From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds

From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds

by Daniel C. Dennett


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One of America’s foremost philosophers offers a major new account of the origins of the conscious mind.

How did we come to have minds?

For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.

That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.

In his inimitable style—laced with wit and arresting thought experiments—Dennett explains that a crucial shift occurred when humans developed the ability to share memes, or ways of doing things not based in genetic instinct. Language, itself composed of memes, turbocharged this interplay. Competition among memes—a form of natural selection—produced thinking tools so well-designed that they gave us the power to design our own memes. The result, a mind that not only perceives and controls but can create and comprehend, was thus largely shaped by the process of cultural evolution.

An agenda-setting book for a new generation of philosophers, scientists, and thinkers, From Bacteria to Bach and Back will delight and entertain anyone eager to make sense of how the mind works and how it came about.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393242072
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 02/07/2017
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and the author of numerous books including Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, Breaking the Spell, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and Consciousness Explained.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xiii

Preface xv

Part I Turning Our World Upside Down

1 Introduction

Welcome to the jungle 3

A bird's-eye view of the journey 6

The Cartesian wound 13

Cartesian gravity 16

2 Before Bacteria and Bach

Why Bach? 23

How investigating the prebiotic world is like playing chess 26

3 On the Origin of Reasons

The death or rebirth of teleology? 33

Different senses of "why" 38

The evolution of "why": from how come to what for 40

Go forth and multiply 43

4 Two Strange Inversions of Reasoning

How Darwin and Turing broke a spell 53

Ontology and the manifest image 60

Automating the elevator 63

The intelligent designers of Oak Ridge and GOFAI 70

5 The Evolution of Understanding

Animals designed to deal with affordances 76

Higher animals as intentional systems: the emergence of comprehension 84

Comprehension comes in degrees 94

Part II From Evolution to Intelligent Design

6 What Is Information?

Welcome to the Information Age 105

How can we characterize semantic information? 113

Trade secrets, patents, copyright, and Bird's influence on bebop 128

7 Darwinian Spaces: An Interlude

A new tool for thinking about evolution 137

Cultural evolution: inverting a Darwinian Space 146

8 Brains Made of Brains

Top-down computers and bottom-up brains 150

Competition and coalition in the brain 154

Neurons, mules, and termites 160

How do brains pick up affordances? 165

Feral neurons? 171

9 The Role of Words in Cultural Evolution

The evolution of words 176

Looking more closely at words 182

How do words reproduce? 190

10 The Meme's-Eye Point of View

Words and other memes 205

What's good about memes? 209

11 What's Wrong with Memes? Objections and Replies

Memes don't exist! 221

Memes are described as "discrete" and "faithfully transmitted", but much in cultural change is neither 224

Memes, unlike genes, don't have competing alleles at a locus 233

Memes add nothing to what we already know about culture 237

The would-be science of memetics is not predictive 241

Memes can't explain cultural features, while traditional social sciences can 242

Cultural evolution is Lamarckian 243

12 The Origins of Language

The chicken-egg problem 248

Winding paths to human language 265

13 The Evolution of Cultural Evolution

Darwinian beginnings 282

The free-floating rationales of human communication 287

Using our tools to think 294

The age of intelligent design 301

Pinker, Wilde, Edison, and Frankenstein 316

Bach as a landmark of intelligent design 324

The evolution of the selective environment for human culture 330

Part III Turning Our Minds Inside Out

14 Consciousness as an Evolved User-Illusion

Keeping an open mind about minds 335

How do human brains achieve "global" comprehension using "local" competences? 340

How did our manifest image become manifest to us? 343

Why do we experience things the way we do? 346

Hume's strange inversion of reasoning 354

A red stripe as an intentional object 358

What is Cartesian gravity and why does it persist? 364

15 The Age of Post-Intelligent Design

What are the limits of our comprehension? 371

"Look Ma, no hands!" 379

The structure of an intelligent agent 388

What will happen to us? 400

Home at last 410

Appendix: The Background 415

References 425

Index 447


. . . a supremely enjoyable, intoxicating work, tying together 50 years of thinking about where minds come from and how they work. 

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