Lord is this man prolific! Like Steve Pinker (another man I admire), Dan just keeps cranking out the books, and they’re often very good ones. These two men seem to have books arrayed in their heads like planes coming in for a landing at O’Hare, all arrayed in a sequential order.
Dan’s latest book, which will be out on February 7 of next year, is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. Dan never shies away from the hard problems, and, according to the publisher’s site (W. W. Norton), the subject is this:
One of America’s foremost philosophers offers a major new account of the origins of the conscious mind.
How did we come to have minds?
For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.
That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.
In his inimitable style—laced with wit and arresting thought experiments—Dennett explains that a crucial shift occurred when humans developed the ability to share memes, or ways of doing things not based in genetic instinct. Language, itself composed of memes, turbocharged this interplay. Competition among memes—a form of natural selection—produced thinking tools so well-designed that they gave us the power to design our own memes. The result, a mind that not only perceives and controls but can create and comprehend, was thus largely shaped by the process of cultural evolution.
Well, I’ve never been keen on memes, which in my view haven’t added anything to our understanding of anything, but never mind: Dan’s argument probably doesn’t rest on “memetics.” At any rate, I just got a prepublication copy of this book and will give a report when I finish it.