November 18th, 2004


Book: Freedom Evolves

Author: Daniel C Dennett

Details: (c) Daniel C Dennett 2003; Pub Penguin Books 2004; ISBN 0-140-28389-7

Verdict: Freedom Evolves is thought-provoking and engaging, but probably skippable unless you're really into this kind of thing.

Reasons for reading it: The issue of whether physics as we know it allows any possibility of free will is one that interests me very much. I've always taken it as a matter of faith that people have free will, but I've always been a bit uncomfortable with holding this, because everything I know about the way this universe works is either deterministic or random, not free. I'm not absolutist about materialism, but I come fairly close to it; evoking anything outside physical laws to explain any part of human experience is something I do extremely reluctantly and with great suspicion. Dennett's thesis is that, philosophically, it is possible to imagine free will in a purely deterministic (and non-theistic) system; of course, if it's logically possible it may also be physically possible in some way we haven't yet imagined.

Then, Dennett is very much part of an intellectual landscape where I like to play. I've heard him speak on one occasion, and a lot of the stuff I've read about – I think it can best be classified as philosophy of biology – refers to Dennett. So there were several factors pointing to my reading this book.

How it came into my hands: pseudomonas lent it to me (and brought it to my attention in the first place, thank you pseudomonas!)

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I think rho would probably get on rather well with this book. And in general I'd recommend it to people who like to think about this kind of thing, but it's not something that everybody should rush out and read unless they're basically already interested.
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