Monday, July 03, 2017
From Bacteria to Bach and Back - Daniel Dennett - Book overview
I picked up this book from the ‘new book’ shelf in my local public library a couple of weeks ago.
Written by Daniel Dennett and published this year - 2017 - by Norton Publishers. The Guardian offers a comprehensive review
Timing was just right for a wet weekend which allowed for two evenings of concerted reading. The main argument in the book is the role of evolution in producing the human brain. In short, evolution does not need to be ‘smart’ or to understand where it is headed. It just needs to ‘be’ and time will weed out the physical traits and ‘memes’ which will not last. There is an interplay between what is availed in the brains of individuals, with access to social learning affordances. Language, writing, apps, social media are seen to be things invented by humans, to further the development of their species.
Its a longish book - 400 plus pages with helpful index, list of further readings and 20 plus pages of pertinent references but worth the effort to get into. The book is written for non-academic readers.
Examples and analogies are based on computers and other items familiar to a general audience, help to make clear, the more complex concepts.
The book has 15 chapters categorised into 3 parts. Part one sets the scene, going through the rationale for the argument to be sustained through the book and an overview of the foundational theories. Part 2 – from evolution to intelligent design – contains the main content of the book. There is an overview of the biological evolutionary process with the parallel cultural evolution’s role in forming human thinking. The two chapters in the last part, brings the various threads together to argue support the argument and contains some insights into the future.
The last chapter is perhaps most important. Here, the argument is for humans to be cognisant of their inherent ‘power’. Artificial intelligence may now have arrived, but it the humans, who have invented it, to understand the implications, to leverage the advantages and to ensure the worse implications do not come into fruition.
Overall, a good summary of Dennett's work, reiterating his scholarship into the 'mind' and how we should use our brains better. All in, a worthwhile read with pertinent learning to further / reinforce my understanding of evolutionary psychology.