Exploring the Philosophical and Scientific | Dr. Daniel Dennett | EP 438

Exploring the Philosophical and Scientific | Dr. Daniel Dennett | EP 438

Tour Update: Konstantin Kisin (00:00:00)

  • Konstantin Kisin will be joining Peterson for nine evenings on his "We Who Wrestle with God" tour.
  • Peterson wants Kisin to come armed with sharp arguments and hold nothing back.
  • Peterson wants Kisin to offer a critical response to his ideas so that he can identify any holes in his arguments.

Coming up (00:00:59)

  • The history of ethics in the last 10,000 years has been a process of secularization.
  • There are still many fundamental issues in ethics that people disagree on, such as vegetarianism.
  • These disagreements are not based on religious beliefs.

Intro (00:01:31)

  • Peterson introduces Daniel Dennett as one of the "four horsemen" of the atheist movement.
  • Peterson has had discussions with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, and he felt it was necessary to speak with Dennett as well.
  • Peterson and Dennett discussed the relationship between science and morality, the secular and the religious, and the difficulties in reconciling scientific and religious views.
  • Dennett believes that the religious viewpoint has been superseded by the secular viewpoint and that it may have been a necessary precondition for civilized development.

Defining religion, aboutness, and intention (00:03:23)

  • Dennett defines the religious domain as a vowed belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.
  • Aboutness, a synonym for intentionality, refers to what something is about, not necessarily the intention behind it.
  • Intentionality, derived from Brentano, refers to the directedness of thought towards an intentional object, which can be real or imaginary.
  • Dennett suggests a link between intentionality and religious belief.
  • Perception is defined by its aim, which is similar to Dennett's concept of intentionality.
  • Intention, in the legal sense of doing something on purpose, is distinct from intentionality.
  • Aboutness, derived from the Latin "intendere", refers to the directedness of thought towards an intentional object.
  • Thoughts can be about real or imaginary things, creating logical problems that can be set aside to explain how information in the brain can be about things in the world.

Is the “highest good” a religious or natural concept? (00:09:10)

  • The word "sin" originates from archery and means "to miss the target."
  • The religious enterprise specifies the highest or most foundational aim.
  • Depth in literary analysis or significance of concepts is a function of a hierarchy of intention.
  • The religious realm is the realm of the foundations of intention.
  • The "summum bonum" (highest good) is not necessarily a religious idea.
  • There is a hierarchy of conceptualization or good, with something at the apex or foundation.
  • Medieval conceptions of the Judeo-Christian God view God as the summum bonum.
  • The biblical Corpus insists that God is ultimately ineffable, with a fundamental nature that disappears into the ineffable.
  • The conception of God as the sum of all that is good is not accurate.
  • God is conceptualized as that which all good things share in common.
  • God is the central element in a web of ideas surrounding the concept of the good.

Dr. Dennett’s pragmatic conception of the “highest good” (00:14:35)

  • The definition of "good" is not readily definable.
  • Human beings are the measure of what's good.
  • Standards of good have evolved over time, including for objects like wheels, axes, airplanes, and people.
  • The moral good is a particular human realm.
  • Animals don't have morality, but they have something that makes morality possible.
  • Human beings have evolved systems of morality that implicitly point to the highest good.
  • The concept of the highest good is a moving target, and what is considered good changes over time.

Andrew Gibson, affordances and agents of transformation (00:17:39)

  • Gibson's conceptualization of perception:
    • Affordances: tools and obstacles.
  • Dennett's critique of Gibson:
    • Gibson didn't explain how affordances are tracked in the brain.
  • Dennett's elaboration on the Gibsonian model:
    • Once an aim is established, we perceive:
    • Pathways to the destination.
    • Tools that could aid movement.
    • Obstacles that could hinder progress.
    • Markers of progress and failure.
    • Allies and foes.
    • Agents of transformation that can change our aims.
  • Good is defined as something that fits its purpose.
  • Goodness is hierarchical, with higher-level purposes being considered better.
  • Perception is influenced by our aims, shaping the world into pathways, tools, and obstacles.

The relationship of anxiety to entropy computation (00:21:27)

  • Anxiety seems to mark the multiplication of pathways to a destination.
  • Dopamine marks positive affect because positive affect marks a decrease in entropy as you move forward to a destination.
  • All control in the brain is done by emotions.
  • The brain doesn't have a rigid operating system like a digital computer.
  • Life is difficult because easy things are emotionally closer at hand and lure us away from better answers.
  • Self-control is the arena of consciousness, and emotional vigilance does all the pushing and pulling.

Cognitive and emotional conflict is mirrored across theology (00:24:43)

  • Emotions and motivations are conceptualized as systems that track movement towards aims.
  • Mircea Eliade's work on the scientific analysis of religion suggests that the war of the Gods in heaven in many theogonies parallels cultural integration and cortical maturation.
  • Maturation involves the integration of emotions and motivational systems towards a higher end, resulting in a more unified, self-controlled, and reliable agent.
  • Free will emerges from the noisy struggle in the brain as a more or less unified, self-controlled, and reliable agent.
  • Emotions negotiate a resolution, and the individual can only do one thing at a time.

Conceptualizing what’s highest as a relationship, the Cartesian Theater (00:28:44)

  • The Egyptians placed the god Horus at the apex of their cosmology, representing voluntary attention to error.
  • In the Old Testament, the relationship with the highest is conceptualized as a relationship with God, who manifests himself as a calling.
  • Moses' encounter with the burning bush symbolizes his willingness to transition from his current journey to becoming a leader.
  • The psychoanalysts discovered that autonomous spirits within us can grip our attention, which is represented in the Old Testament as a manifestation of the Divine.
  • The notion of autonomy in interest and calling can be seen as a manifestation of the unifying spirit.
  • Daniel Dennett argues against the existence of a "Cartesian theater" in the brain where perception occurs.
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  • Dennett discusses the concept of the "hyperactive agency detector" and its role in perceiving agency in others.

Thought as secularized prayer, Plato’s Aviary (00:36:35)

  • The concept of "good" is dynamic and ever-changing, transcending literal interpretations.
  • The idea of God can be understood as a unifying force that guides individuals toward a common purpose, resolving emotional and motivational conflicts.
  • Prayer preceded thought developmentally, and thinking can be seen as a secularized form of prayer.
  • Thinking begins with admitting ignorance and approaching the process with humility.
  • The process of gaining knowledge involves acknowledging a problem, presuming there's an answer, and allowing oneself to receive thoughts and answers.
  • Engaging in discussions and collaborating with others stimulates the mind and helps generate new thoughts and perspectives.
  • We should rely on the collective knowledge and collaboration of others rather than solely on our own minds.

What allows for trust in a secular world? (00:44:46)

  • Trust is a precondition for scientific inquiry and dialogue.
  • In a civilized world, people generally assume that others do not mean them harm.
  • Human trust is the key to civilization and science.
  • Artificial intelligence, misrepresentation, and technologies of misrepresentation are eroding trust.

Free will is an achievement, not an endowment (00:48:09)

  • Trust in mutual goodwill enables scientific conversations.
  • The battle between emotional and motivational systems produces a unity of spirit that makes trust possible.
  • Children are socialized between the ages of two and four, developing self-control and trustworthy autonomy.
  • Free will is an achievement, not a metaphysical endowment; it must be developed.
  • Children are not held responsible for misdeeds because they lack self-control and reliable autonomy.
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The conception of God in the biblical corpus, a dialogue among equals (00:51:09)

  • The divide between atheism and science is an illusion, as both share common values such as goodwill, trust, and freedom of ideas.
  • The biblical concepts of logos, hospitality, and revelation emphasize the importance of aiming upwards with goodwill and love to achieve peaceful harmony and unity.
  • Religious beliefs that lack evidence or logical arguments are excluded from scientific discussions.
  • The scientific enterprise is built on the foundation of goodwill and trust among scientists, despite occasional conflicts and personal attacks.
  • At the core of scientific research lies a solid foundation of agreed-upon knowledge and shared methods that give science its power.

Do these working presumptions exist outside the purview of science? (00:59:14)

  • The speaker suggests that certain working assumptions, such as the existence of an intelligible order and the benefits of mapping that order, may be considered religious by definition because they lie outside the purview of science.
  • These assumptions are seen as necessary preconditions for the scientific enterprise to function properly.
  • The speaker argues that science has a well-founded reputation for revealing order in a reliable and productive manner.
  • This reputation is based on science's ability to measure things precisely, predict events accurately, and make technological advancements.
  • The speaker acknowledges that this aspect of science is separate from certain axiomatic assumptions, such as the necessity of goodwill and the intelligibility of order.

When you make a tool you also make a weapon (01:02:22)

  • Norbert Wiener warned that every tool can also be used as a weapon.
  • Any weapon created will be used against its creator within a generation.
  • Science depends on freedom, order, and the rule of law to flourish.
  • Science in free societies surpasses science in dictatorships.
  • The Chinese government has developed a surveillance system called Skynet, which raises concerns about its potential misuse.
  • The misuse of scientific advancements, such as Skynet, poses a threat to humanity.
  • It is crucial to distinguish between the legitimate pursuit of scientific knowledge and its perversion for harmful purposes.
  • The scientific community must be vigilant in ensuring that scientific advancements are used for the benefit of humanity and not for destructive ends.

Where Gould went wrong, foundational principles, and dynamism (01:05:46)

  • Dennett disagrees with Stephen J Gould's idea of independent magisteria.
  • Dennett argues that the scientific enterprise is nested inside a larger enterprise associated with freedom, order, and civilization, which is regulated by laws.
  • This system is based on fundamental assumptions, such as inalienable human rights and the rule of law.
  • Gould was wrong in thinking that religion was the authority on the moral side.
  • Dennett questions how Gould could have overlooked secular treatments of morality, given the presence of philosophers like John Rawls and Robert Nozick at Harvard.
  • Dennett proposes a model of the scientific enterprise that is nested in civilization and based on evolving fundamental principles, rejecting foundationalism.

The hierarchy of DNA repair, Osiris and Seth (01:08:44)

  • Mutations are random due to factors like cosmic radiation.
  • DNA has a self-repair mechanism with a hierarchy, ensuring accurate repair of foundational genetic elements.
  • This hierarchy allows for experimentation at the fringe while preserving the core.
  • Foundational theories in science require substantial evidence for overturning due to their interconnectedness.
  • The proper religious enterprise inquires into foundational elements and their relationship to transformations.
  • Osiris, the Egyptian God of Foundations, became rigid and susceptible to overthrow by his brother Seth.
  • Seth represents chaotic and malevolent forces that can lead to societal chaos.
  • Horus, the God of Attention, defeats Seth and restores balance by regaining his eye and reviving Osiris.
  • The proper Sovereign is seen as the balance between foundational tradition and dynamic vision.
  • This balance ensures the proper functioning and adaptation of foundational principles.

The secularization of ethics, how to validate moral claims without religion (01:14:15)

  • Science can go astray, for example in totalitarian China, under the Nazis, and under the Soviets.
  • To ensure science doesn't go astray, it must be nested inside a civilizational structure with a certain conception of man and his relationship to others.
  • Stephen J. Gould was wrong in thinking the second magisteria was religious, as opposed to secular.
  • Ethics is mostly non-religious and secular.
  • Advances in ethics have been fought by religions but gradually won over by secular ethicists.
  • The moral enterprise is secular, and its advances are secular.
  • Ethics has evolved from terrible New Testament ethics and is still evolving, with ongoing debates on issues like vegetarianism.
  • The scientific enterprise is nested in a broader moral enterprise, but the core element of that enterprise is secular.
  • Science is about what is, while politics is about what we should do.
  • Both science and politics are rational exercises, including logic, game theory, and probability theory.
  • There are normative disciplines, some abstract like mathematics, mathematical game theory, mathematical logic, arithmetic, and geometry.
  • There is a right and wrong way of doing these things, learned through mutual understanding of what works.
  • We trust arithmetic because it works, not because of religious proofs.
  • Religion has not played a positive role in the rational pursuit of normative inquiry, and has sometimes maintained outdated standards of morality.
  • The black church was a positive force in civil rights by fighting the white church, which has dug in its heels against progress.
  • Secular ethics and politics are needed.

“It was a wonderful taming force,” religion as a nurse crop for science (01:21:36)

  • Religion acted as a "nurse crop" for science, providing stability to civilizations for thousands of years.
  • With the development of secular systems, law and order, and secular ethics, religion is no longer necessary as a nurse crop and has become more harmful than beneficial.

The evolution of human fears into governing religions (01:24:41)

  • Religion evolved from polytheism, with each community having its own supernatural agents.
  • These supernatural agents were initially feral but were domesticated and harnessed by civilization and rulers to maintain law and order.
  • Many religious ideas were useful to ruling classes to maintain power and control.
  • The idea of a watchful God helped keep anxiety about divine judgment alive for thousands of years, even though there is no evidence for God's existence.

The loss of academic freedom at the misapprehension of postmodernism (01:27:57)

  • The Old Testament depicts God as an observer who intervenes during significant societal collapses.
  • Secular morality in universities faces challenges, such as restrictions on academic freedom and the rise of postmodernism.
  • Postmodernism, initially founded on sound ideas, was misinterpreted and misused, leading to identity politics and virtue signaling.
  • Simple solutions to complex problems often provide an unearned sense of moral superiority, making them appealing but incorrect.
  • Guest speaker Dr. Daniel Dennett discusses the relationship between science, morality, and religion.
  • The host expresses gratitude to Dr. Dennett for sharing his insights and conceptualizations.
  • The host proposes continuing the conversation on The Daily Wire side to explore Dr. Dennett's autobiographical recollections and interests.
  • Dr. Dennett is currently working on a book.

Dr. Dennett’s latest work: “The Problem of Counterfeit People” (01:36:28)

  • Warns about the dangers of large language models and AI.
  • Believes counterfeit people are more dangerous than nuclear weapons.
  • Wrote an article for the Atlantic titled "The Problem of Counterfeit People".
  • Working with AI experts to develop technology to prevent the creation and use of counterfeit people.
  • Believes counterfeit people can destroy trust and civilization.
  • Spent two days in DC discussing the dangers of counterfeit people with senators and congressmen.
  • Thanks the film crew, Daily Wire, and viewers for their time and attention.
  • Invites viewers to join the conversation on Daily Wire Plus.

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