Adonis Diaries

Archive for January 15th, 2018


Talking about Darwin’s strange inversion of reasoning

Dan Dennett. Philosopher, cognitive scientist
Dennett argues that human consciousness and free will are the result of physical processes. His latest book is “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking,” Full bio
I’m going around the world giving talks about Darwin, and usually what I’m talking about is Darwin’s strange inversion of reasoning. Now that title, that phrase, comes from a critic, an early critic, and this is a passage that I just love, and would like to read for you.

0:28 “In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that, in order to make a perfect and beautiful machine, it is not requisite to know how to make it. This proposition will be found on careful examination to express, in condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory, and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin’s meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in the achievements of creative skill.”

Exactly. And it is a strange inversion. A creationist pamphlet has this wonderful page in it: “Test Two: Do you know of any building that didn’t have a builder? Yes/No. Do you know of any painting that didn’t have a painter? Yes/No. Do you know of any car that didn’t have a maker? Yes/No. If you answered ‘Yes’ for any of the above, give details.”

I mean, it really is a strange inversion of reasoning. You would have thought it stands to reason that design requires an intelligent designer. But Darwin shows that it’s just false.

Today, though, I’m going to talk about Darwin’s other strange inversion, which is equally puzzling at first, but in some ways just as important.

It stands to reason that we love chocolate cake because it is sweet. Guys go for girls like this because they are sexy. We adore babies because they’re so cute. And, of course, we are amused by jokes because they are funny.

This is all backwards. It is.

And Darwin shows us why. Let’s start with sweet. Our sweet tooth is basically an evolved sugar detector, because sugar is high energy, and it’s just been

It wasn’t designed for chocolate cake. Chocolate cake is a supernormal stimulus. The term is owed to Niko Tinbergen, who did his famous experiments with gulls, where he found that that orange spot on the gull’s beak — if he made a bigger, oranger spot the gull chicks would peck at it even harder.

It was a hyperstimulus for them, and they loved it. What we see with, say, chocolate cake is it’s a supernormal stimulus to tweak our design wiring. And there are lots of supernormal stimuli; chocolate cake is one. There’s lots of supernormal stimuli for sexiness.

And there’s even supernormal stimuli for cuteness.

Here’s a pretty good example. It’s important that we love babies, and that we not be put off by, say, messy diapers. So babies have to attract our affection and our nurturing, and they do.

And, by the way, a recent study shows that mothers prefer the smell of the dirty diapers of their own baby. So nature works on many levels here. But now, if babies didn’t look the way they do — if babies looked like this, that’s what we would find adorable, that’s what we would find — we would think, oh my goodness, do I ever want to hug that. This is the strange inversion.

Finally what about funny.

My answer is, it’s the same story.  This is the hard one, the one that isn’t obvious. That’s why I leave it to the end. And I won’t be able to say too much about it. But you have to think evolutionary, you have to think, what hard job that has to be done — it’s dirty work, somebody’s got to do it — is so important to give us such a powerful, inbuilt reward for it when we succeed.

Now, I think we’ve found the answer — I and a few of my colleagues. It’s a neural system that’s wired up to reward the brain for doing a grubby clerical job.

Our bumper sticker for this view is that this is the joy of debugging.

Now I’m not going to have time to spell it all out, but I’ll just say that only some kinds of debugging get the reward.

And what we’re doing is we’re using humor as a sort of neuroscientific probe by switching humor on and off, by turning the knob on a joke — now it’s not funny … oh, now it’s funnier … now we’ll turn a little bit more … now it’s not funny — in this way, we can actually learn something about the architecture of the brain, the functional architecture of the brain.

Matthew Hurley is the first author of this. We call it the Hurley Model. He’s a computer scientist, Reginald Adams a psychologist, and there I am, and we’re putting this together into a book.

Why are babies cute? Why is cake sweet? Philosopher Dan Dennett has answers you wouldn’t expect, as he shares evolution’s counterintuitive reasoning on cute, sweet and sexy things (plus a new theory from Matthew Hurley on why jokes are funny).

Facing the inner critic

Part of his power comes from the shadows.

We hear his voice, we know it by heart. He announces his presence with a rumble and he runs away with a wisp of smoke.

But again and again, we resist looking him in the eye, fearful of how powerful he is.

We’re afraid that like the gorgon, he will turn us to stone. (I’m using the male pronoun, but the critic is a she just as often).

He’s living right next to our soft spot, the (very) sore place where we store our shame, our insufficiency, our fraudulent nature. And he knows all about it, and pokes us there again and again.

As Steve Chapman points out in his generous TEDx talk, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can use the critic as a compass, as a way to know if we’re headed in the right direction.

Pema Chödrön tells the story of inviting the critic to sit for tea. To welcome him instead of running.

It’s not comfortable, but is there any other way?

The sore spot is unprotectable. The critic only disappears when we cease to matter. They go together.

We can dance with him, talk with him, welcome him along for a long, boring car ride. Suddenly, he’s not so dangerous. Sort of banal, actually.

There is no battle to win, because there is no battle.

The critic isn’t nearly as powerful as you are, not if you are willing to look him in the eye.

Notes and tidbits posted on FB and Twitter. Part 129

Note 1: I take notes of books I read and comment on events and edit sentences that fit my style. The page is long and growing like crazy, and the sections I post contains months-old events that are worth refreshing your memory.

La grande majorite’ des oeuvres litterraires “anonymes” etaient ecrite par des femmes. Et la plupart des femmes ont due s’approprier des noms males pour etre publier.

Quand UN a reconnu Israel en 1948 par une majorite d’un seul voix, la plupart des femmes du monde n’avaient pas le droit de vote, de voyager sans permission masculine, d’avoir un compte en bank, de s’inscrire a l’universite’…

Quand un auteur male fait de son hero un homme, le monde considere qu’il parle du genre humain. La femme heroine doit necessairement etre selectionnee’ par un auteur feminin.

La perception de la realite’ est necessairement divergente des handicappes, des gens vivant dans un etat d’apartheid, une dictature totalitaire, et ceux retranche’ dans des zones rurales

Les themes irritant des auteurs feminines: “Existe-t-il une litterature feminine?”, “Preferez-vous etre journaliste ou romanciere?”

Israel’s downfall started in 1956 when British Anthony Eden PM gave it the opportunity “to trade over Gaza” in order to advance in the Sinai, during the nationalization of Suez Canal crisis.

Israel can amass all kinds of modern weapons, totally useless in a small country, but it is the weakest in the consciousness of world community: Apartheid it is, violent and a terrorist State Israel is.

J’ ai la facilite’ innee’ pour ecrire, mais je dois faire le difficile pour acquerir le droit d’etre cru comme ecrivain

C’ est le contraire quand je lis: J’aime lire difficilement et lentement, pour que mes idees semblent faciles

Je ne suis jamais contente’ de ce que je sais. Il faut fuir ce que l’on maitrise, nos lieux communs personnels, essayez de faire ce qu’il nous semblait impossible. Comme retourner, a un age avance’, a l’universite’ de l’univers pour apprendre ce qu’ etait une de nos reves de jeunesse.

Rosa Montero dans “La folle du logis” raconte 3 versions divergentes de sa rencontre avec l’acteur “famous” Anglais M.  Rosa avait 23, et lui 30 ans. Les 3 versions sont plausibles, mais laquelle est plus plausible selon son charactere?




January 2018

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