(K. Brent Tomer),
From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. By Daniel Dennett. W.W. Norton; 496 pages; $28.95. Allen Lane; £25.
HUMAN neurons are distant relatives of tiny yeast cells, themselves descendants of even simpler microbes. Yet they are organised in structures that are capable of astonishing feats of creativity. How did the world get from bacteria to Bach, from fungus to fugues? Daniel Dennett, an American philosopher and cognitive scientist, tells the tale in his new book, revisiting and extending half a century of work on the topic.
The story is one of Darwinian natural selection: of complexity emerging gradually as beneficial mutations are preserved and harmful ones weeded out. It requires the reader to make some “strange inversions of reasoning”—bold changes of perspective on the nature of design, purpose and consciousness—to loosen the pull of “Cartesian gravity”, or the human propensity to think of the mind as mysterious and non-physical.
One of Mr Dennett’s key slogans is “competence without comprehension”. Just as computers can perform…Continue reading