Make your own free website on


what are given as the "major challenges" to it, and to show how Darwin's "dangerous idea", an idea which like "universal acid", according to Dennett (1995b, p. 63), cuts through everything extending "far beyond biology" to culture or the world of human ideas, to thus provide an explanation of the psychological, intentional, or epistemic dimension of the world-an explanation of the origin of "mind" or "consciousness" in nature. This is, in fact, the real agenda of the book, although it is to establish Dennett's own theory, not Darwin's, of the origin of "mind" in nature (and already set forth in his earlier work Consciousness Explained (Dennett, 1991)), an account which attempts to legitimize the claims of "strong" Artificial Intelligence (AI), the mind-as-computer paradigm in cognitive science, by giving it an evolutionary context. Dennett's theory (call it "selfish algorithm theory"), a kind of contemporary, computer-age, neo-Pythagoreanism, is an extremized version of Dawkins' already extremized idealist reductionism ("selfish gene theory"; Dawkins, 1976/1989). The book is flawed by a particularly large number of logical and factual errors (see also Orr, 1996), but all of these are minor compared to the fatal problems at its conceptual core. Because these problems are generic, and in their genericity, still widespread, a discussion of the book is useful as a means of pointing them out, and showing why, in addition, they are essentially outdated artifacts or consequences that follow from a set of outdated premises. This article will no doubt contain too much discussion of some issues for some readers, and too little discussion of other issues for other readers, but I believe, in any case, that it contains at least sufficient discussion of the requisite issues to make the necessary points.

Old Dualist Deductions In New Packaging

Throughout Darwin's Dangerous Idea Dennett uses the metaphor of "skyhooks" versus "cranes" to distinguish between miraculous ad hoc accounts of natural processes and legitimate scientific ones. The term "skyhook", which maintains its popular connotation here, is a excellent term in this context, but the term "crane" is not. Cranes, like computers are externally designed machines or artifacts, and living things are not. This is not the only example of this kind in Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Dennett's choice of terms througout the book works to blur the disntinction between artifictual and self-organizing or autocatakinetic systems (discussed later), a requisite move if his theory is to be vindicated, but one that points to the fundamental category error at its core. The idea of skyhooks presents a different problem for Dennett. Historically, the invocation of skyhooks, the invocation of ad hoc extra-physical ordering agents, "mind-stuff", or "makers conjured out of thin air" (Swenson, 1990b), is the hallmark of a dualist lineage that can be traced from the Pythagoreans, through