What I like about the idea is that it agrees with a philosophical tradition (including Aristotle and Descartes, for instance) that maintains that people are different that people aren't just animals. It completely disagrees, of course, on what that difference consists in. Although it's a naturalization of the idea of people, it does say they're different. And this, I discover, is the thing that most entices and upsets people about my view. There are those who want people to be more different than I'm allowing. They want people to have souls, to be Cartesian people. And there are those who are afraid that I'm trying to differentiate people too much from the other animals with my claim that human beings really are, because of culture, an importantly different sort of thing. Some scientists view this with skepticism, as if I'm trying to salvage for philosophy something that should fall to science. But in fact my view about what is different about people is a scientific theoryit stands or falls as an implication of a scientific theory, in any case.
In terms of my own role in cognitive science, as to whether I consider myself a philosopher or a scientist, I think I'm good at discovering the blockades of imagination, the bad habits of thought, that infect how theorists think about the problem of consciousness. When I go off to a workshop or conference and give a talk, I'm actually doing research, because the howls and screeches and frowns that I get from people, the way in which they react to what I suggest, is often diagnostic of how they are picturing the problems in their own minds. And, in fact, people have very different covert images about what the mind is and how the mind works. The trick is to expose these, to bring them up into public view, and then correct them. That is what I specialize in.
My demolition of the Cartesian theater, of Cartesian materialism, is just one of these campaigns of exposure. People often pay lip service to the idea that there isn't any privileged medium in the brain which is playing the role that Descartes assigned to the non-physical mind as the theater of consciousness. Nevertheless, if you look closely at what they are thinking and saying, their views only really make sense if you interpret them as covertly still presupposing a Cartesian theater somewhere in their model. So teasing this out, bringing this up to the surface and then showing what you might replace it with turns out to be, to me, very interesting work. Happily, some people have come to appreciate that this is a valuable service that somebody like me, a philosopher, can perform: getting them to confront the hidden assumptions of their own thinking, and see how those hidden assumptions are blinding them to opportunities for explaining what they want to explain.
I've come to respect the cautious conservatism that many people express and some even live by which says that the environmental impact of these new ideas is not yet clear and that you should be very careful about how you introduce them. Don't fix what isn't broke. Don't let your enthusiasm for new ideas blind you to the possibility that maybe they will undo something of long standing that is really valuable. That's an idea that is seldom articulated carefully, but that, in fact, drives many people. And it's an entirely honorable motivation to be concerned that some of our traditional ideas are deeply threatened by these innovations of outlook, and to be cautious about just trading in the old for the new. Indeed I think that's wise. Environmental impact statements for scientific and philosophical advances should be taken seriously. There might be a case of letting the cat out of the bag in a way that would really, in the long run, be unfortunate. Anybody who appreciates the power of ideas realizes that even a true, or well founded, idea can do harm if it is presented in an unfortunate context. What I mainly object to is the way some people take it unto themselves to decide just which ideas are dangerous, and then decide that they're justified in going out and beating those ideas up with whatever it takes: misleading descriptions, misrepresentations, character assassinations and so forth.
In terms of which individuals have the big ideas today, after Turing and von Neumann we don't have any giants, and we don't need any giants. More and more what we're seeing is that there are many good ideas out there, and people put them together in different ways. In a sense, every paper worth reading actually has 500 co-authors, but the tradition says that we don't treat it that way, that we try to assign authorship to particular individuals. To me it makes less and less sense to try to do that. Distributed invention is a much more salient fact. This is especially true in philosophy, since philosophers don't, in general, do experiments or conduct empirical investigations, so they all share the same data. Priority disputes in science sometimes have real substance, but philosophers arguing about who gets credit for a "new" argument or objection or philosophical "theory" is like sailors arguing about who first noticed that the wind had come up. They all noticed it at about the same time.