"It's said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That's false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentratio...more"It's said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That's false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.
Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken."
I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people."
Listened to this on audiobook last night/this morning after having just returned from seeing Pinker speak at UW-Madison last evening, which was excell...moreListened to this on audiobook last night/this morning after having just returned from seeing Pinker speak at UW-Madison last evening, which was excellent and a real treat for this cognitive science and evolutionary psychology nerd and huge fan of Steven Pinker. Books like this are too rich and complex to give a half-assed review of, or one where I just write clever anecdotes about my life and vaguely tie them to some idea in the book, like a blog entry beneath a book, awaiting your votes. Not that anyone actually does this around here...(less)
I listened to this via audio book format as read wonderfully by Dennett himself. Last night/early morning I woke up abruptly in the grip of a vague so...moreI listened to this via audio book format as read wonderfully by Dennett himself. Last night/early morning I woke up abruptly in the grip of a vague sort of existential terror and once I got my footing again, I felt a type of comfort in hearing Dennett's calm yet extremely engaged and enthusiastic voice--explaining complex things about the improbable evolution of sentient beings--emerging from the tiny speakers of my laptop.
At first, I was seized by a thought like, "I don't want to hear about this, I don't wanna die!" but then I stopped acting like a child who thinks the universe is created for them to enjoy, that their life is supposed to never end, and fell back into trying to appreciate the fact that I'm allowed to live at all, to appreciate the astounding confluence of myriad forces holding all that is beautiful and makes life worthy living together.
I see Dennett as an unknowing player in a third wave of existentialism (Owen Flanagan incisively identifies three waves of existentialism), a more proactive period in philosophy which makes real and serious attempts to overcome the "nausea" Sartre spoke of, and all the other variations of this so-called "existential despair."
This would get five stars if I wasn't already so familiar with many of the central ideas in this book from Dennett's other work and lectures. Much of this seems like a rehashing of the (great) ideas found within The Intentional Stance (the name of one of the chapters), Consciousness Explained, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Freedom Evolves and Elbow Room. Dennett's explanation of and solution to the problem of free will is brilliantly executed, albeit not terribly unique. His position on this is called "compatiblism" and it's been floating around at least since the days of David Hume, but regardless it is explained in a very uniquely understandable and morally edifying way.
Dennett is fast becoming one of my favorite philosophers of all time. I really enjoy his use of metaphor throughout all of his writing. He makes incredibly deep ideas "tangible" through this adept and dare I say "literary" or "poetic" use of language, and his immensely clear and direct wielding of concepts. His work is pretty consistently a wonderful interweaving of multiple fields of philosophy and both the "hard" and "soft" sciences and he also displays a quasi-polymathic understanding of the fine arts as well. Even when those he's pitted against philosophically describe this as an insult, I find it to be a compliment, i.e., Thomas Nagel once glibly referred to Dennett as "Gilbert Ryle meets Scientific American." But I say fuck you, Nagel, and I say three cheers for scientifically informed philosophy and philosophically informed science.(less)