The theory of evolution: another reason to be an existentialist?

Some philosophers have tried to base morality on human nature, but what does biology say about that?

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In his 1945 public lecture 'Existentialism is a Humanism'  Jean-Paul Sartre made a bold claim: for human beings, existence precedes essence.  We exist, then we choose how to be. This is as opposed to a chair, for example, which is designed to fit a particular purpose and then brought into existence to fulfill that purpose. The chair has an essence that precedes it; it has a "chair nature" that it is created to conform to.

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The 21st Century's Most Important Idea... & Older Natural Algorithmic Forces

Evolution exists and exerts itself in a different way than gravity does... because natural selection is an "algorithmic force." 

Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

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Memes 101: How Cultural Evolution Works

We are what we are because of genes; we are who we are because of memes. Philosopher Daniel Dennett muses on an idea put forward by Richard Dawkins in 1976.

Ever wondered where the word ‘meme’ comes from? Philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett explains the term, coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, and its effects on our lives and history. How did we, as a species, become what we are – or more relevantly who we are? Natural selection and genetic evolution have made our physical bodies, but we are so much more than a collection of cells. We are also a conscious community, with language, music, cooking, art, poetry, dance, rituals, and humor. Dennett explains how these behaviors are the product of our cultural evolution. Memes are cultural replicators that spread like viruses, and only the most advantageous – or "the fittest" – of them survive. Daniel Dennett's most recent book is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds.

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The Science of Popularity Shows Why Hit-Making Is So Hit-and-Miss

The causes of hit products are themselves uncausable. 'Hit Makers' by Derek Thompson explains why we know how to make songs, but not hits.

 

Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

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On the Origins of Genius: How Human Consciousness Evolved

The human mind is like a Turing machine, says Daniel Dennett. It's made up of unthinking cogs – but when combined in the right order, their motion gives rise to consciousness.

Daniel Dennett has been mulling consciousness over for the last 50 years, and he’s ended up where we began: evolution. When this theory was proposed by Darwin, it inverted everything people at the time held to be true – it revealed that we were not created by intelligent design, but rather we evolved into intelligent designers ourselves. The process of evolution worked mindlessly, producing better and better human prototypes, crafting ever-more complex brains until that rhythmic, algorithmic, repetition birthed consciousness. This is what Dennett refers to as ‘competence without comprehension’. Daniel Dennett's most recent book is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds.

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