Yes, it's a blog about reading.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Finally finished "Darwin's Dangerous Idea." I really liked it. Dennett's writing is elegant and witty, rife with metaphors and analogies (although it must be admitted that quite a bit of it was over my head).

I couldn't possibly summarize the book, so I'll just list some of the ideas that resonated for me:

"QWERTY phenomenom" - The letters of the typewriter were arranged that way because the pattern separated the keys most often used because keys tended to stick. Now that keyboards no longer stick, we are 'stuck' with QWERTY because that's the way it's always been done. The social cost of change ensures that keyboard configuration will remain as it is (look at the difficulty we've had in converting to the metric system). Evolution too may have come up with solutions for problems that have disappeared while the solutions remain.

"The Mephistophelian dice game" - If you propose to make one person the winner of ten consecutive dice throws, then discard each loser, you end up with a winner (someone has to win), who might think himself 'a chosen one'. This in answer to those who think the universe was especially designed around us (the lucky winners).

Lots of stuff about 'reverse engineering' and 'adaptionism'. The power of adaptionist thinking - figuring out what Mother Nature had in mind by adopting the intentional stance (an innate talent that humans seem to have).

"Biology as Engineering" was a tough chapter. I had flashes of understanding around the refutation of Locke's "mind first" doctrine, that 'there can be a gradual birth of function and the concomitant birth of meaning or intentionality.'

"Reverse Engineering" - figuring out 'the why' (also called adaptionism). 'One must grant the premise of the argument from design' - a found watch exhibits a tremendous amount of design work. Darwin's path honors Paley's insight by supplying the idea that intelligence could be broken into tiny, stupid bits (algorithms) distributed through time and space. Beware the Panglossian fallacy that natural selection favors adaptations that are good for the species as a whole (the best of all possible worlds).

The Role of Language - this got very interesting as Dennett takes on Chomsky and Gould, among others. More to follow.


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