Dan Dennett, who is not Santa Claus, has many clips on youtube, both as "new atheist" and as someone who wants to "deflate consciousness," i.e. show to us through optical illusions and things that we don't know as much of what's going on in our minds as we think.
Here he discusses the "Cartesian theater," his starting point for argument in his big book Consciousness Explained:
A primary illusion of consciousness, he thinks, is that it is a unified stream, but it's hard to see how processing in various parts of the brain "comes together" to give rise to consciousness. On the contrary, he thinks that mental processing is distributed over lots of dumb, unconscious little robots, and that there's no point where our unified representation of the world comes together.
Does any professional philosopher of mind actually believe in the Cartesian theater? Wes claims, at least, that this is just a straw man argument. It doesn't directly contradict (and I think it isn't supposed to) the claim that our experience of consciousness is real. What it's supposed to do is cast doubt on our introspective assertions, i.e. anything substantial we might say about our conscious states, which he thinks are the source of our thinking that there's a mind-body problem (i.e. I have access to a private, non-spacial, unified inner realm; how could this be equivalent to or hook up with the material world?). Dennett's article Quining Qualia argues that we can't analyze our introspective experience, because we can't conceptualize things that only we have access to (for you experienced philosophy readers, this is a species of Wittgenstein's private language argument). Even the simple act of calling these experiences "qualia" conceptualizes them: it implies that there are more than one of them and that they can be groups into types (e.g. "my experience of red") that we can compare over time, and he sees methodological problems with our doing this.
I think Dennett may see his role as a philosopher as primarily political. Most people who vigorously defend the reality and irreducibility of consciousness or who argue that science and philosophy have no place in trying to explain it are really just supporting, covertly or overtly, some kind of traditional anti-materialist theism, which sees the mind as a soul that couldn't possibly be reduced to something material. He's arguing against what he perceives as the pre-philosophical preconceptions of the public. Note his discussion of freedom near the end of this clip; he's trying to make this materialist pill psychologically easier to swallow. Like any good pragmatist, Dennett thinks that much of the fight in convincing someone of your position is dislodging people's gut reactions against it (making materialism a "live option" in William James's terminology). The downside of this strategy is that his listeners may feel like he's trying to manipulate them.
Wes Alwan says
To quote McGinn in his review of CS, “introspective knowledge’ … is not based on a form of sensory observation … we don’t perceive them in the way (say) vision makes us perceive things around us.” This is the “Cartesian Theater” idea that I just don’t think anyone ever put forward, and I agree with McGinn here. McGinn goes on to say the typical Nagelesque anti-reductionist things and then says: “So far, so boring. How much, if any, of this is Dennett contesting? It isto say. But, I suspect, quite a bit, by implication at least. He seems to think these platitudes are, or are based upon, a dispensable piece of Cartesian bag- gage-covert reflections of the myth of the pineal interface. He holds that lurking in the kinds of things I said above is a commitment to something called the Cartesian Theater. This phrase gets a number of different definitions, mostly scare-quoted and metaphorical, but I take the operative idea to be that there exists an inner sense that perceives our conscious states-an ‘audience’ that gazes upon an ‘internal stage’. This is admitted to be a view that no one explicitly holds, though Dennett assures us that it lies behind much of what people do hold-including, apparently, the kinds of tame things I said above. Apparently, he thinks it lies behind the idea that there is a distinguished subset of neural events that correspond to one’s current state of awareness; even behind the idea that a certain event took place within my consciousness during some given time interval. In other words, these innocuous-sounding claims are tainted with the myth of the inner observer.
“Well, I fail to see that any of that is so. I myself find the idea of an inner spectator perceiving my conscious states to be plainly absurd, and I don’t think anything I said above is committed to it. In particular, to allow that we have introspective knowledge of our conscious states is not to be committed to it: that is just one (bad!) theory of how such knowledge comes about. To repeat what I said earlier: we do not have sensory states whose content represents what is going on in our consciousness; so we don’t perceive these states. We know about them without observation (as Wittgenstein insisted)-plausibly, by virtue of a direct causal link between the state and the belief that we are in it. If a perceptual model of introspective knowledge is the Cartesian Theater, then clearly there is no such thing. But not much follows of interest from this. Certainly it does not follow that there is no firm boundary between conscious and unconscious events; nor that consciousness is not subserved by some discrete locus of neural activity in the brain. Indeed, I don’t see how rejection of such a boundary, or denial of such a locus, is incompatible with the myth of the inner observer. That entity might well be neurally dispersed and blurry of vision. Actually, the Cartesian Theater metaphor, so construed, looks to me like an exceptionally scarlet herring serving no useful theoretical purpose. I don’t know why we are even considering it. Nobody believes it; it is absurd; and nothing worth taking seriously presupposes it. Its only purpose appears to be that of polemically tarring non-absurd views with the same brush by the method of sloppy definition. Let us be clear, then, that the notion of a well-defined stream or field of consciousness in no way implies that there has to be an inner observer who perceives it; though there may well have to be a subject who has such a stream or field-he whose states are at issue. I could not rid myself of the feeling that Dennett roundly conflates these two ideas throughout the book, making illusory hay from the conflation.” See comments in the Chalmers video post for more: http://partiallyexaminedlife.com/2010/06/16/mind-video-1-david-chalmers/