Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

4.3 9
by Daniel C. Dennett

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One of the world’s leading philosophers offers aspiring thinkers his personal trove of mind-stretching thought experiments.See more details below

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One of the world’s leading philosophers offers aspiring thinkers his personal trove of mind-stretching thought experiments.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A grab-bag of metaphors and thought experiments, some more enlightening than others, structure this scattershot treatise on the philosophy of mind. Tufts philosophy professor Dennett (Consciousness Explained) rehashes favorite themes from previous works: how consciousness arises from the brain’s decentralized information-processing; how Darwinian natural selection explains the development of complex structure from simple origins in innumerable contexts; how computers and artificial intelligence make potent explanatory models of the mind; the existence of free will in a deterministic universe. Opening with an engaging tutorial on argumentative strategies from reductio ad absurdum to Occam’s Razor to rhetorical questions, Dennett expounds his ideas through a series of “intuition pumps,” his term for the hypothetical scenarios philosophers contrive to explore difficult concepts. Some of these, like conceiving of the body as a robotic survival vehicle for the genes, or the brain as a clueless man trapped in a sealed chamber, are evocative. Others, like an obscure meditation on a vending machine that accepts Panamanian balboas instead of U. S. quarters, are not. In his loose-limbed excursions Dennett presents compelling expositions of provocative ideas, spars with rival thinkers and, sometimes, bogs down in long-winded belaborings of tiresome points. The result is an intellectual smorgasbord with dishes both tasty and indigestible. 31 illus. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (May)
Marvin Minsky
“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.”
Michael Shermer - Science
“One of the most original thinkers of our time.”
Carlin Romano - Philadelphia Inquirer
“The sharpest, cleverest, most stylish prober of how issues of human consciousness interconnect today with evolutionary theory.”
Richard Rorty
“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.”
Jason Gots
“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.”
Science - Michael Shermer
“One of the most original thinkers of our time.”
Philadelphia Inquirer - Carlin Romano
“The sharpest, cleverest, most stylish prober of how issues of human consciousness interconnect today with evolutionary theory.”
Kirkus Reviews
A famous thinker demonstrates how he does his job. Thinking is hard, writes Dennett (Philosophy/Tufts Univ.; Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, 2006, etc.), who then proceeds to explain how to do it right. He stresses that history's philosophical giants have relied on vivid, although not necessarily accurate, thought experiments, which he dubs "intuition pumps" (Plato's Cave, Descartes' evil demon, Kant's categorical imperative). Dennett begins with a dozen general-purpose tools, from the popular reductio ad absurdum (examine a statement for preposterous implications) to a warning to watch out for the deepity, a proposition that seems profound only because it's ambiguous ("Love is just a word"). Having delivered these devices, he goes on to show how they illuminate or, equally often, shoot down arguments on great philosophical subjects such as consciousness, evolution and free will, as well as revealing the thought processes of philosophers themselves, with emphasis on those with whom Dennett disagrees. A well-known materialist, he has no patience with explanations that involve "magic," whether it is a god who creates everything, an evolutionary structure too complex to result from a natural process or a human mind with secrets beyond the reach of science. Those who deny that one can compare the brain to a gigantic computer don't understand how computers work. Much of their operation appears genuinely magical but isn't. Despite a generous helping of wit and amusing anecdotes, this is not Philosophy for Dummies. Many of the short chapters require close attention and rereading, but those willing to work will come away with a satisfying understanding of how deep thinkers think.
Boston Globe
“An excellent introduction to Dennett’s body of thought.”
New York Times
“Perhaps America’s most widely read (and debated) living philosopher. . . . [Intuition Pumps is] a lively primer on the radical answers Mr. Dennett has elaborated to the big questions in his nearly five decades in philosophy”
“A philosopher’s box of tools for the musing mind.”
Daily Beast
““[Dennett] is a master at inventing tools for thought—
metaphysical jokes, fables, parables, puzzles, and zany
Monty-Python-like sketches that can help thinkers feel their way forward.”
Library Journal
Dennett (philosophy, Tufts Univ.; Consciousness Explained) thinks of intuition as ideas that have a central place around which other ideas hang. His phrase, "intuition pumps," refers to the philosopher's tools used to push such ideas to their limits. He argues that intuitions are either pushed aside and replaced with new ones, or they survive and become even more firmly rooted. According to Dennett, some of these tools are formal (the reductio ad absurdum), others are informal (various rhetorical fallacies), and still others resemble thought experiments. He introduces these general philosophical tools and then moves to a discussion of topics in which he is well known, such as evolution, consciousness, free will, etc. The author's weakness is lack of analysis; however, the concept of intuition pumps is in general provocative and makes for an entertaining intellectual appetizer. VERDICT Dennett shows himself again to be both avuncular to the curious and confrontational with opposing scholars. General readers and professionals should find him most engaging.—James Wetherbee, Wingate Univ. Libs., NC

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Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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9.30(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.60(d)

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