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Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanins of Life Paperback – 12 Jun 1996
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One of the best descriptions of the nature and implications of Darwinian evolution ever written, it is firmly based in biological information and appropriately extrapolated to possible applications to engineering and cultural evolution. Dennett's analyses of the objections to evolutionary theory are unsurpassed. Extremely lucid, wonderfully written, and scientifically and philosophically impeccable. Highest Recommendation!
James Moore coauthor of Darwin A brilliant piece of persuasion, excitingly argued and compulsively readable. Its lucid metaphors and charming analogies are reminiscent of On the Origin of Species.
Carl Sagan The Washington Post Book World A breath of fresh air.
Richard Dawkins author of The Blind Watchmaker A surpassingly brilliant book. Where creative, it lifts the reader to new intellectual heights. Where critical, it is devastating.
Richard Rorty Lingua Franca One of our most original and most readable philosophers....Once in a blue moon an analytic philosopher comes along who redeems his subdiscipline by combining professional persnicketiness with a romantic spirit, a vivid imagination, and a sense of humor.
John Gribbin Sunday Times, London This is the best single-author overview of all the implications of evolution by natural selection available....Lucid and entertaining.
Jim Holt The Wall Street Journal Dennett is a philosopher of rare originality, rigor, and wit. Here he does one of the things philosophers are supposed to be good at: clearing up conceptual muddles in the sciences.
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Dennet’s idea seems to be to counter challenges to the idea that the variety of life on earth could have been created entirely by natural selection acting on naturally occurring processes. He poses as one of the underlying objections to this idea the fact that many people, including scientists, are uncomfortable with the thought of everything being just random because they feel it takes all meaning out of their lives. This is where he brings in the meme idea in. He proposes that it is the memes that have created the mind (as opposed to the brain) rather than the other way around.
He also discusses quite a bit the idea of evolution as primarily an engineering problem (for both the genes and the memes) using examples from attempts at creating artificial intelligence among other things. Another engineering idea he introduces is the idea of “cranes” as tools of evolution. These are factors that seem to group up in synchronous ways to speed up the entire process of evolution. He contrasts these cranes to what he calls “skyhooks,” cases where the evolutionary process would get a boost from some outside force of mind or design (kind of a deus ex machina effect) that he is looking to disprove.
Just how exactly these ideas describe what actually happened during the evolution of life on earth is difficult for just a regular person to say, but the whole concept is interesting. Except for some of the more far-flung philosophical discussions he makes his points fairly clearly. Recommended for people interested in science generally and evolution in particular. Also for philosophers.