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Week 6--What does the Philosopher Add to the Conversation?

Anne Dalke's picture, what does the philosopher have to add to the conversation? What's Daniel Dennett's take on why we (refuse to?) revise the stories we tell about the world (especially that story called "evolution..."?) And what's your take on Daniel Dennett's take? In what ways do you find his thinking useful to your own?
ashaffer's picture

Going back and reflecting

In thinking of Dennett, I am reminded of one of my favorite aspects of science- the idea that to revise a story something only needs to happen once. We seem to be, for some reason, very eager to call the unaccomplished the "impossible." In these terms, the impossible just keeps being done (clearly there is a need for revision here). The funny thing- well, I really ought to say dangerous thing- is what I've noticed as a flaw in some religious thinking as regards God. This God of the gaps philosophy basically says that the impossible (aka- things science hasn't yet come up with a good story for) can only have been done by God. I think this sort of reasoning does a great disservice to those who employ it- they build their argument on a weak and faulty premise and then are devastated as they watch science systematically destroy their "proof" of God. Personally, I believe that God fully intends people to use their intellect to study the world around them. I do not feel that the idea of Truth necessarily halts questioning- I think those who believe things are true should constantly be looking for substantiating evidence, give serious consideration to contradictory data, and be willing to revise their ideas with a good amount of humility.
Audra's picture

Better Late than Never

I had something to add to the end of last Thursday's conversation in Taylor B that I did not get the opportunity to share because of Time's sometimes annoying tendancy to keep moving forward at a constant pace. (The class period ended.)

 Anyway, that's besides the point. We ended the class on a somewhat pessimistic note: if all of our emotions and beliefs and experiences can be explained by the crane method-- if nothing's sacred and no God/ soul actually plays a part in our "spiritual" experiences-- then what's the point of living?

 I bring you hope! I'll use the example a few of my peers shared: looking at your newborn baby for the first time, which apparently feels like being touched on the inside by something greater than the physical world. My advice is to avoid getting too caught up in where that feeling came from because you still felt it and it still made your life worth living. Nobody's arguing that incredibly moving experiences don't or shouldn't move you. Though it makes a lot of sense evolutionarily for a mother to immediately become emotionally invested in her child (she'll take care of him or her better), that doesn't make that feeling less valid.

At the end of the day, who really cares if the physical world or the spiritual world is responsible for the intense high moments that make life worth living? We still feel them, which is enough.

ErinDoppelheuer's picture


I found Dennett's book frustrating and not as interesting as i had hoped.  I am a fan of Darwin and his discovery of natural selection.  One thing that i had not known before reading this was how Darwins ideas and findings were based off of an algorithm.  The question, did God create all creatures in the begining and plan out evolution or, are all of us just some big mistake?  I think that people like to believe that fact that God created everything because it gives them something concrete to beleive and because it is just so hard to grasp the concept that we are possibly a mistake.  Why did God only create us here on Earth, why didnt he create us or something like us on another world(meaning planet or moon) in our solar system? 
redmink's picture

OCD during Fall Break and ADD while reading

I constantly kept thinking to myself that I should write my post soon because my entire long post had disappeared after one click of my shaky finger before Fall Break.  So I could not stop thinking of my duty for CSEM, and tended to connect Dennett’s concepts to whatever I was doing during Fall Break like OCD person.  During Fall Break, I bought a duvet for my dorm bed.  While I was picking the right color, I thought the duvet was like philosophy that warms + brightens the bed, science.  I appreciated how the author intermingles two branches.  Just like we explored grim fairy stories realizing there is an icky side in life, the author’s attemept to demonstrate his opinion both in philosophy and science appealed my interest.

Philosophy is a good deal to me because that was the best topic for a conversation with my friends during high school.  I was glad to read about Gaia Theory.  Undergoing puberty, me and my friend came up with our own philosophy called ‘Soul Theory’ that I now realize very close to the Gaia Theory introduced in the reading here.   Our Soul Theory is “Universe is a big soul, and we individual soul, as componets of the mother soul, work together as means of living, yielding, sharing, etc, for the common goal of the Universe,  which is Love.”  When I read about Gaia Theory, I was stunned!  So, the rest of the reading became hard for me because whatever the author was arguing on, my enthusiasm about Gaia Theory didn’t go away easily.  So, that was joy while reading this convoluted chapters.

But I came to my senses.  I had to finish the reading and had to get what the author was saying about Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.  So, I went on putting aside my joy.   I found interesting that how Darwin was a smart reductionist who made abstract philosophical ideas into general form.  Okay, the reading was hard for me because there was something interesting here and there so that I had a hard time to focus on a big picture, or the real topic of the author.  When I encountered reductionism, I pondered upon it for like another five minutes.  In this manner, I took looong time to grasp the author’s voice. 

I confess now that I digressed so frequently due to my interest in the small topics mentioned in the reading.  But after I read the entire reading, there was a sense of accomplishment.

calypsse's picture

Dennett's Discussion

To my delight most of the discussion we had in class about Dennett's argument on evolution had to do with the questioning of the existance of God. In fact there was a consensus that God was nowhere to be found in Dennett's point of view. At the same time there is the irony that Dennett is so utterly convinced that evolution is right and creationism is wrong that he talks of Darwinism as a dogma, to the point that we felt him more like an evangelist than a scientist. He dismisses any other theory, he does mention a couple more but discards them right away and focuses on Darwin once again.

We also discusses the possibility of conciliating evolution with the idea of a God. There are many lose ends that have no explaination so far, so a comfortable possibility is God. How else can we explain the transition from chaos to a perfect organization. 

Another point covered was the example of a personal experience on evolution. One example was the sexual maturity at a younger age when growing up in different environments, and the mutation of genes needed for survivial as recorder by biology. The XX XY chromosomes, the detriment of the Y chromosome and it's possible change.

The discussion then shifted towards if using miracles/mystery was considered cheating, while reductionism as a simple way to explain things. Apparently we need to question everything beacuse this produces discussion. Although Dennett seems to refuse the questioning of evolution he does have a point that at the moment it is the best theory out there. However if evolutionists close themselves to the idea of a new and radical theory that'll fill the gaps we have in Darwin's theory then they will take the same possition creationist have at the moment, and they will be percieved as ignorant as creationist seem to them.

The last question was the existance of the soul. The idea of no place for soul might seem pessimistic. And the question of why we need a soul was anwsered by Rachel as an evolutionary benefit. Evolution places the weight of responsability on our shoulders where there is no God serving as a judge, we are given more room for mistakes but for progress as well. 

ashaffer's picture

On stories

As I read Dennett, and his descriptions of those who cling to the idea of Creationism as outlined in the Bible as the end-all-be-all in possible cosmologies, I am reminded of the stubborn unwavering stance of the Church in Galileo's day. Nowadays, Biblical proponents interpret the same passages that seemed to disprove the heliocentric theory in Galileo's day as symbolic language. They no longer claim things like “the sun stood still” as the sun itself literally stopped moving, but rather assert that this kind of language is simply meant to explain how things seemed from the people’s perspective of that day.

As I recall the REVISION that was made to this STORY, I cannot help shake my head at how little the Church has learned. Even today, they attempt to war with Darwin’s increasingly supported evolutionary ideas on the grounds of a story in Genesis- in (I hope very few) more years, those dogged people will make a similar revision to the Genesis account. Hopefully, they will come to realize the danger of emphatic and resolute stances on issues where they do not have all the answers, and I predict the result will probably be that they come to the same conclusion about evolution as they have about heliocentrism and reinterpret the Genesis story as an explanation that was not meant to literally convey how things came to be, but merely illustrate principles.

I do not think the idea of God and evolution are mutually exclusive, but I do think we need to rethink traditional constructs if these two are to successfully synthesize: the stories must continue to be rethought and revised rather than trying to cram a square peg in a round hole. Perhaps we ought to shave off some of those edges before such an attempt is made.






redmink's picture

Those little branches

I wrote very long, but my shaky, enthusiastic index finger accidentally pressed some button on keyboard, and now everything became nothing. 


I will post it again soon, using word document this time. 

Catrina Mueller's picture

Personally, I think that

Personally, I think that evolution can be whatever you want it to be. There is so much ambiguity that anyone's story is correct as long as they realize that the , earth is constantly changing, as are all the beings on Earth. It may not be the slow and gradual change that Darwin advocated, but even religious people can agree that change happens, whether it happens randomly or it is helped out by a higher being.
Allyson's picture

I'm with Catrina on this

I'm with Catrina on this one, and I'm happy that I read hers before I posted because I'd hate to repeat. But this is the ultimate "middle of the road" stand point that I've been taking for this entire class, which I think leaves the most possibilities open.

Does it really matter if there is a God? Is a story ever really just a story? Is God a story? Does that make God less important or more important? Is evoultion a story? Does any of it really matter as long as we get what we need from it and go along our way?

akerle's picture

midterms and discombobulation

 I am going to be honest- due to lack of general organization and midterms I have not gotten the full way through the text- SO for that reason I do not wish to try and express an uneducated opinion on it.

Nevertheless, there were a couple of things that struck me in our last class....

first of all: we were discussion the concept of language and how the word 'story' has 'airy-fairy' connotations and maybe for that reason feels wrong when used in a scientific context. Well- I think that we need to take that idea a step further. I believe that our philosophical discussions will always be hindered by our use of language- we are linguistically challenged! By talking about 'truth' we imply the existance of falsehood. by cotemplating 'right' we automatically create 'wrong'. There is no way we can discuss these things without contradicting ourselves since our ultimate conclusion is that there is no 'right' or 'wrong'. 

On the same level- and this sounded far more profound in my head- perhaps there is no story until one is told. We recognize the 'storyishness' of our lives in the telling- not in the direct experience. Maybe our very existance isn't a story but it becomes one once we speak about it to others. 

Riki's picture

I recall in my high school

I recall in my high school French classes that the English language has far more words than the French, and my teacher criticized the English language for this. I don't understand why, though. The more words you have, the more you can convey. Feelings can't ever possibly be completely expressed through words. We assign words to intangible things, catagorizing them, which I suppose will have to suffice, for how else could we begin to understand each other?

I think our existence is a story, told or not. But, as humans, when are we not talking about our existence, thus making it a story?

anonstudent01's picture


I really did not enjoy this reading. I know that initially the stories Darwin told the world were similar to the stories of skyhooks and cranes, but I think we don't revise much of it further because it remains a thorough and factual explanation of how the species of this earth came to be. Is anything impossible? I don't think so, nothing really is finite and there is possibility in everything past and present and I think Dennett offered a lot of words (rather confusing words at that) that held little basis is anything other than his own far fetched ideas about what may have been/may be. Philosophy and science go hand in hand but sometimes it is necessary for the good of science and the facts the support our understanding of life to quit philosophizing and acknowledge what is clearly fact. The story of evolution is debatable I know, and because we've decided everything is a story we can't completely discount Dennett's ideas but I found him wholly frustrating and was not convinced by his arguements.
Hyperpuffball's picture

The Nonintelligent Artificer

First of all, can I just say I was HIGHLY amused by the summations provided at the end of every chapter, along with a summation of the upcoming chapter? Hilarious. Made me feel so intelligent.

Something I would like to examine: Locke claims, before Darwin, that Mind cannot come into being from nothing, Matter, or Motion, and that because we had an Intelligent Artificer (God) looking over us, Mind must have existed from the very beginning. However, Darwin's claim of an Nonintelligent Artificer turns Locke's claims into problems. I find that, if we simply combine the two and not discount Locke altogether, there comes a scary idea:

If there is only a Nonintelligent Artificer, and no Intelligent Artificer, then it is arguable that Thought never began to be. In other words, can there be an intelligent being without a Nonintelligent Artificer? If thought never did evolve from Matter and Motion, then what, exactly, goes on in the human brain? Is it actually Thought? Or are we simply animals?

The other possibility, of course, is that all animals have the same capability for Thought as humans, assuming that the same capacity for Thought exists in each living creature. In which case, how presumptuous of us!

BriBell's picture

I agree with Madi that

I agree with Madi that Darwin's idea isnt really pessamistic. Personally, I see it as a very optimistic concept because it means there is still room for us to evolve and grow to be beings of even greater ability. I suppose it is partially, too, due to my beliefs. I dont necessarily think that just because God didn't make us the way that the Bible says he did means that he is just not there. Same with Galileo, I still have a hard time understanding how someone can think that just because earth is not the center, God is not watching. Personally, I don't believe in 'God' but I do believe in spirit and those sorts of things, which, I think, is something that can survive even evolution. (though that is a bit of a personal thing, I cannot say it for anyone else)

Something I noted in this reading that went along well with our discussion in class was Dennett's claim that "Human imagination has only a few resources to draw upon when faced with such a mind-boggling question"(25) This reminded me of a paper we discussed last class, where we debated whether the mind was limited. Later, Dennett says that even if Darwins idea was to be rejected and replaced, it would still be something that has "open[ed] new possiblities of imagination..." (83) I think this is really interesting, as it is Dennett's last way of reminding the reader that yeah, evolution is be best and most valid theory we have now, but it is still, and will continue to be, possible that it may change, even though it currently seems unimaginable. Which then brings me back to Flatland, and how A. Square could not imagine 3D, but then it was there, and then Sphere nearly rejected the idea of imagining any further dimensions, but eventually accepted that there is always the possiblity of stretching the imagination.

christa wusinich's picture


I think this reading begets a second reading for me...there is a lot to comtemplate.  For instance, Dennett (a person who is no doubt familiar with all the great thinkers of all the great ideas) gives Darwin the blue ribbon or gold medal for having "the single best idea anyone has ever had...In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law"(21).  

It is interesting how what always must have been becomes our modern ideas? I don't understand why Copernicus, Galilieo, Hume, and Darwin become dangerous with their ideas.  Perhaps, it the comfort zone from which I learn these things that inhibits me from seeing the danger.  The earth is no less stable for me because of any of these brilliant men.  Danger is no brains with guns not genius with pen, paper, and books.  
Allison Fink's picture

What does evolution reveal about God and order?

Getting back to motivations for retelling stories: the passage says that it isn’t the evidence that you see around you; you won’t accept the evidence unless you have some idea of a theory to explain the evidence.

Now, I have a lot of philosophy-related questions.

Does God have a reason for creating things?

Does necessity rule the world? Perhaps people can find meaning in that, like when people of a totally unreligious scientific mind said that meaningful things come from blind, unthinking processes.

I think that the principle of evolution means that somehow, God knew that the universe should not be determined, so he left it open. Did he not know how it would turn out? An algorithm is like a computer program; it’s deterministic and you can predict the exact end result if you have enough calculating power in your head. What would be the point of God starting up an algorithm if s/he knew how it would turn out? Why not carry it all out at once? But there are claims by scientists that the universe is not entirely deterministic. Which I don’t understand, but I think it has something to do with consciousness (and modern physics). If evolution  is nondeterministic, it would make sense that God would allow evolution- so that God could allow it to play out for itself. And as a related question, could it be that God is not all knowing, that God makes mistakes but gradually improves creation? And to what degree is creation the most improved? If you say nature gets more and more coherent and complex, is there no limit to the amount of coherence and complexity possible? If it wasn’t known before, does such intelligence develop over time, and how, if nothing can come from nothing? Is mind infinite in the directions its intelligence can take? How can we conceive of infinity without diminishing each one of the pieces of it?

How do we know the true essences of living things that allow for true classification, beyond the arbitrary categories we can choose? When we consider these things, we interpret the universe as coming from the mind of God, and as such having a unifying order to it, but is that just because we have intelligence, so we can’t think of it in any other way? Human intelligence, or Mind, seems to be linked with God, because Mind is what makes sense of the universe, and isn’t it self-evident that the universe has to make sense, and this quality is eternal and omnipresent?

This may be a bit jumbled and undeveloped, but I can think of these ideas more in the future. I like how the article links science and philosophy to really get you to think.  

akeefe's picture

Artistic Evolution

I found Daniel Dennett to be an excellent contribution to our studies of sciences stories and revisions. There are many things I could discuss, but I would like to elaborate one passage that stirred in me throughout the day. It came way at the beginning, and it meshed the principle “nothing comes from nothing” with Darwin’s story and Creationism. I remember discussion on “nothing comes from nothing” in my tenth grade biology class. We were of course discussing reproduction and evolution of organisms at the time, but
I have sine then been musing on it literary implications. The concept of “originality” is one that I believe is the plague of any artist. While artist traditions are praised for their ability to teach and inspire, I know very few artists who wish to be defined in the confines of some tradition.

Using “nothing comes from nothing” as a model, we are able to blink at the concept of artistic originality in a way not so unsimilar to the argument of evolution and creationism. I have read those who believe that art ultimately stems from the artist mirroring God, and that their ability to create a piece out of mere thought is chief asset. I have heard writers suggest not reading in order to further the development of a unique voice. In the other camp, I have heard artist proclaiming that all that can be done has been, and the only point of the modern artist is to rehash old ideas into modern contexts. I would dare say that the debate of the evolution of art is just as heated as the evolution of organisms, as both seem to conflict existentially.

It is my view that this “nothing comes from nothing” is a way to connect the branches of these camps. Yes, any artist is influenced by traditions and history, but this does not mean that there can never be unique interpretations. For other classes, I have recently finish three versions of the Faust legend, Marlow, Goethe, and Stein, all of which are based upon the very same folktale. However, each of these revisions could only have been written in the unique voice of their author. I’ll admit that as one who enjoys the arts, I have not yet so neatly reconciled these ideas, but using science as a model, I do believe them to be ultimately reconcilable.

merry2e's picture

Uniting or separating the physical from the spiritual

I found the reading, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life,” absolutely fascinating.  Throughout my life I have explored the different possibilities of how/why humans came into being, especially since giving birth to my girls.  Since motherhood, I swayed towards the “Argument from Design” (28) and after reading the article I am trying to develop a way to unite or perhaps (?) separate the evolution of the physical nature of a human from the spiritual.

“Evolution was not a process that was designed to produce us, but it does not follow from this that evolution is not an algorithmic process that has in fact produced us” (56). I could not help but think of the sermon by the priest in Galileo.  Old Cardinal: “So you have degraded the earth despite the fact that you live by her and receive everything from her. I won’t have it! I won’t be a nobody on an inconsequential star briefly twirling hither and thither. I tread the earth [. . .] and the earth is the center of all things, and I am the center of the earth, and the eye of the Creator is on me” (Brecht 73). I feel like this IS the biggest problem within the Darwin debate. My feeling on various religions/creation are their central beliefs (whether stated or not) are humans as the sole purpose for the development of the universe by GOD…including in this, animals, plants, stars, etc. to be USED by humans…

If this is what is either consciously or unconsciously taught through various religions, people are definitely going to deny the existence of another valid theory of evolution that would not place humans in the center of everything. This would go against what many of us have been taught for centuries. But, I do not believe because Darwin’s theory on the physical evolution of our species makes sense, that we cannot separate our spiritual evolution. I can develop my “mind” accepting that there are energies that live within and without that have still not been “theorized” as of yet, and be ok with that, because I have faith that there is higher BEING that looks out for me…on some plane.

 Another idea that jumps out at me is about theories... if I allow myself to see past my own initial fear of the unknown, how much i can learn from others ideas and new developments. These new concepts may seem foreign to me and I may not need or want to take them on as my own, but hearing what others convictions, understandings, or meanings behind why they do things or how they understand the world, will in turn, allow me to understand them with a more inclusive and comprehensive outlook.
nmuntz's picture


I just had a really long comment that summed up all the thoughts that were floating around in my head, and my web browser decided to "Quit Unexpectedly"  I'm very frustrated, so I'll try and rewrite it and repost it later. ( I was in the post preview section!!!!!! )


Madi's picture

Darwin - Crane Operator

I don't find Darwin's theory bleak or pessimistic at all. I can see how it can even be used in conjunction with the theory of God. If you see Him as the Deists of the Enlightenment Age saw Him, as the great clockmaker, then it's not a big leap to say that He created Life in the form of a single-celled organism and then sat back and watched the course it took.

Personally, I don't believe in God. I like evidence (what can I say? I'm a crane lover, not a skyhook lover - cranes are real, you can count on them being there), and there's not much evidence that I can see to support His existence.

DannyD's picture

An excerpt from a 2006 article

"What, though, do I say to those of my religious friends (and yes, I have quite a few religious friends) who have had the courage and honesty to tell me that they have been praying for me? I have gladly forgiven them, for there are few circumstances more frustrating than not being able to help a loved one in any more direct way. I confess to regretting that I could not pray (sincerely) for my friends and family in time of need, so I appreciate the urge, however clearly I recognize its futility. I translate my religious friends' remarks readily enough into one version or another of what my fellow brights have been telling me: "I've been thinking about you, and wishing with all my heart [another ineffective but irresistible self-indulgence] that you come through this OK." The fact that these dear friends have been thinking of me in this way, and have taken an effort to let me know, is in itself, without any need for a supernatural supplement, a wonderful tonic. These messages from my family and from friends around the world have been literally heart-warming in my case, and I am grateful for the boost in morale (to truly manic heights, I fear!) that it has produced in me. But I am not joking when I say that I have had to forgive my friends who said that they were praying for me. I have resisted the temptation to respond "Thanks, I appreciate it, but did you also sacrifice a goat?" I feel about this the same way I would feel if one of them said "I just paid a voodoo doctor to cast a spell for your health." What a gullible waste of money that could have been spent on more important projects! Don't expect me to be grateful, or even indifferent. I do appreciate the affection and generosity of spirit that motivated you, but wish you had found a more reasonable way of expressing it."

-Daniel Dennett, Edge

Alison R. Mouratis's picture

Throw some steel together and you will never make a watch...

"This book, then, is for those who agree that the only meaning of life worth caring about is one that can withstand our best efforts to examine it. Others are advised to close the book now and tiptoe away..." Tempting, I had to admit, since I did find some parts of this reading quite dull, but since I did not argue with his reasoning on determining the "meaning of life," I decided to stick around. I found that I really agreed with Dennett when he said that he would give an award to Darwin for having a "dangerous idea." What makes Darwin's 'theory' all the more fascinating is the "remarkably hot-tempered controversy" surrounding it. I found the section where he talks about the idea that "scientific matters are usually distorted by fears that the "wrong" answer would have intolerable moral implications" VERY fascinating, seeing as we had just earlier discussed our own beliefs when it came to voicing our opinions and what concequences they might have on other people listening to us. I also did a little research on this 'John Locke' fellow and I found his way of of describing the self through a continuity of "conciousness" very interesting.

PS Does anyone else watch "Lost"? Very, very amusing...
calypsse's picture


The need to revise stories (theories) in science is what builds our knowledge. An imposition that is not open to debate becomes an constant itch. To me evolution is much closer to reality than creationism. Darwin did not explain how we all came to exist but he does give some relieve in the wondering of why are so many differences amog us, why don't we have fins for example. I also agree that the thought of an anthropomorphic God is ridiculous. I think the need of humans for guidance led to create the concept of God. Elisa
hannahpayne's picture

Daniel Dennet suggests that

Daniel Dennet suggests that even though there are holes in the theory of evolution that it is the only theory that makes any sense. "It is reasonable to believe that an idea that was ultimately false would surely have succumbed by now to such an unremitting campaign of attacks," Dennet says. But evolution remains to be widely accepted. I'm not sure if I like this reasoning of why we believe in evolution, simply because its stuck around through all attacks. I would prefer if we could just believe the evidence that has been presented to support the theory. I don't like how Dennet phrases it as if we just don't have any better ideas so we might as well believe in evolution. 
jforde's picture

No such thing as philosophy free science

I found the Dennet's comment that' there is no such thing as philosophy- free science to be very thought provoking. All of my life I have always viewed science as facts. I was taught to l memorize biology, chemistry and physics as oppose to questioning and thinking about such theories in the world. Our most recent class discussions about multiple dimensions and how science is biased were the first time I've ever connected philosophy with science and questioned what amount of evidence is necessary to make a theory fact.
Student 23's picture

Worshipping cranes

It's hard to question that Charles Darwin was indeed a product and a force of late-19th-century philosphy, but he is not the end-all-and-be-all. Dennett may have raised a few good points and asked a few good questions, but I still refuse to believe that evolution is the key to the meaning of life. Darwinian evolution, even the modern synthesis, can't, by its nature, explain some of the complex behavior that defines what it means to be human. How does the algorithm of natural selection produce art, literature, music, emotion?

By insisting that the "skyhooks" of religion are no longer valid in any pursuit, Dennet has offered up himself in place of the Strawman that fundamentalist Creationism is so fond of arguing. He even uses the word "Darwinism" and "Darwinist," the enemy's choice descriptors for evolutionary theory and its proponents, as if the science itself were a dogma.

Perhaps I'm just one of those that Dennett portrays as "the forces of containment," "the champions of the pre-Darwinian tradition", those that hold back scientific progress. I'm not a religious fundamentalist, nor a creationist by any means, but I am what seems to be a dying breed: an optimist.

I'm still tempted to read the rest of this book, though. Go ahead, Dennett-- maybe you can still convince me.

carterian's picture


aside from finding these chapters extremely dull, it did make me think about "impossible." he talks about skyhooks vs. cranes and this made me ask 'what is impossible?' he states that a skyhook is something impossible and not plausible, like superman, while a crane is something that is fantastic, but believable.

hasn't everybody heard the expressions, "anything's possible", "never say 'never'", or the nike slogan "impossible is nothing"? why do we as humans seem to try and make ourselves believe that anything can happen, that basic science is no barrier for what we believe (which i suppose is technically true, seeing as i could believe that an elf lives under my bed whether or not science supports it). this really reverts back to our fairytale unit and we all had a discussion over whether or not they were good for children. i saw that it raised everyone's hopes because it wasn't REALISTIC. fairy tales are skyhooks, and reality is a rusty crane.

but where is the line drawn betweeen skyhook and crane? what is possible and impossible? a third dimension was impossible to A. Square, the earth revolving around the sun was impossible to everyone, and humans emerging from lowly apes rather than Adam and Eve seemed impossible to everyone as well. basically, the world is just a series of 'who knows?' and impossibilities...

nmuntz's picture

Spinning Straw Into Gold

Over the weekend I saw a book in the Alumnae section of the bookstore that I immediately purchased.  Following the request of Professor Grobstein, I'm posting a link to the authors website, so everyone can take a look at it.  The book is called "Spinning Straw Into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman's Life" and it's by Joan Gould.  I'm only about 60 pages into it, but so far it is fantastic.  I highly recommend it to anyone else who was sad when our discussion on Fairy Tales ended!!!  I was in the bookstore today, and I didn't see another copy, but since it is by an alumna, I'm sure they have more copies hidden in the back! 

(This is comment is being put under this topic because I figured that way everyone would see it!)