A brain of warring neurons

A fascinating talk from philosopher of mind Daniel Dennett where he refutes his earlier claims that neurons can be thought of like transistors in a computational machine that produces the mind.

This section is particularly striking:

The question is, what happens to your ideas about computational architecture when you think of individual neurons not as dutiful slaves or as simple machines but as agents that have to be kept in line and that have to be properly rewarded and that can form coalitions and cabals and organizations and alliances? This vision of the brain as a sort of social arena of politically warring forces seems like sort of an amusing fantasy at first, but is now becoming something that I take more and more seriously, and it’s fed by a lot of different currents.

The complete talk is over at Edge.

Link to Dennett talk at Edge.


  1. Joss
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Dennett has swapped one analogy for another but still hasn’t understood that analogy is not explaination.

  2. Posted February 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    “The figure of speech or of thought by which we transfer the language and ideas of a familiar science to one with which we are less acquainted may be called Scientific Metaphor.”

    -James Clerk Maxwell

    Not all metaphors/analogies are useful explanations, but many good explanations start by making good analogies. When confronted with a genuinely new phenomenon, one can label it with new gibberish, or use analogies to explain the unknown in terms of the known. The analogies always break down, but they are a solid starting point for productive investigation.

    The problem with Dennett’s analogy is not that it is an analogy, but that it links two things that are equally unknown — the brain and human society!

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