Daniel Dennett

What’s so great about making mistakes?

2017-03-16T08:06:20+00:00March 15th, 2017|Featured|

To err is human. Alexander Pope Making mistakes is an inevitable part of life. We're all wrong about something at some point. Equally obviously, contending with failure, learning to drag ourselves up by the bootstraps when we fall down and persist in the face of setbacks is part and parcel of human existence. But is making mistakes something to aim for? Should failure be celebrated?  Clearly, in some areas of human endeavour mistakes cannot be tolerated. We are much more tolerant of failure in education than in, say, aviation, because the stakes are so much lower. If we mess things up [...]

Seven tools for thinking #7: Beware of ‘deepities’

2018-02-10T09:10:28+00:00June 11th, 2016|Featured|

This is the last of my posts on Daniel Dennett's tools for thinking outlined in Intuition Pumps. You can read the others here. Everyone wants to find meaning in their actions and the events which surround them; the idea that stuff just happens and there is no deeper meaning can be alarming. As such we are attracted to the profound. The Barnum effect - named after the American circus entertainer P.T. Barnum by the psychologist Paul Meehl in his essay Wanted - a Good Cookbook - is the observation that when we encounter vague, general statements we're inclined to leap on them and say, [...]

Seven tools for thinking #6 Don’t waste time on rubbish

2016-06-16T14:27:59+01:00June 9th, 2016|Featured|

Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot. Paul Graham Science fiction writer and critic, Ted Sturgeon coined what's become known as Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of everything is crap." This is sometimes taken to be an excuse for throwing up one's hands in disgust at the paucity of original thought and beauty in the world, but that's not what Sturgeon intended. Speaking at a science fiction convention in 1951, what he actually said was this: When people talk about the mystery novel, they mention The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.  When they talk about the western, they say there’s The [...]

Seven tools for thinking #5 Occam’s razor

2016-06-09T13:01:21+01:00June 8th, 2016|Featured|

All things being equal, the simplest solution is usually the best one. William of Ockham You've probably heard the old adage that if you hear the pounding of hooves echoing through the Wiltshire countryside you shouldn't assume a herd of zebras is on its way. The simplest explanation for a phenomenon is the likeliest and in this case you're probably safer to expect to see some horseflesh any moment. Of course, this isn't always the case. If you're on the African savannah then zebras are a more reasonable expectation. There are, of course, times when the simplest explanation won't turn out to be true, but it's a [...]

Seven tools for thinking #4: Answering rhetorical questions

2016-06-08T11:45:33+01:00June 7th, 2016|Featured|

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question. E. E. Cummings Everyone likes a rhetorical question, don't they? Do they? Think about it. Try answering it. Do you think everyone really does like rhetorical questions? Some people do, but everyone? Maybe some people hate them? You can see where this kind of thinking can take you. It might result in navel gazing, but, equally, it might help us spot some pretty flawed reasoning. Like the surely klaxon, a rhetorical question is an invitation for readers to agree, to gloss over the substance of a statement and just nod approvingly. Some rhetorical [...]

Seven tools for thinking #3: The “surely” klaxon

2017-09-12T20:47:36+01:00June 6th, 2016|Featured|

Rumack: Can you fly this plane and land it? Striker: Surely you can't be serious? Rumack: I am serious. And don't call me Shirley. Airplane, 1980 It's natural to want to build consensus. We're all guilty of sometimes assuming that what we think is true or reasonable will be thought true and reasonable by everybody else. Often though, what we decide is true is just wishful thinking. Sometimes this is simply lazy thinking, sometimes it's bullshit. I've written before on how to spot and avoid bullshit: it's a fine line between calling bullshit and applying the principle of charity. A good rule of thumb [...]

Seven tools for thinking #2: The principle of charity

2017-09-12T20:41:49+01:00June 5th, 2016|Featured|

Ah! What a divine religion might be found if charity were really made the principle of it instead of faith! - Percy Bysshe Shelley A few weeks ago I wrote about the philosopher, Daniel Dennett's recommendation that we value our mistakes, learn from them, and never make the same mistake again. The second of Dennett's seven tools for thinking from Intuition Pumps is to respect your opponent. This is something I really struggle with. Debate in education is as ideologically riven as any other field where there are few certainties and no absolutes; evidence is nearly always contingent. But you'd never know. The [...]

Seven tools for thinking #1: Use your mistakes

2016-06-11T11:08:15+01:00May 22nd, 2016|Featured|

"The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them - especially not from yourself." - Daniel Dennett. I've been rereading the philosopher, Daniel Dennett's wonderfully erudite manual for making and improving on mistakes, Intuition Pumps. The first - and maybe most important - of his seven tools for thinking is that we should use our mistakes*. Now, there's a lot written in praise of mistakes and failure; some of it sensible but much of it eulogistic to the point of absurdity. Making mistakes for the sake of making mistakes is not something to be lauded, it's just a waste of time. [...]

A defence of the fixed mindset

2015-01-24T15:13:16+00:00January 23rd, 2015|learning|

The growth mindset has been so universally heralded as 'a good thing' that it's in danger of becoming one of those memes we think with rather than about. A number of commentators have been critical of the way mindset theory has been uncritical adopted and unthinkingly applied, but what if growth isn't always good? What if sometime we might be better off to be 'fixed' in our attitudes and beliefs? This is something that has been simmering away on my back burner for months, but then I encountered the following passage in the philosopher, Daniel Dennett's magnificent (and very witty) treatise on the human [...]

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