Daniel Dennett s’entretient avec Robert Wright

Attention: le clip dure une heure. Il a été publié par Robert Wright sur son site meaningoflife.tv (le copyright est de 2007 mais je n’ai pas trouvé la date de l’entretien) qui fournit une transcription (non certifiée et par moments erratique).

L’impression que j’en retiens est que la position de Dan Dennett (voir ici) n’est pas tout à fait aussi assurée qu’il n’y paraît: on trouve dans l’interview à la fois ce qui me paraît une réduction mécaniste de son immanentisme (voir en particulier le passage sur « knowing what it’s like to be you », ou la minimisation des niveaux d’émergence à propos de « consciousness » et « life ») et un platonisme assumé (je me dis du coup qu’on pourrait caractériser la philosophie de DD comme la tentative d’un platonisme immanentiste). Le point crucial est sur le sens de l’évolution: si l’évolution a une direction, pour DD, elle n’a pas de finalité (purpose). Admettre une finalité serait se rendre à son interlocuteur et du coup DD rend hommage à son adversaire de jadis, S. J. Gould.

Extraits (plus d’extraits – en anglais – après le saut):

J’ai le sentiment qu’il n’y a en fait pas tant de gens qui croient réellement en Dieu. Beaucoup de gens croient en la croyance en Dieu. Ils pensent qu’elle est une bonne chose, et ils essayent de croire en Dieu, ils espèrent croire en Dieu, ils souhaitent croire en Dieu, ils accomplissent tous les gestes, ils essaient très fort d’être dévôts. Parfois ils y arrivent, et pendant certaines parties de leur vie, ils croient effectivement, en un certain sens, qu’il y a un Dieu et ils pensent qu’ils s’en portent au mieux. Par ailleurs, ils se comportent comme des gens qui ne croient pas en Dieu. Très peu de gens se comportent comme s’ils croyaient vraiment en Dieu. Beaucoup de gens se comportent comme s’ils croyaient qu’ils devraient croire en Dieu.

Une des choses qu’en évoluant nous avons découvertes sur cette planète est l’arithmétique. Nous ne l’avons pas inventée, nous ne l’avons pas faite. Nous l’avons trouvée. Elle est éternelle. Elle est vraie partout dans l’univers, dans n’importe quel univers. Il n’y a qu’une arithmétique. Est-ce que cela est transcendant? Je dirais oui. Je ne suis pas sûr de ce que vous entendez par « transcendant »…

Wright: un truc platonicien…

Daniel Dennett: Oui, oui, une sorte de platonisme…

Robert Wright’s interview with Daniel Dennett Annotated


Daniel Dennett: I don’t like the term atheist because it usually means somebody who is going around upbraiding people and trying to force people to listen to his arguments as to why there is no God. I don’t think there is a God so I am an atheist but I don’t make a deal of it. It’s not that I passionately believe there isn’t a God, it’s that, of course there isn’t a God, but so what?

I have a feeling that not that many people actually believe in God. Many people believe in belief of God. That is, they think it’s a good thing, and they try to believe in God, they hope to believe in God, they wish they could believe in God and they say they believe in God, they go through all the motions, they try very hard to be devout. Sometimes they succeed and for some periods of their life they actual do, in some sense, believe that there is a God and they think they are the better for it. Otherwise, they behave like people who probably don’t believe in God. Very few people behave as if they really believe in God. A lot of people behave as if they believe they should believe in God.

Sur la direction de l’évolution:

Daniel Dennett: My favorite image of this is, if you think of going up, being the rise in complexity up to intelligence and so forth, yes, this is what we have seen but of course at any moment it could just crash. But then it would go up again and crash and go up again and we’d have a sort of saw-tooth. But, yes, the trend is in some sense up, there is some progress in design. Yes, absolutely.

You can imagine being basically materialist and still think natural selection is subordinate to some larger purpose we don’t understand, there actually was a designer of natural selection is some sense.

Daniel Dennett: Yes, I can imagine that in some loose sense. I don’t know that’s a coherent idea but it’s not obviously incoherent.

Stephen J. Gould could have been right. It could be directionless and aimless and in 99 times out of 100 and nothing intelligent evolves, nothing complex evolves. If you compare that scenario with the alternative which you and I both believe, that there is a probabilistic direction toward complexity and intelligence…

Daniel Dennett: I don’t think that is inconsistent with the claim you just made that 99 times out of 100 nothing intelligent evolves. That’s probably true too.

I think we have agreed that observing ontology or inner development of an organism that it has its directional movement towards functionality by design and that’s in fact the hallmark of design. To the extent that evolution on this planet turned out to have comparable properties that would work at least to some extent in favor of the hypothesis of design.

Daniel Dennett: Yeah I guess.

Wright: Ok, I’ll declare victory and go on and talk about something else

Déterminisme et libre-arbitre:

By determinism we mean the idea that basically the future of this universe is inevitable because the universe is this mechanistic thing that works according to rules and, in principle, if you understood this, everything about the state of the universe and everything about rules that govern it you could predict what happens tomorrow and that includes peoples brains they are deterministic so free will is an illusion because of the truth of determinism. That is the tradition argument against free will.

Daniel Dennett: That’s the traditional argument.

Wright: I think you are saying that actually the two are compatible in some meaningful sense of both words.

First of all I want to say that that phrase « the fut. is inevit » just doesn’t mean anything. The future’s going to happen, whatever it is and that is true whether determinism is true or indeterminism is true.

And, in fact, the reason that you have to look at free will from an evolutionary point of view is that’s remarkable. That there are agents that avoid things is a remarkable fact. And there’s many more avoiders now than there use to be and they are much better at avoiding than they used to be. In fact, it’s as good as the defion of intelligence to be an expert avoider. To be able to foresee far into the future, to see things coming down the pipe and to take steps in a timely way to prevent those bad things from happening and in order to foster things that you want to happen.

Daniel Dennett: Natural selection is an explosion of evitability. We’ve had huge increases in the degrees of freedom, the powers that the products of evolution have the accrued powers, this is one of the most obvious facts in the physical world. this growth of evitability. If you look at evitability in that way then you see that the traditional philosophers notion of inevitability just isn’t in the same picture.

Allowing for quantum indeterminacy or shall we call it laplacian determinacy does not give you any more powers any more freedom any more avoidable any more evitability than you have in a deterministic world. It’s just an illusion to think that it does.

But some serious physicists think no, you actually need a conscious being observing the measuring device to bring the thing into fixed, fe reality. If they are right, that would seem to me to open the possibility of free will in a different sense. What they’re saying is that there is something we don’t entirely understand about sentient beings.
Daniel Dennett: Yes, I can see where you are going and by wedding two bits of magic together you are going to say it’s not magic. By letting consciousness be a mysterious and magical property, in saying that quantum enlargement in effect depends on consciousness you nicely tie together two themes and I think this is just magical thinking.

Sur la conscience:

Wright: What bothers you is that in this view, in the ephiphenomenalist view, consciousness cannot be detected by any scientific means.

Daniel Dennett: By any means at all.

Wright: Right. But you gotta understand it’s detectable by the person’s consciousness…

Daniel Dennett: No no no. No no no.

Wright: Yes! Trust me..

Daniel Dennett: No that’s the mistake because if that were true then you wouldn’t be an epiphenomenalist because if the fact that you are now telling me that you detect your consciousness is an effect of your detecting it then your detecting it is an effect of the epiphenomenon and that’s ruled out by definition.

Wright: No, that’s not what I believe. I believe I can understand my brains physical organization completely and I can understand your brain’s physical organization completely in principle. I believe that consciousness is something more than the physical organization of the brain. And again I’m not saying that the phys organization of the brain doesn’t account completely for subjective experience. I’m just saying that subjective experience is not the same. We’ve already kind of established why… we can look at the organization of your brain. Everybody can gather round and look at it. We would not know what it is like to be you. We wouldn’t.

Daniel Dennett: There’s a passage in your book where you say that the more Dennett and others say that consciousness is just an event going on in the brain, the more I come to realize what they’re really saying is that consciousness doesn’t exist.

Daniel Dennett: Oh well certainly we’re add meaning because it’s the functionality and the organization of all of those states that makes the difference. And we can talk about which events you’re conscious of and which events you’re not. Of course. We can say what difference that makes. We can talk about the efficacy, the functional roles that conscious events play that unconscious events don’t. There’s a lot of it’s a very useful term if you understand… if you don’t define it in such a way that you wish it off the stage of functionality all together.

I can talk about what life is on the planet, what life enables on the planet. And what the differences [are] between being alive and dead. But in every case I can get rid of the word alive and just talk in terms of functioning in terms of the metabolism of cells and the unity of the operations of … the coherence of the operations of self-preservation and so we’re and … Life isn’t some other thing. It’s not something over and above all those functional details… and I’m saying consciousness is just like life.

Platonisme éthique:

One of the things that we have evolved to discover on this planet is arithmetic. We didn’t invent it, we didn’t make it. We found it. It is eternal. A priori. True. It’s this great stuff and it’s true everywhere in the universe. It’s true anywhere in any universe. There’s only one arithmetic. Is that transcendent, I would say yes. I don’t know for sure what you mean by transcendent …

Wright: Sort of a Platonic thing…

Daniel Dennett: Yes yes a sort of Platonism…

Could there be a sort of similarly Platonic ethics? Could we find the universal principles of good behavior for intelligent beings? I’m agnostic about that. I don’t see why we couldn’t. I don’t see that the parochialism of our concerns would necessarily stand in the way of … we can ask … we can ask the same question about ethics that we ask about antithetic. If we went to another planet, if the search for intelligent life, for extraterrestrial life was intelligence, if this paid off if we discovered another civilization somewhere in the galaxy that was intelligent… What would they share with us? We’d certainly share arithmetic. Maybe not base 10 arithmetic that’s anybodies guess. It might be base 12 or base 16 or base 8. Who knows? That’s an accident. But it would still be arithmetic. Now, we can say and would it share ethical principles with us? And I think in some regards yes it would. I now does that make those principles transcendent. Yes. It’s not might makes right. And it’s not this is what our grandfathers did so this is what we’re going to do. It’s not just historical accident. I think that there could be a truly universal basis for ethics.

Wright: You mean to get to a point where any species could produce these great kind of collective products which technologies and things are they would have to come up with rules of the road for collaborative cooperative interaction.

Daniel Dennett: It’s an attracter. Yeah, yeah.

Wright: …certain kinds of evolution are going to happen upon when they get in the vicy.

Daniel Dennett: That’s what I call a Good Trick with a capital « G » and a capital « T » in « Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. » There are these Good Tricks of design which are going to be discovered again and again and again because they are the eternal Good Tricks. Arithmetic is one. I think ethics is another.

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