Why do we have minds?

POSTED: March 9, 2020

Over the weekend I came across a very useful article at the Tufts website, outlining some of Daniel Dennett’s thoughts, and written by Sharron Fischer.

The dominant theme of the book will be a familiar one for the Dennett faithful. Beginning billions of years ago with non-living molecules floating in primordial soup, through to the evolution of modern man, Dennett argues a purely Darwinian trajectory. The world’s creatures are all a simple product of natural selection’s brute force trial-and-error approach, constructed one meager reproductive advantage atop another.

Most of the time, these creatures are ignorant as to what they do or why—“competence without comprehension.” The Australian cathedral termite, a favorite example of Dennett’s, builds elaborate structures that regulate temperature and gases in its underground colonies. But the termites don’t know that; they just do what nature selected for them to do by rewarding those that built ever-greater complexity with survival, and killing the rest. “There is,” as Dennett writes, “no architect termite.” He likens it to a computer, grinding dumbly away at complex mathematics.

The article has his most recent book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, as its hook, but it ranges wider than that. It offers a simple one-page summary of some important aspects of Dennett’s thinking for those who want it.