[Editor’s note: Excerpts from an interview with Daniel Dennett, cognitive scientist and philosopher at Tufts University, who recently wrote From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds.]
[E]volution by natural selection is a process that’s breathtakingly competent, but has no understanding at all. Yet it has given humans the ability to reason, to understand…[W]e are using [these tools] to achieve kinds of comprehension that no other species has.
Contrast a termite castle with Antoni Gaudí’s wonderful church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia. They look similar, but Gaudí’s church is a product of intelligent design; it’s top-down, with a charismatic boss who thought it out in advance. [The question is: How did humans go from termite-style building to Gaudí-style building?]
[I]t’s particularly thorny when you recognize that what we have between our ears is more like a termite colony…The latest count is 86 billion neurons, each more clueless than a termite, with no boss. How on earth do you organize 86 billion neurons into Gaudí’s mind? That’s the puzzle.
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