Thursday, August 19, 2004

Yes, we have a soul. But it’s made of lots of tiny robots.

I just happened to stumble upon FretDFire's first blog entry which launched me off into a flurry of searches on Daniel C Dennet. He wrote a book called Darwin's Dangerous Idea, which seems to contain this insightful tidbit:
[I]f you want to *reason* about faith, and offer a reasoned (and reason-responsive) defense of faith as an extra category of belief worthy of special consideration, I'm eager to [participate]. I certainly grant the existence of the phenomenom of faith; what I want to see is a reasoned ground for taking faith as a *way of getting to the truth*, and not, say, just as a way people comfort themselves and each other (a worthy function that I do take seriously). But you must not expect me to go along with your defense of faith as a path to truth if at any point you appeal to the very dispensation you are supposedly trying to justify. Before you appeal to faith when reason has you backed into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side. You are sightseeing with a loved one in a foreign land, and your loved one is brutally murdered in front of your eyes. At the trial it turns out that in this land friends of the accused may be called as witnesses for the defense, testifying about their faith in his innocence. You watch the parade of his moist-eyed friends, obviously sincere, proudly proclaiming their undying faith in the innocence of the man you saw commit the terrible deed. The judge listens intently and respectfully, obviously more moved by this outpouring than by all the evidence presented by the prosecution. Is this not a nightmare? Would you be willing to live in such a land? Or would you be willing to be operated on by a surgeon you tells you that whenever a little voice in him tells him to disregard his medical training, he listens to the little voice? I know it passes in polite company to let people have it both ways, and under most circumstances I wholeheartedly cooperate with this benign agreement. But we're seriously trying to get at the truth here, and if you think that this common but unspoken understanding about faith is anything better than socially useful obfuscation to avoid mutual embarrassment and loss of face, you have either seen much more deeply into the issue that any philosopher ever has (for none has ever come up with a good defense of this) or you are kidding yourself.
This may be why he gets paid bucks to write books about these things and I try not to talk to people about religion anymore. I think that things just get more wonderful when you realize how truly amazing and complicated the real world is instead of closing all that off by saying "I have a magic spark that is hidden in me that powers my body and is where my thoughts come from and thats that."

When I want escapist fantasy I'll turn to some excellent fiction that is labelled as such and is well crafted. But more amazing than that is the stuff I've been reading lately about neuropsychology. My friend Jaime got me started by handing me a book that I absolutely can't remember the name of and that I gave to a friend. The author was much inspired by Oliver Sacks. I then picked up Sacks' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" and am just blown away again by how good these books are. By examining the tales of actual patiants we can get a better grasp on what exactly is the mind that's doing all this thinking, typing this blog, reading this blog.

Is it a magic spark or is it something even more wonderful, the balance of the most complex and interesting machine ever created?

See the man say it his damn self!