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Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking Hardcover – 6 May 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; Reprint edition (6 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846144752
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846144752
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 263,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


[Praise for Daniel Dennett's Freedom Evolves]: This is a serious book with a brilliant message (Matt Ridley Sunday Telegraph)

Dennett has produced the most powerful and ingenious attempt at reconciling Darwinism with the belief in human freedom to date (John Gray The Independent)

An outstandingly good book. There is no better philosophical exponent of what evolutionary biology really means (The Times)

About the Author

Daniel Dennett is one of the most original and provocative thinkers in the world. A brilliant polemicist and philosopher, he is famous for challenging unexamined orthodoxies. His books include Brainstorms, Brainchildren, Elbow Room, Consciousness Explained, Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Freedom Evolves. He lives in North Andover, Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mr Nobody on 1 May 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While it's presented as a book of "tools for thinking", it would be more accurately described as a Daniel Dennett reader. He does present some basic heuristics for critically appraising other people's arguments in the first chapter. Most are fairly basic and there are not that many surprises, but it's worthwhile. In later chapters, he then goes on himself to commit many of the intellectual crimes tells you to watch out for. Lots of "piling it on" and "rathering", to use his terms.

The main "thinking tool" is to make very broad and detailed analogies. He has a go at explaining just about everything in terms of his own particular flavour of Darwinism, and then another go by relating everything to computers. There are some interesting subjects and some interesting approaches to them, as well as some of the more tedious old philosophical favourites. Such as: if you come across a thing which looks and responds in every way exactly like a human, and there is not empirical test which you can perform which will elicit any response which is not entirely consistent with it being human, is it necessarily a human or could it be zombie with no inner life?

The level of the material jumps about quite a lot too. At one point he's giving you simple tips like "watch out when somebody says 'surely' - are they trying to present a contentious or difficult argument as something you should just accept", while elsewhere he goes off on a lengthy and detailed discussion on how to use register machines to work on problems in formal logic.

The tone throughout is very much that of polemic, and although in many cases I agree with the points he tries to make, I frequently found his manner of making them both irritating and lacking in rigour. On the other hand, he manages to convey his enthusiasm for his subject very well, and is intermittently quite funny.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sphex on 10 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover
Thinking tools are "handy prosthetic imagination-extenders and focus-holders" that enable us to think reliably and even gracefully about really hard questions. This collection of Daniel Dennett's favourite thinking tools is both intellectually stimulating and a delight to read. In 77 short chapters, spread over 11 parts, Dennett shows us just how useful such a toolkit can be when thinking about topics as diverse as evolution and computation, consciousness and free will, and even the meaning of meaning itself. We can "go meta" in a way no other life form can do, reflecting upon who and what we are and how we got here.

The epigraph to the introductory chapter is a quote from Bo Dahlbom: "You can't do much thinking with your bare brain." Carpenters won't get very far without their tools, and neither will thinkers. But which ones to choose? Dennett acknowledges the importance of mathematical tools such as probability theory, Bayes's theorem and calculus, but concentrates instead on the simpler "hand tools of the mind": labels, examples, analogies and metaphors, staging and, one of the most useful gadgets, the intuition pump.

An intuition pump is a thought experiment designed to provoke a heartfelt intuition about whatever thesis is being defended. Since there are many ways in which our intuition deceives us (see, for example, The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us by Chabris, Christopher, Simons, Daniel (2011)), pumping it may seem an odd thing to do. However, Dennett is not advocating that we become the mental equivalent of body builders.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Peter McClintock on 20 Jun. 2013
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This is a great book for thinking about consciousness, meaning and thinking in general. It is quite thorough and requires some tenacity to cope with the detail; but well worth it. The Giant Robot thought experiment is particularly excellent, but you have to read what goes before to appreciate it.

Read this book and progress further in your quest to understand more of life, the universe and everything.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By The Cognologist on 27 Aug. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A useful book if you're looking for a range of methods to prime your intellectual pumps. Dennett is generally a good writer and this book is accessible and readable.

Perhaps it is too much like a compilation of techniques, many of them usefully collected together, but not usefully organised for application. The writing is a bit too breezy and perhaps at times pejorative.

I have had to extract the material and draw on my own use of these and other methods to turn them into methods I can use in my work (so they don't just stay as philosophical oddities or games philosophers play!). My charting of the methods in the book has been added to my own tool kit of analytical and methodological policy and problem solving tools.

If you're interested in collecting ideas, book is useful. If you actually want to use the book, you'll be disappointed. Having said that, if you feel stuck in a rut, then the book will at least show you there are many ways to get out, and perhaps in the end that is all many of us need. Sorry DD.
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Dennett is good at clearly explaining some difficult topics in philosophy, such as free will and consciousness, and the related science of evolution. His intuition pumps are clever little thinking tricks that are like tools for sculpting better arguments. There is precious little originality however, if you've read his other books. So while I enjoyed his book immensely, I just cannot give it the full five stars.
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