Online reading group and book discussion forum
  HOME ENTER FORUMS OUR BOOKS LINKS DONATE ADVERTISE CONTACT  
View unanswered posts | View active topics It is currently Sun Feb 19, 2017 3:55 pm





Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 6 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average. 
Ch. 1: Tell Me Why 
Author Message
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

BookTalk.org Owner
Diamond Contributor 3

Joined: May 2002
Posts: 15418
Location: Florida
Thanks: 3070
Thanked: 1165 times in 926 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)
Highscores: 6

 Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
Ch. 1: Tell Me Why


Please use this thread to discuss the above listed chapter of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life" by Daniel Dennett.



Thu Feb 16, 2017 11:54 pm
Profile Email WWW
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Masters


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 453
Thanks: 262
Thanked: 191 times in 154 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
The point that Dennett seems to me to be making here is mainly that an "argument from design" seemed unanswerable before Darwin. That is, even skeptics like Hume found the world to be so full of what we now call "adaptations" (ways that living things are adapted to perform well at keeping them alive - cactus in the desert, fur that thins out in spring, etc.) that it must have been created that way by some kind of mind.

Obviously this is a persuasive point, and those with leisure to reflect on such matters must have recognized the revolution created by Darwin's insight. I am not sure it is worth getting into the controversies over the length of time involved, some of which paved the way for acceptance of Darwin, but it is worth noting that Lord Kelvin showed, with perfectly good thermodynamics decades after Darwin, that the earth was far too warm for a planet old enough to support the lengths of time proposed by geologists. Of course, he did not know about atomic decay and the radiation that results from it.

I am more interested in the general subject of the relation between mind and purpose. Even after we dispense with the argument from design, we are left with the issue of discernment of purpose and its role in understanding. That will be, I hope, the point that Dennett takes us to once he has made his points about the difference between "cranes" and "skyhooks."

My point would be that discernment of purpose seems to be a complex matter. To create an idea of purpose from the outside of the process, as an observer, we have to create an inner model of the process. To answer the question, "What is Putin trying to accomplish in Ukraine?" we have to create simulacra of the agents involved, and decide at what point we are going to settle for heuristics like "spheres of influence" in our construction of those simulacra, or whether we need to know all the ins and outs of the agent's working before we reach conclusions about our response.

We know from experience that we operate in our own lives with some sense of purpose, so it will not do to take a B.F. Skinner approach of abstracting entirely from an inner model of purpose in drawing conclusions about the operations of purpose. We are led, essentially, to think about what the world is like from the perspective of, say, a bat.

Thus I generally find myself dissatisfied with scientists, when engaging with, say, creationists, who operate from the assumption that we only need to evaluate the correctness or incorrectness of people's beliefs, completely ignoring the question of the function and "telos" of holding those beliefs. For an academic argument about biology, obviously that is what matters. For a discussion at the level of society and world, pretending that a discussion of God is a discussion of the academic issues of explaining biological phenomena is a recipe for disaster.



Sat Feb 18, 2017 5:13 am
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
I issue my own library cards!

BookTalk.org Moderator
Silver Contributor 2

Joined: Oct 2010
Posts: 1733
Thanks: 152
Thanked: 713 times in 534 posts
Gender: Male

Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
Quote:
Thus I generally find myself dissatisfied with scientists, when engaging with, say, creationists, who operate from the assumption that we only need to evaluate the correctness or incorrectness of people's beliefs, completely ignoring the question of the function and "telos" of holding those beliefs.


Scientists are generally fine with admitting that holding certain beliefs can be comforting, provide subjective meaning, etc., it's fairly self-evident. Going into that further would be a matter for psychology and sociology I suppose.

On an unrelated note, I enjoyed Dennett's discussion of earlier thinkers, particularly Hume, who as he put it, came tantalizingly close to embracing evolution but couldn't quite accept it without any further available mechanisms or explanation for all the diversity and adaptation around us.

And seeing how Darwin took some existing ideas just a step further, and really having an understanding of how far-reaching his idea would take him. It's one of those historical cases where you wish you could bring him back to life and show him the discovery of DNA, imagine how satisfying it would be.



The following user would like to thank Dexter for this post:
Harry Marks
Sat Feb 18, 2017 1:05 pm
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Masters


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 453
Thanks: 262
Thanked: 191 times in 154 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
Dexter wrote:
I enjoyed Dennett's discussion of earlier thinkers, particularly Hume, who as he put it, came tantalizingly close to embracing evolution but couldn't quite accept it without any further available mechanisms or explanation for all the diversity and adaptation around us.

I also enjoyed Hume's character Philo engaging in the thought, "If God designed all this, why are there so many errors?" The point has been made by biologists many times, in many forms, but it was worth raising even at the philosophical level. We see a number of marvelous adaptations, and a number of inadequate kludges. We need a framework which can accommodate both.



Sun Feb 19, 2017 8:38 am
Profile Email
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

Platinum Contributor

Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 5693
Location: Berryville, Virginia
Thanks: 1437
Thanked: 1477 times in 1153 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
Are there really any errors, though? The poor design features of the human spine haven't stopped us from from breeding well, which is the whole advantage conferred by natural selection. Elegance isn't the point, even though we do recognize elegance in many of the solutions natural selection has engineered.



Sun Feb 19, 2017 9:30 am
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Masters


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 453
Thanks: 262
Thanked: 191 times in 154 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
DWill wrote:
Are there really any errors, though? The poor design features of the human spine haven't stopped us from from breeding well, which is the whole advantage conferred by natural selection. Elegance isn't the point, even though we do recognize elegance in many of the solutions natural selection has engineered.

Hume and Dennett recognize the persuasiveness of adaptation. Certainly some elegance can be found. So if you are reflecting on an argument from elegance (watches don't assemble themselves randomly - they demonstrate design for intent) then weaknesses in the adaptation count.

Why didn't God give the whales and dolphins gills? They would have come in so handy for those deep dives! Why didn't God give echolocation to birds? Why are we so vulnerable to predation by microorganisms? It is hard to consider elephantiasis or guinea worm to be created by a benevolent architect, and the cheat of ascribing it to sin works no better than Pandora opening a box. Sin simply provides no mechanism.

There is actually an important point buried here. In Ch. 2 Dennett gives an account of natural selection which simply ignores the role of randomness and variation. The truth is that adaption is imperfect in a Darwinian model as well. We can sometimes find optimality in balance between calorie expenditure of a feature and return in the form of survival likelihood, for example, but the typical case is a range of values reflecting a range of circumstances. As a result many individuals will be less than optimally adapted within a population which only roughly approximates optimality.

The case you mentioned, DWill, of the weaknesses in the human spine, provide an excellent example of the true situation. Adaptations need to be "good enough" to do their job within the variation our biology can manage, and will not necessarily achieve any theoretical optimality. I suspect this will emerge as a topic when we get to cranes and skyhooks.



Sun Feb 19, 2017 10:50 am
Profile Email
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 6 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average. 



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:

BookTalk.org Newsletter 



Site Links 
Forum Rules & Tips
Frequently Asked Questions
BBCode Explained
Info for Authors & Publishers
Author Interview Transcripts
Be a Book Discussion Leader!
IDEAS FOR WHAT TO READ:
Bestsellers
Book Awards
• Book Reviews
• Online Books
• Team Picks
Newspaper Book Sections

WHERE TO BUY BOOKS:
• Great resource pages are coming!

BEHIND THE BOOKS:
• Great resource pages are coming!

Featured Books

Books by New Authors


*

FACTS is a select group of active BookTalk.org members passionate about promoting Freethought, Atheism, Critical Thinking and Science.

Apply to join FACTS
See who else is in FACTS







BookTalk.org is a free book discussion group or online reading group or book club. We read and talk about both fiction and non-fiction books as a group. We host live author chats where booktalk members can interact with and interview authors. We give away free books to our members in book giveaway contests. Our booktalks are open to everybody who enjoys talking about books. Our book forums include book reviews, author interviews and book resources for readers and book lovers. Discussing books is our passion. We're a literature forum, or reading forum. Register a free book club account today! Suggest nonfiction and fiction books. Authors and publishers are welcome to advertise their books or ask for an author chat or author interview.



Copyright © BookTalk.org 2002-2016. All rights reserved.
Display Pagerank