Saturday, August 14, 2004


For the thousandth time, let me explain. We’re animals trying to learn to be human. Doesn’t that explain everything? The seeming insanity, the murder, the war? What perfect supernatural creature would create such a cockeyed world? Huh? He’d have to be a sadistic nut case to make a world like this, but if we accept evolution, then everything becomes natural, sensible and understandable. Our instincts still make us survival oriented animals while our consciousness makes us aware of what we do. There are no more things than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio. Our consciousness does make humans of us all when we surrender, at last, to it and the truth.


Yep, we’re back to the book Freedom Evolves where Dennett writes about maple trees and the switches which turn on the coming of leaves in spring and the falling of leaves in autumn. He says a chain of simple on/off switches controls it all. Determinism clearly, but even at this level of unconscious activity he spies the beginning of freedom. Let me quote from page 162:

“But even a simple switch, turned on and off by some environmental change [onset of winter], marks a degree of freedom, as the engineers say, and hence is something that needs to be controlled, one way or another. A system has a degree of freedom when there is an ensemble of possibilities of one kind or another, and which of these possibilities is actual at any time depends on whatever function or switch controls this degree of freedom. Switches (either on/off or multiple choice) can be linked to each other in series, in parallel, and in arrays that combine both sorts of links. As arrays proliferate, forming larger switching networks, the degrees of freedom multiply dizzyingly, and the issues of control grow complex and nonlinear. Any lineage equipped with such an array confronts a problem: What information ought to modulate passage through this array of forking paths in a multidimensional space of possibilities? That is what a brain is for.

“A brain, with its banks of sensory inputs and motor outputs, is a localized device for mining the past environment for information that can then be refined into the gold of good expectations about the future. These hard-won expectations can then be used to modulate your choices—better than your conspecifics can modulate their choices. Speed is of the essence, since the environment is always changing and teeming with competitors, but so is accuracy... and so is thrift. These conditions on evolution generate a set of tradeoffs, with a premium on swift, high-fidelity, high relevance sensory attention....”

These two passages should serve as just a hint of the spicy flavor in Dennett’s book as he works hard to soften the impact on the determinism which surely lies at the genetic, atomic level of human existence.


Koko the gorilla who may have mastered as many as 1000 bits of sign language “began telling her handlers at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside [CA] she was in pain.” Dentists were called, a tooth was removed and Koko doesn’t have to tell her handlers she’s in pain anymore.

However, all was not painless. When Koko learned that her vocabulary of a thousand words was barely more than President Bush's vocabulary she was crestfallen and felt she'd let down her simian ancestry.


The evil world of the religious continues unabated. It’s the religious who make an evil world real. How do I know this? Because they tell me so. Bush calls his enemies evil and his enemies call Bush evil. Why would I question the judgment of experts in evil when they judge each other as evil? If they see evil in their world, let them. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep living in a sane, rational natural world....

"Early one June morning in 1872 I murdered my father—an act which made a deep impression on me at the time." —Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

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