Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking

A good library has all the good books. A great library has all the books.

Anything that is usefully and voluminously predictable from the intentional stance is, by definition, an intentional system, and as we shall see, many fascinating and complicated things that don’t have brains or eyes or ears or hands, and hence really don’t have minds, are nevertheless intentional systems. Folk psychology’s basic trick, that is to say, has some bonus applications outside the world of human interactions.

Carpenters don’t make their saws and hammers, tailors don’t make their scissors and needles, and plumbers don’t make their wrenches, but blacksmiths can make their hammers, tongs, anvils, and chisels

In this section I have tried to demonstrate that Darwinian thinking does live up to its billing as universal acid: it turns the whole traditional world upside down, challenging the top-down image of designs flowing from that genius of geniuses, the Intelligent Designer, and replacing it with the bubble-up image of mindless, motiveless cyclical processes churning out ever-more robust combinations until they start replicating on their own, speeding up the design process by reusing all the best bits over and over. Some of these earliest offspring eventually join forces (one major crane, symbiosis), which leads to multicellularity (another major crane), which leads to the more effective exploration vehicles made possible by sexual reproduction (another major crane), which eventually leads in one species to language and cultural evolution (cranes again), which provide the medium for literature and science and engineering, the latest cranes to emerge, which in turn permits us to “go meta” in a way no other life form can do, reflecting in many ways on who and what we are and how we got here, modeling these processes in plays and novels, theories and computer simulations, and ever-more thinking tools to add to our impressive toolbox. This perspective is so widely unifying and at the same time so generous with detailed insights that one might say it’s a power tool, all on its own. Those who are still strangely repelled by Darwinian thinking must consider the likelihood that if they try to go it alone with only the hand tools of tradition, they will find themselves laboring far from the cutting edge of research on important phenomena as diverse as epidemics and epistemology, biofuels and brain architecture, molecular genetics, music, and morality.

I think we should stop treating ["God works in mysterious ways"] as any kind of wisdom and recognize it as the transparently defensive propaganda that it is. A positive response might be, "Oh good! I love a mystery. Let's see if we can solve this one, too. Do you have any ideas?

It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.

It turns out that all the “magic” of cognition depends, just as life itself does, on cycles within cycles of recurrent, “re-entrant,” reflexive information-transformation processes

No matter how smart you are, you’re smarter if you take the easy ways when they are available.

Not all historians of philosophy have the same goals and attitudes, and I for one see no good reason for disqualifying any of the contenders. Some insist on placing their thinkers in the historical context in which they wrote, which means, for instance, learning a lot of seventeenth-century science if you really want to understand Descartes, and a lot of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century political history if you really want to understand Locke or Hume, and always, of course, a lot of the philosophy of their lesser contemporaries as well. Why bother with the also-rans? There’s a good reason. I found I never really appreciated many of the painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries until I visited European museums where I could see room after room full of second-rate paintings of the same genres. If all you ever see is the good stuff—which is all you see in the introductory survey courses, and in the top museums—it’s very hard to see just how wonderful the good stuff is. Do you know the difference between a good library and a great library? A good library has all the good books. A great library has all the books. If you really want to understand a great philosopher, you have to spend some time looking at the less great contemporaries and predecessors that are left in the shadows of the masters.

Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf. —WILLIAM JAMES, “The Will to Believe” If

Our manifest image, unlike the daisy’s ontology or Umwelt, really is manifest, really is subjective in a strong sense. It’s the world we live in, the world according to us.

Philosophy—in every field of inquiry—is what you have to do until you figure out what questions you should have been asking in the first place.

Real magic, in other words, refers to the magic that is not real, while the magic that is real, that can actually be done, is not real magic.

Some of my scientific friends and colleagues confess that they cannot for the life of them see why I don't abandon ship and join them. The short answer is that I have managed, by straddling the boundaries, to have the best of both worlds. By working with scientists I get a rich diet of fascinating and problematic facts to think about, but by staying a philosopher without a lab or a research grant, I get to think about all the theories and experiments and never have to do the dishes

The case of the frogs is simply an artificially clear instance of what happens in natural selection all the time: exaptation—

This is natural selection, plain as day: the islanders have a simple rule: if it returns from the sea intact, copy it! They may have considerable comprehension of the principles of naval architecture that retrospectively endorse their favorite designs, but it is strictly unnecessary.

to compose a successful critical commentary:   1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” 2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement). 3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target. 4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

We have all heard the forlorn refrain “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Any being, any agent, who can truly say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” is standing on the threshold of brilliance. We