Cover image for From bacteria to Bach and back : the evolution of minds / Daniel C. Dennett.
From bacteria to Bach and back : the evolution of minds / Daniel C. Dennett.
First Edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2017]
Physical Description:
xviii, 476 pages, 2 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Turning our world upside down. Introduction ; Before bacteria and Bach ; On the origin of reasons ; Two strange inversions of reasoning ; The evolution of understanding -- From evolution to intelligent design. What is information? ; Darwinian spaces: an interlude ; Brains made of brains ; The role of words in cultural evolution ; The meme's-eye point of view ; What's wrong with memes? Objections and replies ; The origins of language ; The evolution of cultural evolution -- Turning our minds inside out. Consciousness as an evolved user-illusion ; The age of post-intelligent design.
A leading philosopher offers a major new account of the origins of the conscious mind that explores the deep interactions of evolution, brains, and human culture, demonstrating the role of culture in installing memes, including language, in the mind.
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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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Dennett (Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking), co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, combines arguments from philosophy, biology, and informatics to explore questions associated with the origin of consciousness. It is an illuminating and insightful, if occasionally difficult, book; Dennett's two overarching themes concern the philosophical ideas of René Descartes and the biological concepts of Charles Darwin. As he has done before, Dennett argues that Cartesian mind/body dualism, which is still accepted by many today, is incorrect. He makes a convincing case, based on a rapidly growing body of experimental evidence, that a materialist theory of mind is within reach. Dennett also builds on Darwin's idea of natural selection, explaining how natural systems can create "competence without comprehension"-that is, situations in which sophisticated actions occur without the individual or machine involved understanding the reasons for the actions taken. This type of "bottom-up" design, according to Dennett, can lead to innovative results, including animal brains. He takes the next step to propose that basic language acquisition ability is coupled with the memes of language to yield both consciousness and culture. Though Dennett is sure to once again raise the hackles of certain peers, his ideas demand serious consideration. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

For five decades, Dennett (cognitive studies, Tufts Univ.; Darwin's Dangerous Idea; Consciousness Explained) has been writing about the implications of Darwinian evolution, the origin of language, and the evolution of the human mind. His main objective here is to show that humans are different from all other species, primarily because memes-in the form of words-transformed our brains into minds. (The term meme was originally coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene and refers to a unit of culturally transmitted information.) Drawing upon research and concepts from the fields of computer science, neuroscience, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, -theoretical linguistics, and information science, Dennett brilliantly uses analogy, metaphor, and counterintuitive reasoning to construct his arguments. VERDICT This sweeping examination of biological and cultural evolution as seen through a philosopher's lens is highly recommended for academics as well as nonspecialists who enjoy Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and Douglas Hofstadter.-Cynthia Lee Knight, Hunterdon Cty. Historical Soc., Flemington, NJ © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xiii
Prefacep. xv
Part I Turning Our World Upside Down
1 Introduction
Welcome to the junglep. 3
A bird's-eye view of the journeyp. 6
The Cartesian woundp. 13
Cartesian gravityp. 16
2 Before Bacteria and Bach
Why Bach?p. 23
How investigating the prebiotic world is like playing chessp. 26
3 On the Origin of Reasons
The death or rebirth of teleology?p. 33
Different senses of "why"p. 38
The evolution of "why": from how come to what forp. 40
Go forth and multiplyp. 43
4 Two Strange Inversions of Reasoning
How Darwin and Turing broke a spellp. 53
Ontology and the manifest imagep. 60
Automating the elevatorp. 63
The intelligent designers of Oak Ridge and GOFAIp. 70
5 The Evolution of Understanding
Animals designed to deal with affordancesp. 76
Higher animals as intentional systems: the emergence of comprehensionp. 84
Comprehension comes in degreesp. 94
Part II From Evolution to Intelligent Design
6 What Is Information?
Welcome to the Information Agep. 105
How can we characterize semantic information?p. 113
Trade secrets, patents, copyright, and Bird's influence on bebopp. 128
7 Darwinian Spaces: An Interlude
A new tool for thinking about evolutionp. 137
Cultural evolution: inverting a Darwinian Spacep. 146
8 Brains Made of Brains
Top-down computers and bottom-up brainsp. 150
Competition and coalition in the brainp. 154
Neurons, mules, and termitesp. 160
How do brains pick up affordances?p. 165
Feral neurons?p. 171
9 The Role of Words in Cultural Evolution
The evolution of wordsp. 176
Looking more closely at wordsp. 182
How do words reproduce?p. 190
10 The Meme's-Eye Point of View
Words and other memesp. 205
What's good about memes?p. 209
11 What's Wrong with Memes? Objections and Replies
Memes don't exist!p. 221
Memes are described as ''discrete" and "faithfully transmitted," but much in cultural change is neitherp. 224
Memes, unlike genes, don't have competing alleles at a locusp. 233
Memes add nothing to what we already know about culturep. 237
The would-be science of memetics is not predictivep. 241
Memes can't explain cultural features, while traditional social sciences canp. 242
Cultural evolution is Lamarckianp. 243
12 The Origins of Language
The chicken-egg problemp. 248
Winding paths to human languagep. 265
13 The Evolution of Cultural Evolution
Darwinian beginningsp. 282
The free-floating rationales of human communicationp. 287
Using our tools to thinkp. 294
The age of intelligent designp. 301
Pinker, Wilde, Edison, and Frankensteinp. 316
Bach as a landmark of intelligent designp. 324
The evolution of the selective environment for human culturep. 330
Part III Turning Our Minds Inside Out
14 Consciousness as an Evolved User-Illusion
Keeping an open mind about mindsp. 335
How do human brains achieve "global" comprehension using "local" competences?p. 340
How did our manifest image become manifest to us?p. 343
Why do we experience things the way we do?p. 346
Hume's strange inversion of reasoningp. 354
A red stripe as an intentional objectp. 358
What is Cartesian gravity and why does it persist?p. 364
15 The Age of Post-Intelligent Design
What are the limits of our comprehension?p. 371
"Look Ma, no hands!"p. 379
The structure of an intelligent agentp. 388
What will happen to us?p. 400
Home at lastp. 410
Appendix: The Backgroundp. 415
Referencesp. 425
Indexp. 447

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