Using the tools developed by Darwin, Alan Turing and more recently Richard Dawkins, he provides more definition to his view that mindless elements (cells) can build minds just as mindless ants can build castles. Those ants don’t care about the castle, and those cells don’t care about you. The book is a solid reference point for considering a multitude of ideas, opinions, notions and facts about the mind. Through 15 swift chapters (each divided into digestible sub-chapters), Mr. Dennett takes us from the 'prebiotic' world to 'The Evolution of Understanding' in animals ... The depth of Mr. Dennett’s knowledge and the playfulness of his writing are on display as he examines the absorption and transmission of culturally generated memes. But he has important philosophical points to make as well ... In its sweeping yet detailed view of the human mind, From Bacteria to Bach and Back plays to all of its author’s strengths. The scope of his canvas, and the power of his explanations to widen our horizons, help us believe that we can think up decent answers to seemingly impenetrable problems. This is a book to read and relish and then read again.
Dennett writes with clarity and ease on neuroscience, chemistry, computer science, linguistics, philosophy, biology and much else. But this profusion of seemingly disparate material is not just a display of encyclopedic erudition. Elements within each of these fields are relevant to the two questions Dennett wants to answer: 'How come there are minds? And how is it possible for minds to ask and answer this question?' ... Considering its vast ambitions, Dennett’s book is a fascinating and provocative inquiry, a feat of intellectual synthesis in the tradition of Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works and Douglas R. Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach ... The book has other flubs and flops. Dennett gets the etymology of the word 'ontology' wrong, and he has a frustrating inability to notice the achievements of female geniuses in the arts and sciences. (He musters a handful, then claims there are no others.) But the work as a whole is a delightful summation of Dennett’s distinguished half-century career pondering some of the hardest questions in science. It’s also a welcome reminder that philosophers, when they venture beyond the cloistered boundaries of scholarly disputes, can still make important contributions to some of the fundamental questions that motivated the birth of their discipline in the first place.
Dennett presents a valuable and typically lucid synthesis of his worldview ... Dennett is always good company. He has a gargantuan appetite for scientific knowledge, and is one of the best people I know at transmitting it and explaining its significance, clearly and without superficiality. He writes with wit and elegance; and in this book especially, though it is frankly partisan, he tries hard to grasp and defuse the sources of resistance to his point of view ... One of Dennett’s most important claims is that most of what we and our fellow organisms do to stay alive, cope with the world and one another, and reproduce is not understood by us or them. It is competence without comprehension ... Even those who find the overall view unbelievable will find much to interest them in this book.
...it is important to be upfront about the fact that Dennett and I have not always seen eye-to-eye. Indeed, a German magazine once digitally edited together pictures of us sparring as bare-knuckle boxers. Despite this, and although he may well not thank me for it, there is much here that I agree with ... Bacteria to Bach and Back is an infuriating book. It is too long, repetitive, indulgently digressive and self-referential (no fewer than 64 references to his own publications). But underlying it all there is a subtle and interesting argument ... Memes are, for Dennett, units of cultural transmission. They inhabit a person’s mind and replicate like viruses by infecting other minds. Natural selection filters out weak memes, and speeds the dissemination of strong ones, thus vastly speeding cultural change...Such vacuity makes the meme concept theoretically useless as a tool for understanding cultural evolution. Nor does Dennett actually require memes for his indisputable claim that cultural evolution depends on humans’ sociality and cooperativity.
How did the world get from bacteria to Bach, from fungus to fugues? Daniel Dennett, an American philosopher and cognitive scientist, tells the tale in his new book, revisiting and extending half a century of work on the topic … Mr Dennett provides illuminating explanations of the ideas he employs and cites fascinating experimental work. Many of his claims are controversial, and some readers will be more persuaded than others. However, Mr Dennett has an excellent record of predicting developments in cognitive science, and it would be rash to bet that he is far off track. Persuaded or not, readers will find their minds enriched with many powerful thinking tools.