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Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking Hardcover – May 6, 2013
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Dennett declares that his aim in Intuition Pumps is to lay out devices by which we might think more clearly, or with more insight, about a host of thorny topics—which might be boiled down to those many areas in which we errantly or too hastily assume we have a solid sense of the right and wrong answers. The sheer number of these thought experiments, geared to reveal how thoroughly incorrect our assumptions might be, is daring itself. The most provocative comprise consciousness, free will, and our own sense of what we mean by meaning and intend by speaking of intentionality—in other words, the philosophical terrain Dennett has explored extensively in his prior books. —Eric Banks
“Our best current philosopher. He is the next Bertrand Russell. Unlike traditional philosophers, Dan is a student of neuroscience, linguistics, artificial intelligence, computer science, and psychology. He’s redefining and reforming the role of the philosopher.”
- Marvin Minsky
“One of the most original thinkers of our time.”
- Michael Shermer, Science
“The sharpest, cleverest, most stylish prober of how issues of human consciousness interconnect today with evolutionary theory.”
- Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Once in a blue moon an analytic philosopher comes along who redeems his subdiscipline by combining professional persnicketiness with a romantic spirit, a vivid imagination, and a sense of humor…One of our most original and most readable philosophers.”
- Richard Rorty
“Cloaked in the breezy, familiar trappings of a self-help book, Intuition Pumps is in actuality a dark mirror of that genre―a field of rabbit holes designed to leave the reader with more questions than answers, and wiser for the long and indirect journey.”
- Jason Gots, author of BigThink
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Why 3 stars and not 2 or 1, then? Like I said, Dennett is very smart, and the book got me thinking even after I abandoned it. If you like this type of abstract meandering, maybe you'll like this. Otherwise, I'd recommend sticking to past and current stoics and people like Sam Harris for discussions about consciousness and free will.
The book starts with the simplest of tools, such as making mistakes. Dennett illuminates how making mistakes is not just ok but desirable since it's perhaps the only way to hone a system of thinking into a useful device. Other parts of the book cover concepts like reductio ad absurdum, Occam's Razor and the wittily-named Occam's Broom which is sometimes used nefariously to sweep arguments under the rug. There's a fair amount of ground Dennett covers before he gets to the concept stated in the book's name - intuition pumps. Intuition pumps refer to anything - from thought experiments to linguistic devices - that somehow make us bypass the process of rigorous thinking and reach a revelation primarily through intuition. One of the virtues of the book is how it describes examples of both good and bad intuition pumps including sleights of hand used by politicians and pseudoscientists. I was quite impressed by Dennett's attention to even very simple tools invoked through common expressions; for instance one of the fallacies he describes is the use of the word "rather" that's routinely used to set up a false dichotomy.
Given Dennett's other writings, it's not surprising to find him often refer to evolution as a rich mine for many of the tools. Variation, making mistakes, and generating lots of ideas to pick the best ones are all traits of the evolutionary process. Dennett also draws on work by diverse thinkers, from Wittgenstein to Stephen Jay Gould to Douglas Adams, to illustrate the power and pitfalls of language and thought. His trademark subtle (and not so subtle) wit and familiarity with a vast amount of pop culture and science is clearly apparent in the writing. The book will definitely reward those who like to think about thinking, and it's one I can definitely see myself periodically savoring like a plate of diverse appetizers.
Now I am using this book instead for quick daily fixes of Dennett's wit and insights. I am at 2/3 of it and I am loving it. True, as many have posted, the "wow!" factor of DDI is not there in every single page, but it still is a remarkable collection of thought provoking case histories and experiments. Highly recommended for thinkers in all fields.
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