Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Thirteen

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter thirteen.

Cultural Evolution– Cultural Progress?

Chapter 13 treats the evolution of culture. A picture emerges that shows cultural development residing between two extremes, on the one side strictly Darwinian memetic evolution, on the other side intelligent design by individual geniuses.

My question is whether there is place for a notion of cultural progress here. I take for granted that we should conceive of Darwinian evolution as a non-progressive development. There is no progress in the evolution from dinosaurs to birds; adaptation to a changing environment, perhaps, but no progress. The same should be true for strictly Darwinian memetic evolution. Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Thirteen”

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Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Eleven

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter eleven.

Are Dollars Memes? Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Eleven”

Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Ten

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter ten.

On page 212 Professor Dennett suggests that a memetic theory of cultural evolution might provide the mechanism that Durkheimian functionalism lacked. I find the claim intriguing, yet dubious for the following reason: At least as far as I am familiar with sociological functionalism the function of social practices, traditions and so forth is relative to the whole society. Memes might also be functional e.g. a word functions very well to express a certain issue and therefore may be operated upon by natural selection. But how could a meme be functional relative to the whole society? How would this functionality lead to the meme being selected for?

Until this question is answered, I do not see Professor Dennett’s account of cultural evolution helping Durkheimian functionalism.

UPDATE (9. 3. 2017)

I have received confirmation from Professor Dennett that he in fact asserts that memes can functional relative to the whole society. Furthermore, I have been pointed to chapters 5-8 of Breaking the Spell.

Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Nine

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergradute students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter of his recent From Bacteria to Bach and Back. This time I comment on chapter nine.

I took some issue with Professor Dennett calling words minimal agents and comparing them to viruses (p. 189). Allow me to explain what I take to be the decisive difference. Words do not have a structure of functionally differentiated parts. They are not organisms in this sense of the term. They do not have any perceptual organs, nor any parts exhibiting a mechanism analogous to perception. Viruses have at least some functionally differentiated parts. The letter a in the word apple has no corollary differentiated function. Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Nine”

Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Six

I have recently started reading Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. The area of research covered in this book is mostly foreign territory, but I am currently on a visit to Tufts and did not want to miss the opportunity to learn from one of its best known thinkers. I even used the opportunity to contribute comments on the book to an online forum for Tufts students. Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Six”