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Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Daniel Dennet (Simon & Schuster: June 12, 1996), 586 pages.

Darwin’s idea is very very simple; it goes like this. 1) Organisms pass their characteristics on to their descendants, which are mostly but not completely identical to their parent organisms. 2) Organisms breed more descendants than can possibly survive. 3) Descendants with beneficial variations have a better chance of surviving and reproducing, however slight, than those with non-beneficial variations. 4) These slightly modified descendants are themselves organisms, so repeat from step 1. (There is no stopping condition.) That’s it. That’s all there is to Natural Selection: a simple four step loop; a mindless algorithm that displays no intent, no design, no purpose, no goal, no deeper meaning. This simple algorithm has been running on Earth for four billion years to produce every living thing, and everything made by every living thing, from the oxygen atmosphere generated by plants to the skyscrapers and music created by man. Dennett writes that it is the algoritm’s complete mindlessness that makes Darwin’s idea so dangerous. Dennett devotes the major portion of his book to aggressively arguing the above. He reviews how the algorithm could have “primed life’s pump” eons ago and spends some time on describing evolution and biology. He argues that biology is engineering and thus reducible to algorithms. He also explains how simple algorithms can lead to computers that play brilliant chess and here he makes an important distinction: brilliant chess doesn’t have to be perfect chess. ~ Vincent Poirier at