Prominent American philosopher Daniel Dennett said mankind is made of “microscopic robots” that do not know or care who we are, during his lecture on Darwin and evolution at the Distinguished Lecture Series Monday night.
“Natural selection tracks reasons, creating things that have purposes but don’t need to know them,” Dennett said. “It’s competence without comprehension.”
Dennett, who specializes in the philosophy of mind, science and biology, said our brains are invaded by virtual machines designed by natural selection.
Dennett said these machines “give us the versatility to take organization up a level” and help with our ability to understand language and culture.
A noted atheist and advocate for the Brights movement, a term coined in 2003 to put atheist philosophers and their followers in a positive light, Dennett said in an interview he does not believe the question about the creation of the universe was well formulated.
“We don’t know if it was created,” Dennett said. “Maybe it’s eternal. There doesn’t have to be a beginning of the whole universe. We know the beginning of the universe we can see was from the Big Bang Theory.”
Dennett added he believes humans have a purpose on earth made evident by our ability to use language, have culture and be able to reflect on our purpose.
He continued by telling students human beings “wield a paintbrush” because of our unique capacity to understand the significance of our future and ability to represent it.
Dennett also discussed the trickle-down theory of evolution, explaining “big fancy smart things [make] less smart things” in contrast to the bubble up theory of creation that argues things are created from the bottom up.
University of Wisconsin freshman Sam Bolstad said he was disappointed by Dennett’s lecture.
“He argues for evolution, but he didn’t argue against intelligent design. He didn’t demonstrate how evolution knocked intelligent design out of the ranks, and I thought he would,” Bolstad said.
UW freshman Alex Plunkett agreed the lecture was a disappointment and said he expected more from the speaker.
At the end of the presentation, Dennett said he hopes students were convinced and intrigued by the idea of evolution.
“I want them to come away with a new appreciation with not just how strange the idea of evolution is but just how powerful it is,” Dennett said.
Dennett has written hundreds of publications and is the co-director of the Center of Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher professor of philosophy at Tufts University.