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Universal Acid

Darwin's Dangerous Idea (Penguin Science) - Daniel C. Dennett

Philosopher Dan Dennett argues that the theory of natural selection is a 'universal acid', burning through our basic ideas about science and beyond, leaving a completely changed intellectual landscape. The revelation that mind did not design life inverts the traditional Christian-derived pyramid. Dennett shows that evolution needs 'no skyhooks' - no supernatural powers - and instead produced us and our artifacts and ideas using 'cranes', artefacts and strategies that accelerate development (the image derives from the fact that a small crane can be used to erect a larger one). He explains and answers the critiques of opponents to orthodox neo-Darwinism, and points out pitfalls on both sides, for example distinguishing sensible (in fact, tautological) reductionism from 'greedy reductionism' (one culprit in the latter category is behaviourism in psychology: Skinnerians who believe that all behaviour is a function of operant conditioning. The inadequacy of such theories has been demonstrated by, for instance, the research of linguists like Chomsky)

Dennett points out that natural selection is an algorithmic process, and carefully examines the implications for science and philosophy, including ethics. An interesting consequence is support for the possibility of artificial intelligence (since consciousness is not magic, but arises from biological phenomena: the mind is in the brain). He develops the idea of 'memes' as mental analogues of genes; symbiotes evolved to live in minds, making persons of the humans they infest and hyper-accelerating life's trajectory through design-space. 

"The prize is, for the first time, a stable system of explanation that does not go round in circles or spiral off in an infinite regress of mysteries. Some people would prefer an infinite regress of mysteries, apparently, but in this day and age the cost is prohibitive: you have to get yourself deceived. You can either deceive yourself or let others do the dirty work, but there is no intellectually defensible way of rebuilding the mighty barriers to comprehension that Darwin smashed."