Artifactual Selves: a Response to Lynne Rudder Baker
Dennett (Daniel)
Source: Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences, March 2014
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Lynne Rudder Baker’s essay begins well, with an accurate and lively account of my view that human bodies — more particularly, human brains — “spin selves” by a generating a narrative starring the self as a fictional character. But it somewhat goes off the track when she fails to appreciate that it is a theorist’s fiction, not some idle fantasy; it must pay for itself by being supremely useful to the various human beings in the neighborhood who are trying to make sense of, and live peacefully with, the human body whose brain is largely responsible for the spinning.
  2. I confess to not having made this sufficiently clear, thinking that it was a clear implication of the role I give to the intentional stance in predicting and explaining the complex behavior people are capable of. Baker says that on my view “the self is a totally fictional character that emerges from the story produced by component modules in the brain. The self — or the subject of experience — is an illusion.”
  3. Not an illusion, really, any more than a center of gravity is a “totally fictional entity” or an illusion. If you think of a center of gravity as more concrete, more like an atom or subatomic particle than it is, then you are creating an illusion for yourself, I guess. Similarly, if your conception of the Equator leads you to be surprised and disappointed when no bright or dark line appears in the ocean or on land where the Equator lies, you have fallen for a self-generated illusion of sorts.
  4. I suppose I am in fact saying that those who think a self is like an organ or brain module, made of something — if not matter, then ectoplasm or some such stuff — are succumbing to an avoidable illusion, but setting such overly concrete, overly “realistic” views aside, I see nothing illusory about selves as centers of narrative gravity. They are largely well-behaved abstractions, no more illusory than dollars or home runs or other socially constructed things.
  5. Perhaps a better comparison would be to software. Is software real, or an illusion? To my amazement, I’ve discovered a serious philosopher who claims to doubt the very existence of software! He doesn’t think Bill Gates should go to prison for perpetrating a gigantic fraud; he recognizes that Windows, and Acrobat, and Safari . . . are worth buying, worth using, etc., but they aren’t made of anything material, and in that sense they are not real. I chide him: neither, then, are Shakespeare’s sonnets or calculus.

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