Re: MEDIA: Forbes ASAP

Brent Allsop (
Fri, 26 Feb 1999 13:11:39 -0700

Lee Daniel Crocker <> replied:

> I had just the opposite reaction: what tentative respect I may have
> had for Mr. Lanier was lost with this silly paragraph. I suspect
> that Mr. Lanier simply can't understand Dennett, so he invents this
> defense to excuse his ignorance.

> The sense in which these authors claim that "we" don't exist is
> exactly the same sense in which a rainbow doesn't exist: it's not a
> thing "out there" that two people can observe and agree upon; it is
> an illusion in which my experience differs from yours (since my
> rainbow is centered on me, yours on you). This is a simple,
> explainable fact of science that any high-schooler should know.
> Many people, presumably including Mr. Lanier, hold the assumption,
> perhaps unstated, that the "mind" or "self" is something like a
> cloud and not a rainbow; i.e., some "thing" that exists "out there"
> rather than an effect of our perception. This is a quite simple
> thing to understand, and a reasonable thing for authors like Dennett
> to try to explain. Lanier's straw man parody and attack is about as
> silly as someone saying "What do you mean a rainbow doesn't
> exist--look, there it is!" Nothing but clever prose to mask
> ignorance of facts.

Let's look closely at some of Dainel Dennett's "clever prose" on this topic.

You are correct in that there is no real rainbow out beyond our eyes. There is only the physical phenomenon of the rain drops bending the sun light which eventually enters our eyes such that we only perceive a glorious multi colored arch "out there". Our perception of the arch is not out there. This glorious multi colored representation of what is out there is our conscious knowledge of it. In my friends mind his very real perception of the rainbow is in a different location. As you said, it is centered around his representation of himself in his mind while my representation of the rainbow is centered around my knowledge of me in my brain. The representation of the rainbow in my color blind friend's mind is again, entirely different than the representation of the rainbow in the conscious world produced by my mind.

Such knowledge is in or produced by each of our brains. But as you point out, this perception is flawed, since there is no real rainbow out there. It only "seems" that there is something out there because of the real, though mistaken representation of the rainbow in our conscious representation of the world which is entirely in our brain. Our conscious knowledge is real though it doesn't always accurately represent what is really "out there".

In other words, an optical illusion, or an incorrect "seeming" is when we have a representation in our conscious mind that does not accurately reflect reality. When our conscious knowledge is incorrect in such ways, something very real is one way in our mind when in reality this is not a correct representation of what is being represented.

So, now that we know what "seems" means lets examine some of the "clever prose" Daniel Dennett uses in "Consciousness Explained". He asserts that we do not experience qualia, "it only seems that we do." We quickly see that this is absurd. Conscious knowledge of something, or a "seeming", even if mistaken and not accurately representing reality, is still something. His assertion becomes a ridiculously absurd self contradiction because to seem is to have a qualia or conscious representation in our mind that does not accurately represent the reality the representation is intended to represent. He is then saying we don't have qualia, we only have qualia knowledge that misrepresents us having qualia.

If we know something, whether mistaken or not, there is still something very real, tangible, and glorious about such knowledge. I know there's no real rainbow "out there", but I sure love that very real phenomenal thing centered around my idea of me my brain produces from that kind of bent light when it enters my eyes!

Brent Allsop