Daniel C. Dennett: The De-Darwinizing of Cultural Change


Think for a moment about a termite colony or an ant colony—amazingly competent in many ways, we can do all sorts of things, treat the whole entity as a sort of cognitive agent and it accomplishes all sorts of quite impressive behavior. But if I ask you, „What is it like to be a termite colony?“ most people would say, „It’s not like anything.“ Well, now let’s look at a brain, let’s look at a human brain—100 billion neurons, roughly speaking, and each one of them is dumber than a termite and they’re all sort of semi-independent. If you stop and think about it, they’re all direct descendants of free-swimming unicellular organisms that fended for themselves for a billion years on their own. There’s a lot of competence, a lot of can-do in their background, in their ancestry. Now they’re trapped in the skull and they may well have agendas of their own; they have competences of their own, no two are alike. Now the question is, how is a brain inside a head any more integrated, any more capable of there being something that it’s like to be that than a termite colony? What can we do with our brains that the termite colony couldn’t do or maybe that many animals couldn’t do?

It seems to me that we do actually know some of the answer, and it has to do with mainly what Fiery Cushman was talking about—it’s the importance of the cultural niche and the cognitive niche, and in particular I would say you couldn’t have the cognitive niche without the cultural niche because it depends on the cultural niche.

By Daniel Dennettedge.org

The Conversation