The missing ingredient to Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea

The various discussions going on, finally got me to buckle down and finish a letter to Daniel Dennett which I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve been vacillating whether to share it, or just leave it be and wait to see if he responds. However, I imagine it’s a pretty slim hope that he’ll find any time for me, and I’m a bit impatient, so I want to share with others, see if I can get any substantive responses, or feedback.

Dear Dr. Dennett,

I read your “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” a couple decades back. These past few months I’ve been revisiting it. It’s a beautiful tour of our human study of Evolution, one I completely embrace and I commend you for all the helpful citations. Even at 26 years old, DDI is worth recommending to every young student of Evolution.

While I can’t take issue with anything you wrote, I do believe you left out a crucial ingredient early in your introduction that I’d like to ask about. It was in your first pages where you wrote about early religious thought, then moved to evolving scientific thought.

Like most other thinkers I’ve read, the theme feels to me, as if there’s a subtle undercurrent, a default assumption hiding under our understanding, namely, that our musings are everything, and that reality is built upon our human thought processes.

{Which I’ve come to label, Abrahamic (egocentric) thinking, since to me Abrahamic religions exemplify humans’ blinding self-centeredness with its ensuing tunnel vision.}

You move into scientific thought and the rest of your story without any explicit enunciation of an “Appreciation for the Physical Reality ~ Human Mindscape divide” with its inevitable conclusion that our very existence is proof that our universe and Earth unfolded down one particular pathway. One internally consistent cascade since the earliest moments of time, no matter what stories we humans create for ourselves. Ignoring that, leaves us without a Benchmark for sorting out our thoughts, as Donald Hoffman’s flailing exemplifies.

The physical reality that created Earth, life and humans, simply IS.

This appreciation seems to me, an intellectual prerequisite before the rest of reality/evolution can make sense to us.

All creatures “observe” aspects of the same reality.

How we “perceive” that world varies depending on our body plan, life style needs, and sensing organ/brain abilities. But, even with all that interior processing, the actual factual physical world remains what it is, above and beyond any human perception.

I know that the notion of Evolution is given much lip service, but it seems to me that it seldom gets deeper than a post card’s view. I summarize it like this:

Science seeks to objectively learn about our physical world, but we should still recognize all our understanding is embedded within and constrained by our mindscape.

Religion is all about the human mindscape itself, with its wonderful struggles, fears, spiritual undercurrents, needs and stories we create to give our live’s meaning and make it worth living, or at least bearable.

What’s the point?

Religions, Science, political beliefs, heaven, hell, art, even God they are all products of the human mindscape, generations of imaginings built upon previous generations of imaginings, all the way down.

That’s not to say they are the same thing, they are not! Though I think they’re both equally valid human endeavors, still fundamentally qualitatively different.

Religion deals with the inside of our minds, hearts and souls, Science does its best to objectively understand the physical world beyond all that, doing its best to factor out human ego from the deliberations.

I realize you are an extremely busy man, with a thousand demands upon your time. Still I’m hoping you might take the above seriously enough to offer me some critique or feedback.

Thank you for your time,

Peter Miesler
aka Citizenschallenge

Incidentally, look what I stumbled across.

That’s some pretty solid advice. :+1:t4:

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Come Write4u give it a shot. This thread starts clean and focused.

Your turn.

I got hooked on our new member, but that’s run it course rather quickly. He got me thinking along similar lines to this. This “Abrahamic” thinking, I’m not sure I’ve wrapped my mind around it. I know our brains are basically the same, but I’ve been told that you can see in early literature how the thinking was different.

Like the early Homeric writing doesn’t see people as individuals navigating a world of individuals, but as parts of something bigger, pushed around by the winds of fate. This continues on up to DesCartes, who sits down and thinks about thinking. He can’t quite solve the problem of who he is though, so he patches over his philosophy with the “perfect being” behind it all.

DesCartes was contemporary with Galileo. Thinking changed drastically in those years and Newton was a product of that. The next 150 years saw a lot of change, and the science of psychology was formalized mid 1800s. Yet, we still seem to be driven by ideas and laws that were created before that. I wonder if Dennett has any insight on those changes.

In my mind it boils down to our egocentric focus, obsession.
Everything we think gets distilled through our expectations and desires. Superficially we know this, but too often the substance of a discussion seems to forget that subtlety.

Often I’ll hear philosophers and even scientists going off as though reality needs to prove itself to us, rather than it being on us to unravel the secrets beyond our understanding. (the contrived “hard problem” of consciousness being one example)

That’s why I’m looking for a little outside feedback, to do a better job of explaining it.

It’s like how do I get it any more fundamental than this.

I know what you mean. But I’m glad you did engage him, because watching you lay out your arguments has a value, regardless of how much he absorbs, for others such as myself.
It’s a great example - all that book learning can have its benefits. :wink:

Of you course, I’ll bet you’ve supplemented that reading with plenty of living and human experiences, from the way I read you.

Moving to the country has both given me time for reflection, and made it harder to connect. Covid hasn’t helped.

Political debates have made me realize there is more to inheritance. My cousins are more directly influenced by my grandmother, who started a SOUTHERN Baptist church after moving north. She was influenced by her slave owner past, she never talked about, but why bring the denomination that split off because of slavery? Those cousins don’t talk like plantation owners, but they have the modernized rhetoric.

The other thing I’d really like to know, and I’ve tried asking Bart Ehrmann, is what was it like to be an abolitionist in the 1st century? The Bible contains clues that slaves didn’t think they should be slaves, so there must have been people who were not slaves that also thought it was wrong. It’s been 2,000 years, and we still are debating the idea of some humans being less than human. If we can’t do that, I’m not sure how we ever see ourselves as part of a continuum that goes back to other species, animals, and even plants.

In the first century, either BC or AC, slavery was an ordinary thing, a fact of life.

That does not mean that a slave had to like it.

If we go further in time, slavery was a progress made possible by agriculture. It was a progress over killing your vanquished ennemies. And it was interesting for the victor as the production by a slave was more importance than his cost.

Every one could become a slave.

In ancient Roma it was not uncommon for a slave to be able to buy his freedom or to be freed.

I don’t defend slavery, as i hate it.

Life for a field slave or a mine slave was hell.

I fear you got lost, wrong thread, for that.

Oups sorry You are right

Could be my fault, for mixing threads.

I used the example of how we think about slavery to delve into how self perception has changed in the last few centuries.

Are you referring to the Athropic principle?

The anthropic principle is the belief that, if we take human life as a given condition of the universe, scientists may use this as the starting point to derive expected properties of the universe as being consistent with creating human life.

Can you unpack that?

I forgot to the state the source. It was the Wikipedia page on “Anthropic Principle”. I just copy and pasted the quick view source when doing a Google search.

Basically, it presumes in what I agree with you is oddly begging, that given we exist, SOMETHING exists. That this is coincidentally true, you might assert that no NOTHING could ever exist. It argues that the constants in physics are apparently ‘special’ and “fine tuned”. So you might hear one assert that Earth exists in a “Goldilock” zone, for instance.

Of course, this is an example of certain hypocritical interpretations about science and reality if the same persons were to use a similar kind of argument against religious apologists using the same kind of reasoning. That is the egocentric interpretation of the religious interpretion that the Earth was designed by God FOR us uniquely. “Anthro-” means “human/mankind” and so the religious apologist may argue for this same principle for why ‘humans did not evolve from monkeys’ meme.

I’d tend to say, it’s an example of people who enjoy talking more than really thinking about it and trying to understand it.


As it happens it’s been about two months since I wrote Dennett, sent him a bump last month, to no avail. So I figured perhaps I needed to rewrite the letter and see where that gets me.

Dear Dr. Dennett,

I read your “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” a couple decades back. These past few months I’ve been revisiting it. It’s a beautiful tour of the evolution of scientific thought regarding Evolution. One I completely embrace and I commend you for all those helpful citations. Even after a quarter century the book is worth recommending to young students of Evolution because of how well it documents the evolving ideas and arguments up to that point.

The only problem is that you left out a crucial ingredient early in your introduction that I’d like to ask about. You were transitioning from earlier religious thought into evolving scientific thought and the rest of your story.

I wonder, why didn’t you stop to review the most fundamental fact of our human condition? A reality that cuts straight to the heart of both our so-called ‘hard problem of consciousness’ and the origin of God question - namely the “Physical Reality ~ Human Mindscape divide”?

What’s so special about having an appreciation for the “Physical Reality ~ Human Mindscape divide”? Well, for one, it leads to an inevitable conclusion/understanding that our very existence is proof that our Universe and Earth unfolded down one, internally consistent cascade, and only one. No matter what we self-absorbed human creatures are capable of imagining.

For me, it also brought into focus that Earth herself is my touchstone with reality. This in turn, led to a deep down realization that Earth’s biological processes created creatures, and eventually humans along with our human mind. (This is undisputed by science and rational humans - correct?)

From there it becomes self-evident that our Gods are created from within our own minds and bodies, driven by biological, evolutionary and cultural experiences, the ebb and flow of life. Each one of our Gods tailored to our own particular personality and circumstance. Ignoring that, leaves us without a benchmark for sorting out our thoughts, as Donald Hoffman’s “Case Against Reality” flailing exemplifies.

The notion of Evolution is given much lip service, but it seems to me that it seldom rises above a post card’s impression. To recap:

Science seeks to objectively learn about our physical world, but we should still recognize all our understanding is embedded within and constrained by our minds.

Religion is all about the human mindscape itself, with its wonderful struggles, fears, spiritual undercurrents, needs and stories we create to give our live’s meaning and make it worth living, or at least bearable.

What’s the point?

Religions, Science, political beliefs, heaven, hell, math, art, even God they are all products of the human mindscape, generations of imaginings built upon previous generations of imaginings, all the way down.

That’s not to say they are the same thing, they are not! Though I think they’re both equally valid human endeavors, still one must recognize they are fundamentally qualitatively different.

Religion deals with the inside of our minds, hearts and souls, Science does its best to objectively understand the physical world beyond all that, doing its best to factor out human ego from the deliberations.

Dr. Dennett, I realize you are an extremely busy man with a thousand demands upon your time. Still I’m hoping you might take the above seriously enough to offer some critique or feedback.

Sincerely,
citizenschallenge
May 26, 2022

IMO, it argues that the relational constants in physics are Logically mathematical in essence.
If 1 + 1 = 2 now, then 1 + 1 = 2 tomorrow. This mathematical consistency allows for physical patterns to evolve and become uniquely fine-tuned to the environment.

Chaos theory describes this elemental self-organizing ability based on the four fundamental forces and the wave function.

This is why I maintain that the entire Universe is not necessarily fine tuned for life, but life is fine-tuned to local environmental conditions and that makes much more sense.

This is why we have an incredible variety of life emerging in the most unlikely places, from terrestrial hot “sulphur springs” to deep ocean “black smokers”

While it is true that the majority of life exists in a wide but limited range of climatic environments, there are living organisms that have no business being alive at all and a goldilocks environment is deadly to them.

Extremophiles cannot exist in a goldilocks environment.
example; snow worms can only exist at below freezing temperatures and die when they “melt” above freezing temperature

Tardigrades can exist in almost all environments.
example; water bears can live in almost any environment as long as it has some moisture. Else they just lie dormant and “wait” for moisture.

25 of Your Most Frequently Asked Questions About Tardigrades Answered!

Tardigrades are by far the undisputed champions of Nature’s contest for survival, but just how tough are they? We’ve got the answer to that and many more of the most common questions people have about tardigrades.

The tardigrade, more commonly known as the water bear, has been in the news lately following the recent revelation that thousands of them were onboard SpaceIL’s Baresheet spacecraft when it crashed on the surface of the moon earlier this year–and that the disks they were held in might have survived the impact intact. For any other life form on Earth, their ultimate fate would be clear: an inevitable death from the exposure to the vacuum of space. But tardigrades aren’t just any life form.

The fact that the survival of the tardigrades on the surface of the moon is even remotely possible should tell you that these creatures are special, but you don’t need to go to the surface of the moon to prove that; what they are capable of right here on Earth is more than enough to earn these incredible creatures a unique place in our planet’s Tree of Life.