Next to me are two books: Kind of Minds by Daniel Dennett, and The Essentials of Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill. The twelfth edition, water damaged, makes claims tentatively offered and supported by ancient mystics qualifying everything, as if they might be saying too much by saying anything at all.
Contrast that with Dennett’s claim, “You great, great…. Grandmother was a robot! Not only are you descended from such macromolecular robots but you are composed of them: your hemoglobin molecules, your antibodies…”
Both volumes fall apart in my hand, literally.
(‘Literally’ – as if writing something down, making it literature, which certainly must be the underlying assumption of the expression, makes it really true. The expression ‘literally’ entails so many implicit assumptions regarding the primacy of mental activity and expression over the thing itself, but I digress.)
Dennett uses robots metaphorically here. The biological being who created robots is now described as that which is created, the terms of the metaphor becoming an odd example of circular reasoning. This is not at all what he is talking about. He is pointing beyond the expression, and that extension of meaning is precisely the point. It’s not that we can’t get there from here; here is all there is. Dennett’s insistence on this point makes me aware that I have given short shrift to the here and now. Focusing on Kenny’s out-of-body experiences of death and rebirth, I missed Kyle’s moments of wisdom and failed to follow Trey Parker and Matt Stone into the twenty-first-century gaming world. Here. Now.
Here. Now in Toronto two brothers are sitting on a couch fighting over the console while I help their grandmother set up for dinner. They are having some difficulty keeping up with their cousin who complains, “That isn’t fair. I’m not … What are you doing?” The cousin is playing with them from Mexico City. The oldest of the three, eight years old. He’s going to quit if they don’t start playing fair.
Distances are diminished in this gaming world that is as familiar to these three boys as the four-square painted on the asphalt in playgrounds of yesteryear, and today. These three cousins get together apart from cyberspace and might play four-square, their physical world seamlessly integrated across North America and through cyberspace. These boys are not robots. Robots are just their tools, not unlike the spoon I use to serve soup. Dennett’s reductionism isn’t helpful in figuring out what is happening here. The cousin in Mexico is now thoroughly annoyed. “I’m hanging up now!” Felt-space is bigger; for these boys it’s the entire continent and their playground.