Thursday, 12 April 2018

Lee Smolin's Relationist (Meta)Physics

Lee Smolin is an American theoretical physicist who has contributed to quantum gravity theory. He specifically known for the theory of loop quantum gravity.

Smolin is also a faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo and a member of the graduate faculty of the philosophy department at the University of Toronto.

In terms of the following piece, Smolin is a very philosophical theoretical physicist and cosmologist who takes philosophical positions on various issues in science. One example of that is his position on the nature of space and time and the things (to use a very broad term) which exist within space and time.

Newton on Space and Time

Smolin expresses what he deems to be Isaac Newton's “hierarchical picture” of space and time when he says that within that picture

atoms with fixed and absolute properties move against a fixed background of absolute space and time”.

Indeed Newton's position (which has been called substantivalism) has it that space and time are themselves things (for want of a better word). That is, space and time are things which exist independently of all the other things "within" them.

Smolin concludes by saying that this Newtonian picture is “quite dead”.

Smolin is what philosophers would call an anti-essentialist. That is, Smolin doesn't believe that there are “intrinsic properties”. Instead, as he puts it, “all properties are about relations between things”.

Thus, in the quote above, Smolin used the words “absolute properties”, by which he meant:

absolute entities” = entities with "intrinsic properties"

Thus if entities have intrinsic properties, then those properties will neither change over time nor will they be changed by other entities or conditions. (Unless the entity concerned simply stops existing as the entity that it is.) According to Smolin, it's this ostensibly unchanging nature of intrinsic properties which makes them “absolute”.

Such much for absolute entities. What about Newtonian space and relations?

It's not immediately clear why Newton's position on space would automatically exclude a “relationist” take on things/atoms. After all, “atoms with fixed properties” may still partake in relations even if space is fixed and also if the atoms within space have absolute properties. Why can't we have absolute properties and things which partake in relations?

Smolin's alternative picture to this is a “relational” or “dynamical”. It's a case of spacetime itself - and all properties/things/atoms within it - being relational or dynamical. In other words, in Smolin's universe, literally nothing is absolute or intrinsic.

Leibniz on Space and Time

Smolin then cites Gottfried Leibniz as a relationist. Or, at the very least, he sees Leibniz as being a relationist when it comes to space and time. So, unlike Newton, Leibniz

wanted to understand [space and time] as arising only as aspects of the relations among things”.

Smolin sums up the two opposing positions when he says that “this fight” is

between those who want the world to be made out of absolute entities and those who want it to be made out of relations”.

Smolin adds that this opposition is a “key theme in the story of the development of modern physics”.

In terms of Leibniz again, Leibniz's position (as expressed by Smolin) is that space and time don't exist – at least not as independent phenomena. Space and time essentially arise as ways of making sense (as it were) of the (as Smolin puts it) “relations among things”. In other words, space and time are the means by which we plot the relations among - or between - things. That basically means that if there were no things, then there would be no space and time either. That is, space and time aren't (to use Smolin's word again) “absolute”: they're a consequence of things and their interrelationships.

Nonetheless, if space and time don't exist, then what are these things moving about in? It can be supposed, of course, that both space and time come into being as soon as there are things which have relations with one another. But how does that work? Even if space and time do spring into existence as soon as things spring into existence, then it's still the case that things move about in space and exist through time.

So here are two alternative conclusions:

i) Space and time depend on things and their relations.
ii) Things and their relations depend on space and time.

The obvious way out of this opposition is simply to say that there's no hierarchy involved here: spacetime and things depend on each other. That is, space and time aren't more important (or fundamental) than things; and things aren't more important (or fundamental) than space and time.

What's called “relational theory”, however, is indeed eliminativist about space. This theory has it that if there were no things, then there would be no space either. Relational theory is eliminativist about time too in that if there were no events (in space), then there would be no time.

Smolin's sums up his non-Newtonian (or Leibnizean) position when he states (in his Three Roads to Quantum Gravity) that it's

absurd in general relativity to speak of a universe in which nothing happens”.

Relationism or Relation[al]ism?

Smolin explicitly states his relationist (or Leibnizean) position in the following:

There is no meaning to space that is independent of the relationships among real things of the world. ...Space is nothing apart from the things that exist. ...If we take out all the words we are not left with an empty sentence, we are left with nothing.”

However, there may be a problem here with the use (above) of the word “relationist”. That's because there are in fact two different words which are often used within this metaphysical context: “relationism” and “relation[al]ism”. Prima facie, they denote two (slightly?) different positions. However, on analysis, the distinctions between them appear to break down – at least in certain respects.

On my own reading, Lee Smolin seems to go one step beyond what's called “relationism” and delves into the domain of “relation[al]ism”. What I mean by that it can be said that relationism simply emphasises the relations between things: it doesn't deny that things exist. With relationalism (with an added “al”), on the other hand, “things exist and function only as relational entities”. That is, if there were no relations, then there would be no things. Relationism, on the other hand, simply notes the importance of relations between things; it doesn't claim that things - in and of themselves – don't exist.

Nonetheless, even if these definitions are incorrect (or if I've misnamed Smolin's own position), it's still the case that there's a difference between what can be called the eliminativist and the non-eliminativist position on things.

Thus relationalism is like ontic structural realism (which will be discussed later) in that the latter eliminates things from its metaphysical picture (“every thing must go”). Relationism, on the other hand, simply places relations in an important position in the metaphysics of things.

Having said all that, it's hard not to see the importance of relations even if one accepts the existence of things as independent entities. (Of course the metaphysical notion of independence would also need to be cashed out.) On the other hand, it's also hard to accept (prima facie) the elimination of things from the metaphysical picture. 

Moreover, one can also see the vital importance of relations when it comes to physics. On the other hand, one can't really see how things could be entirely eliminated from physics either. (This may also ultimately depend on how the word 'thing' is defined.)

Yet in (“analytic”/pure) metaphysics one can indeed conceive of (or imagine) a metaphysical picture in which things don't exist. One could also imagine a picture in which things don't have any relations (at least no causal relations) to other things or indeed to anything. These scenarios could constitute the metaphysical natures of particular possible worlds. Though, since Smolin is dealing with the actual universe, it's hard to make sense of such metaphysical eliminativism when it comes to physics itself.

Nonetheless, relation[al]ism can also be read as not actually being eliminativist at all. After all, this metaphysical position may simply have it that things (or entities) aren't what's called “self-standing”. To put that another way: what makes things the things that they are may be their relations to other... things. Or we can even say that particulars (things) are essentially relational. Alternatively, we can say that all a thing's properties are relational. That is, it has no “intrinsic properties”.

Thus, in a weak (or even strong) sense, if all things only have relational properties (and such properties literally make all these things the things that they are), then there is a sense in which things are indeed eliminated from the metaphysical picture. To put that simply: if a thing's relations (or relational properties) were eliminated, then it would no longer be that thing. Indeed it would no longer exist.

Relations and Structure

Despite all the above, it's still hard to make sense of the idea (to use Smolin's words) that “the world is [only?] made of relations”. What does that mean?

This question also relates to the metaphysical position known as scientific structuralism (i.e., in the philosophy of science). Here too relations and structures are deemed to be fundamental. Yet two similar questions can also be asked here:

i) How can there be structures without things?

ii) How can there be structures without space and time?

Relations and structures may well be of utmost importance in both metaphysics and physics. Nonetheless, surely there are no relations and structures without things (or even substances).

So, again, how can the world be “made out of relations” alone? The same goes for Smolin's other claim that “all properties are about relations between things”.

And what does Smolin mean by the words “all about”? We can easily accept that relations between things are important. But so too are things and their properties. So how is it that properties “are [only] about” the relations between things? In other words, is this part of an identity statement? Namely:

properties” = relations between things

There are indeed properties which are relational. However, it can be argued that not all properties are relational. Indeed isn't it the case that in order for some properties to be relational, other properties need to be non-relational?

As for the elimination of things. Take this simple sentence: “x is bigger than y.”

In order for x to be bigger than y, both x and y need to exist as things (or at least as something). It's true that the property (or universal) IS BIGGER THAN may be seen to have an abstract non-spatiotemporal nature. However, the original statements was “x is bigger than y”, not simply “is bigger than”. That is, we're not simply talking about the abstract property (or universal) IS BIGGER THAN.

Despite that, there may indeed be certain relations (or relational properties) which don't involve concrete things. (There are relations between numbers, for example.) However, if we return to Smolin, it's not the case that he's talking about relations between abstract entities even if the relations themselves can be deemed to be abstract.

Ontic Structural Realism

Smolin elaborates on his relationist universe firstly by saying that if

the only meaningful things in this theory are relationships between real things”


it doesn't make sense to talk about space being made up of different parts, or time being made up of distinct moments, unless the points and the moments can be distinguished by what's happening there”.

Here Smolin's position is fairly close to another structuralist position in the philosophy of science. Namely, the contemporary philosophical metaphysical position (as usually applied to physics) of ontic structural realism. In the ontic structural realism picture, “it doesn't make sense to talk about” things with their own determinate (or intrinsic) properties when these things “can only be distinguished” in terms of their structures and relations to other things (within spacetime). In simple terms, the “things” of ontic structural realism can only be distinguished in terms of their mathematical structures and relations. There literally isn't anything else.

In terms of Smolin's own picture, spacetime itself can only be distinguished in terms of (in Smolin's own words) “what's happening there”. That is, what's happening at specific spacetime points. And what's happening at specific spacetime points is invariably a matter of dynamical non-intrinsic properties and their mutual relations.

So just as spacetime works as a means to plot dynamic properties and things together, so ontic structural realism has it that things are mere placeholders used to plot relations and structures together.

Loop Quantum Gravity

Lee Smolin updates his relationism by tying it to the scientific theory of “loop quantum gravity”. Smolin also ties loop quantum gravity theory itself to relativity and quantum theory. Or as Smolin himself puts it:

I believe that the main lesson of relativity and quantum theory is that the world is nothing but an evolving network of relationships.”

Thus Smolin explicitly ties Einstein's general theory of relativity to his own relationist position. Smolin believes (as stated in his The Trouble With Physics) that in the general theory of relativity

[t]he geometry of space and time changes and evolves, as does everything else in nature”.

What's more, “[w]e no longer have fields moving in a fixed-background geometry”. Instead,

[w]e have a bunch of fields interacting with one another, all dynamical, all influencing one another, one of which is the geometry of spacetime”.

Smolin christens this a “background-independent theory”. He defines this position as one in which

[n]either space nor time has any existence outside the system of evolving relationships that comprises the universe”.

Indeed this soup of interrelating fields not only creates spacetime, it also creates the particles and all the other entities/conditions which exist at a specific point in time and place in space.

As just stated, Smolin makes his metaphysical relationism more concrete by tying it the physicists' notion of a “field”. More specifically, he ties it to the theory of “electric fields”. According to Smolin, “physicists using general relativity” can't

speak of a point, except by naming some features of the field lines that will uniquely distinguish that point”.

Moreover, this “network of relationships evolve[s] with time” and is “constantly changing”.

Specifically in terms of “loops”.

The loops of loop quantum gravity theory describes the nature (or structure) of space. That is, loops are extremely small (the size of a Planck length) and they make up the “fabric” of space. Loops are also called “spin networks” (which provides a “spin foam”). Thus both matter and space (in the loop quantum gravity picture) are deemed to be “atomic” (this word is used very loosely in this context).

Another way of describing this is to say that in loop quantum gravity space and time are quantized. That is, space and time are made up of the aforementioned “atoms”. Or, more technically, space and time are seen to be “granular and discrete” in the same way that the quantities (e.g., photons, etc.) of electromagnetism (or energy) are seen to be discrete in quantum theory. This means that space, time and energy can be quantized precisely because they're discrete (or atomic).

Smolin himself says that

what's wonderful about the loop picture is that it's entirely a picture in terms of relations”.

It is these loops which are relational and dynamic. And, by inference, loops make up our relational and dynamic spacetime.

In more detail, in this picture it's the case that there's

no preexisting geometry for space, no fixed reference points; everything is dynamic and relational”.

What's more, Smolin claims that

[t]his is the way Einstein taught us we have to understand the geometry of space and time – as something relational and dynamic, not fixed or given a priori”.

So whereas Newton believed that space and time are fixed; Smolin rejects that position by claiming that there's “no preexisting geometry for space” (or “no fixed reference points”). That means that we have a spacetime with a geometry that's “relational and dynamic”.

However, it's almost certainly the case that Einstein would never have expressed his own position in Smolin's own way. Nonetheless, Smolin's words may well still be an accurate (or faithful) reworking of Einstein's essential position on spacetime geometry.

Loop Quantum Gravity vs. String Theory

Smolin specifically counterposes loop quantum gravity with string theory. As Smolin puts it:

In string theory one studies strings moving in a fixed classical spacetime. ...what we call a background-dependent approach. ...One of the fundamental discoveries of Einstein is that there is no fixed background. The very geometry of space and time is a dynamical system that evolves in time.”

Indeed Smolin (along with such people as Carlo Rovelli, John Baez and Abhay Ashtekar) have rejected string theory precisely because he deems it to have retained the (Newtonian) notion of “absolute space”. Loop quantum gravity, on the other hand, upholds “backgroundlessness”.

So here again Smolin allies himself with Einstein and connects his own “background independent” theory to his metaphysical relationism.

Let's sum up Smolin's overall relationist position.

Smolin isn't only talking about things and their relations: he also sees the geometry of space and time as being relational. Indeed one can says that the geometry of spacetime is relational/dynamical precisely because things and their relations are also relational/dynamical.


Friday, 30 March 2018

Against Daniel Dennett's Heterophenomenology

This piece is a critical account of the 'Heterophenomenology' chapter of Daniel Dennett's book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking.


Daniel Dennett sums up his project with his own neologism: “heterophenomenology”.

Dennett's very own kind of phenomenology

is the study of first-person phenomena from the third-person point of view of objective science”.

Since phenomenology was originally seen simply as a (to use Dennett's own words) “catalogue of phenomena”, then there's no necessary reason why it should only be a first-person study of first-person mental states, experiences or consciousness. Instead what is studied is “first-person phenomena from the third-person point of view”.

Dennett goes into more detail when he adds that heterophenomenology

exploits our capacity to perform and interpret speech acts, yielding a catalogue of what the subject believes to be true about his or her conscious experience”.

Again, this isn't a “catalogue” of conscious experiences, pains, mental states, qualia, etc. "in themselves". It's a catalogue of the “speech acts” about these things. That is, speech acts, physiological responses, physical behaviour, "verbal reports", etc. are the subject of heterophenomenology - not consciousness, experiences or mental phenomena. However, by using this neat bifurcation, I am, of course, begging the question against Dennett (i.e., already assuming the truth of my own general conclusions).

Since phenomenology was originally seen to be the study of phenomena (again, according to Dennett) “before there is a good theory of them”, then how does this work in the case of third-person (scientific) accounts of first-person mental phenomena? After all, Edmund Husserl and other phenomenologists saw their own phenomenology as being “presuppositionless” and non-theoretical. Not only that: it was an attempt to provide a basis (or grounding) for science.

Now can it also be said that Dennett's own brand of phenomenology is presuppositionless, non-theoretical and a basis for – rather than a part of - science? Of course we can't. So, yes, it's indeed the case that studying any kind of phenomena can be seen as phenomenology. However, studying any kind of phenomena as a project in science (with its own presuppositions and theories which will be applied to that phenomena) surely can't be classed as phenomenology. That's unless Dennett is simply assuming that his own heterophenomenology isn't really phenomenology at all. However, if that's the case, then why use the suffix “phenomenology” in the first place?

Dennett's Arguments

Daniel Dennett makes a distinction between

(a) conscious experiences themselves”


(b) beliefs about these conscious experiences”.

Basically, to the behaviourist and verificationist Dennett, it's all about the latter. And in order to make us understand that, Dennett asks us this question:

Should we push on to (a) in advance of theory?”

He then states the following:

First, if (a) outruns (b) – if you have conscious experiences you don't believe you have, then those extra conscious experiences are just as inaccessible to you as to the external observers.”

The words “if you have conscious experiences you don't believe you have” must surely be rhetorical in nature. Or, more strictly, an example of a false inference.

Dennett is failing to make a distinction between experiences we don't make statements - or have beliefs – about (or even think about in any great detail - perhaps not at all), and having “having experiences [we] don't believe [we] have”. Clearly that latter phrase is constructed precisely in order to make it seem (or be) self-contradictory. How can a person have experiences that he doesn't believe he has? Nonetheless, it's actually the case that a person might have had experiences which he had no beliefs about when he actually had them. He simply might not have had “second-order” thoughts or beliefs about those experiences. That is, because “beliefs” weren't (as it were) attached to these particular experiences when they were first experienced, Dennett concludes that such a person must now have “conscious experiences [he/she doesn't] believe [he] has”.

So “conscious experiences themselves” (or at least some of them) do indeed sometimes “outrun[]” our “beliefs about conscious experiences” in the simple sense that they might originally have occurred before we had any beliefs about them. It's also the case that such experiences weren't originally accompanied by any second-order thoughts of any kind. It certainly doesn't follow from this that people “have conscious experiences [they] don't believe [they] have”. They might have had conscious experiences which came before any beliefs about them and which weren't accompanied with experience-regarding beliefs (or by any second-order thoughts).

Past and Present Experiences

It's not entirely clear if the “conscious experiences” Dennett refers to are past or present experiences. In the latter case, his position becomes absurd. Or, rather, Dennett is attempting to make other people's positions on these questionable experiences seem absurd. That is, if a person is currently having an experience, then how is it even possible for that person to also believe that he doesn't believe he's experiencing it now? Dennett, therefore, wants this position to be absurd. But that's because he's taking an absurd position on what he takes to be an absurd position.

So what about using the past tense?

If we use the past tense, then all this changes. That is, a person can't believe that he had conscious experiences which he now doesn't believe he once had. Dennett seems to believe this simply because those past experiences weren't accompanied by beliefs. But that's not strange at all. There are many experiences people have which aren't accompanied by experience-identifying beliefs (or by any second-order thoughts).

Now it's this very possibility that people are supposed to have experiences (or they claim to have experiences) which are unaccompanied with experience-identifying beliefs (or verbal expressions/reports) that Dennett has a problem with.

There are two main behaviourist and verificationist problems here:

i) These experiences occurred in the past.
ii) These experiences were unaccompanied by experience-identifying beliefs, verbal reports, or by any high-order thoughts.

Thus, in Dennett's book, these experiences are like Wittgenstein's “idle wheels in the mechanism”. (Wittgenstein himself was referring to such things as sensations.)

Dennett again fudges the issue when he says the following:

... if you believe you have conscious experiences that you don't in fact have...”

This is ridiculous. And, of course, Dennett also believes it to be ridiculous. However, it's only ridiculous if people really do have consciousness experiences which they don't in fact have. Or, more accurately, it's only ridiculous if people claim to have experiences that they don't believe they have had.

Again, is this a past-tense or present-tense problem?

It's obviously bizarre if, at this present moment in time, a person is having a conscious experience which he isn't in fact having. This is ruled out by Dennett's behaviourism and verificationism anyway. Indeed how could a third person, on the other hand, know either way? And how could the first person himself believe that he's having an experience that he isn't actually having?

So this scenario fails in both first-person and third-person terms. That's because it's a the position of a straw target.

What's absurd isn't that a person believes that he's having an experience which he isn't having. It's absurd that Dennett claims that someone would claim (or simply believe) such a thing. Similarly with the earlier case. It's not absurd that people have conscious experiences which they don't believe they have. What's absurd is Dennett believing (or simply stating) that there are people who believe (or state) this.

Again, these fictional subjects/persons appear to be straw targets manufactured so that Dennett can make his verificationist and behaviourist points.

I've stressed the big difference between beliefs about present experiences and beliefs about past experiences. Obviously it's absurd to argue that a person can have conscious experiences that he doesn't believe he's having. It's also absurd for the person himself to believe that. However, a person can have beliefs about past experiences which, at the time, he had no beliefs about – as already stated.

Thus Dennett argues that if a person had experiences which were unaccompanied by beliefs, then that same person having present beliefs about those past unaccompanied experiences won't thereby make those past experiences kosher from a scientific point of view. To repeat: Dennett must be arguing that present beliefs about past experiences (which weren't accompanied by beliefs when originally experienced) won't help make those past experiences acceptable to Dennett. That basically means that Dennett must also be arguing that there are no conscious experiences which aren't (or weren't) accompanied by beliefs and/or by overt expressions (i.e., verbal reports) about those experiences.

Dennett's position is that such “conscious experiences themselves” (as already stated) are idle wheels in the mechanism. Indeed Dennett himself (more or less) states this many times and in many places.

Ineffable Beliefs and Pains

Strangely enough, Dennett does seem to relent a little when he asks this question:

What if some beliefs are inexpressible in verbal judgements?”

I used the word “seems” for a good reason. It's of course the case that Dennett doesn't accept even the very notion of inexpressible beliefs. At least not (like his earlier views on “conscious experiences”) as they are "in themselves”. Instead, such inexpressible beliefs are actually accounted for by (later) “verbal judgements” or by physiological tests (depending on the particular case).

Take an inexpressible belief about a toothache.

According to Dennett, this is fully (or perhaps only partly) accounted for in terms of physiological “galvanic skin response[s], “heart rates” and “changes in facial expression and posture”. More fully, these things aren't responses to pains in themselves: they're responses to a test in which the subject

can press a button with variable pressure to indicate severity of pain”.

In other words, just as “conscious experiences themselves” were factored out of the equation earlier; so now Dennett also factors out what he takes the subject to believe are inexpressible beliefs. Or, rather, they aren't factored out in the sense that the tests for behavioral and physiological responses do all the work instead. What is factored out is the “inexpressible” itself; just as belief-free conscious experiences were factored out earlier.

In the specific case of a toothache, we no longer have a “ineffable residue[]” of experience (or qualia): we only have tests and physiological responses.

Studying a Person's False Beliefs

Dennett puts the icing on the cake by arguing the following (to paraphrase):

Sure, it's okay to accept that a person believes that some of his beliefs are inexpressible and that he also has belief-free experiences. However, what's not okay is to accept conscious experiences in themselves, beliefs that are truly inexpressible, and pains which entirely run free of behavioural expressions and physiological third-person/scientific data.

In other words, a subject's verbally-expressed belief that some of his other beliefs are inexpressible is indeed a fit subject for both science and philosophy. Or, as Dennett puts it, the statement

S claims that he has ineffable beliefs about X.”

is okay. It's an acceptable datum of science. What's not a datum of science is the actual ineffable belief (or pain/experience) itself. Indeed Dennett believes that it's an interesting and fit subject of science to explain why there are such beliefs and why people deem them to be “ineffable”. Again, what's shouldn't be a subject of science - and philosophy! - is the ineffable itself.

What Dennett Gets Right

Now it's certainly true that “pure experiences" are problematic from a verificationist or behaviourist point of view. (Indeed it can also be said that they're problematic from any point of view!) It may also be problematic to accept “conscious experiences” which completely “outrun” what Dennett calls “beliefs”. However, it doesn't logically follow from all this that certain conscious experiences can't be unaccompanied by beliefs and which are later referred to in some way. It certainly doesn't follow that people have consciousness experiences they don't believe they have. Dennett is attempting to turn his philosophical problem into a logical problem. It isn't.

As just stated, we can accept the verificationist and behaviourist problems a scientist or philosopher may have with “conscious experiences themselves” and with ostensibly inexpressible beliefs about experiences or pains. However, all of these things (e.g., conscious experiences themselves, inexpressible beliefs about experiences/pains, etc.) may still exist without their behaviourist or verificationist clothing.

To put all that in a more abstract way.

Because Dennett has a deep philosophical or scientific problem with x, he claims that x doesn't exist. Or, at the very least, Dennett argues that x doesn't serve any purpose. (Could that mean that x doesn't serve a purpose even if it does exist?)

Consciousness: a Third-Person Thing

What if speech acts, physiological responses, behaviour, verbal reports, mental functions, etc. - at least when taken collectively - literally constitute (or are) consciousness? And is that why Dennett's defenders say that he doesn't “deny consciousness”? Or, at the very least, if we accept Dennett's definition of the word 'consciousness', then we simply must conclude that he doesn't deny consciousness at all!

Thus it's not a surprise that Dennett sums up the virtues of his heterophenomenology by saying that by using it we

obviate the need for any radical or revolutionary 'first-person' science of consciousness, and leave no residual phenomena of consciousness inaccessible to controlled scientific study”.

A moment ago it was said that Dennett's supporters say that he doesn't deny consciousness at all. And that's why Dennett himself says (in the just-quoted passage) that we

leave no residual phenomena of [my italics] consciousness”.

That is, he doesn't say:

We leave no residual consciousness.

In other words, this may not be a case of “consciousness erased” or “consciousness denied” (as many people put it). It's more a case of this:

consciousness = that which is described by third-person/scientific data


consciousness = overt expressions, behaviour, verbal reports, mental functions, tests of physiological responses, etc.

Now if consciousness literally is all these things, then how on earth can anyone claim that Dennett “denies” or “explains away” consciousness? Nonetheless, Dennett does indeed see consciousness in a way which is radically at odds with the way the vast majority of people see it. Then again, Dennett wouldn't deny that. He'd probably say: Yes; so what?

Thus, with extreme facetiousness, it can now be concluded that Dennett's position is a little like this very-odd (fictional) theist's position when he states the following:

No! I'm not an atheist! I believe in God - just like you. However, unlike you, I take God to be that large lump of blue cheese which is now in my fridge.