. 6 in pt. II, 166.

19Ibid., "How Words Do Things With Us," chap. 8, 217. Computers by contrast are serial processors. They do one thing at a time.

20Occam's Razor, of course, is the quote plucked from the context of Occam's philosophy. It appeals to scientific investigators who, as William H. Calvin points out, are professionally predisposed to search for ever simpler explanations. See William H. Calvin's The River that Flows Uphill, Day 1, p. 24.

21Gordon Leff, "The Renewal of Letters and Speculative Thought in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries," chap. 5 in Medieval Thought (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958), 105. Some scholars trace nominalism to Porphyry who lived in the third century AD.

22Harry J. Jerison in his Evolution of the Brain and Intelligence (New York: Academic Press, 1973) talks consistently of the brain creating reality (see chap. 1 in pt. I, 22 and chap. 17 in pt. IV, 410 and 429 for explicit statements). His influence on William H. Calvin's speculations in The River that Flows Uphill is clear (see Day 6, pp.  160–71). And Daniel Dennett is explicit about his debt to William Calvin.

23Kant demonstrated that flawed premises led to reasonable but false conclusions. He supposed empiricism would secure the premises upon which reason built, and that reason and empiricism together could solve humanity's practical problems. This was his model of science. Traditional metaphysical questions, he believed, had no place in scientific discourse precisely because there was no sure way to secure the premises upon which traditional metaphysics was built. But during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries metaphysicians attempted to reformulate their premises in empirical terms. Their move opened the way for materialists to begin to address the kinds of ultimate questions Kant tried to place out of scientific bounds, but the reformulation fails to secure metaphysical conclusions not only because the problem of empirical imprecision remains but also because it assumes a worldview that may not be ultimately true.

24Dennett, "Consciousness Imagined," in pt. III of Consciousness Explained, 454.

25Ibid., chap. 6 in pt. II, 152.

26For an outstanding discussion of the reasons for science's abandonment of formal and final cause, see M.<|>B. Foster's essays, "The Christian Doctrine of Creation and the Rise of Modern Natural Science," in Mind XLII (1934) and "Christian Theology and Modern Science of Nature (I)," in Mind XLIV (1935).

27For example, an amoeba could not win a chess match against Garry Kasparov but apparently IBM's "Deep Blue" can. However, an amoeba is aware at some level. "Deep Blue" is not. If mind is an expression of matter, is it an expression of only some kinds of matter?

28One might ask, what is meant by spirit? Check any dictionary and one will discover that the word is used in a variety of ways. However, in this context, spirit means that incorporeal aspect of a thing, its essential part. Spirit is another way of talking about philosophical dualism. This is the way Dennett employs the concept and the way it is being used in this paper.

29Dennett, "The Reality of Selves," chap. 13 in pt. III of Consciousness Explained, 413.

30If this proved significant, then consciousness would always be beyond the reach of computers. They would simply be made of the wrong stuff. And it would follow that the way information is organized in computers, though providing the model Dennett finds so intriguing, would be irrelevant.

31Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957).

32Dennett, chap. 9 in pt. II of Consciousness Explained, 256.

33The word "robot" was coined from the Czech word robotnik meaning "serf" by playwright Karel Capek in 1920 in his play R.U.R. A robot in this context was a mechanical man who could do human-like tasks automatically. Robotic behavior conveys the idea of behavior that is machinelike, without volition, behavior that is passively obedient, nonconscious, zombie-like. Throughout Consciousness Explained, Dennett refers to zombies, theoretical entities that are indistinguishable from people but lack any sense of self, any consciousness. Finally ("Qualia Disqualified," chap. 12 in pt. III, 405–6), he asserts that such an idea is:

dangerously silly, for it echoes the sort of utterly unmotivated prejudices that have denied full personhood to people based on the color of their skin. It is time to recognize the idea of the possibility of zombies for what it is: not a serious philosophical idea but a preposterous and ignoble relic of ancient prejudices.

 But of course the idea of zombies can also be applied to robots which is how Dennett employed it throughout his discussion. However, he insists that human beings, though they have evolved from robots, have long since passed that stage. Notice how the groundwork is being laid for insisting that those who deny personhood to HAL or R2D2 or CPO3 (should such machines ever be constructed) are just bigots, a thesis defended by Isaac Asimov in some of his fiction.

34Dennett, chap. 2 in pt. I, 46; chap. 10 in pt. II, 263; chap. 17 in pt. III, 519 of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, and in personal correspondence with me.

35He even goes so far as to say that "native Chinese minds differ dramatically from native French minds" ("The Evolution of Consciousness," chap. 7 in pt. II, 207). Here, and not in any idea of zombies, lies virulent racism. "They" really are different from "us" and need to be treated so. Such philosophies were common coin in nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe where they spawned chauvinism, new varieties of racism, and two World Wars. One would have liked to imagine that after so much blood, we had heard the last of them.

36Dennett, chap. 12 in pt. III of Consciousness Explained, 410–1.

37Julian Jaynes, "Consciousness" chap. 2 in"The Mind of Man" Book I of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 53.

38Dennett, chap. 13 in pt. III of Consciousness Explained, 416.

39Ibid., 417.

40John R. Searle, "Consciousness Denied: Daniel Dennett's Account," chap. 5 of The Mystery of Consciousness (New York: NYREV, Inc., 1997), 99, 106.

41Again we run into the problem of misleading metaphors. There are certainly psychologists sympathetic to Dennett's basic model who dislike the term "artificial intelligence." Steven Pinker, for example, in How the Mind Works (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), prefers the expression "natural computation" ("Thinking Machines," chap. 2 in section "Natural Computation," 83).

42In fact the brain from the perspective of an evolutionist is a very conservative organ, as Harry J. Jerison points out in Evolution of the Brain and Intelligence. He proposes a three-tiered model for brain evolution in vertebrates. On the first tier one finds fish, amphibians, and reptiles. Brains on this level evolved to express the sense of vision. Birds are on the second tier as a big-brained variation on the sense of vision as are mammals whose larger brains developed around the senses of smell and hearing. The genus Homo stands on the final tier alone with dolphins. What impresses Prof. Jerison is how modestly brains increased in size and how long it took such increases to appear.

43Dennett, chap. 7 in pt. II of Consciousness Explained, 189.

44Ibid., 190.

45Sherwin B. Nuland, "Mining the Mind: the Brain and Human Nature," chap. 12 in The Wisdom of the Body, 327.

46Ibid., 328.

47Ibid., 329.

48In Philosophy in a New Key (New York: Mentor Books, 1951) Susanne Langer points out that language is universal among human groups and that even among those that have what she calls "the simplest of the practical arts," there are no archaic languages. All are fully and complexly present (chap. 5, 99). She suggests that language developed rapidly as members of our sociable species began to use sounds to name objects in a scenario reminiscent of the second chapter of Genesis (pp. 118–20). What is striking about her idea, like Daniel Dennett's, is that all the equipment had to be in place before that development could occur.

49Dennett, chap. 13 in pt. III of Consciousness Explained, 430. John Searle, referring to an earlier work The Mind's I (New York: BasicBooks, 1981) that Dennett co-authored with Douglas Hofstadter, has pointed out that in a real sense Dennett, because he considered the mind to be an abstract entity that is independent of any particular physical embodiment, can even be considered a dualist ("Conclusion" in Section 1 of The Mystery of Consciousness, p. 192).

50Dennett, "Bully for Brontosaurus," chap. 10 in "Darwinian Thinking in Biology," pt. II of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 310.

51The phrase was originally coined by the philosopher Gilbert Ryle who used it to ridicule Descartes.