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Darwins Dangerous Idea

Daniel Dennett
Revolucin Darwin
Santiago, Chile
September 6, 2009

Why was Darwins idea so great?


It united the world of purposeless causation
with the world of meaning.
From physics to ethics and poetry
in one unified perspective

The Pre-Darwinian worldview

The trickle-down theory of creation . . .


Obvious since Homo habilis?

The trickle-down theory of creation . . .


Obvious since Homo habilis?
vs the bubble-up theory of creation

Darwins greatest idea


If during the long course of ages and under varying conditions of
life, organic beings vary at all in the several parts of their
organization, and I think this cannot be disputed; if there be,
owing to the high geometric powers of increase of each species,
at some age, season, or year, a severe struggle for life, and this
certainly cannot be disputed; then, considering the infinite
complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other and
to their conditions of existence, causing an infinite diversity in
structure, constitution, and habits, to be advantageous to them, I
think it would be a most extraordinary fact if no variation ever had
occurred useful to each being's own welfare, in the same way as
so many variations have occurred useful to man. But if variations
useful to any organic being do occur, assuredly individuals thus
characterized will have the best chance of being preserved in the
struggle for life; and from the strong principle of inheritance they
will tend to produce offspring similarly characterized. This
principle of preservation, I have called, for the sake of brevity,
Natural Selection.
Origin of Species, end of chapter 4

Darwins greatest idea


If during the long course of ages and under varying conditions of
life, organic beings vary at all in the several parts of their
organization, and I think this cannot be disputed; if there be,
owing to the high geometric powers of increase of each species,
at some age, season, or year, a severe struggle for life, and this
certainly cannot be disputed; then, considering the infinite
complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other and
to their conditions of existence, causing an infinite diversity in
structure, constitution, and habits, to be advantageous to them, I
think it would be a most extraordinary fact if no variation ever had
occurred useful to each being's own welfare, in the same way as
so many variations have occurred useful to man. But if variations
useful to any organic being do occur, assuredly individuals thus
characterized will have the best chance of being preserved in the
struggle for life; and from the strong principle of inheritance they
will tend to produce offspring similarly characterized. This
principle of preservation, I have called, for the sake of brevity,
Natural Selection.
Origin of Species, end of chapter 4

An early critic of Darwin summed it up:

In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute


Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate
as the fundamental principle of the whole system,
that, IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND
BEAUTIFUL MACHINE, IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO
KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be
found, on careful examination, to express, in
condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory,
and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin's
meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning,
seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to
take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the
achievements of creative skill.
--Robert Beverley MacKenzie, 1868

In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute


Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate
as the fundamental principle of the whole system,
that, IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND
BEAUTIFUL MACHINE, IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO
KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be
found, on careful examination, to express, in
condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory,
and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin's
meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning,
seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to
take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the
achievements of creative skill.
--Robert Beverley MacKenzie, 1868

AlanTuring

Turings
strange inversion of reasoning

Pre-Turing computers

In the old days, computers had to


understand arithmetic,
had to appreciate the reasons.
Turing recognized that this was not
necessary.

Darwin
IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND
BEAUTIFUL MACHINE, IT IS NOT
REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE
IT.

Turing . . .
IN ORDER TO BE A PERFECT AND
BEAUTIFUL

Turing . . .
IN ORDER TO BE A PERFECT AND
BEAUTIFUL COMPUTING MACHINE,

Turing . . .
IN ORDER TO BE A PERFECT AND
BEAUTIFUL COMPUTING MACHINE, IT
IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW WHAT
ARITHMETIC IS.

Darwin and Turing


Competence without comprehension!
Understanding (mind, consciousness,
intention) is the effect, not the cause!

von Kempelens Turk


1770- 1854

von Kempelens Turk


Unmasked in the USA
by Edgar Allan Poe
In 1836

von Kempelens Turk

Poe thought it was impossible for a


mindless machine to play chess.
It isnt.
There may be a little man inside Deep Blue,
but if so, he may well be sound asleep.

Some people think today that it is impossible


for a mindless process to produce
evolution.
It isnt.
There may be an intelligent God hidden in
the evolution process, but if so, he might
as well be asleep, since there is no work
for him to do!

Compare

Amoeba, Difflugia coronata

Sand castles

Caddis fly larva

Caddis larva food sieve

lobster trap

Whats the difference?


There are reasons for the arrangement of
parts
in the caddis larvas food sieve
and in the lobster trap.
But the caddis reasons
are not represented anywhere

The free-floating rationales


of evolution:
Cuckoo chick

The free-floating rationales


of evolution:
Cuckoo chick

Natural selection tracks reasons,


creating things that have purposes but
dont need to know them.
The Need to Know principle reigns in the
biosphere.
Natural selection itself doesnt need to know
what it is doing!

A common error:
We attribute more understanding to the
agent than Need Be.
We lack a familiar concept of semiunderstood quasi-representations
(or hemi-semi-demi-understood pseudorepresentations)
Turing gives us all of these.

10,000 years ago: human population plus livestock


and pets was approximately 0.1% of terrestrial
vertebrate biomass.
Today: 98%!

Over billions of years, on a unique sphere, chance


has painted a thin covering of lifecomplex,
improbable, wonderful and fragile. Suddenly we
humans . . . have grown in population,
technology, and intelligence to a position of
terrible power: we now wield the paintbrush.
Paul MacCready

10,000 years ago: human population plus livestock


and pets was approximately 0.1% of terrestrial
vertebrate biomass.
Today: 98%!

Over billions of years, on a unique sphere, chance


has painted a thin covering of lifecomplex,
improbable, wonderful and fragile. Suddenly we
humans . . . have grown in population,
technology, and intelligence to a position of
terrible power: we now wield the paintbrush.
Paul MacCready

John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary,


The Major Transitions in Evolution, 1995

Major transitions
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Eukaryotic revolution
Sex
Multicellularity (and cell differentiation)
Language
Human Culture (art, religion, politics,
science, engineering. . . )

Major transitions
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Eukaryotic revolution
Sex
Multicellularity (and cell differentiation)
Language
Human Culture (art, religion, politics,
science, engineering. . . )

Where did culture come from?


A divine gift?
Human genius?
Over the centuries, intelligent (human)
designers created cultural treasures. . . . ?

The inherited treasures model


of cultural evolution
(prevailing wisdom)
Culture is
composed of good things
invented by innovators with insight,
recognized and valued as such by
adopters,
Who transmit and tinker. . . .
(an economic model of possessions)

The inherited treasures model


of cultural evolution
A problem:
Who invented
words,
arithmetic,
music,
maps,
money?
Nobody.

The inherited treasures model


of cultural evolution
Then how did they get to be such perfect
tools for the jobs they do?
They evolved.
Just the way animals and plants
and viruses did.
By natural selection.

Words
the most important cultural items.

The diversity of words


Where did they all come from?
thousands of languages
Could they have a common ancestor?

Phylogenetic trees . . .
Glossogenetic trees . . . .

Proto-Indo-European languages

Finno-Ugric languages

Languages of China

Proto-Mayan languages

Horizontal word transfer


is rife in languages. . . .
So words are more trackable items than
whole languages.

memes
as cultural items analogous
to genes
or to viruses.
They evolve by natural
selection.

For evolution to occur, copying must be high


fidelity (but not perfect).
Are there any memes?
Words are memes that can be pronounced.

Repeat after me. . . .

norms of correction
Information about kayaks is stored in Inuit
brains
AND in kayaks!
But only on the (default) presumption that
the design is good.
Even if it isnt understood.
A kind of digitization.
Correction to the norm

Polynesian canoes
"every boat is copied from another boat... it
is the sea herself who fashions the boats,
choosing those which function and
destroying the others" (Alain, 1908)

Memes are like software viruses.


Memes are software viruses.
To understand this, you need to adjust your
imagination re computation and software.

The inherited treasures model


of cultural evolution
(prevailing wisdom)
Culture is
composed of good things
invented by innovators with insight,
recognized and valued as such by
adopters,
Who transmit and tinker. . . .
(an economic model of possessions)

The Darwinian (memetic) model


Culture is composed of
Good, bad and indifferent things
Created by processes with variable insight
(ranging from 0 to genius)
Adopted with variable recognition of value
(ranging from -100 to +100!)
Having an economic model as a limiting
case. . . .

Compare
Traditional
good things
invented with insight
valued
passed on
w/improvements
economic model

Darwinian
good, bad, soso
insight 0-100
value -100 - +100
passed on
with mutations
as a limiting case.

Once we have cultural software installed


it creates top down patterns of causation.

Our minds can be


dominated, or driven,
by an ideaor ideas.
This is the fulcrum for
intelligent design.

Compare

Top-down design
Turings computer!

We are the first


Intelligent designers in the Tree of Life.

Our natural tendency to interpret all design


as top-down.
as representation-driven,
is both anachronistic and
anthropocentric.

In the beginning was the word . . . .


NO.
Words are a very recent invention,
one of the most recent products of blind,
purposeless natural selection.

We, the reason representers,


can now look back and discover the reasons
everywhere in the tree of life.
It took Darwin
to figure out that a mindless process
discovered all those reasons.
We intelligent designers are among the
effects, not the cause, of all those
purposes.

DARUUIN
Delere
Auctorem
Rerum
Ut Universum
Infinitum
Noscas

DARUUIN
Delere
Auctorem
Rerum
Ut Universum
Infinitum
Noscas

Destroy
the Author
of Things
in order to
Understand the
Infinite Universe

Thanks for your attention.