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Ch. 8: Biology is Engineering 
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 Ch. 8: Biology is Engineering
Ch. 8: Biology is Engineering


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 11:49 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8: Biology is Engineering
I haven't given up on the book, but maybe I have on this discussion. It's very difficult to understand some of the concepts laid out in this book, let alone try to discuss them intelligently. But here's something from Ch. 8, the "Evolution Is Engineering" chapter that I'll toss out there. Dennett discusses the necessary interaction between evolution and environment, using the example of a seagull's wing that if taken to aliens elsewhere in the universe would show the kind of atmosphere that was necessary for those wings to evolve. He also talks about the the way proteins take on a very specific 3-dimensional shape in the presence of a certain sequence of amino acids. He therefore puts forth a case for agency without skyhooks if that makes any sense:

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Through the microscope of molecular biology, we get to witness the birth of agency, in the first macromolecules that have enough complexity to “do things.” This is not florid agency—echt intentional action, with the representation of reasons, deliberation, reflection, and conscious decision—but it is the only possible ground from which the seeds of intentional action could grow. There is something alien and vaguely repellent about the quasi-agency we discover at this level—all that purposive hustle and bustle, and yet there’s nobody home. The molecular machines perform their amazing stunts, obviously exquisitely designed, and just as obviously none the wiser about what they are doing. . . . Love it or hate it, phenomena like this exhibit the heart of the power of the Darwinian idea. An impersonal, unreflective, robotic, mindless little scrap of molecular machinery is the ultimate basis of all the agency, and hence meaning, and hence consciousness, in the universe.


I read an article in the New York Times that shows an actual video of a one-celled microorganism using a kind of harpoon to target and capture its prey, which I believe is another kind of dinoflagellates. Is this agency at work? It's one thing chasing after and catching another. Pretty cool video.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/scie ... .html?_r=0


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Sun Apr 16, 2017 4:06 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8: Biology is Engineering
geo wrote:
I haven't given up on the book, but maybe I have on this discussion. It's very difficult to understand some of the concepts laid out in this book, let alone try to discuss them intelligently.


I agree completely. I'm appreciating the bits of new and interesting ideas as I struggle with the readings in Part 1 and 2, but I just don't have enough background information to contribute intelligently to a discussion on the subject, although I did find this chapter 8 one of the more interesting ones.
I have just finished reading chapter 12 of Part 3, "Mind, Meaning, Mathematics, and Morality". Having more background info in this area I'm getting much more from this section of the book. I may contribute something later.



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Sun Apr 23, 2017 7:02 am
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Post Re: Ch. 8: Biology is Engineering
Good to know the discussion isn't dead yet! I wonder if it's unfair of me to say that the author might assume that everything fascinating to him will also fascinate the reader. Maybe his audience is really those few who have the deep background to go along with him. I do give him a lot of credit for tackling scientific issues with his philosophy background. No doubt, considering the length of the book, there are some nuggets that even we could find worthwhile to talk about. The challenge is to find them and bring them out.



Mon Apr 24, 2017 7:44 am
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Post Re: Ch. 8: Biology is Engineering
Did you guys check out that NYTimes link? It's a perfect illustration of the idea that biology is engineering.


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Mon Apr 24, 2017 12:32 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8: Biology is Engineering
"There's only so many ways to build a harpoon gun" says the scientist. This is one of the points Dennett likes to make about evolution, that even absent links of descent, there are similarities between animals and plants that are best explained as the emergence of the solutions that succeeded across a number of environments.

That really is a remarkable piece of video.



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Wed Apr 26, 2017 8:46 pm
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