Welcome to the jungle

How come there are minds? And how is it possible for minds to ask and answer this question?

The short answer is that minds evolved and created thinking tools that eventually enabled minds to know how minds evolved, and even to know how these tools enabled them to know what minds are. What thinking tools? The simplest, on which all the others depend in various ways, are spoken words, followed by reading, writing, and arithmetic, followed by navigation and mapmaking, apprenticeship practices, and all the concrete devices for extracting and manipulating information that we have invented: compass, telescope, microscope, camera, computer, the Internet, and so on. These in turn fill our lives with technology and science, permitting us to know many things not known by any other species. We know there are bacteria; dogs don’t; dolphins don’t; chimpanzees don’t. Even bacteria don’t know there are bacteria. Our minds are different. It takes thinking tools to understand what bacteria are, and we’re the only species (so far) endowed with an elaborate kit of thinking tools.

That’s the short answer, and stripped down to the bare generalities it shouldn’t be controversial, but lurking in the details are some surprising, even shocking, implications that aren’t yet well understood or appreciated. There is a winding path leading through a jungle of science and philosophy, from the initial bland assumption that we people are physical objects, obeying the laws of physics, to an understanding of our conscious minds. The path is strewn with difficulties, both empirical and conceptual, and there are plenty of experts who vigorously disagree on how to handle these problems. I have been struggling through these thickets and quagmires for over fifty years, and I have found a path that takes us all the way to a satisfactory—and satisfying—account of how the “magic” of our minds is accomplished without any magic, but it is neither straight nor easy. It is not the only path on offer, but it is the best, most promising to date, as I hope to show. It does require anyone who makes the trip to abandon some precious intuitions, but I think that I have at last found ways of making the act of jettisoning these “obvious truths” not just bearable but even delightful: it turns your head inside out, in a way, yielding some striking new perspectives on what is going on. But you do have to let go of some ideas that are dear to many.

There are distinguished thinkers who have disagreed with my proposals over the years, and I expect some will continue to find my new forays as outrageous as my earlier efforts, but now I’m beginning to find good company along my path, new support for my proposed landmarks, and new themes for motivating the various strange inversions of reasoning I will invite you to execute. Some of these will be familiar to those who have read my earlier work, but these ideas have been repaired, strengthened, and redesigned somewhat to do heavier lifting than heretofore.

The new ones are just as counterintuitive, at first, as the old ones, and trying to appreciate them without following my convoluted path is likely to be forlorn, as I know from many years of trying, and failing, to persuade people piecemeal. Here is a warning list of some of the hazards (to comfortable thinking) you will meet on my path, and I don’t expect you to “get” all of them on first encounter:

  1. Darwin’s strange inversion of reasoning
  2. Reasons without reasoners
  3. Competence without comprehension
  4. Turing’s strange inversion of reasoning
  5. Information as design worth stealing
  6. Darwinism about Darwinism
  7. Feral neurons
  8. Words striving to reproduce
  9. The evolution of the evolution of culture
  10. Hume’s strange inversion of reasoning
  11. Consciousness as a user-illusion
  12. The age of post-intelligent design

Welcome to the jungle by Manuel Fraga is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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