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General News    H4'ed 6/29/21

Welcome to the Darwinian Jungle

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From Bacteria and Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, by Daniel C. Dennett

Welcome to the Darwinian Jungle

This brilliant Philosopher, posing as a well-informed amateur, and uses this humble disguise to scrounge the alley ways of some of the world's best psychology, evolutionary and developmental Biology, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, artificial intelligence and information technology labs, to better sketch out the best scientific theories to date of how our minds came to be; how our brains work their Darwinian wonders; and how to think about minds and brains without relying on magic, or being lured into the comfortable philosophical trap of "Cartesian Gravity."

Rather than a linear narrative, the author spreads the pieces to this jigsaw puzzle out on the table, and walks us through each piece chapter by chapter, topic by topic until all of them have been dropped into their proper slots.

It is for this reason that I have followed the author's outline too, summarizing the book topic by chapter.

The subtext of the book is that evolution is responsible for humankind's special niche in the grand scheme of biological existence, rather than magic. The book attempts to answer the most puzzling question of all: why are there minds?

The short answer is that the first three million years of evolution were spent optimizing the machinery for self-maintenance, energy acquisition, and reproduction. The loops that led to our intelligence were "Darwinian processes" composed of "Darwinian processes" that generated minds out of nothing but atoms and molecules.

Minds have evolved and created thinking tools along the way, tools that allow us to know vastly more than just our own existence.

What thinking tools you ask? Spoken words, memes, language, reading, writing, arithmetic, navigation, mapmaking, apprenticeship, teaching, institionalized education, and information processing.

But the long answer is describing all of the pieces and then putting them together in their right places so that they are no longer a puzzle but form a picture, a coherent whole, and thus provides an explanation for how the mind and consciousness works. That is what this book is really about.

Pursuant to that task, it provides a virtual jungle of new theories, details, concepts, and new ways of thinking, all pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that the author admits have not yet all been sorted out: details, instruments, concepts, and new ways of thinking that make up a complex maze of science, neuroscience, information science, evolutionary development, artificial intelligence and philosophy, requiring us, above all, to finally jettison a continuing reliance on the confusing use of magic to explain creation, life and death. However, for all its virtues, this magic does not tell us how the mind works.

Despite the complexity of this intellectual jungle, and the author's own admission that much of what is here is only the backbone of a very much jerry-rigged conjectural theory, he nevertheless has found clever and exciting ways to cut through the under brush.

The reader will be richly rewarded for following each of the puzzle pieces through to the bitter end.

Some of the new thinking tools we meet along the way are: Darwin, Turin and Hume's "inverted reasoning;" "reason without reasoners;" "competence without comprehension;" information as designs worth stealing; "feral neurons;" the evolution of "the evolution of culture;" intuition pumps, consciousness as a user-illusion; and of course, language and memes.

The book is guided by four strenuous exercises of the imagination: turning our world upside down by following Hume, Darwin and Turing's inversions, evolving evolution into an intelligent design without a designer, turning our minds inside out, and reverse-engineering biological systems.

The theoretical foundation is secured in the first five chapters; and then held in place in the last ten, where the author gives us the empirical details from an inverted perspective of how mind, language and consciousness co-evolved.

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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
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