Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Elbow Room

I’ve been reading through Dennett’s Elbow Room (1984) and have come across some wonderful lines/passages. It is a book about Free Will, how we come to have choices, how they can be rational, how decisions are made and what that means for responsibility. Of course it is better within the book, but I think that contextualizes things a bit. [My comments are in square brackets]

When an entity arrives on the scene [Earth] capable of behaviour that staves off, however primitively, its own dissolution and decomposition, it brings with it into the world its “good.” That is to say it creates a point of view from which the world’s events can be roughly partitioned into the favorable, the unfavorable, and the neutral. And its own innate proclivities to seek the first, shun the second, and ignore the third contribute essentially to the definition of the three classes. As the creature thus comes to have interests, the world and its events begin creating reasons for it – whether or not the creature can fully recognize them. page 23
[Not only a great description of ‘good,’ but touches on the idea of reasons before reasoners]

With thought experiments, just as with actual experiments, one should not neglect to run the control experiments. page 64/65
[Often, thought experiments are set up to make you think a particular way, but one should explore similar avenues because they may be quite informative. Contrast a nefarious neurosurgeon controlling your brain with well-informed truthful oracle that indirectly manipulates a person by using lucid and accurate warnings, as well as citation of all the evidence that went into those warnings and an account of process of gathering that evidence. Seems less controlling, doesn’t it?]

We never choose a course of actions as the best course all things considered; it would be insane to try to consider all things. page 70
[Just how many things do we consider then?]

"An act in equilibrium withstands knowledge of its own causes" (Nozik, 181, page 348)
[That stimulated this thought in me: If you sincerely believe you have the truth, you can withstand any intellectual attacks with grace; you’d even welcome them.]

[This one is more for psychologists, but I think most will appreciate it]
Searching for the self or the soul can be somewhat [confusing]. You enter the brain though the eye, march up the optic nerve, round and round the cortex, looking behind every neuron, and then, before you know it, you emerge into daylight on the spike of a motor nerve impulse, scratching your head and wondering where the self is. page 75

That’s all for now, I’m sure there will be more to come. Thoughts on any of this? Questions?


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