In writing my previous post I was acutely aware that it is easy to oversimplfy the issues I was trying to clarify, and, in so doing, to miss their larger implications.
One way to overcome that difficulty is to draw your attention to the very significant article by Susan Blackmore that appears as "Dangerous Memes; or, What the Pandorans let loose." It is available at
The principal value of the article from my point of view is that it provides a wonderful example of a metaphor gone wild. The seeds of this already existed in Dawkins' seminal book, but they grow to fruition in this extraordinary piece. In fairness, Blackmore herself is uneasy with Dawkins' characterization of the very term she herself then goes on to use (and for much the same reasons as I was similarly critical in my earlier post). From the very first sentence, however, we are introduced to the likelihood of far-reaching extrapolations from a fundamental metaphor: "Cultural evolution is a dangerous child for any species to let loose on its world." What follows is an extensive speculation about what is primarily conceived as a mechanistic evolutionary process, which, in the article, leads to hypotheses about the probability, and indeed the character of other cultures elsewhere in the cosmos. It is hard not to be carried along by the force of the author's conviction, carried along, that is, until we are brought up short (Well, I certainly am!) by Blackmore's assertion (supporting Dennett) that "all the fantastic and beautiful creatures in the world are produced by lots and lots of tiny steps in a mindless and mechanical algorithm." Now, there is ample reason to be cautious about any assertion attributing evolution to a process that is "mindful," (Some kind of anthropomorphic God may be lurking in there somewhere), but it is hard to dismiss the possibility that the process itself reveals, if not a foreseen purpose, nevertheless a consistent directionality, in that more and more adaptive and complex forms have emerged over the aeons on our planet. The evolution of a self/and/other observing mind (since we ourselves exist) is a given outcome, if not, obviously, a final one. I did not (and do not anywhere else) take on the issue of whether there is or is not a motivated evolutionary force. Both the pros and cons of either side of the argument can be, have been, and still are being argued. My position is rather that, as I state in MSOU, there are more important matters to be addressed.
Since those more important matters substantially constitute the content of Making Sense of Us, it doesn't seem very useful simply to re-iterate them here. . . If I could have summarized MSOU adequately in a few short paragraphs, I wouldn't have needed to write it!
Perhaps this is nevertheless a good time to recall specifically why I decided to do so . . .
Watch this space!
write a comment