Date: Wed, 9 Jun 1999 09:59:14 EDT
Subject: Re: Zenification or Dennettization? Or both?
In a message dated 6/9/99 1:54:41 AM Central Daylight Time,
At least Dennet sticks to the more limited philosophy of Hume, and treats
the "illusion of self" as a more didactic exercise rather than a new
be embraced like zen Buddhism. The self does not have to be homoncular in
order to be treated as a legitimately existing thing in itself. Resolving
these issues is unecessary for memetics, and it was irresponsible to make
them the central theme in her book.
I think that my problem is I don't see how Dennett's work is acceptable but
Because Dennett is well respected and Blackmore is less known, and nobody
wants to be seen attacking Dennnett for fear of their own credibility?
Actually that's not MY answer, but we always have to consider the less
rational motivations as well as the more rational ones.
This is MY position, however. Dennett is a philosopher. In his own words
his job is more of asking good questions, rather than justifying answers,
though he does pronounce answers where others have done the work of
justification for him. This is what I mean when I say Dennett talks about it
more didactically, and Blackmore talks about it more assertively. Blackmore
is a psychologist. That carries with it some assumption of authority when
she makes statements that relate to the human mind and its functioning.
Being a philosopher is different - philosophers can only make sense and don't
generally carry authority all by themselves and Dennett displays this
appropriate caution. Furthermore in making her conclusions, Blackmore is far
more declarative than Dennett. For me that is a nutshell of the differences.
In fact I am still not convinced that Dennett has actually made any explicit
conclusions, though he has impliedly suggested some through his questions and
his incredible hand-wringing about how disturbing it must be for people to
imagine that there might really be no self. To that handwringing I must say
- poppycock! To the contrary most religion is based on some degree of self
denial, and humans are generally relieved to abandon if only in fantasy the
social and mental demands of being themselves.
To the extent that Dennett is denying the existence of the homoncular self, I
agree with him. If he is indeed denying all existence of self, or saying it
is "all an illusion", then I do not follow. He would be violating his
admonitions against greedy reductionism. I do accept his self as the
narrative center of gravity, but I think that he doesn't take that sort of a
self seriously enough - and perhaps he is suggesting a narrative center of
gravity self is no self at all.
If this is the case, I think that reflects a serious underestimation of the
role of language in what makes a human different from an animal - that is
consistent with the greedy reductionism of behaviorism. I can at least
credit him with reading the continuing status of behaviorism and its dominant
role in psychology. He certainly speaks for the Zeitgist on that point,
though he fails to employ his own tools of rational criticism which he so
capably describes. He is also failing to acknowlege the significance of a
body of evidence that shows language (which would be the basis of a narrative
self) is not just learned, but that humans are probably *genetically* wired
for that function. Blackmore also reflects that same behavorist greedy
reductionism by trying to place the importance on imitation rather than
squarely on language. I understand that research since her publication is
already eroding that hypothesis severely though I haven't had the time to go
over these new developments myself.
Dennett lays the foundations for an intelligent emergent materialism in DDI
by clearly stating both the usefulness of reductionism and warning about the
myopia of compulsive reductionism. That message is obviously lost on
Blackmore. It may even be lost on Dennett, though I credit him for at least
enunciating it very well in DDI.
Anyhow, I do see some nuances of difference between Blackmore and Dennett,
and their presentation of these points clearly take on different character.
But I am open to the possibility that they are actually in agreement. If
they are, then I say it is loss of perspective that is sorely needed to keep
memetics from sinking into the role of the next new age cocktail science. I
think Blackmore has provided more than enough ammunition for that accusation
- especially when combined with the heavy symbolic endorsements by Dennett
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)