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.

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