The Story of Evolution
and the Evolution of Stories

Dennett's Ideas (Dangerous and Otherwise) About Evolution and Life:
Paul's Admiration/Suspicion We Can Do Better Than This

6 March 2007

Text: Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea


Wonderfully UsefulIffyA Problem
universal acid

greedy vs proper reductionism

cranes vs skyhooks

nice tries

emergent meaning/intentionality

cultural transmission

"selfish" genes

selfish memes


forced moves

libraries, search landscape (akin to niches)

genes and memes and selection and NOTHING else?

no personal agency? no free will?

no space beyond the "libraries"?

Daniel Dennett's Brain:

(and sometimes out of control)
Committed to (a particular kind of) Rigor in ThoughtSome Times Too Much So? (and hence oddly timid? as well as destructive?)
"To put it bluntly but fairly, anyone who today who doubts that the variety of life on this planet was produced by a process of evolution is simply ignorant, excusably ignorant in a world where three out of four people have learned to read and write" (p 46)

"Dr. Mayr, a strong believer in the Hegelian dialectic as a way of advancing understanding, was known for his definitive proclamations, which often inspired as many heated rebuttals as nods of vigorous agreement"

Lawrence H. Summers - "I think I do have a tendency to challenging dialogue in the way of a graduate seminar. Its probably both a strength and a weakness ..." NY Times, 26 Feb 2005

"It makes sense to err on the side of greedy reductionism, to try for the simple model before wallowing around in complexities" (p 396) "If a ... brain were truly capable of non-algorithmic activity, and if we have such brains, and if our brains are themselves the products of an algorithmic process ... an algorithmic process (natural selection in its various levels and incarnations) creates a non-algorithmic subprocess of subroutine, turning the whole process (evolution up to and including ... brains) into a non-algorithmic process after all. This would be a cascade of cranes creating, eventually, a real skyhook! ... The position is, I guess, possible, but ... (p 448)
The Problem (revisited):

A slightly different story, more cracked

Post discussion thoughts

It is from the "crack" (ambiguity) that creativity, ability to conceive meaning, bring into existence things that haven't yet been derive; "stories" are what come from, are made possible by the crack.

Depends on both expansion and trimming (to get new things with which to build)

Can't say in advance what expansion/trimming will be generative.

Does not depend on words/language, which further expands the range?

Expansion/trimming cycles obvious throughout human culture (science, art, etc), without there being a "plan" for them. Inherent in "generative" processes?

Literature: no plan, intent, goal - a "generative" process

Should be "Darwin's Generative Idea"

And on ...

Ambiguous figures

  • everything experienced consciously is a story
    • isn't "real"
    • has an author, reflects authorial perspective
    • could be different, have different meaning
  • consciously unexperienced things have meaning, influence behavior, may influence conscious experience/story

Behavioral (unconscious, algorithmic) meaning vs experienced (conscious, story) meaning

  • behavorial is temporarily fixed, experienced is potentially fluid
    react to picture vs see picture and notice ambiguities
  • experienced can affect behavior in short time, modify behavioral over longer times, directly or by influence on behavior
  • both involve "trimming", experienced more so?
  • experienced can lead to new rapid branching (case in point), as in escape from the computable (see emergence07 notes)

This an example of trimming/expansion; of intuition that a particular trimming will prove generative (and so experienced by PG as dysphoric (?) signal from unconscious, which must then be able to detect that?). Generation in unconscious, destablizing?, reported? Outburst of ideas an effort to capture before restabilized (trimmed?) in unconscious?

Originated in intuition that Dennett not adequate, persistent effort to establish the limitation, unconscious also able to judge/motivate that? Issue of "consciousness" without neocortex ...

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