Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Eight

This post presents a question about chapter 8 of Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. For more information see this post.


On pages 161-162 Professor Dennett expresses his regret for certain formulations he used for presenting his position. The position in question is homuncular functionalism and Professor Dennett has come to regret the use of the terms “committee” and “machine” in presenting it. I can see, why he finds the term “committe” misleading. He is unhappy with the “cooperative bureaucracy” suggested by it.

I am not quite sure based on the text what Dennett dislikes about the term “machine” as used to describe the simplest, lowest-level homunculi in homuncular functionalism? Perhaps he thinks that even the entities on the lowest-level are “more enterprising and idiosyncratic” (Dennett p. 162 about neurons) than the machine metaphor makes it appear?

I am not sure, so let me try to get at the issue from a slightly different direction. Are there one or two worries about the two terms? My proposal is that there are two worries, but that they are closely related:

  • The (cognitive?) system is not directed from above.
  • The smallest elements of the (cognitive?) system are more self-directed.

As can be seen both various are about going from a top-down to a bottom-up explanation. However, I am less convinced by the second worry, which is bound up with Dennett’s regret of using “machine”. The only use of “machine” in the quote given by Dennett, is for the lowest-level of homunculi. I am wondering, whether this lowest level can really be more enterprising and idiosyncratic than the metaphor of machine suggests? How can the simplest level of cognition be already so enterprising and idiosyncratic? I would assume that two homunculi on the lowest-level, would have the simplest parts in the simplest combination and I wonder how they could still differ much from each other, if that is so.

Maybe there is some other use that is problematic? Or maybe the use is problematic in another way?