Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Carroll Eulogy for Dan Dennett

Physicist Sean M. Carroll released his latest AMA podcast. He starts with a eulogy.
Dan Dennett you know was not only a hugely important 1:02 philosopher for the 20 and 21st century uh and a mindscape guest but also a personal friend so that hit very hard I 1:09 was sitting at a table with Dan and a bunch of other philosophers just a few 1:15 weeks ago at Santa Fe
He particularly praised Dennett for giving philosophical defenses of Atheism and Darwinism, and saying the mind is just a machine, so consciousness and free will are just illusions. But he was very much against telling the hoi polloi that they have no free will, or they may decide that they have no moral responsibility for their actions.

In past generations, philosophers did not want to inform us that God is dead, or that we are descended from apes.

Next, Carroll praised counterfactual reasoning.

ml pickle says your recent guests have 21:43 pointed to counterfactual reasoning as a key element of human advancement either as mental time travel or considering the 21:49 consequences of different initial conditions or empathy for the plights of others Etc I've begun to notice how 21:55 often I do it and to suspect it's true that Ed ability for example and perhaps 22:00 our overall success as a species depend upon it however I can't tell if it is required or most efficient or if it just 22:07 happens to be what I personally do how important do you think counterfactual reasoning is to effective prediction as 22:13 individuals or to our past and future advancement as a species it's hard to answer I mean that 22:20 the answer is super important basically but when you ask you know how important is it I'm not quite sure what how to 22:26 quantify it right um but I do do think that this idea of counterfactual reasoning maybe the first time we talked 22:31 about it was with Malcolm mcgyver when he was talking about the the initial evolutionary development of the capacity 22:38 for counterfactual reasoning when fish climbed onto land and could suddenly see a lot further than they could before and 22:46 yeah you're right we've talked about um people who have been thinking more specifically about how humans use those 22:52 capacities um I you know it's hard to imagine something oh Carl friston we 22:58 actually also talked with about that issue cuz I was I remember joking with him that of my two cats Ariel and 23:04 calaban one seems to be capable of counterfactual reasoning and one does not calaban just seeks the local minimum 23:10 he just wants to be as happy as possible in the moment I don't think the idea of other moments ever occurs to him whereas 23:15 Ariel is the stereotypical cat who you know when you open a door that she demands to have open she's like I don't 23:21 know do I want to open that do I want to walk to that threshold I'm not quite sure she's always thinking about the 23:26 possible bad consequences Etc and our uh feral cat our outdoor cat Puck who has 23:32 uh hung around outside our yard for a while um he's super cautious right 23:38 because this is what is keeping him alive so he doesn't do anything until he like thinks about it 20 different ways 23:43 so somewhere that's that's close to when this capacity in some minor uh key was 23:49 first developed evolutionarily but anyway yeah absolutely possible AB absolutely crucial because I think that 23:57 I suspect and I'm just making stuff up I'm not an expert on this but I suspect that the parts of the brain that are 24:03 good at in general abstract symbolic reasoning are either the same as or 24:09 closely related to the parts of the brain that are that are good at counterfactual reasoning
I would agree with this, except that there is no way to reconcile this with his views on many-worlds theory. In many-worlds, all counterfactual scenarios happen, so there is no such thing as a counterfactual.

If he really believed in many-worlds, there would be no free will either. Every decision is just a splitting of the worlds, with both branches equally real.

He also expresses support for the anti-Israel protests currently going on at college campuses.

The podcast goes on for three more hours. Let me know if I missed anything good.

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