Saturday, August 15, 2009

Conscious planning

Dan Dennett once said something pregnant with meaningful implication, and I'm still not sure if it complements or squeezes his view of consciousness as some sort of chimera:

"One thing that does make us unique as a species is that for the last five or ten thousand years we have been the beneficiaries of conscious planning (my emph.) by our parents and their parents and the cultures in which we've resided. Today we are actively concerning ourselves with what the world is going to be like in the future. We have strong beliefs about this. They play a role in what Homo sapiens is going to be like a thousand years from now."

If you're in favor of planning, aren't you tacitly also acknowledging the reality of consciousness as something more (and less) than brain activity? But what? Can we even hope to say?

The quote, by the way, comes from a remarkable filmed roundtable discussion several years ago that included Dennett, the late Stephen Jay Gould, Oliver Sacks, Stephen Toulmin, Freeman Dyson, and Rupert Sheldrake, also published in book form as A Glorious Accident. It's hard to find on disk or online, but the separate Dyson interview has turned up (with German subtitles) on YouTube.

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