I think probably
everything I say tonight I have said in several
versions to the students at New College of the
Humanities in the last few years when I’ve given lectures. They’ve very much
helped me write the book that’s now emerged. And I was thinking, just
as you were introducing me, of a science teacher I
had when I was 16 or so, who said a wonderful
thing– a physics teacher. He said science done right
is one of the humanities. And I thought, oh,
what a great idea. And I sort of kept that
in my mind all along. And when Anthony at New College
of the Humanities asked me– and, of course,
I’m a philosopher– to do my thing, I knew
that I was encouraged to talk about the science
that I was interested in, the scientific
ideas, which I think are also important
philosophical ideas. And that’s what I’m going
to talk about tonight. So thank you all for coming. If some of you have seen my
Royal Institution talk of about two years ago, you will
recognise a few slides. This is a later development
of my thinking and pretty much lines up with what’s
in my new book, called From Bacteria to Bach and Back. Here’s a sort of punchline. Should be fairly obvious. We are the first intelligent
designers in the tree of life. Now, this is my favourite
diagram of the tree of life. And if you see, this is
the present all along here. This is the origin of life. So time goes out here. And here are the
earliest life forms, the bacteria in the Archean. And here’s this
great, great moment, the eukaryotic revolution, which
led to this wonderful fanning out of basically all
the living things you can see with your naked eye. And that little Y there, well,
that’s about six million years. And that’s how long
we’ve been separated from our common ancestor
with the chimpanzee. So human beings have
only been on the scene for just a tiny little
bit of this diagram. And I’m claiming that– is there intelligent design? Yes. Intelligent designers in
this room by the dozens. And our scientists and artists
are intelligent designers. So the problem then that
I’m facing in this book is, how did intelligent
designers evolve? If natural selection is
not intelligent design, and it isn’t, how did small I,
small D intelligent designers evolve? And some people
have real trouble, including somebody who’s going
to be here, I understand, in the next month. And that’s Roger
Penrose, who says “I am a strong believer in the
power of natural selection. But I do not see how
natural selection in itself can evolve algorithms
which could have the kind of
conscious judgements of the validity of
other algorithms that we seem to have.” He goes on, “to my
way of thinking, there is still something
mysterious about evolution and its apparent groping
towards some future purpose. Things at least seem to organise
themselves somewhat better than they ought to, just on the
basis of blind chance evolution and natural selection.” Now, that’s a bit
of Darwin doubting by one of the most
eminent scientists around. And he’s far from alone. There are a lot of– I like the way he puts
it too, because he’s a great believer in our natural
selection, but it bothers him, and his nagging
thought that there’s got to be something that
doesn’t quite add up. And I’m going to
try to point out what it is and then show
you how to get yourself out of that puzzle. And here’s the way it could go. How could a slow,
mindless process build a thing that
could build a thing that a slow mindless process
couldn’t build on its own? There does seem to be
something faintly miraculous or pulling yourself up by
your own bootstraps there. And my book is an attempt
to answer that question. Well, of course,
you know the answer. First, you evolve Alan Turing. And then, he intelligently
designs a computer. And we’re home. But how do we get
an Alan Turing? How do we evolve an Alan Turing? Well, the answer, of course,
is natural selection. But this is the main
point of my book in a way, not just natural
selection of genes. We have to also talk
about cultural evolution and the natural
selection of memes, Richard Dawkins’ idea
of cultural units that replicate differentially. And the ones that replicate
best are fitter, survive, and make more, and
that human culture is the medium, the
source, and ultimately the power that makes somebody
like Alan Turing possible. Well, this idea
suggests a question, the question in my title. So are brains computers? I say, if brains are computers,
then who writes the software? Well, let’s pause and look
at whether our brains are computers at all. And some people think not. Some insist that they aren’t. They’re scientists,
such as Roger Penrose, very clear about that in his
book, The Emperor’s New Mind. Gerry Edelman, the
late Nobel laureate– I was a little puzzled by
Jerry’s insistence that brains were not computers, while he
modelled brains on computers and used his models
to demonstrate why a computer couldn’t do
that sort of thing, which was a problem that Gerry had. But there’s also Jaak
Panksepp, some of you may know, an eminent neuroscientist
whose main area of interest is emotion. But there’s philosophers
as well, of course. John Searle comes
to mind, famously. And your own Raymond Tallis. And I’m not going to say any
more about either one of them tonight. I had my say elsewhere. Because I want to talk about
computer phobia and, in fact, two different varieties
of computer phobia, which is my perhaps
somewhat rude term for those who really don’t like
the idea that our brains are computers at all. If brains aren’t
computers, what are they? Well, they’re not pumps. They’re not factories. They’re not purifiers. The task of brains is
to take information in and yield control. Of course, they’re computers. That’s what a computer is. It uses information
to control something. This is not the kind of computer
that the people are imagining. So I wanted to help you imagine
a different kind of computer, an organic if you like or
an evolved computer, which is what I think we
have between our ears. So the mis-imagination
of computers is something that
needs a diagnosis. And I’m going to
try to provide it. And I’m going to make
a new suggestion. Well, it’s a newish
suggestion, because others have made it before. But I want to remind you
that there have been a number of attempts to say, well, brains
are sort of like computers, but they aren’t– well, you know, they’re
not made of silicon. They’re made of protein. That’s not what I
think is important. They’re not digital. They’re analogue. That’s slightly true,
but I don’t think that’s the important point. They’re not serial. They’re parallel. True, but that’s not
what I want to focus on. I want to focus on
something else entirely, the difference between
cooperative and competitive computers– I mean, computers that
are made of cooperative versus competitive parts. So the default image
that most of us have of computation
and certainly, say, that Roger Penrose has is
that it’s ultra efficient. There’s no waste motion,
no cross-purposes. And there’s redundancy
only for safety. It’s hierarchically organised,
where routines call subroutines and the sub-routines answer. It’s all like a
well-oiled corporation with chains of command
and control all the way up and down. And there is also
controlled prioritisation. That is, there are, as it were,
built-in traffic cops that decide what happens next. You don’t have any
fighting over that. And there is competition
in the brain– I mean, in computers. But it’s, as it were,
friendly opponent processes. There’s sort of tugs of war
that are carefully set up in order to resolve some issue
in a tug of war sort of way. But it’s not, as it
were, deadly competition. It’s just for the sake of
finding a midpoint, usually, something like that. The computer scientist
Eric Baum has a nice name for this kind of architecture. He calls it the Politburo
architecture or Politburo control, like the
old Soviet Union. I want to compare that with
what one of my postdocs once called brain wars. In brain wars, we have real,
not notional competition. It’s even, in some cases,
a matter of life or death. You have micro agents
with their own agendas– neurons, astrocytes, glia cells. But neurons are the ones
I’ll concentrate on. Tecumseh Fitch, a friend
of mine and colleague, in the paper called
“Nano-Intentionality” in Biology and Philosophy
a few years ago, spells out the idea pretty
clearly that individual neurons are agents. And they’re semi-autonomous. And they do have agendas. And that’s very
different from what you have in your digital computer. So I want you to compare Marx,
to each according to his needs, from each according
to his talents. Compare that with
dog-eat-dog, free-for-all, laissez-faire
capitalism, where there’s no central or higher control. Cooperation does happen,
but it’s not a precondition. It’s an intermittent
achievement. OK? Now, having presented
this stark contrast, I do need to do a preemptive
noting of the irony, what I’m not saying. You might think,
uh oh, Dennett has fallen in with the likes of
Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman and laissez-faire capitalism. No, no, no. I’m not a fan of that
view of the economy. But, still, centrally
planned economies don’t work, and neither do centrally
controlled, top-down brains. Neither do centrally
controlled hierarchically organised top-down brains. Even the best
cognitive architectures that have been developed
so far in cognitive science have tended to be too
disciplined, too neat, too not have the sort of
unruly competition that I think now is essential
in an actual organic brain, especially the human brain. They’re too bureaucratic,
you might say. They have millions of
identical elements, which is also important. I didn’t really appreciate
this until very recently, when I was talking
with my good friend Rod Brooks, a roboticist, an
extraordinary roboticist with whom I worked for some
years on the Cog Project. But we’ve had these models
of the brain ever since the McCulloch-Pitts neurons,
which is one of the great oversimplifications of all
times that came along– I can’t remember
the year right now, but it was in the
’50s, I think, which had these very simple elements,
logical neurons, which emitted a single
branching output and had bunches of
inputs that could either have positive or negative
inhibitory or excitatory attachments or stimuli inputs. And then, they
summed the results, and they either
fired or they didn’t. That was a brilliant
simplification. And they’re wonderful
little thinking tools. But brains aren’t like that. This is mis-imagination. And when we think
about computers, we tend to imagine the
algorithms with which we are somewhat
familiar, things you know like Word and Photoshop
and Google Desktop, which are all brilliantly
designed from the top down with hierarchical control. And if we compare those with
brains, just intuitively, you think, nah. Brains just aren’t like that. And you’re right. They aren’t. But that doesn’t mean
they’re not computers. It just means they
aren’t computers with Politburo control and
top-down designed software. They’re not cold,
orderly, ultra efficient, and authoritarian
machines, composed of units that are
mindless little machines. So I want to compare
those models with, oh, how about the stock market. Is the stock market a computer? Is stock trading a
computational phenomenon? Yeah. It is. And in fact, in a
way, the proof of that is that those traders are being
replaced by machines right now. And more and more stock
trading is done entirely in the digital world. And so whatever they were
doing all those years was something that
could be easily done by machines, because
machines are doing it now. But now, let’s look at neurons. For once, I’m going to ask
you to look at a neuron. Let’s see if this is running. Yes. This is a little
looped bit of a film. These are neurons in a dish. And you see they’re putting out
their little dendritic graspers and looking around. Here’s another one. Is it going to make
that connection? No. Yes. No. So I want you to
replace the image you have of a McCulloch-Pitts
neuron with these squiggly little agents by the billions,
gathered in your brain and faced with the task of
keeping life and limb together for you. Now, one thing that
you get immediately when you start
thinking of neurons in this more agent-like way
is you get a good account of brain plasticity. As you no doubt know, if
a little bit of your brain is damaged, very often, not
always, but in many conditions, the neighbouring parts of
the brain that are spared can take over the work that was
being done by that part that’s now died or gone missing. And some of the degrees of
versatility of brain tissue, especially cortical
tissue, is just stunning. And experiments show, for
instance, the famous Merzenich experiments, where he
mapped the brain areas that were involved in the
digits of a monkey and then sutured the
fingers together, so that the monkey
just had three digits, and after a week or
so, went in and looked at the areas that
were responsible and saw that there
was a reorganisation of the [? cortex. ?] It
wasn’t as much work to do. And so the neurons
were recruited to do jobs for other purposes. And the way to think
about this, I’ve decided, is these are neurons
hungry for work. And they’ve got to stay alive. You may remember
a wonderful line from Francois Jacobs, who once
said the dream of every cell is to become two
cells, which is good, true at first approximation,
but not true of neurons. Pretty much, they’re like mules. They are the offspring
cells, but they’re not going to have any
offspring of their own. So their dream is
just to stay alive. But they got to stay alive. They got to fight
for their energy. And the only way to
fight for their energy is to find useful work
that they can get paid for. And so that’s the kind
of energetic economy that I think we have to
replace the Politburo model, where all of this is taken
care of in a bureaucratic way. Obviously, obviously, when
a bit of brain tissue dies, there’s no central personnel
director who reassigns the neurons in
the neighbourhood. That has to be figured out
in some sort of bottom-up way by the neurons, not by some
boss neuron or commissar in some part of the brain. So there’s no
central administrator doing the reassignment at all. But– moreover, no two
neurons are exactly alike. And this is the point that
I got from Rod Brooks, which I mentioned earlier. Rod is an unusual man with
many talents and many projects. And one of his– I don’t know if he’s
finished it yet. I have spoken to him about this
for it’s a couple of years, I guess. He was going to make what
I’m going to call a steampunk computer, a pre-electronic
computer, no chips, not even any vacuum tubes. He was going to make a computer
out of relays and solenoids and the sorts of
electrical switching that you had before you had
the electronic age at all, just to see if he could do it. And of course, you can
make a computer out of just about anything
if you’re clever enough. And so he set out to
make an actual computer. He loves to solder and put wires
between things and so forth. And he had a big room,
not quite as big as this. But this is where he’s
building the computer. And of course, the
computer he was building would have way, way less
than 1% of the power and speed of your cell phone. But it was an energy hog,
a giant electrical, not electronic computer. And I was talking with him
about the challenges of this. He said, you know, the
hardest part of all was getting all the flip-flops
exactly alike, simply making them so exactly
similar that you could get reliable
computation out of them. The timing has to be precise. And the response
has to be precise. And that was a major challenge
for him as the builder of this. And he said, we’ve been
taking for granted one of the features of
the digital age, which is that the manufacture,
the manufacturing processes of chips
are just stunningly high quality and regular. You can have a bubble
memory with billions of just test about exactly
identical to the atom little memory units,
or flip-flops. And without that,
the architecture that you build on top
of them wouldn’t work. And we don’t have
that between our ears. We just don’t. So we have to rethink the
idea of computer architecture to make an architecture
out of these different, unruly, clueless,
little, multi-armed, blind cells. So a brain is not
made of units at all, in those properties like what
you’ve got on your cell phone. So now, I’m going to
show an image I’ve shown often before,
because it so vividly makes the point I want to make. On the left, you see a termite
castle, an Australian termite castle. On the right, you
see, of course, Antoni Gaudi’s famous church
in Barcelona, Sagrada Familia. They look stunningly alike. And that’s even no accident. Even the interiors and
the structural members have some striking similarities. So here we have two artefacts,
both made by living things. The one on the left
is made by termites. The one on the right was
designed and built by Gaudi. So here’s a puzzle. On the left, we have
bottom-up design. On the right, we
have top-down design. And I mean that just
about literally. There’s no boss termite. There’s no architect termite. There’s no blueprints. There’s no second in command
and echelons of command. The termites are just doing
their individual thing. And they don’t know what
they’re doing or why, but they’re doing it. And the result is that
amazing structure. That’s bottom-up design
and construction. Gaudi, on the other hand, was
a charismatic, megalomaniac, creative genius with
blueprints, manifestos. He had it all worked out
in advance in his head. And he lorded it over
his second in command, who lorded it over
the lieutenants, who lorded it over the sergeants. And down it went
to the people who actually put the bricks together
or cut the stone and so forth. So we have a stark
contrast, two different ways of designing and building. One is bottom-up. I’m going to say, that’s a
Darwinian way of building. It’s done by a lot of competent
but uncomprehending processes. On the right, we have top-down,
intelligent design by Gaudi, which is where it’s mind first. You come up with the idea. You prove it’s a good idea. And off you go. Of course, my other favourite
example of something that was top-down design is
Turing’s first computer. He had the proof of concept. Before they paid anything
to build the chassis or put in the tubes, they
knew it was going to work, because he proved it
was going to work. And he knew exactly how it
was going to be put together. They changed some things
along the way, of course. So we have a stark
contrast here. Now, here’s the puzzle. A termite colony
might contain, I am told, up to 70 million
clueless termites. Latest count is that your
brain contains about 86 billion even more clueless neurons. Now, here’s the puzzle. How do you get a Gaudi-type mind
out of a termite colony brain? What you have between your ears
is 86 billion semi-autonomous, clueless neurons. Not a one of them knows
who you are or cares. Somehow, that has
to be organised into something that can do what
Gaudi did or what Turing did. Well, when I was
thinking about this, I was reminded first of all of
another great triumph of about the same time as Turing. And that’s the
great K-25 building at Oak Ridge in Tennessee,
built in record time during World War II, part
of the Manhattan Project. This is where they did the
gaseous diffusion of uranium to make the weapons-grade
uranium for the atomic bomb. When it was built,
it was, I think, the largest building
in the world. And over 12,000 workers
in round-the-clock shifts worked there. And they didn’t know
what they were doing. They were clueless about
what they were doing. They were trained to push
buttons and turn dials and look at dials. And they had no idea
what they were doing. After the bomb was
dropped and they learned, they were flabbergasted. They didn’t know they were– they had no idea what
they were making there. But now, think about it. First of all, it is
possible to organise armies of clueless operators
to perform some highly sophisticated control task. Witness Oak Ridge. But who or what
does the organising? And the answer in
the case of Oak Ridge is that it was
top-down, intelligently designed by a brilliant team
of physicists, engineers, and a brilliant leader named
Leslie Groves, General Leslie Groves. So it’s like Gaudi’s church. And it’s like Turing’s computer. And it’s like all good
old-fashioned AI programmes. GOFAI was introduced by the
philosopher John Haugeland some years ago. And it stuck. People in AI have
adopted his sort of deliberately snide term,
“good old-fashioned AI.” It’s the kind of AI that led to
the AI winter that is now over. And we’re now in
a new AI spring, with all of the new bottom-up
computer processes that are dazzling everybody today. So good old-fashioned AI was
top-down, not bottom-up design. This is a cartoon that
I made some years ago, the walking encyclopaedia. It was supposed to give you
an idea of what was involved. This is the sort of
phony flow graph. But we have a belief
box or belief fixation box, and the planning
committee, and the action, and the language
acquisition device that Chomsky made famous. And here’s the lexicon. Here’s where the logic
is, perceptual analysis. And you’ve got all these
departments interacting, sending memos back and forth. It’s very, very bureaucratic
and very well organised, very efficient,
and very brittle. And it doesn’t work. And I say it doesn’t
work because we tried for several decades,
very, very smart people, and more or less proved
that it didn’t work. So when we look at Oak Ridge,
we see it was top-down design, and it did work. But who knew what at Oak Ridge? I tried to find out. And as near as I
can tell, there’s still not much publicly
available information. It’s still clouded in security. But General Leslie Groves knew. And so did his
immediate staff and many of those who reported to
them, and the head engineers who designed the plant. But probably the architects
that designed the building, just the outer shell, had no
idea what the building was going to have inside it. It had a waterproof roof
and very strong supports for various things. But they didn’t know
what was going in. So I think there’s a
sort of diminishing level of comprehension
all the way down. But for most of the people
that work there every day, not a clue what they were doing. And so we have to
face what we might call the I can’t see the woods
for the trees phenomenon. There were levels of
granularity or insularity, people who knew a little bit,
but only a few people who pretty well knew
the whole thing. The bird’s eye view was
had by General Leslie Groves and a few others. And we can compare
that to, as it were, the termites’ view,
which is most of the work force there had. And the interesting thing is
that in the termite colony, no termite or junta of top
termites sees the woods at all. They just see the trees
they’re working on. And of course,
one effect of that is that redesign
is achingly slow. Takes evolutionary time
to get the termites to do something else, because
there’s nobody there that can– to take a term from
good old-fashioned AI, there’s nobody there
who can do the blame assignment and the
credit assignment that you need to figure out
why the thing doesn’t work. They can’t reverse engineer
their own engineer system, which is what we can do. Another effect is
with no boss, there’s no issue of what the
boss has access to, to use a term from philosophy. So there’s no reason to
posit access consciousness to the colony. In other words, it’s
not like anything to be a termite colony. Maybe like something
to be a termite. But I think you’d
probably agree. It’s not like anything
to be a termite colony, because there’s no organisation
that gives access of any kind, bird’s eye view or otherwise,
to what’s going on below. Doesn’t have to be. So I can’t prove that. I think it’s a highly
probable proposition. And if you doubt
it, you might want to consider questions
like what is it like to be the Seattle Seahawks? Not individual players on
the team, but the team. Probably you’d say, no,
it’s not like anything. It’s a bunch of individuals. They may be very well organised,
but it’s not like anything to be the team. And it’s not like anything
to be a termite colony, which would seem to lead to
the conclusion it’s not like anything to have a
brain or to be a brain. What is it like to
be a human brain would seem to give
the same answer. But then, it sure seems
to be like something. It’s an important
and obvious fact. There’s no General Leslie
Groves in your brain. And yet there seems to be. Certainly, it seems to be
like something to be you and that you that it seems to
be like something is in charge. So now, we have the question,
how can we explain that there seems to be a General
Leslie Groves in your brain, when there isn’t? This is the view
that is often called, or today often
called, illusionism, that the whole idea
that consciousness is a sort of useful illusion. And I see by reviews today in
the New Statesman, an otherwise very, very friendly
and positive review, but the reviewer
just thinks this idea that consciousness is
some kind of illusion, it’s just hopeless. Well, I beg to differ. But that’s a long
story, and I’m not going to be able to spend
a whole lot of time on it. I’ve given you a hint about
what the answer might be. So if we compare the
organisation of Oak Ridge to the organisation
of the mind, brain, and we compare it and GOFAI,
one of the things we see in this diagram, we see you
have all these parts. I can’t leave it up there
while I ask my questions. Does the LAD know its job is
acquiring a natural language? No. Does the belief box
understand its role in informing the
other departments? No. Only the AI designers know
the functions of the parts. The intelligent designers
off on the side. GOFAI is a top-down
intelligent design. Now, this is not the
threadbare criticism that everything
these AI systems know is what the creators
installed in them. No. Garbage in, garbage out. Nothing in the programme that
isn’t known by the programme creators. That’s just not true. Even of those systems
it wasn’t true. Many of those systems go
way beyond their creators in what they know. This is a point that the
design of the architecture that supports this knowledge
is top-down design. It’s hierarchical and efficient. So actually that’s just the
first kind of computer phobia that I wanted to try to alert
you to and suggest a runaround. Yes, our brains are
computers, but they’re more like termite colonies
than like your laptop. And that’s all right. They can still be
computers, because competitive
architectures are still computational architectures. The next source
of computer phobia is, but the mind isn’t software. And I have to admit that
even some of my best friends think I’m nuts on this score,
among them Steve Pinker and Paul Churchland. But they haven’t convinced me. And I’m going to defend the idea
that, in fact, our minds are software running on that
termite colony brain. And it’s the software
that distinguishes us from other animals. First of all, let’s get rid
of some obsolete objections. Where are the floppy discs? The brain doesn’t have
RAM, and the CPU software consists of bit strings. Software is hardware specific
at the level of compiled code. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s not what
I’m talking about. I’m talking about something
a little different. I’m talking about something
more like Java applets. What’s a Java applet? You use them every day. You don’t know it probably. They’re apps. Or they’re like apps. They run on your hardware. And they can be written
by a software designer who doesn’t need to know what
kind of hardware you have, whether you’re running it on
a cell phone, or on a Mac, or on an IBM computer, or a
Linux computer, on Windows, or Mountain Lion. It doesn’t matter. It’ll run, as they
say, on all platforms. That’s not strictly true,
but on all that matter. It runs on lots of different– Java is a computer programming
language it runs on. You don’t have to specify what
the underlying hardware is. Java takes care of that for you. So one who writes Java
applets has no need to know the fine
details of the hardware, because installed on your
hardware is something called the JVM, the
Java Virtual Machine. Now, that’s software. But it’s software
that is specifically designed to fit on the
hardware in question. And it protects that
hardware from malicious use, among other things. But it also permits Java
applets to be downloaded off the internet, for instance,
and run on your computer. Now, I want to draw
your attention. So the Java virtual machine has
to be installed before the Java applet will run. In fact, the Java virtual
machine on your cell phone or on your laptop has probably
been updated several times in the last week without
you even knowing it. You’ve gone online
to get something, and you need a new
version of Java VM. And so it’s
automatically downloaded from whatever site you’re on. And it takes care
of the problem. How many of you had a message
come on your screen say, will you accept a Java update? Some people set their machines
to make sure that they always know when that’s happening. But in general, you don’t know. So now, I want to draw
attention to this. One who writes Java
applets has no need to know the fine
details of the hardware. Now, what’s the
importance of that? What am I doing right now? I’m talking to you all. Each of you has installed
a version of the EVM on your neck-top. That’s the English
virtual machine. I don’t have to know the
details of the hardware between your ears. I can count on the fact
that you have the EVM, and so you can run
the code that I’m downloading to you as we speak. Now, that’s, of course,
an oversimplification. But the main idea is the
one that I want to stress, is that the beauty
of having language is it permits us to share
ways of doing things that we wouldn’t otherwise
be able to share, because we can tell
each other about them. Of course, you can also
show people without telling. But the capacity to
talk is really important to make a culture cumulative. These are thinking tools. Words are a good example
of thinking tools. Each word is its own little
tool, a way of doing something, a way of referring to something,
remembering something, labelling something, et cetera,
and a way of pronouncing something. And I love the line from
Goethe, “when ideas fail, words come in very handy.” That’s important to
remember, that sometimes you can use a word to great
effect without really having much of an idea what it means. And sometimes, that’s
actually useful. Other thinking tools are
numbers, diagrams, maps, methods, and intuition pumps. My last book was a collection
of more than 70 thinking tools, most of them were what
I call intuition pumps. They’re a little fancier
than an individual word. They’re a way of thinking
about something, which is worth adding to your kit. Notice, by the way, that
what I’ve just done right now is I’ve downloaded an
app to your neck-top. If you didn’t have
it before, you now have the idea of words
and other cultural items being like apps
that are downloaded to your neck-tops, where they
can give you new competences that you didn’t have
before, in exactly the way your cell phone or your laptop
can pick up new competences by downloading software. I think it’s actually a very
significant and deep parallel. There’s lots of reasons. There’s lots of disanalogies
worth enumerating and considering. Any rate, I’ve
given you the app. You’re stuck with it. And it’s what makes
possible what I’ve called the MacCready Explosion. You remember the eukaryotic
revolution led pretty soon to what’s known as the
Cambrian Explosion, which was a incredible diversity
of life that grew out of the rise of the eukaryotic
cell, which itself arose when two prokaryotic cells
bumped into each other and decided neither
one ate the other or disassembled the other. In fact, they joined forces and
became a more powerful thing. That was the first great
technology transfer in the history of evolution. The second was much more recent. It was when our
brains began to be invaded by memes, another
great technology transfer. You didn’t have to invent
the wheel yourself. You got that for free. It was in the culture. You didn’t have to invent
calculus or cost benefit analysis or French or English. You didn’t have to
invent any of those. The software was already
available and almost free. All you have to do, download
it to your neck-top. So MacCready, the late, great
Paul MacCready calculates– calculated, died recently–
that if you go back 10,000 years to the dawn of
agriculture, and you put all the human beings,
plus all their pets, plus their livestock on
one side of the scale, and you put all
the other animals, terrestrial vertebrates on
the other side of the scale, 10,000 years ago, the percentage
by mass of the humans, plus their domesticated
animals, he calculated at a fraction of 1%. So what is it today? Some of you have heard
me talk about this. Anybody hazard a guess? Is it 10%? 20%? 60%? 80%? 98%. We have swamped the
planet with our cattle and our other domesticated
animals and ourselves. This is one of the most vivid
and fast biological phenomena that’s ever occurred in the
history of life on the planet. And it’s taken only
10,000 years, which is just a eye blink of time. This is what MacCready
says about this. “Over billions of years,
on a unique sphere, chance has painted a
thin covering of life– complex, improbable,
wonderful, and fragile. Suddenly we humans have grown
in population, technology, and intelligence to a
position of terrible power. We now wield the paintbrush.” Now, all this happened way
too fast to be due to genes. There have just not been enough
generations in the last 10,000 years for there to be really
major revolutions in our genes. If you could time machine a
person from 10,000 years ago to today, they might have
some disease vulnerabilities that we don’t have. But otherwise,
they’d do just fine. Give him a shave and a
haircut dress them up, and they’d pass for one of us. But I’ll give you another
example, which some of you may know about, some of you
may not– the Flynn effect. The Flynn effect
is perfectly real. And IQ is up just
in the last century. The average in 1932 would be 80. That is to say, IQ is on a
scale, so 100 is average. If you’re above 100,
you’re above average. If you’re below 100,
you’re below average. But if you give the very
same tests that people– where the average
was 100 just in 1932, you give the very same
test to people today, the people who scored 100
then would score 80 now. This is a robust, clear effect. We’re getting smarter. And it’s not due to genes. It cannot be due to genes. There hasn’t been
anywhere near enough time. So what’s changed? The short answer, you
can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands. And you can’t do much
thinking with your bare brain. That was something
that my friend Bo Dahlbom said a few years ago. I thought, boy, that nails it. You can’t do much carpentry
with your bare hands. You can’t do much thinking
with your bare brain. A termite colony
is a bare brain. Gaudi had a well-equipped
brain, full of thinking tools. And where did he get his tools? Well, here’s the wrong answer,
coming from Freeman Dyson. “Technology is a gift of God. After the gift of
life, it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of
civilizations, of arts, and of sciences.” Everything but the first
sentence I heartily endorse. But come on, Freeman. Technology is not a gift of God. So the long answer is
that cultural evolution designed thinking
tools that impose novel structures on our brains. These are evolved
virtual machines. Virtual machines are
machines made out of information, ways of doing
things on your neck-top. And this leads to a
chicken and egg puzzle. Did evolved mind
tools make us smarter? Or did we evolve to become
smart enough to make mind tools? And as usual with
chicken and egg problems, the answer is yes. The effect, though, of human
culture, which started slow and then sped up greatly, is
that human cultural evolution has itself evolved. And I owe the next slide
to my friend, Matt Ridley. it’s his slide, which I do love. On the left, you see
an actual hand axe. Our ancestors made these without
any apparent change in design for a million years. On the right is a mouse. It was designed by
Douglas Engelbart. And it’s on the
verge of extinction after only a few decades in use. That’s a nice measure of the
speed of cultural evolution. So if we think of our minds
as software, if we think of words as virtual machines– well, why not? Well, what is a word made of? Sounds? Ink? No, no, no, no. Words are more
abstract than that. My colleague Ray Jackendoff
in his wonderful book, Foundations of Language, says
that words are semi-autonomous informational structures– sounds like software to me– with multiple roles
to play in cognition. That’s what a word is. And just the way you can copy
software and move it around to other platforms, so you
can do the same with words. Think of the diversity of words. Tens of thousands of words
in many different languages– where did they all come from? In thousands of languages, could
they have a common ancestor? Yeah, they could. In fact, there’s
interesting attempts to trace back, trace
back, trace back to find a common ancestor of
even the most diverse languages on the planet. This is all controversial. And of course, there’s
no written records there, so it has to be
very conjectural. But at least we can trace
back a lot of the languages a very long way and
know that they evolved, that the words in them
evolved from those languages and often jumped
to other languages. Did those words have
intelligent designers? No. Words are brilliantly designed. They’re great, infectious,
replicable, complex informational structures. But they’re designed by
natural selection, not genetic natural selection, but
cultural natural selection. You don’t get your
words with your genes. You move a baby born to
Chinese parents to London, and that baby is going to
learn English, not Chinese. Words have evolved. Darwin himself noted
that in a famous passage. He saw a striking resemblance
between the lineages of words and languages
and the theme that he was developing
in The Origin of Species. So we have phylogenetic
trees like the tree of life. And we have glossogenetic
trees, which show the evolution
of languages– the Romance language coming
from Latin, for instance. I don’t need to
show those to you. So now, then, what is a meme? The other day I went and
looked on the online Collins dictionary and got
a rude awakening. “A meme is something such as
a video, picture, or phrase that a lot of people sent to
each other on the internet.” Goes on, “short for mimeme,
both coined by R Dawkins, 1941, British biologist?” Not the best source
of information. But indeed, the word was
coined by Richard Dawkins, the author of The Selfish
Gene, in his book in 1976. And one thing that’s clear
is that the meme meme has gone viral. Just a few days ago, on the
television show Jeopardy, an America quiz show,
the very same quiz show in which IBM’s Watson beat
the human best contestants of all times handily– on Jeopardy, the term is used
without mention of Dawkins and without definition
for the contestants. So they had a whole
board of questions about different kinds of memes. I’m not going to
give you a chance to look at all those categories. And nobody said
boo about the fact that here the categories
were all memes. Is this what Dawkins meant when
he coined the term in 1976? Uh, no. Not at all. But I want to compare it
to another scientific term, the Big Bang. I went online to check
the Big Bang, which, of course, was coined by Fred
Hoyle a few years earlier, astronomer. And what I found was
that the first few pages of Google on Big Bang Theory
were about the television sitcom. Had to go to third page
before I got anything about Fred Hoyle and the
origins of the universe. So “the Big Bang” still
means what Hoyle meant. The question is
does “meme” still mean what Dawkins meant
when he coined the term? Well, let’s look at Dawkins
version very quickly. He says, “I think that
a new kind of replicator has recently emerged
on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy,
still drifting clumsily in its primaeval soup. But already it’s achieving
evolutionary change at a rate which leaves the
old gene panting far behind. The raw soup is the
soup of human culture.” Well, now, what
do internet memes have to do with evolution
by natural selection? So has Dawkins’
term been hijacked? Has this meaning of
meme gone extinct? Many, especially those
in the humanities who hate the the idea of memes,
fervently hope so, I think. And they think this was
a suitably, fittingly unrespectable demise
of an abhorrent idea. Well, really? What’s so bad about it? What’s not to like in
the idea of a meme? To see why so many
are opposed to it, we must look at the key features
of Dawkins’ concept of memes. Memes are replicators
like genes. Culture evolves by a process
of blind, purposeless, foresightless natural selection,
not by intelligent design. And differential
replication or reproduction is the key, not human genius. That’s what people don’t like. They don’t like the idea
that human culture is not to be due to the authorship of
human geniuses over the age. That’s one of the things
they don’t like about it. Well, you see, internet
memes have authors. They are intelligently
designed, some of them, by self-styled meme smiths. There are even
competitions to see who can design the most viral meme. This is intelligent design
run riot on the internet. Are these not such profound
differences from Dawkins’ memes that they must count as a
different type or species altogether? No. And the key is in
the word “species.” Let me explain. Are dinosaurs extinct? How many say so? No, they’re not
extinct, in one sense. Birds are direct
descendants of dinosaurs. There’s probably a few
hundred dinosaur descendants within 100 yards of where
we’re sitting right now. They’re not much
like the originals. But they are direct
descendants of the dinosaurs. That’s well-established
biological fact. And it was a gradual
process, which, of course, is very important. Very gradual change
we can believe in. Well, now, the question
is, is culture different? Did culture evolve by
Darwinian processes? Or did it arrive by
some sort of Big Bang, the way Freeman Dyson suggested? And we want to put in
yet another gradualism. Cultural evolution
happened gradually. The first memes were
adopted unwittingly by hominids that didn’t know
what they were doing or why. They were more like
termites, in this regard. Reflectiveness about
memes came much later. And what’s happened is
the de-Darwinization of cultural evolution. It started very Darwinian, very,
very much like termite design. And it’s become ever
more intelligent, as human culture has provided
ever greater bounties of tools for the intelligent designers
to put in their heads and then use to think
of intelligent designs. So memes. Dawkins’ list included tunes,
ideas, catchphrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making
pots or building arches. So memes are ways
of doing things. The difference between memes
and instincts is simple. Instincts are ways that are
passed through the germ line, through the genes. Memes are ways that are passed
otherwise, perceptually, socially. At this point, I know
some people think, do memes even exist? I’ve encountered this often. Somebody will say, I don’t
know if memes even exist. Prove to me that memes exist. They seem like flights
of fancy, just metaphors. Well, now, I want to
consider– how many of you would accept this statement? Hands up those who agree. I don’t see any hands going up. Well, what are words? Dogs are a kind of
mammal or a kind of pet. Words are a kind of what? Sound, sign, symbol? What they are is a kind of meme. What kind? The kind that can be pronounced. That’s what distinguishes
them from all other memes. So they’re items of
culture that spread by being reproduced,
differentially reproduced, sometimes with
changes or mutations. They form lineages, differential
replication, and extinction. Memes evolve just as animals
and plants and viruses do. Viruses aren’t
alive, but they sure do evolve by natural selection. So you don’t have to
be alive to evolve by natural selection, which
is a pretty good thing, because words aren’t alive. But they evolved by
natural selection. Memes are not alive. They are subject to
natural selection. I have a phrase for
what viruses are. They’re nucleic
acid with attitude. That means something
about their shape gives them the
power, the competence to provoke their own replication
when they get inside a cell. Memes are virtual machines,
software with attitude. They provoke their own
replication in various ways, for various reasons. They compete for transmission
and also for local influence. What are memes made of? They’re made of information. I’m going to speed
up a little bit. I want to get to a punchline. People think genes
are made of DNA. No, no, no. Genes are the information
that are carried by DNA codes. Poems aren’t made of ink. Right? You can send a poem to
somebody with some ink, but poems are not made of ink. And genes are not made
of DNA, although that’s their normal vehicle
of expression, but not the only one. When you get your
genome coded, when you get your genome
sequenced, you get a list of A, C,
G, and T, so forth. Those are your genes
in a different medium. So words are the
best memes that we have that make good examples,
because they’re countable. They have clear lineages. They mutate in meaning
and in pronunciation and grammatical role. And they compete
for space in brains, the way bacteria and viruses
compete for space in bodies. Well, if words are
the best memes, why didn’t Dawkins say so? Well, in fact, he did say this. “The survival or preservation
of certain featured words in the struggle for existence
is natural selection.” And that’s Darwin sort of
prophesying Dawkins on memes. So words are brilliantly
designed, but not by us. Phonemes, one of
natural selection’s most brilliant inventions– I’m going to pass over
this very swiftly. I think I’ve run out of time. But first of all,
I want you to ask, what counts for
replication in words? Is it physical similarity? Or is it something else? Is it physical resemblance? Well, let’s look. Cat, cat, cat, cat, cat,
cat, cat, cat, cat, cat, cat. How similar were
those physical things? Not very. But they were all tokens
of the type “cat.” And you recognise
them easily as such. That’s because
they’re digitised. They are orally
digitised as phonemes and orthographically digitised
as letters of the alphabet. And this is what makes
high fidelity transmission and replication in
culture possible, in the same way that the
four letter code of DNA permits the high fidelity
replication of living organisms. So if words are virtual
machines, who designed them? Evolution, cultural evolution. And how are they installed? They’re installed by repetition. I’m going to go
over that quickly. Go in more detail in my book. How did cultural
evolution start? Well, we started with the
genetic information highway that is used by all lifeforms. And then, a second
information highway evolved by natural selection. And that was social learning. And when you have species
where the children hang around with their parents,
because they’re dependent– they’re altricial,
rather than precocial. Precocial species, they sort
of hit the ground running. If they need parental
care, then they’re going to be hanging
around their parents. This gives opportunities
for information transfer that would not
otherwise be there. And social learning
is also abetted by other adaptations, some of
which are quite easy to see. Well, there’s prolonged
infancy, which I just mentioned. And then, there’s
imprinting on parents, which is also seen in
geese and ducks and birds, as Tinbergen and
Lorenz famously shown. But now, I want to show you
our nearest living relative. And I want to
compare her to her. What’s the most
striking difference? The sclera, the
whites of the eyes. Why do we have the whites
of our eyes when our nearest neighbours and the
orangutans don’t? Because it enhances the
capacity for gaze monitoring, for seeing where
mum’s looking, which enhances the capacity for
shared attention, which is, by general agreement
now, among people working on learning and
cultural evolution, is a key feature of
transmission of information from parents to children. But once you got parent-children
information passing, then that’s a highway that can
be parasitised, just the way the internet, which was
designed for transmitting classified information
about military projects, has been parasitised by
internet memes, pornography, all the rest of the things
that we use the internet for. So a second information
highway, once it’s in place, it can be invaded in what
Boyd and Richerson, who are the leading theorists,
call oblique transmission. And they call these things
that are obliquely transmitted rogue cultural variants. Another word for rogue
cultural variants is memes. They choose not to use the word
“meme” for various reasons. But that’s what they are. Other theories of culture
need memes just as much as Dawkins’ and mine, even if
they don’t call them memes. They call them traditions
or methods or ideas or ways or non-genetically transmitted
adaptations and so forth. But they’re all memes. Memes take advantage of the
information highways built by evolution for many species
and enhance in our species and our species only. Francis Crick once propounded
Orgel’s second rule. Evolution is cleverer
than you are. Obviously, he doesn’t
mean intelligent design with a capital I, D. He means
that evolution, a completely mindless, purposeless
process, nevertheless can generate designs
of cunning virtuosity and brilliant efficiency that
is hard for human engineers, human intelligent
designers to match. Well, intelligent
design now exists. We have people like,
oh, Bach and Turing and Gaudi, wonderful examples
of intelligent designers. And intelligent design is
becoming ever more intelligent, thanks to all the new
thinking tools that we’re creating all the time. And this has some
surprising implications. So finally, I just want
to finish off this topic. So is this a
reductio ad absurdum? Internet memes, is this an
embarrassment to Dawkins? Is it a reductio ad absurdum
of his concept of memes? I don’t think so. An intelligently designed meme
is a contradiction in terms? No. Or so what? Here’s another
contradiction in terms. A splittable atom. After all, the word “atom”
originally means unspittable. We learned that you
can split an atom. We didn’t change the term. And we learned that you can
intelligently design a meme. And they belong to the same
class, if not the same species, as the original memes. They’re just evolved under
different evolutionary regimes. So internet memes are
actually prime examples of Dawkins’ memes. They replicate because they
can, not because they’re necessarily good for us, not
because they’re good for us. And they have fitness
independent of ours. They spread so fast. Tell me if there’s
anybody in this room who thinks that internet
memes are an enhancement to the genetic fitness of
the people that make them? You have another
thing coming if you think that’s likely to be true. They’re cultural junk,
not cultural treasure. Neither their authors nor
their vectors– that is, those who spread them– need to understand why they are
doing what they’re doing, just like spreading cold germs. One of my favourite examples
is the Polynesian canoe. In an article by
Rogers and Ehrlich, they quote a French philosopher. He was not writing
about Polynesian canoes, but, in fact, about
French fishing boats. And he says, “every boat is
copied from another boat. Let’s reason as follows
in the manner of Darwin. It is clear that a
very badly made boat will end up on the bottom
after one or two voyages and thus never be copied. One could then say,
with complete rigour, that it is the sea herself
who fashions the boats, choosing those which function
and destroying the others.” If it comes back, copy it. That’s natural selection. The copiers don’t have
to understand why it’s a better boat than the others. They simply trust the
fact it came back. Don’t fix what ain’t broke. Copy it. So when we usually
think of culture, we think about the grand,
highest levels of culture, where we have the high culture–
opera and great art in museums and so forth, which we
spend good money to maintain and preserve. And we very carefully bequeath
it to the next generation, and so forth. But in addition to
all that great stuff– and that includes all the
science too, of course– there’s all the junk. And it’s just as much
a part of human culture as the high culture is. And we want to have
a perspective which treats all of the culture
in the same diagram, in the same picture. And that’s what we can do. Memes have their own fitness. And the memes-eye view
provides a general perspective on cultural evolution,
not just on the treasures, and not just the things
noticed or valued, not just the actual inventions. We comprehend less
than we think. And that’s one of the features
that I develop in the book. We don’t need to comprehend
many of the things in culture that we benefit
from, in the same way that a butterfly with
eye spots on its wings doesn’t need to understand
that this is really good at scaring away the birds. It benefits from having the
spots and opening up its wings. It doesn’t have to understand
it to be the beneficiary. And similarly, we don’t
have to understand many of our cultural traditions
that we endorse, spread, keep. They may be very good for us. But we don’t have
to understand it. So we’re living in the
age of intelligent design. It has become ever
more top-down. And we even have things
like GM food and people like Craig Venter. But now, we’re entering the
age of post-intelligent design. In many fields,
intelligent designers are exploiting the truth
of Orgel’s second rule. Evolution is cleverer
than you are. We have genetic algorithms
and deep learning and evolutionary architecture
and nanotechnology of various sorts. And all of these are
Darwin-esque, evolution-like, bottom-up, mindless,
competent processes that sift through
enormous amounts of data and come up with new ideas. So now, let’s recall
my earlier question. How could a slow,
mindless process build a thing that
could build a thing that a slow mindless process
couldn’t build on its own? We’ve come full circle. Thank you very much
for your attention. [APPLAUSE] Is it actually true
that nobody really wants to talk about
that in science, because it’s not a
third-person phenomenon, or am I missing something? Why is there never talk about
the most important thing in human biology,
in brain science?

If Brains are Computers, Who Designs the Software? With Daniel Dennett
Tagged on:                                                 

100 thoughts on “If Brains are Computers, Who Designs the Software? With Daniel Dennett

  • January 22, 2019 at 1:16 am


  • January 22, 2019 at 7:59 am

    My necktop is very slow… does anyone know where I can upgrade?

  • January 22, 2019 at 6:22 pm

    Lost me at 9 min

  • January 26, 2019 at 9:48 am

    What we experience as reality is a projection of our consciousness within consciousness. Consciousness is not a part of us, located somewhere and somehow in the brain, nor is it the result of complex physiological processes in our body, reaching somehow a ‘critical threshold’ on the way to self-awareness. We are a ‘physicalized’ fragment of our Higher Mind, the size of a fingernail (Bashar), sent out to go to sleep and dream a reality dream in a projected 3-D reality environment which we take for real as long as we are ‘in life’. We chose to have an incarnation inside the projection room of the 3-D reality cinema as the limitations of linear space-time allow us to have specific experiences when exploring our theme in life, thus discovering a new aspect of us while struggling with self-imposed tasks and challenges. On our ‘physical plane’, we are constantly shifting through an infinite number of static virtual reality frames, billions of times per second, thus creating the illusion of time, movement, and continuity, similar to the projection of a film strip to a wall or in 3-D in a cinema.
    For a successful projection of what we think is ‘our incarnation’ various levels of consciousness have to work together. Starting from the level of the oversoul, which is on top and thus No. 1 in Bashar’s nomenclature, it is the individual soul or spirit, which comes second (2), then the Higher Mind (3), the template reality level (4), the collective automatic mind (5), the individual automatic mind (6), and further down the beliefs (unconscious physical mind) (7), the emotions (subconscious physical mind) (8), and finally our thoughts at the lowest level (conscious physical mind) (9). In this context it is important to understand that with regard to our physical mind, which is composed of beliefs, emotions and thoughts, it is the beliefs which are on top, followed by emotions. Thoughts (and the resulting acts and behavior) are the lowest level in the hierarchy of the physical mind. All levels are required for the successful projection of a single life incarnation and all levels are expected to work hand in hand in a concerted way.
    The structure of existence, however, already exists. It never changes. What ‘changes’ is the experiences we have when living the physical life in the 3-D projection room, immersed in the illusion of time and space while shifting through an infinite number of static virtual reality frames. Every possible aspect of ‘reality’, every action, every idea, every thought, every combination of colour, every invention, every piece of music already exists. We cannot change or create it. And we never do. By using the tools and requisites offered by the pre-existing reality structure we are given the chance to experience our own action, create our own version of (pre-existing) timeless ideas, having our own version of a thought which has been already thought by an infinite number of persons, play with colours in a specific way which is uniquely ours (and thus new), make inventions anew, which have been invented over and over and over before, etc.
    Thus, by the specific way we go about in experiencing the structures of existence which are already there, (have been and will be forever) we are creating experiences which are new and unique. And they are eternal. This is our specific contribution to the creation of All-that-Is, of which we are an integral part and which we are made out of. On the way down from the top level (oversoul) the soul can be compared to raw, unfashioned clay, which is then formed and burnt in 3-D (inside the matrix), endowed with a new and unique set of experiences which are ingrained and imprinted forever. The specific experiences constitute the ‘added value’ the single incarnation on the ground is ultimately sending and communicating back to the higher levels as spirit (formed, burned, and finalized clay as opposed to the raw, unburned clay of the soul) up to the level of the oversoul and beyond to All-that-is. Our life experiences are our specific, unique and eternal contribution to creation, which can never be erased or annihilated. Nor can our ‘I’-identity. http://www.sethforum.de/phpBB3/viewforum.php?f=17.

  • January 28, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    Of course the brain is a computer.

  • January 31, 2019 at 6:52 am

    A Catholic Bishop's book is on the best sellers list for atheism on Amazon


    The intelligibility of existence makes monkeys out of atheists.

  • January 31, 2019 at 10:51 am

    Don Johnny >>> I like him to. Despite he´s very serious, he´s also very human. An attitude I would appreciate if all scientists had.

  • February 5, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    Got the Gillette ad

  • February 9, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    Every program consists of operators, inputs and outputs. You will never be able to understand even a simple program like "payments" if you just look at operators, inputs and outputs. Every step in developing a computer program on a computer uses a new paradigm. It doesn't just emerge out of existing paradigms.

  • February 10, 2019 at 12:20 am

    How can he be sure the evolution is a mindless process without any purpose? The evolution does seem to have a direction, ever more complex organisms. Naming this a purpose would wouldn't fit into the mindless picture of the world, which nevertheless has developed beings aware , conscious of the world.
    But please no vital forces, spirits, soul or gods of any kind, huh?
    One who does think a human a soulless being can, of course , imagine the equality sign between a computer and a brain. Just two machines. That implies the machines that we build are on the same level as something the biology needed some billions of years to develop. What impertinence , but never mind. What if biology has got features we haven't a clue about and which are of course, missing from our machines?
    He talks about genes and the information.
    The total of 30MB of info in our genes is actively used to describe our proteins. And that is what we know. So without the vital forces or spirits of any kind, etc, where are the innumerable Terrabytes needed to describe a fish , or dog, or any higher organism?
    Isn't his and Dawkins attitude not just another example of rationalistic homocentric idiocy saying we are completely autonomous beings , there being no broader consciousness we are a part of, in spite of obviousness of the contrary?

  • February 10, 2019 at 2:00 am

    D squared rules! D.A. NYC

  • February 16, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    we are all living in the mind of the all [god] so yes there is a design

  • February 17, 2019 at 9:33 am

    I love this channel, but the title really annoys me. As a computer is just an ill fitted metaphor for the brain (for lack of better), why pretend it actually is and pop this question? Besides, it's not a "who" but a "what" – it's called evolution.

  • February 21, 2019 at 9:38 am

    1:11:04 Proof that we can now intelligently design memes in the Dawkins sense: " ♫ Ba-da ba-ba-baaaaaa~~ I'm lovin' it! ♪ "
    Now how did you think that? All I wrote were words, and yet you probably had the software to know exactly how that information is conveyed, and even the association that meme has for a specific thing. Advertising is like weaponized memes.

  • February 21, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    The last of the Boston Brahmins?

  • February 22, 2019 at 3:38 am

    "Neck tops" LOL

  • February 22, 2019 at 8:58 am

    The brain is just a fancy switching machine for consciousness to use.

  • February 23, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    We didn't just suddenly invent the computer. It evolved alongside us, from the logic of the philosophers, to weaving machines, to punch cards and eventually an electronic computer. In this perspective the evolution of the computer is thousands of years and not just one hundred years.

  • February 24, 2019 at 4:08 am

    You have to answer this question. Ameba can think what it is able to think. Frog can think what it is able to think. Bird can think what it is able to think. Lion can think what it is able to think. Human can think what it is able to think. These are Ameba, Frog, Bird, Lion, and Human that composed by protein. They have various level of thinking, speaking, and communicating. Ameba is the lowest level. Human is the highest level. From God's point of view, all are animal. Am I right !!

  • February 27, 2019 at 4:47 am

    ‘Did I mention my book?’
    ‘I wrote a book, you know.’

  • March 2, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    you are what you remember….

  • March 5, 2019 at 11:08 pm

    Find him very hard work to listen to. He makes the subject matter sound flat and uninteresting. I know its a superficial point but it really put me off listening Had to quit eventually. There's no enthusiasm and I don't mean that awful tacky hollow American sort but he sounds so dusty and long-winded. Wish he were succinct to cover more ground and so make for a more dynamic lecture. He has a self indulgent style laughing at his own jokes (not funny ones). He also had an air of teacher condescending to his students, students he didnt seem to have much respect for or hopes for. Patronising. I know its not his fault..no doubt… but there is a breathless quality to his speech along with a continual sniffing, snuffling and snorting that I found erksome and distracting. All of this kept me from engaging. In fact as you may have gathered I cant stand an more!!! Onto more enlightening speakers…

  • March 13, 2019 at 8:30 pm

    Always thought the software was the language ;p

  • March 14, 2019 at 12:50 pm

    20.05. I didn't understand why Dennett, when making the point about creating a computer out of things from the 'pre-electronic' age, made it seem as though frontiers were being pushed back.

    During WWII, Tommy Flowers, working with Alan Turing, built a 'programmable computer' back in '43/'44 as part of the Enigma programme at Bletchley Park. It was called 'Colossus'. Tommy was an engineer at the General Post Office of Britain (the old GPO and forerunner of BT) and he used diodes, switches, nixie tubes and bakelite. He actually built more than one machine. Their pioneering and brilliant work gave the allies a sublime edge in the war. They certainly saved lives and probably foreshortened the war.

    By the way, there is a lesson here for all such centralist, totalitarian regimes (as the Nazis): vanity and arrogance foster always a sense of destiny and infallibility. And that is always the augur of their demise. Hitler skipped in his 'nest' in the mountains of Berchtesgaden with his black-booted bullies (though the pompous buffoon was scared of heights). Goering pranced like a poppycock with his pretty sky-blue coloured costume stretched tight across his aryan, über-mensch, über-sized bulk. Our two likely lads, Tommy, the son of a bricklayer, and Alan, a the social misfit, cracked their bloody uncrackable code*. We could then read the entire encrypted communications of the entire German war machine as if the 'Oberkommando der Wehrmacht' had placed full page ads of their intentions every day in the Times. You couldn't make it up! Surely there must have been some clever junior officer in the German High Command pushing to have the Enigma machines changed and updated, you know, just to be safe, boss?

    The British government's obsession with secrecy after the war meant that no one knew of Tommy's and Alan's work for decades.
    Cometh the moment, cometh the men!

  • March 14, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    I shall send Daniel Dennett a pork pie hat. You are welcome!

  • March 18, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Don't all mammals have memes?

  • March 20, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    control is just one brain function, reducing it to that may be useful in describing a hardware computer, but it's similar to describing a human body as the right hand, it is only a part ,not the whole.

  • March 21, 2019 at 12:21 am

    This seems like a beneficial video to watch, for beginners in crafting neural networks. And even a useful thing for the more experienced practitioners, just to get the creative juices going.

  • March 21, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    ecosystems shape organic intelligence. What is the ecosystem that shapes A.I.?

  • March 21, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Memes in the colloquial sense are indeed not consistent with the original definition, but I think the phenomenon of something going viral is more naturally selective/meme-like. Yes the thing was likely designed, but it's by its own merits/strengths that it survives in the cultural consciousness. Fire and words are strong. Lol cats had their moment, but not so strong. (Who am I kidding? Can I haz hamburder?)

  • March 27, 2019 at 5:34 am

    I had to stop watching. I couldn’t handle his snorting anymore.

  • March 29, 2019 at 2:01 am

    It bothers him because he knows evolutionism is as much a farce as scientology, everyone from the outside can see what a joke it is but everyone on the inside dare not question the status quo because they know they will be persecuted, ridiculed, and lose their tenure.

  • March 29, 2019 at 6:01 am

    wise man. .. and here I was thinking all this time that 'philosophy' is a mere mumbo jumbo, convinced I was based on not very good high school teacher … but this here is something completely different. … it's like a creation of a way and through a rough forest; when you see it. you use it for it's been done well. ! hm

  • April 1, 2019 at 6:26 am

    3:15 trough their culture

  • April 5, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    I am under the impression that Groves was certainly the administrative controller, but the physicists and engineers actually were in control of what got built and how (explicitly, Oppenheimer was in charge of the technical and creative work).

  • April 5, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    The concept of "software" can be generalized. "No, only my definition of software is correct." Well, OK, then.

  • April 7, 2019 at 5:24 am


  • April 7, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    If you absolutely have to compare brains to computers, I'd say they're quantum computers with no need for software. Because a living brain usually has a mind/conciousness involved, and it's constantly on. The brain is another vital organ, spesifically made for memory, calculation and body control. But the mind/conciousness controls what it should do. The mind/conciousness, however, is something everyone still struggle to explain and/or understand.

  • April 10, 2019 at 4:50 am

    No it's not, although computers are like brains in a metaphorical sense. Dennett is caught up in a metaphor

  • April 24, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    Shame he simplifies things beyond the treshold of learning.

  • April 27, 2019 at 5:45 am

    Surprising lack of java hate in the comments

  • May 1, 2019 at 11:01 pm


  • May 7, 2019 at 8:03 pm

    the brain is not a computer. the brain is the software. the way that cells in the brain communicate is the same way we program computers. the brian is software that runs in a computer called the universe. the way that the data that is encoded and decoded is done is in such a way as a algorithm is written. the classic statement that the cell use to do task is, IF THEN ELSE. that is used to activate different smaller programs that runs tiny lines of code that defines spesific functions that is used to encode and decode data as well as triggering more, if then else calls, that do different tasks. the cell works by creating a list of instruciton call names that then in a spesific arangment triggers the, if then else calls. the dna molecule functions tells the dna transcriber function how to decode a instruciton that is used to generate the label list that triggers the, if then else calls. some times the list triggers the washing machine and the conveyor belt. in a different instance its the conveyor belt and the bottle sorting machine that is triggered. each call statement on the list triggers different functions. it the arangemet of these that varies. the cell have to operate by keeping the energy usage the lowest it can. to do this, the cell cant turn on everythign at once, so it have to only active what it needs to any given moment in time. we humans are computer programs in the universe. each cell program is nearly identical.

  • May 10, 2019 at 3:32 am

    He fails to also mention that the mass of ants alone pretty much equals the mass of all humans.

  • May 17, 2019 at 7:03 am

    Great talk. But I sure hope he's getting that thing on top of his head treated!!

  • June 4, 2019 at 9:19 am

    We evolved Yes! but we evolved Backwards or backward engineered..We humans are the epitome of Evil thru Sex and the cameras to our own doings , how? By the Universe expressing itself , we are spiritual not in a mystical sense but because we can produce religions and imagine ..Sex became the Matrix , Love the Pain..we believe we are special but the Universe thinks we are just another animal which can sense itself to the point of and beyond death ie reincarnation ..I think once we are born we can never die and if I am correct holy books have this concept hidden is just thru belief and imagination the miracles happen. The things and weirdness is that it is miracles is a bad thing as hard as that is to imagine or think ..I know I might sound crazy but it is very evident thru nature and enhanced in Humans ! ..also if I am correct maybe each galaxy should have at least one World with consciousness or two or few st most and it is why it is very rare but maybe we starting to detect them by radio waves etc …Almost as Evil does can and does Win !

  • June 25, 2019 at 11:04 am

    christianity cures academic mathematical procrastination

  • June 28, 2019 at 1:27 am

    What causes dementia? Is it a virus that knows how to destroy the memory? Or did the computer get tired?

  • June 28, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    The computer is an artificial brain.

  • June 28, 2019 at 4:53 pm


  • July 5, 2019 at 1:56 am


  • July 5, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    51:20 the computer mouse is definitely not at the verge of extinction.

  • July 8, 2019 at 9:07 pm

    Dennett is one of the dullest speakers. And, also a dull writer.

  • July 14, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    This whole lecture is an unorganized mess rambling on, using smart sounding words without much information behind them.

    In short – evolution gives us the hardware and basic background operation, studying gives the software. This is not even close to a good comparison, comparing a brain to a computer is akin to comparing a film to reality. Brains can compute, computers cant brain, both are information processors and there the similarity ends. A bad question can only get a bad anwser, and in this case we get a whole hour of this in action.

  • July 15, 2019 at 8:20 pm

    Dennet will never mention Julian Jaynes; he is too full of himself.

  • July 16, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    just another geriatric bigot

  • July 22, 2019 at 8:55 am

    If Brains are Computers, Who Designs the Software? – Nature via nurture – Kris Malawski

  • July 22, 2019 at 8:55 am

    If Brains are Computers, Who Designs the Software? – Nature via nurture – Kris Malawski

  • July 22, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    the alan turing joke reminds me about a other joke
    the cooking recept for a cake
    First you have to make a univers
    then wait around 14 billion years
    then harvest grain,
    breeding cows
    patorization . . .. . you get the point ^^

  • July 22, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    no wonder that he is one of the four horseman^^

  • July 25, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    The brain doesn't compute (generally speaking. although there are savants who look like they can compute). As an example, do 4378 * 739 in your head or compute the cosine of 194.4137°. Most people simply cant do it (most people will be forced to pen and paper or to a calculator to "compute" the solution). When you do something easy like 8 * 5 in your head, in general you're remembering the answer, rather than computing it. Some people might have never thought of the question before, but they'll simplify the problem (if they're clever enough) to something they do already know the answer to; eg 8*5 is the same as 2*4*5, which rearranges to 2*5 (easy) * 4 (just as easy). The fact that the brain doesn't compute unless forced to, shows (to me, at least) that it probably isn't a computer. You cant say "ah but it looks like it does a lot of stuff that computers also do" when the main idea of a computer (its even in its name) is to compute. So the answer to "who designs the software" is "no-one, brains arent computers".

  • July 27, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    couldn't take the snotting

  • July 27, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    Atheists are so smart they’re dumb.

  • July 31, 2019 at 3:42 am

    Philosophy it's not a science it's a conception. Think about it again in a hundred years

  • August 1, 2019 at 11:03 am

    This was quite a good talk, which surprised me because I did not much like his book 'Consciousness Explained '. It seems to me that we need to understand what the simple rules that the individual neurons follow in order to build a useful 'bottom up' system.

  • August 1, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    yes the brain is a computer. Not a von Neuman machine, or a parallel machine, but its function is based on large scale pattern multi-parallel designed to make visual resources seen at a distance into mental internal simulations trying to pattern the outside into the inside of the skull. Hidden in the dark it produces video of what it considers when it sees as reality. Trying to make reality inside of the outside source and predictions of what will happen if the events it simulates will occur shortly with its external sensors.

  • August 5, 2019 at 12:51 am

    No philosopher, just and academic intellectual.

  • August 5, 2019 at 6:07 am

    If the sky is blue, who painted it?

  • August 6, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    funny thing is that humans, specifically accountants, were the original computers. The machines were called computers when they became useful enough to be accountant like.

  • August 6, 2019 at 8:01 pm

    its not surprising that you can't find the dreamer inside of anything the consciousness is dreaming.

  • August 10, 2019 at 6:15 am

    There is a difference between how an entity is formed and what is an entity. An entity may hold a certain attribute pertaining to its formation history, but this is not the same thing as the entity itself. A computer has a different formation history as a brain. A brain must learn to count before it can count and must switch itself on to do so. A computer comes ready made to count and cannot switch itself on before it can start counting.

    A brain is not a computer.

  • August 12, 2019 at 1:33 am

    Just gonna go out on a limb and say intelligent design. Lol people are like no Fck that then turn around talking about simulation theory

  • August 13, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Some people can speak and speak without saying anything. Sam Harris is not one of these people. R. Dawkins also not.

  • August 13, 2019 at 6:43 pm

    Evolution is a lie

  • August 13, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    Brains aren't computers. There, fixed it.

  • August 15, 2019 at 10:08 am

    I would say brains are very much like computers we are living in a government controlled brainwashed system where everything is a lie schools are like prisons Where we get our minds programmed at a young age .
    by the government who created money to control humans but part of the big picture they want full control over humans google the human micro chip implant read all the information . I used to think I should get a degree but I am so glad I havant because it comes from the government who cause the wars killing innocent men women children and animals who by the way the taxpayers pay for the richest families in the world the ones who own the banks are running the show .

  • August 15, 2019 at 10:18 am

    Humans have all been enslaved by programming the mind all the way through history fact .

  • August 16, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    The answer could be natural selection, to shape an Alan Turing, yet when we evolve biology into shaping geometry the size of the jungle would be only minimal.

  • August 17, 2019 at 4:44 am

    E=MC []….. EVOLUTION=MASS CREATION….[]=….???

  • August 17, 2019 at 5:20 am

    If brain is computer, then the consciousness is software which is constantly updated by knowledge and experiences until hard drive crashes and computer dies.

  • August 19, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Have consideration for your audience's ears! Stop the sputtering and sniffling and take an anti-histamine. You have no idea how much your microphone amplifies your snorts and gasps. These sound effects are so unpleasantly distracting that 11 minutes in, I cannot listen to you any longer. You probably had some valuable insights to impart, but I will never know.

  • August 19, 2019 at 11:27 pm

    It's DARWIN!! 🙂

  • August 20, 2019 at 12:34 am

    It is a radio.

  • August 20, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    All results that do not reach the concept of a creator of these complex and intelligent beings must be neglected and placed in the trash

  • August 20, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    As God mentioned in the Quran :[ He gave you whatsoever you asked. If you try to count the favors of God you will not be able to calculate. Man is most unjust indeed, full of ingratitude]. If we count how miraculous the eye is we will reach to that nature will not be able to create it even if it spends billions of years; how about other organs in human being . If we look to the Brain of Human being we will find that every cell of the millions of cells has a special function in thinking and designing.

  • August 25, 2019 at 7:43 am

    All this notion about memes is ridiculous.

  • September 6, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Is he ok?

  • September 6, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    Okay, this is FINALLY getting interesting…. but that took a while 41:16 . I really like the idea of LANGUAGE as being the interface to your brain. I've always liked that idea.

  • September 6, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    So Meme's are viruses.

  • September 6, 2019 at 9:44 pm

    Professor Dennett is brilliant. And I love how he presents his material. Having said that, I do not agree with his conclusion. I don't believe a mindless process of natural forces and time can give rise to a thinking and feeling creature capable of painting The Starry Night, walking on the moon, or writing a book like From Bacteria to Bach and Back. Life comes from life, and intelligence comes from intelligence.

  • September 12, 2019 at 9:35 am

    A human brain cannot understand it self.

  • September 23, 2019 at 12:45 am


  • September 23, 2019 at 2:12 am

    Watching Dennet speaking about father of evolution theory, I tend to believe in reincarnation 😇

  • September 29, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    Atheist appear to me to be in one great big collective "denial fest." Yes the brain looks like it was designed but wasn't really… it just looks that way.
    Professing to be wise, they became fools,
    Romans 1:22

  • October 6, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    Lately I started to consider the brain as a giant filter/processor that delivers our consciousness (whatever it may be) the best statistical predictions for certain information patterns in this universe. E.g. we tend to predict human beings as being human with near to 100% accuracy, but we are pretty bad at predicting certain other things (like how we are preceived by others, cause we are often diluded due to self-doubt and other things – or e.g. optical illusions, since our brain is trained to expect certain outcomes). So basically all the brain does is it predicts certain events, it recognizes patterns, and it makes all this data somewhat interpretable. We don't know where consciousness itself comes from.. we just know how to deactivate it like a switch, when deactivating certain neurons, but that isn't proof that certain brain regions create it.

  • October 17, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    How much more time must go by before the evolutionists give up. Its coming on 2020. I have a feeling that even in 2120 they will still be denying God.

  • October 18, 2019 at 1:25 am

    After all this there is still no answer what came first the chicken or the egg?


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