Dennett & free will

From: Dace (
Date: Thu 13 Mar 2003 - 05:03:16 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "Fwd: Morris, Lydon provide witty fun in verbal dance"

    > From: "Scott Chase" <>
    > To end on a more positive and topical note...has anybody read Dennett's
    > book (IIRC on the evolution of free will)? I thumbed through the index at
    > the bookstore tonight, noticing memes get a portion of the book devoted to
    > them (pulling Dennett's puppet strings as they like to do). Maybe I'll get
    > around to buying it soon.
    > Any reviews or basic comments on the book that I might benefit
    > from...anybody?

    Dennett's premise is that freedom can exist in a deterministic universe as long as it evolves into being. He proposes that our chief mistake is to equate determinism with inevitability. Even in a deterministic universe, organisms can evolve the capacity to avoid certain dangers. Anything which is avoidable is not inevitable. Therefore not everything in a deterministic universe is inevitable.

    It's a pretty bizarre argument. He doesn't seem to realize that whatever evolves in a deterministic universe is pre-determined to evolve. More to the point, no one is suggesting that everything in a deterministic universe is inevitable. What's inevitable is only that which has been determined. That which is not inevitable is precisely that which has not been determined. The fact that not everything in a deterministic universe is inevitable has no bearing, one way or the other, on the question of freedom.

    Dennett's confusion is especially clear when he runs into time. He says the outcome of an event is fixed once the event has actually happened, "and nothing can change that in a determined world-- or in an undetermined world!" He misses the point of time. An event is determined when it's in the past. An undetermined world is whatever hasn't already happened. To speak of an event that's already happened in an "undetermined world" is to reveal no understanding whatsoever of reality.

    Dennett follows the physicalist assumption that the future, in a sense, already exists, and that a hypothetical omniscient being could perceive the future by simply tracing it out from current conditions. How can there be freedom in a world in which the future is as set as the past?

    If there's any lesson on memetics from this book, it's that allegiance to a meme (in this case the meme of determinism) can give rise to the most astonishing feats of self-delusion as we try to fit our fixed ideas with what we recognize to be true (that we have the capacity for freedom).


    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu 13 Mar 2003 - 05:09:02 GMT