Justin Brierley has been doing a series of interviews entitled “the Big Conversation” on his Unbelievable? podcast on the British Premiere Christian Radio. In the latest, and I believe the last, episode, he interviews Daniel Dennett, the Tufts professor and so-called “new atheist” and Keith Ward, the British philosopher, theologian, priest and scholar. Their topic is consciousness. The idea of the “ghost in the machine” comes up about half way through the discussion, and Dennett responds in the segment below:
Among other things, Dennett says that the “ghost in the machine” is nothing more than information. He says, “Information is embodied in the brain”, and “the user of the brain is the brain.” There is no “ghost”.
Of course, to call what Keith Ward describes as the most important aspect of you and me a “ghost” is to minimize it and to reduce it to something of insignificance. Dennett, though would say that the information is the significant thing. There is nothing going on other than the embodiment, transfer and process of information.
So what about consciousness?
Dennett says, “Consciousness is the user illusion of the brain itself…. The brain has been designed to have user interfaces inside it…. Consciousness is a user illusion that is designed by evolution and by learning and by cultural evolution to make our brains capable of getting out bodies through this complicated world.” [Emphasis added]
These remarks are the backdrop for my thoughts today.