Hubert L. Dreyfus Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Meaning, Relevance, and the Limits of Technology: Conversations with Hubert L. Dreyfus, Professor of Philosophy, UCB; November 2, 2005, by Harry Kreisler

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Human Interaction: The Interview

I have an idea that may or may not work but let's try this to get the audience to understand the simple insight at the heart of what you're saying. In a way, our interview has been an example of coming to terms with a reality. I had some ideas about where we would go, but it's in our action -- interaction, in our sizing each other up -- that we're embodying a reality that you and the people who've influenced you are writing about. Is that fair?

That's fair. Yes. Any form of skillful coping in which you can become an expert, in which you get into a kind of flow in which you don't have to think at all, your mind is out of it and the skills in your body are doing it, we've done all of that and we've done it taking a risk too, that when you do that: you end up lost or you may end up saying things you regret having said, and if you aren't ready to take that risk you'll never become an expert in that. So, I could predict that you have taken the risk and done it and felt bad about it, and you've done it and felt good about it, and when you've got that, you've got a kind of mastery.

Of course, in terms of my risk I've been worried about the time, and I'm also worried about simplifying -- risking that we can simplify what we're saying so that a general audience can understand it.

One final question. Reflecting on your life and your work as a teacher an a philosopher, how would you advise students to prepare for the future?

Well, I do have something to say about that. I think that the last thing you would do is make long-range plans and list life possibilities and decide on what's called rational choice theory and which of those is the rational thing to do. Those are the people who get along and are competent and do normal whatever, and standard whatever, and routine, but I think that you have to just trust on luck and on this calling. When something comes around -- nothing I could plan could've fixed it so that when MIT people came to my course and said, "We've done it over in the AI lab," that that was the way for twenty years my life would go. If I had had plans, I wouldn't even have heard that. And also, a lot of luck. You can't force your luck. But when something like that is handed to you, you've got to go with it.

My main worry is always people who think that they can get a grip on the world by having principles, rules, plans, and so forth. I think that's partly because they're not open to the risk. It's a lot riskier to just throw yourself into something. I might've wasted twenty years and they might've made intelligent machines and I might've just looked utterly stupid. That's a chance. But I didn't ask myself, "What're the odds?" That would've been absurd. Something called me and grabbed me. So, I guess my bottom line is be ready to take risks and be open to the thing that's trying to grab you and go with it.

On that hopeful note, Bert, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today.

Thanks, Harry.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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