Tuesday, September 20, 2005


A philosopher I like is Hubert Dreyfus, the existentialism and phenomenology scholar. Years ago I got more out of Heidegger by virtue of reading his commentary volume Being-in-the-World. Dreyfus is famous for his criticism of artificial intelligence, especially in the early days when many thought HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey might soon become a reality! His What Computers Can’t Do from 1972 turned out to be prescient when the early versions of AI (now called “good old-fashioned AI” or GOFAI) started hitting tough obstacles.

I just finished reading Dreyfus’ APA Pacific Division Presidential Address, which was called “Overcoming the Myth of the Mental: How Philosophers Can Profit from the Phenomenology of Everyday Expertise.”

When working on the foundations of knowledge and many other problems, many assume (explicitly or implicitly) that our conceptual thinking facility is the primary dimension of mind. Dreyfus argues that our capacity for detached conceptual thinking rests on top of (is derived from) our non-conceptual embodied engagement with our environment.

The fundamental core of mind is not detached, deliberate, rational, or conceptual; it is our facility for skillful coping with the world. This is a key insight derived from Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. It is also consistent with an evolutionary perspective on the human mind: after all, this core of skillful coping is what we share with animals and infants. What differentiates the mature human mind is that “we can transform our unthinking non-conceptual engagement, and thereby encounter new, thinkable, structures.” Accounting for this transformation is the research project recommended by Dreyfus.

I have liked this line of argument, and think Dreyfus’ perspective can serve to make the problems of perception and knowledge more tractable, reducing a bit the seemingly huge divide between the mental realm and the rest of the world.


Richard Jordan said...

I don't suppose you have another link for that address do you - this one is 404ing.

Alternatively do you have a download that you are able to forward if at all possible?

Steve said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve said...

Actually - try this: go to this address for the berkeley philosophy department faculty. Then click on Hubert Dreyfus; then go to Selected papers - it's the first one.

Richard Jordan said...

Cheers ears - that works great.