Dennett, Dan


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Daniel C. Dennett, is Distinguished Arts and Sciences Professor, Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, Boston. He lives with his wife in North Andover, Massachusetts, and has a daughter, a son, and a grandson. He was born in Boston in 1942, the son of a historian of the same name, and received his BA in philosophy from Harvard in 1963. He then went to Oxford to work with Gilbert Ryle, under whose supervision he completed his DPhil. in philosophy in 1965. He taught at University of California, Irvine from 1965 to 1971, when he moved to Tufts, where he has taught ever since, aside from periods visiting at Harvard, Pittsburgh, Oxford, and the Ecole Normal Supérieur in Paris.
Dennett is one of the foremost determinists today, advocating a mechanical explanation of consciousness. His major work, Consciousness Explained, posits a theory that consciousness is an abstraction built from a linear narrative of one's life, based on a functionalist view of cognitive science.
He develops the method of 'heterophenomenology', a procedure in which a person is asked about their experiences, these accounts being passed through a third party who collates and organizes them. Through this standardizing process, we are able to begin to make a picture of the phenomenology of the mind.
Dennett goes to great lengths to deconstruct the 'Cartesian Theater', the celebrated model of consciousness devised by René Descartes in the 17th century. The problem with the model is that it depends on a 'person inside' who witnesses the activities of the body and acts. The obvious problem is in how one divines the operation of this 'homunculus'.
Dennett puts forward the theory of multiple drafts, in which our minds react to stimuli by activating a particular draft of action. Our sensory organs are wired directly into these rafts, eliminating the 'screen' in the Theatre.
The concept of a lifelong narrative comes about in the theory that the mind is a Von-Neumann type machine running in emulation on the parallel distributed processor that is the brain. This machine keeps a linear track of thought (our memories and the ineffable quality to them) that defines who we are.
Since the Von Neumann-type virtual machine is running in emulation, Dennett contends, it is software. And, this software could theoretically be transferred, thus transferring consciousness.