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One of the world’s leading philosophers offers aspiring thinkers his personal trove of mind-stretching thought experiments.

Over a storied career, Daniel C. Dennett has engaged questions about science and the workings of the mind. His answers have combined rigorous argument with strong empirical grounding. And a lot of fun.

Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking offers seventy-seven of Dennett’s most successful "imagination-extenders and focus-holders" meant to guide you through some of life’s most treacherous subject matter: evolution, meaning, mind, and free will. With patience and wit, Dennett deftly deploys his thinking tools to gain traction on these thorny issues while offering readers insight into how and why each tool was built.

Alongside well-known favorites like Occam’s Razor and reductio ad absurdum lie thrilling descriptions of Dennett’s own creations: Trapped in the Robot Control Room, Beware of the Prime Mammal, and The Wandering Two-Bitser. Ranging across disciplines as diverse as psychology, biology, computer science, and physics, Dennett’s tools embrace in equal measure light-heartedness and accessibility as they welcome uninitiated and seasoned readers alike. As always, his goal remains to teach you how to "think reliably and even gracefully about really hard questions."

A sweeping work of intellectual seriousness that’s also studded with impish delights, Intuition Pumps offers intrepid thinkers—in all walks of life—delicious opportunities to explore their pet ideas with new powers.

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    If all you have is a hammer...

    In this book Dennet offers up a set of what he considers to be "tools for thinking" . What he delivers are "tools for thinking like Daniel Dennet" . This is not a terrible thing, Dennet is an interesting thinker with real insights to offer. But ultimately I found the book suffering from Dennet's inability to recognize that there is any distinction between these two things. Dennet's style is open and clean, but I kept finding myself wondering if he was being disingenuous. Throughout the book, Dennet plays the part of the magician loudly declaring that he has nothing up his sleeves... while redirecting your attention from the actual slight of hand. The slight of hand involved, in my insufficiently humble opinion, is the issue I allude to in the title of the review. Tools are not neutral. They shape our thinking to match their assumptions about how problems are to be framed. 'If all you have is a hammer, all your problems will look like nails.' And if all you have are Dennet's tools, then you will see the world as he does. Ultimately I don't think Dennet is being dishonest. I think he is simply guilty of a lack of perspective, such that he sees his manner of thinking as the only way. I'm not sure this is better. But it is interesting and informative, if sometimes irritating.


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