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Ch. 1: Tell Me Why 
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 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
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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.



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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.



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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.



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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.



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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.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
Harry Marks wrote:
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.

As a aging person, I've occasionally had the thought that evolution is "done with me," and my declining fitness due partly to the warranty on my body reaching expiration has no bearing, since I've done the duty of passing on a unique genetic mix to the next generation. I can leave the stage now, says evolution.

Well, Dennett seems to promise that by showing me the telos, the purpose, goal, or why of evolution, I might feel a little better. This will be a trick, indeed, since Dennett tells us that up until now, even religious attempts to answer the why of life have substituted the how, in the form of various cosmogonies. Dennett will do this on what we might call a purely materialistic foundation. Science has made it impossible to believe that pre-existing mind created matter and then animated it as life. But, he implies, science has shown how thought or mind might have arisen from matter.

I was also interested in Dennett's claim that even those who think they're okay with evolution may not have absorbed its full implications. He suggests that since the theory is still relatively young in historical terms, we might also be young in our understanding of it. To me, this seems to point to "theistic" forms of evolution as not being compatible with Darwin's actual theory. Not scientifically compatible, anyway. But no doubt even a non-theist like myself might not have processed it fully--surely not, in fact, because the stuff Dennett will taking us through looks like heavy lifting.

I like the beginning position he stakes out with regard to the certainty of what we refer to as evolution. As to the truth of forms of life having undergone continual modification and generated new species, there is about as much doubt as Copernicus being wrong about his cosmology. As for the mechanism of change that Darwin proposed, natural selection, intellectually respectable doubt about particulars exists, and it would even be possible, but extremely unlikely, that something else is driving evolution.

I did not get all of the meaning in your first post, Harry. Maybe what I've just said accidentally touches on some of it.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
Harry Marks wrote:
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.
Yes, it raises the interesting example of the cultural evolution of the theory of evolution, the fact that before the idea of natural selection had been thought through by Darwin, it did not exist explicitly, even though it may be seen implicitly in the ideas of writers such as Hume. The rival hypotheses of God as intentional mind and accidental mechanical process could not be assessed until Darwin provided an explanation of how mechanical causality could produce the complexity of life.
Harry Marks wrote:

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.
Meaning, before Darwin hit upon his mechanical theory of evolution, an intentional mind of God seemed the best available explanation. That is despite the paradigmatic anomalies such as stupid bugs that could never be installed as features by a smart designer but could only occur by accident, like the neck nerves of a giraffe.

It is just like how before Copernicus and Kepler geocentrism seemed the most elegant explanation despite its anomalies. By the way, I don't agree with Dennett's claim that Darwin's revolution is bigger than heliocentrism. Dennett is neglecting how geocentrism, and its popular simplification in flat earth theory, supported the traditional triple decker theory of heaven above and hell below. Removing that idea was central to the popular mythology of the Reformation.
Harry Marks wrote:
I am more interested in the general subject of the relation between mind and purpose.
Me too. The traditional theory of purpose was that God created the world intentionally and deliberately for the purpose of his greater glory.

A purpose is a deliberate intention. It seems to me, the core of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is the removal of personal divine intent from any theory of cosmic purpose. It means that if we wish to salvage any concept of divinity, we have to remove from it the attributes of personal intent, which means removing the idea that a divinity can be an entity.

Salvaging purpose within an evolutionary framework could therefore be as mind-bending as the quantum mechanical ideas that the universe is stranger than we can imagine. It could mean that our sense of purpose becomes entirely accidental and natural.

My view is that evolutionary purpose can be defined as achieving possibility. When an organism fills the niche that the limits of nature provide for it, it has achieved its possible purpose. For a plant or animal, achieving its purpose might mean inhabiting all of the ecosystems on earth that can support it. For humanity, achieving our purpose might mean expanding to colonise the galaxy over the next billion years.

This gets back to some ideas I have presented here before, around how ethics requires axioms. The moral axiom that human flourishing is good seems to me to provide a sense of evolutionary purpose for ethics. Unlike in the traditional AMDG idea of divine purpose, that we exist to glorify God, we cannot say that human flourishing reflects the wishes of our creator. But even this statement about what evolution has to say about a possible creator is complex. We cannot rule out that achieving an intelligence that can reflect natural law in symbolic language is somehow an inherent purpose of the existence of the universe. That is how I understand the Biblical idea that man is made in the image of God.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
DWill wrote:
As a aging person, I've occasionally had the thought that evolution is "done with me," and my declining fitness due partly to the warranty on my body reaching expiration has no bearing, since I've done the duty of passing on a unique genetic mix to the next generation. I can leave the stage now, says evolution.
In fact, humans are unlike most other species in being genetically adapted to provide care to grandchildren. That means that genomes that survive to the third and possibly fourth generation have an advantage, so evolution is not done with you when you breed, as it is with most species.
DWill wrote:
Well, Dennett seems to promise that by showing me the telos, the purpose, goal, or why of evolution, I might feel a little better. This will be a trick, indeed, since Dennett tells us that up until now, even religious attempts to answer the why of life have substituted the how, in the form of various cosmogonies. Dennett will do this on what we might call a purely materialistic foundation. Science has made it impossible to believe that pre-existing mind created matter and then animated it as life. But, he implies, science has shown how thought or mind might have arisen from matter.
My opinion is that mind is a complex pattern of matter. I do not accept that there is an ontological difference between spirit and matter. So this problem of material purpose, escaping the abyss of nihilism, is the great problem of the philosophy of science. Religion does provide a reason why, with the claim that we exist to glorify God. Recasting that vision into a materialist framework, for example by explaining how previous supernatural theories of God are allegories for material realities, should be the aim of evolutionary teleology.
DWill wrote:
I was also interested in Dennett's claim that even those who think they're okay with evolution may not have absorbed its full implications. He suggests that since the theory is still relatively young in historical terms, we might also be young in our understanding of it. To me, this seems to point to "theistic" forms of evolution as not being compatible with Darwin's actual theory. Not scientifically compatible, anyway. But no doubt even a non-theist like myself might not have processed it fully--surely not, in fact, because the stuff Dennett will taking us through looks like heavy lifting.
In science, where you have an explanation that provides a full account for observations, other rival explanations are rendered redundant. The theory of evolution has in this way rendered the traditional idea of a personal intentional creator entity God existing outside the universe. However, the psychological belief in such a God appears to be highly adaptive, so the challenge for evolutionary theory is to work out how to retain the adaptive content of religion while placing it within a materialist scientific framework. I think that is what Dennett means by absorbing the full implications of evolution, instead of inhabiting an incoherent lukewarm halfway house that is neither fully traditional nor fully scientific.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
DWill wrote:
As a aging person, I've occasionally had the thought that evolution is "done with me," and my declining fitness due partly to the warranty on my body reaching expiration has no bearing, since I've done the duty of passing on a unique genetic mix to the next generation. I can leave the stage now, says evolution.

I've thought the same myself. Robert gives a good response, about grandparent wisdom being valuable and so evolution delaying the removal from the stage. But I would observe that what looks like a "why" question (why am I still here?) is really a "how" question (how does survival of the old improve their reproductive fitness?).

It's good to keep that distinction clear, because when we get to social processes, whys are not mainly disguised hows. And the fact that my wife and I are of value to each other is sufficient reason to prefer that neither of us take a bunch of sleeping pills. Why? Because another person, who cares, would be hurt by that (not to mention life has more adventures to offer, still).

DWill wrote:
Well, Dennett seems to promise that by showing me the telos, the purpose, goal, or why of evolution, I might feel a little better.
I rather suspect he isn't going to try to show that. Rather, from reading blurbs, I suspect he is going to argue that most "Why" questions will not have a well-defined meaning, and are instead a weak substitute for understanding of mechanism (for "how", in a sense).

DWill wrote:
This will be a trick, indeed, since Dennett tells us that up until now, even religious attempts to answer the why of life have substituted the how, in the form of various cosmogonies.
Do you really think so? Do you think that Calvin's declaration that the chief end of man is to give glory to God is a cosmogony? I rather think it is like Socrates arguing that we are seeking the good. And declaring that the unexamined life is not worth living. And surely you would not consider either of those to be a cosmogony.

DWill wrote:
Dennett will do this on what we might call a purely materialistic foundation.

I have no problem with materialistic frameworks. I would simply point out that there are levels of complexity which are "emergent" from the lower levels of complexity in ways which make the lower levels inadequate to analyze the higher. So, for example, we would not try to understand biology by starting with the principles which make chemistry useful, but look at biological phenomena as processes in their own right, made up from chemical materials. In the same way, a biological process capable of reflecting on its telos, and of modifying it, is an emergent level of complexity, whose proper name is "spirit". We do not observe elephants or even chimps reflecting on what kind of elephant they will be, and deciding to be a different kind. (Maybe in chimps - judgment reserved.) The dynamics of such reflective, self-modifying properties are, to say the least, of interest to humans.

DWill wrote:
To me, this seems to point to "theistic" forms of evolution as not being compatible with Darwin's actual theory.
Right. It is too bad that so many people are still hung up on making sure some entity fitting traditional ideas of God is in the picture of causation. Or, for that matter, that non-religious people take this to be the essential telos and function of religion.

DWill wrote:
I did not get all of the meaning in your first post, Harry. Maybe what I've just said accidentally touches on some of it.
Sorry for being less than clear. I am mainly trying to lay the groundwork for interesting discussion that I hope arises later. Perhaps you were referring to my final remark about scientists restricting their discussion of religion to its usefulness or accuracy in explaining natural phenomena such as adaptations within species. What I was hinting at was that religion is densely involved with telos. And its purpose is almost never to explain natural phenomena. It purposes are virtually all social, psychological and spiritual. So addressing it as "bad science" is correct, but missing most of the point.

I hope we will eventually arrive at ideas which help illuminate the issue of purpose within religion. And I was saying that scientists should be interested in religious phenomena as shedding light on the whole matter of "purpose".

For instance, one of the fundamental observations on the subject is that the telos of religion viewed from outside, such as its role in maintaining a social order or keeping aggression largely within a hierarchy framework to minimize unnecessary conflict, can differ dramatically from its telos as perceived, and described, from the inside, such as coming to terms with one's tendency to do wrong, and defining criteria for activities to count as meaningful and fulfilling. Anthropologists even have terms to describe these different modes of understanding purpose.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
Robert Tulip wrote:
an intentional mind of God seemed the best available explanation. That is despite the paradigmatic anomalies such as stupid bugs that could never be installed as features by a smart designer but could only occur by accident, like the neck nerves of a giraffe.
It is just like how before Copernicus and Kepler geocentrism seemed the most elegant explanation despite its anomalies.

This strikes me as a good comparison to keep in mind. Design by God was being treated as a mechanism, an answer to "how". This is, to me, a really fundamental confusion.

My position, (somewhat vaguely at this point,) is that the true matter of concern for religious issues simply cannot be analyzed as mechanism. No description or explanation of its mechanism can be of any use in addressing any such issue. A very rough analogy would be a statement such as "any principle for evaluating the quality of poetry is of no use in creating true poetry."
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
I am more interested in the general subject of the relation between mind and purpose.
Me too. The traditional theory of purpose was that God created the world intentionally and deliberately for the purpose of his greater glory.
A purpose is a deliberate intention. It seems to me, the core of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is the removal of personal divine intent from any theory of cosmic purpose.

I would parse the matter slightly differently. I would say that if there is some entity behind the nature of the cosmos and providing a purpose for it, that entity is of no use to us either in understanding such a purpose or in addressing spiritual issues. That is, all of the philosophizing or claims of revelation which we have to date do not provide us with any knowledge [key word, here, knowledge] of such an entity that is helpful in understanding our purpose or addressing spiritual issues in general.
Robert Tulip wrote:
It means that if we wish to salvage any concept of divinity, we have to remove from it the attributes of personal intent, which means removing the idea that a divinity can be an entity.

I look in a very different direction. I think the understandings we have come to about spirit, in the last two hundred years, are very helpful in identifying the functions, both mechanical and internal, of traditional ideas about divinity. I think we should follow those clues to better refine our interpretations about religious issues.

Robert Tulip wrote:
For humanity, achieving our purpose might mean expanding to colonise the galaxy over the next billion years.
Maybe, but I tend to think achieving our purpose is more likely to be attainment of a social state in which concern for other humans is perceived to be the proper goal and fulfillment of life, with the ability to provide a complete explanation as to why that makes sense.

Robert Tulip wrote:
We cannot rule out that achieving an intelligence that can reflect natural law in symbolic language is somehow an inherent purpose of the existence of the universe. That is how I understand the Biblical idea that man is made in the image of God.
An interesting proposition to have on the table.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
Harry Marks wrote:
I've thought the same myself. Robert gives a good response, about grandparent wisdom being valuable and so evolution delaying the removal from the stage. But I would observe that what looks like a "why" question (why am I still here?) is really a "how" question (how does survival of the old improve their reproductive fitness?).

It's good to keep that distinction clear, because when we get to social processes, whys are not mainly disguised hows. And the fact that my wife and I are of value to each other is sufficient reason to prefer that neither of us take a bunch of sleeping pills. Why? Because another person, who cares, would be hurt by that (not to mention life has more adventures to offer, still).

Robert's observation is cheering, but I wonder if evolution should be thanked. In the strict way in which Dennett seems to want us to look at evolution, can we say that grandparenting was selected? Our lifespans make grandparenting possible (and I wonder how much of it was done in homo sapiens' early days), but our primate ancestors had long lives, too, yet no grandparenting. In other words, can our functioning as grandparents be simply a condition at which we arrived, or what in evolution is called a spandrel?
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
This will be a trick, indeed, since Dennett tells us that up until now, even religious attempts to answer the why of life have substituted the how, in the form of various cosmogonies.
Do you really think so? Do you think that Calvin's declaration that the chief end of man is to give glory to God is a cosmogony? I rather think it is like Socrates arguing that we are seeking the good. And declaring that the unexamined life is not worth living. And surely you would not consider either of those to be a cosmogony.

No, I don't think the ends you cite are cosmogonies, but would Dennett give credence to them as satisfying answers to the why? Do you read him as shooting for a new level of explanation?
Harry Marks wrote:
Sorry for being less than clear. I am mainly trying to lay the groundwork for interesting discussion that I hope arises later. Perhaps you were referring to my final remark about scientists restricting their discussion of religion to its usefulness or accuracy in explaining natural phenomena such as adaptations within species. What I was hinting at was that religion is densely involved with telos. And its purpose is almost never to explain natural phenomena. It purposes are virtually all social, psychological and spiritual. So addressing it as "bad science" is correct, but missing most of the point.

No apology needed. It's unfamiliarity with terms, such as 'simulacra,' that accounts for my reaching. And I still need to suss out whether Dennett cares at all about the social purposes of religion, although he recognizes they are important to people and will persist.

I might as well quote Dennett in this early part of the book, to show what makes me wonder at his direction, and whether it is radical or not.
Quote:
Darwin's dangerous idea cuts much deeper into the fabric of our most fundamental
beliefs than many of its sophisticated apologists have yet admitted, even to
themselves.

Quote:
That idea, which is about as secure as any in science, really does have far-reaching
implications for our vision of what the meaning of life is or could be.

Quote:
One of the precious things that is at stake is a vision of what it means to ask, and answer, the
question "Why?" Darwin's new perspective turns several traditional assumptions
upside down, undermining our standard ideas about what ought to count
as satisfying answers to this ancient and inescapable question.

Quote:
In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by
natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the
realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law. But
it is not just a wonderful scientific idea. It is a dangerous idea. My admiration
for Darwin's magnificent idea is unbounded, but I, too, cherish many of the
ideas and ideals that it seems to challenge, and want to protect them. For
instance, I want to protect the campfire song, and what is beautiful and true
in it, for my little grandson and his friends, and for their children when they
grow up. There are many more magnificent ideas that are also jeopardized,
it seems, by Darwin's idea, and they, too, may need protection. The only
good way to do this—the only way that has a chance in the long run—is to
cut through the smokescreens and look at the idea as unflinchingly, as
dispassionately, as possible.

Quote:
Our examination will take a certain amount of nerve.
Feelings may get hurt. Writers on evolution usually steer clear of this apparent
clash between science and religion. Fools rush in, Alexander Pope
said, where angels fear to tread. Do you want to follow me? Don't you really
want to know what survives this confrontation? What if it turns out that the
sweet vision—or a better one—survives intact, strengthened and deepened
by the encounter?



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
DWill wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
I would observe that what looks like a "why" question (why am I still here?) is really a "how" question (how does survival of the old improve their reproductive fitness?).
Robert's observation is cheering, but I wonder if evolution should be thanked. In the strict way in which Dennett seems to want us to look at evolution, can we say that grandparenting was selected? Our lifespans make grandparenting possible (and I wonder how much of it was done in homo sapiens' early days), but our primate ancestors had long lives, too, yet no grandparenting. In other words, can our functioning as grandparents be simply a condition at which we arrived, or what in evolution is called a spandrel?

I was unaware that our primate ancestors had long lives. How do we know they did no grandparenting? I saw some research which found that presence of grandmothers improved survival of infants. Interestingly, there was no corresponding benefit from grandfathers. On the other hand, men have their own ways of improving reproductive fitness in older years.

The real key may be explaining menopause, which recent results found was triggered in whales by swimming around with younger females who reach sexual maturity.
DWill wrote:
No, I don't think the ends you cite are cosmogonies, but would Dennett give credence to them as satisfying answers to the why? Do you read him as shooting for a new level of explanation?

I am happy to wait and see. But I am skeptical of substituting "explanation" for "deliberation" in answering "why?" questions.
DWill wrote:
I still need to suss out whether Dennett cares at all about the social purposes of religion, although he recognizes they are important to people and will persist.
Quote:
One of the precious things that is at stake is a vision of what it means to ask, and answer, the question "Why?" Darwin's new perspective turns several traditional assumptions upside down, undermining our standard ideas about what ought to count
as satisfying answers to this ancient and inescapable question.

Quote:
In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by
natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law. But it is not just a wonderful scientific idea. It is a dangerous idea. My admiration for Darwin's magnificent idea is unbounded, but I, too, cherish many of the ideas and ideals that it seems to challenge, and want to protect them.

"Unifies" is a pretty strong term. I will reserve judgment till I see his argument.



Wed Feb 22, 2017 3:28 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
DWill wrote:
I wonder if evolution should be thanked. In the strict way in which Dennett seems to want us to look at evolution, can we say that grandparenting was selected? Our lifespans make grandparenting possible (and I wonder how much of it was done in homo sapiens' early days), but our primate ancestors had long lives, too, yet no grandparenting. In other words, can our functioning as grandparents be simply a condition at which we arrived, or what in evolution is called a spandrel?
As ever, there is a good wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandmother_hypothesis
It seems reasonable that human intelligence, with big brains and slow maturity, creates a niche whereby infants who have living grandmothers are more likely to reproduce. Human intelligence is the decisive difference from animals in terms of why the benefit of grandparent care affects longevity. Animals tend to have quicker maturation, reducing the need for grandparenting, and suggesting that animal genetic energy is more productively devoted to direct breeding.
DWill wrote:
Do you think that Calvin's declaration that the chief end of man is to give glory to God is a cosmogony?
I think it is a cosmogony, a theory of the origin of the universe, in that Calvin’s catechism assumes a number of definite attributes to reality and our origins. Firstly, Calvin assumes that the universe was deliberately created by God for his greater glory, which means that God is a unified intelligence, a directly cosmogonic claim. In the Christian orthodox schema, God is imagined as outside the physical universe, whereas the scientific cosmogony is agnostic on this point, but tends more to the pantheist view that sees divinity as an inherent property of matter, not a different quality that supervenes upon matter. Further, the Christian cosmogony, in viewing God as personal and intentional, assumes that God has the power to intervene in the world, for example in the life of Jesus Christ, in what is termed special revelation where miracles become possible. Revising the ‘glory of God’ idea to make it compatible with evolution does seem to involve a marked difference in thinking.

It is noteworthy that the concept of glory has been the object of mockery, especially with Humpty Dumpty’s definition of glory as ‘a nice knock-down argument’. Indeed, glory is such a vague and metaphysical concept that Lewis Carroll had a good point in using it as his primary exhibit for the egghead argument that words can mean whatever we want.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Tell Me Why
Robert, Harry asked me the question about Calvin. You had cited that as an example of answering the why question. I think that invites only another such why question, so is not really an answer, in Dennett's view. He says that through Darwin we can find the telos without having to settle for mysteries.



Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:33 am
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