Talk:Darwin's Dangerous Idea

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edit·history·watch·refresh Stock post message.svg To-do list for Darwin's Dangerous Idea:

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Priority 4

Spandrel[edit]

I can't wait to see the novel use he puts 'spandrel' to, since there are four or five accepted and cognate meanings in architectural and art history, all relating to the space between a curved figure and a rectangular boundary - such as the space between the curve of an arch and a rectilinear bounding moulding, or the wallspace bounded by adjacent arches in an arcade and the stringcourse or moulding above them, or the space between the central medallion of a carpet and its rectangular corners... --MichaelTinkler

Spandrel was coined by Stephen Jay Gould (not Dennett) in the papper "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme". In a evolution, is a metaphor for caractheristics side effects and not true addaptions to the environment. See: http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/gould/commentary/thurtle.html Joao

Uh, he didn't 'coin' spandrels, and from what you're quoting, Gould actually used it in reference to what I'm talking about - architecture. A quick check of the OED online gives the earliest usage in English in 1477. For a depiction, see http://www.pitt.edu/~medart/menuglossary/lists.htm#letterS and scroll down for 'spandrel' --MichaelTinkler

Thanks for pointing out it was Gould not Dennett - I'm not saying Gould invented the word - he quite clearly refers to the architectural meanings. I'm claiming he invented the metaphorical usage of 'spandrel' to mean 'feature that is the unintended consequence of other features' with particular relevance to design by evolution. This metaphorical meaning works no matter which kind of architectural spandrel is referred to: the spandrel is the un-designed gap between other features, which is then often exploited for a use of its own. -- The Anome

Actually, the indented part wasn't me. I was trying to point out without bothering to edit in the cognitive and evolutionary fields (about which I know little and care less) a dangerous tendency - to assume that the earliest mention of a word that one knows is a coinage. And by the way, Gould is interesting, but he's no art historian; it's a very loose metaphor. Since spandrels are the WALLS or the elaborated surface of a carpet, they're neither unintentional nor undesigned. Their elaboration and decoration may not be structural, which is what he's getting at, but, pace functionalists, structural support systems (arches) are not all there is to architecture.  :) --MichaelTinkler


Wait a second - Gould doesn't believe in intelligent design, does he? He may believe in interstices between evolutionary events, but he should leave architecture at San Marco alone, even as a metaphor, because both the arch and the area between the arches were designed by conscious designer. 19th century architectural historians loved to make diagrams of the 'evolution of the pointed arch' and other elements of architecture, but they were metaphorizing, and they knew it. --MichaelTinkler

You're not nuts; Gould did not believe in ID or any other form of creationism. However, as good a writer as he was, he nonetheless sometimes gave ammunition to creationists, particularly in terms of their misleading portrayal of evolution as a theory in crisis. Alienus 12:57, 28 November 2005 (UTC)

relation between the human mind and biology[edit]

From the article: "the principle that Darwinian evolution is the central organising force not only in biology, but also in most other aspects of the Universe, including the human mind"

One of the main points made by Dennett in Darwin's Dangerous Idea is that the human mind evolved by biological evolution. At the start of chapter 13, Dennett gives his materialistic view of mind, "Of course, our minds are our brains...."

I'm not sure if Dennett would be comfortable with the idea that the human mind is some how outside of those aspects of the universe that fall within the domain of biology. Possible introductory sentences:

  • In Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Dennett makes clear that he finds utility in the idea of memes as units of cultural evolution and he is a strong advocate of the idea that many elements of our culture are adaptive and have been selected by an evolutionary process.
  • In Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Dennett contrasts his view of naturalistically evolved mind to the views held by other philosophers who think that evolutionary processes like natural selection cannot account for human language and human mind. Memenen 01:12, 9 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Fascist Atheism?[edit]

  • [Dennett recommends that religion be] "preserved in cultural zoos. . . ."

Didn't Hitler and Stalin try that? Somehow I'm thinking Mr. Dennett kind of missed Darwin's point. Comments? --Pariah 18:29, Mar 29, 2005 (UTC)

The quote is being taken out of context. For a better understanding of Dennett's statement on "cultural zoos" in DDI, see Dennett's response to Michael Rea's "Dennett's Bright Idea" at http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/rearesponse.htm.
-- Gruepig 00:05, 30 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Thanks for the article, which clarifies things. I was harsh. I just wish these guys would recognize the difference between "religion" and "crime" (optionally "crime committed for the sake of ideology"). If people can get infected by bad memes, then higher order memetic organisms (like religions) can get infected too, without being identical to the disease.--Pariah 05:21, Mar 30, 2005 (UTC)
Please also note that Hitler was most certainly not anti-religion (anti-semitic, yes, but not anti-religion), and that Stalin, while implementing a totalitarianly enforced state atheism, was not a fascist. You would do well to recognize these subtlties.

It is definitely out of context (and several critics have misrepresented the book using that quote out of context), which brings up the question of whether it really should be listed on the page? Also, the comment that Dennett sees the "universal acid" as "especially" damaging to Christianity seems quite wide of the mark to me. Seems like a POV issue, so I added a NPOV tag. JordanDeLong 23:55, 2 September 2006 (UTC)


I strongly agree with the NPOV tag on this article. It seems to me the quotes and outlining are very incomplete, and that the information selected depicts Dennett's book in a far different light than my reading of the book suggested.--Didius 17:38, 7 September 2006 (UTC)

I disagree. if quotes are incomplete please complete them or elaborate anything you believe is worth explaining. coltural zoo's are NOT the same as exterminating cultures. (the Hitler's notion). --Procrastinating@talk2me 10:32, 12 September 2006 (UTC)
I removed the "especially Christianity" comment; Christianity is hardly even discussed in the book. As far as the "cultural zoos", the quote as displayed misrepresents what Dennett means in the book; the point he was making was relatively minor (I think) and not even specifically about religion---I don't think it needs to be elaborated so much as removed or put in a "Controversy" section (with refs to Rea's response and Dennett's reponse to Rea). I added back the NPOV tag, since the neutrality is in fact disputed. JordanDeLong 15:41, 12 September 2006 (UTC)

Merge proposal[edit]

There doesn't seem to be enough content in Skyhook (concept) to warrant a separate article, and the concept isn't even mentioned here, where it should be. I propose merging the two articles. Thatcher131 01:47, 19 May 2006 (UTC)


I got here from a search for 'skyhook' so I think it should stay apart from the article on the book —The preceding unsigned comment was added by 203.110.145.13 (talkcontribs) .

  • Skyhook would still be kept as a redirect; the goal would be to thoroughly explain the skyhook concept in the article about the book that invented it; in which case it would still get picked up be a search, too. Thatcher131 10:43, 31 May 2006 (UTC)


I agree that the Skyhook (concept) article should be merged. The term has a different meaning out of the context of Dennett's work and evolutionary philosophy anyway, and the information would help to more fully flesh out this article, which badly needs it. --Didius 17:41, 7 September 2006 (UTC)

For merge --Procrastinating@talk2me 10:31, 12 September 2006 (UTC)

How Much is Appropriate?[edit]

I've just recently read this book and feel like I could expand on this page quite a bit, and in doing so improve it in both substance and style, while at the same time moving away from the NPOV problem...but how much is too much? I almost want to explain some of his key ideas -- skyhooks, QWERTY phenomenon, the Library of Babel -- but at what point do you say "This is too much, why don't they just go buy the book?" I'm fairly new to the project, but I don't get the sense we are trying to compete with Cliff Notes. Any thoughts? Didius 20:44, 13 September 2006 (UTC)

Some wiki pages about books definitely seem to go further than is useful or appropriate. Maybe a metric that is useful is to think about being somewhere between a dust jacket teaser/summary and a review (minus the POV that'll naturally be in either). I agree that the Cliff Notes level would be overdoing it; really, I think in some ways the current article over-does it (with the quoting---wikipedia isn't wikiquote).
Some points that strike me as possibly worth mentioning would be the universal impact of Darwinian thinking ("universal acid"), the links between AI and neo-Darwinism, the idea of natural selection as an algorithm (and its "substrate neutrality"), greedy vs. good reductionism (skyhooks vs. cranes could be mentioned here), biology as reverse engineering, and the criticisms of Gould, Chomsky, and Penrose. Also, aside from the very notable metaphors which have spread into discussions outside of the book, I don't think it's very necessary to get too detailed (so, I'd probably leave out the ideas of "Vast" spaces like the Library of Babel/Mendel (even though Dennett talks about them in Freedom Evolves also) or "QWERTY phenomena", but skyhooks are worth mentioning).
Also, a mention of the controversy or opinions in response to the book is certainly appropriate (which could potentially include summaries about the "cultural zoos" comment; Gould's reply and Dennett's response; and maybe links to John Maynard Smith's review and Chomsky's response to it).
I'm willing to do a copy-editing pass (or give feedback) if you do go ahead and put together a new version, by the way. (I'm also a bit new to this stuff.)
JordanDeLong 21:59, 13 September 2006 (UTC)
Just look at featured articles on books to get a feel for it. Richard001 00:09, 18 August 2007 (UTC)

Major Revamping Underway![edit]

Well, alright then. I got it started, but the system stopped working for a little bit so I stopped for fear my unsaved work would be lost, and now I don't have enough time to really dig back into it. I won't be able to do much until Sunday night or later, but these are the areas that could use some help now:

  • The categories I outlined seem good to me, but the sub-categories are certainly debatable. If someone has a better idea for orginization, do it.
  • The [skyhook (concept)|] material could be added in a subsection discussing them, or the complete analogy of skyhooks vs. cranes.
  • I could really use some help with the controversy section. I think we could focus a short paragraph on the main points of controversy, and include some internal and external links for each, if possible. In my view, it should be controversy specific to the book, such as Gould's response, rather than controversy that is related to the book, like debate over the gene-centric view of evolution or intelligent design, unless there is good reason to do otherwise.
  • Dennett borrowed a lot of his ideas for the book, and I think our See Also section should reflect that, with links to Dawkins, Turing, etc.

That's about all for now. I am sorry if anyone was fond of the list of quotes we had before, but I think they detracted from readability, created NPOV issues, and gave the impression of a book attacking social and religous systems, which is not quite right.—Preceding unsigned comment added by Didius (talkcontribs) 23:20, 15 September 2006


Dennett's view of Gould; Criticism[edit]

I'm finding it hard to see what the actual dispute is between Dennett and Gould from this article. It tells me little more than that Dennett disagrees with Gould for being unscientific, and then quotes great wads of Gould's reply. I can hardly be expected to understand why Gould is so forceful — "Dennett's imperialist hope" is strong language — without more about the actual book. Nor is the essay by Gould from which the quotes are taken likely to be a good way to find out Dennett's side of the argument. topynate 22:03, 19 October 2007 (UTC)

Perhaps we should reduce the amount of space that is being taken up by Gould on this page. I think a quote and a link to the relevant articles would suffice. C8755 (talk) 22:20, 19 February 2008 (UTC)

There seems to be too much quoting of Gould in any case. But with the review from Maynard Smith I think we can take down the neutrality tag. Richard001 (talk) 23:03, 19 February 2008 (UTC)

major flaws in the intro of the article[edit]

I quote: "Dennett asserts that natural selection is a blind and algorithmic process which is sufficiently powerful to account for everything from the laws of physics and the creation of the Universe "

Where does he 'assert' this? show me the page. Seriously, that is a major claim, and I don't think for a second that Dennett has made this in his book. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Hexag1 (talkcontribs) 10:00, 10 November 2007 (UTC)

It sounds basically like what he said, although I don't remember whether he asserted it was responsible for the creation of the universe and the laws of physics, or just possibly responsible. Richard001 (talk) 23:01, 19 February 2008 (UTC)

Is the series related to the book?[edit]

Is the series (Darwin's Dangerous Idea at the Internet Movie Database) related to the book? Can someone create a page for the series? (I cannot.) This article points people to the 2001 PBS Evolution series which has an episode called Darwin's Dangerous Idea, but not to the 2009 BBC series called Darwin's Dangerous Idea. 24.57.239.43 (talk) 05:29, 13 February 2011 (UTC)