We Earth Neurons

Sat, 17 May 2008 19:17:39 +0000

Last week, renowned philosopher Dan Dennett visited Dartmouth as part of the Neukom Institute's symposium on "The Human Algorithm." He gave a thought-provoking keynote address affirming the brain as a type of computer (with a competitive, not cooperative, design) and the mind as software. I've been reading through some of his other writings and thought this one, with the same title as the post, would be interesting to share. Here's my favorite part:

Even in our species, it has taken thousands of years of communication for us to begin to find the keys to our own identities. It has been only a few hundred years that we’ve known that we are mammals, and only a few decades that we’ve understood in considerable detail how we have evolved, along with all other living things, from those simple beginnings. We are outnumbered on this planet by our distant cousins, the ants, and outweighed by yet more distant relatives we share with the ants, the bacteria, but though we are in the minority, our capacity for long-distance knowledge gives us powers that dwarf the powers of all the rest of the life on the planet. Now, for the first time in its billions of years of history, our planet is protected by far-seeing sentinels, able to anticipate danger from the distant future–a comet on a collision course, or global warming–and devise schemes for doing something about it. The planet has finally grown its own nervous system: us.