Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking

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Hardcover, US 1st edition.

Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking is a popular philosophy written by Daniel Dennett and published on 2013-05-06. The book details various tools to help think more clearly about various topics, as well as how to identify problematic ways of thinking that often lead people astray.

Personal

Having read several books by other prominent atheists and freethinkers, I kept meaning to read a book by Dennett. Wanting to learn more about thinking and thought rather than atheism in general, I selected this book. It was okay, but a bit dull at times.

Status

I don't own this book, but I listened to the audio book read by Jeff Crawford.

Review

Good

  • Several of the intuition pumps he describes are very useful, like "turning the dials," to play around with a thought experiment to see how it holds up to similar variations.
  • I like that he explains the difference between "competence" (doing something successfully) and "comprehension" (knowing why it is successful) as well as the difference between "imagine" (to form a picture in your mind) and "conceive" (to develop an understanding).
  • The section on computers and showing how they work at a fundamental level is really insightful.
  • The sections on consciousness, philosophical zombies, and the Chinese room was quite interesting.

Bad

  • The so-called "boom-crutches" Dennett lists are just examples of specific logical fallacies. For example, "rathering" is just a particular form of a false dichotomy. I don't see the point of giving them a new name.
  • Much like Brief Candle In the Dark: My Life In Science, Dennett's book has a large section that appears to be a hit piece on Stephen Jay Gould.
  • I disagree with Dennett that design and designoid should be used interchangeably, and I don't think his example of religious students failing to see the difference is a good example of the term backfiring. In fact, his importance on describing the difference between competence and comprehension shows he understands the utility of doing so.

Ugly

  • A lot of the book seems to be the typical mental masturbation common among philosophers that isn't very interesting. In one example, Dennett asks, if a man were drugged as he slept, taken on a spaceship to a planet nearly identical to Earth, except horses are slightly different, and then saw a horse and said, "look a horse," would he be mistaken? Another is, what if lightning struck a man and atomized him, but, somehow also animated a nearby tree giving it the man's exact shape and all his memories. These scenarios are so ridiculously contrived they lose all utility to me, and there are several of this nature. If the point of the book is to make philosophy approachable to the average reader, stuff like this utterly fails.

Links

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