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From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  2,193 ratings  ·  295 reviews
How did we come to have minds? For centuries, poets, philosophers, psychologists, and physicists have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled abilities. Disciples of Darwin have explained how natural selection produced plants, but what about the human mind?

In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, Daniel C. Dennett builds on recent discoveries from biology and compute
Paperback, 477 pages
Published February 20th 2018 by W. W. Norton Company (first published February 7th 2017)
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James Lloyd If you want to learn more about Bach (or Bacteria, for that matter), you'll be disappointed. Bach is mentioned several times, but plays a very minor r…moreIf you want to learn more about Bach (or Bacteria, for that matter), you'll be disappointed. Bach is mentioned several times, but plays a very minor role in the book's ideas. But I hope that doesn't discourage you from reading the book, which I think is truly a marvelous book.(less)

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Every time I read Dennett, I wonder why I have put myself through such an ordeal. Aside from wanting to yell at Dennett, who isn't even in the room, I get the urge to throw things and yell, "No, no, and just NO!".

Skillfully, Dennett gives the impression that he is a deep and critical thinker. He does this by filling his many books and many long, long articles with some of the best arguments against his own work, and then addressing the criticisms. That gives the reader the false impression that
With every respect to Dennett's considerable intellect, this was a mess of a book. I guess it was partly my fault for thinking that I was about to read a scientific textbook on the origin and evolution of intelligence. Instead, it felt like I was trapped in a dull cocktail party with a group of warring philosophers arguing on abstract issues such as the sense of one's self, cultural memetics, the nature of competence etc. Note that it's not these topics per se that I find dull, but the fact that ...more
Dan Graser
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Surveying Dennett's huge output, this is perhaps his most ambitious and accessible work. The criticisms below that there isn't much in the way of new thinking on several areas is valid and I don't think that proposing many grand new ideas was his intention for this work. As he states toward the beginning of the book:

"Undaunted, I am trying once again and going for the whole story this time. I think we have made tremendous scientific progress in the last 20 years; many of the impressionistic hunc
D.L. Morrese
The title of this book implies a journey, and that's what it feels like...a long, twisty one with diversions to view the scenery, most of which, frankly, is rather dull. Along the way we're supposed to have learned something about 'the evolution of minds', and perhaps we do, a bit, but not much, honestly, and after reading this, I'm not sure what it was. There is a long diversion to look at words as memes, and a lengthy stopover to take a few kicks at the dead horse of Descartes' mind/body duali ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
There is intelligent design. It's just not what the creationist think it is. Nature gives us competencies without comprehension. Comprehension means full understanding. Dennett gives the example of how the computer can do arithmetic without understanding as explained by Turing. His holy trinity within this book are Turing, Hume and Darwin. Each thinker provides an inversion to our 'manifest' knowledge by allowing an opening to the window to scientific knowledge. He'll explain in detail how each ...more
2.5 stars I had high hopes for this book, but -- *YAWN* Dennet's main ideas are interesting enough but there's not much new in this book. One gets the sense he is being paid per word, because he is extremely repetitive, the book just goes on and on and on; it is incredibly tedious and dull much of the time. 400+ pages that could be condensed into under 100. I forced myself to stay with the book, simply because this is Daniel C. Dennett, but had it been just about anyone else, I would have ditche ...more
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Dennett and I think he's brilliant. At the same time he's quirky and cranky and I don't know what else. A few bits in the book flew past me, but not so much - I think he was trying to reach a big audience. But I think the reason why I understood maybe 90% of this instead of 60% is because I've read other books of his and it's all beginning to sink in. So anyway, I liked it a lot, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to someone who hasn't already read and enjoyed Dennett.
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 2017 philosopher of biology and neuroscience Daniel Dennett published a book that one could call his magnum opus. Dennett has dedicated his career to understanding the implications of the theory of evolution - which he sees as a set of algorithms - and applying the developments in neuroscience to philosophical debates on consciousness and free will.

In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, Dennett explores his entire career and updates his arguments - which he developed over more than three decades
Ken Rideout
Although I agree with the author and he is clearly a smart guy, I found this book to be fairly self-indulgent and meandering (lots of take-down of others in the field who think differently or who have attacked his ideas in the past).

In the end, I didn't feel that much new was brought to the idea of consciousness-is-some-kind-of-illusion argument (which I totally buy!).

Here are some of his key ideas:
-Humans are special in our meta-cognition but not that special (we know bacteria exist but they
Walter Schutjens
1.0 Events during the reading of 'From Bacteria to Bach and Back'-

1. Meeting Daniel C. Dennett!
I was lucky enough to find Dennett giving a lecture at the Psycholinguistics Institute of Nijmegen on Oct. 17th, a mere 3 hours by train from my native the Hague. This of course was an opportunity I could not afford to miss, and so I attended the lecture along with my good friend and fellow pseudo-philosopher Leon Grant. The lecture was specifically regarding this book, and so while reading it I had
Nick Klagge
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that I really liked, wanted to write a great review for, and consequently put off writing the review for way too long! I am remedying that now, not by writing a great review, but by writing a review.

Dennett's purpose in the book is to sketch an outline of how consciousness as humans experience it could have grown out of a purely mechanistic process. This has been a focus of much of his work for decades, but he says in this book that he wants to attempt a summation, and
Jules Findlay
There is very little about Bacteria, even less about Bach. Dennett revisits his arguments to date, combining them into a fairly long-winded and non-essential worldview. It’s the same reductive materialist ontology that permeates all of his work.

He attempts to explain away the problem of consciousness, accusing us of being faillible to ‘Cartesian gravity’. In other words there is no such things as ‘I’. Our minds are thousands of tiny robots dancing and self-control is an illusion. The mind isn’t
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love the way Dennett thinks and reasons. He is the king of finding good analogies to explain difficult concepts. It's just a joy to hear him think through problems and offer counter arguments and reason his way through problems. I loved his other books and a friend recommended I read this one after I was over the moon about The Human Instinct by Miller. And perhaps if I had read this one first, I would love loved it, but the Miller book was so much more profound than this one. The promise of t ...more
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are great ideas in here, but they are not presented in a clear or convincing way. Some people may find Dennett's (somewhat subversive) writing style enjoyable, but I find it tedious and meandering. It is more of a clearinghouse of the author's scholarly knowledge than any organized idea or thesis. Try the first chapter and see if it works for you. I expected the intro to be a bit more scattered than the rest of the book, but unfortunately it never gets any better.
That said, some of his met
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Way too much "I/Me"; the author obviously likes to "hear" himself write. Frequently incomprehensibly didactic, and purposefully pedantic. Sample sentence: "We won't have a complete science of consciousness until we can align our manifest-image identifications of mental states by their contents with scientific-image identifications of the subpersonal information structures and events that are causally responsible for generating the details of the user-illusion we take ourselves to operate in." Ri ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
First I really enjoyed the book even though many felt Dennett circled around topics too much. I enjoyed the circling around an idea and looking at it from different angles. Like a diamond with many facets explaining big topics like origins of life, language, consciousness are gonna take a careful dissection. I also get the vibe that Dennett is used to being distorted or misunderstood so he wanted to nail his case. His story on consciousness is actually quite plausible. I think Graziano whose boo ...more
Kent Winward
Apr 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dennett continues more on how our consciousness is an emergent property of evolution, but the thing that struck me the most was the underlying implication that our consciousness seems to arise almost outside ourselves. Without language and social structure, we don't have consciousness. Our body remembers early childhood trauma, our mind does not. Our first conscious memories only come until we are three or four as we first start to realize we are part of a bigger world. (This is my musings, not ...more
Jun 08, 2019 rated it liked it
This book explores the evolution of the human mind. Unfortunately, Dennett isn't an evolutionary biologist, so it's mostly driven by philosophical questions. Sometimes those questions have answers, other times, frustratingly, they do not. This isn't as well organized as other books/arguments by Dennett. It reuses a lot of material from his other books.

I'd recommend this one for anyone who isn't convinced that the human mind evolved.
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book feels it's made only of Prefaces. Every chapters so far is explaining why he's writing the book and asking readers not to be angry with him for what he's writing.

Write something of substance and let me decide if I want to be angry!

And I'm getting sick of authors explaining why they've chosen a guy (ie. Bach) over a woman. I am looking for a book on the brain, I don't care if it's male or female.

Have some balls and state your opinion.
Kayson Fakhar
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great overview of mind and evolution of it. sometimes you need to pause and think and read the whole page again so I think it's because of the complexity of the subject and not a problem of the writer.
Infected my necktop with lots of new memes.
First of all, dense and hard to read.

Second, a little too much academic squabbling.

But, third, very interesting.
Payel Kundu
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book is Dennett looking back on a long and prolific career, and summarizing what he has learned. Except it seems like Dennett has given up all ambition of being concise. This book was too long, and pretty self-indulgent. In classic Dennett style, he spends a lot of the book laying out the criticisms of his work, and then refuting them, which gives a nice logical structure to the book. However, there was absolutely nothing new. The point of it seems to be like a reference book, in case you w ...more
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dennett’s valiant and probably ultimate attempt at convincing us of his views on consciousness, which he generously admits are rather outlandish. Although, like most people, I don’t agree with his conclusions, his arguments leading up to those conclusions are valuable insights into the evolutionary process and are interesting to read.
His reasoning is more or less as follows: Life is information processing that produces design from the bottom up, by the blind, purposeless algorithm of natural sel
Jan vanTilburg
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting ideas and theories! Although it took way too long to get Back from Bach!
Much of the book is leading up to the concluding chapers. As interesting as the preceding were, they could have been much shorter.
My main reason to read this book was the sub tittle: The Evolution of Minds.
And to some degree the book delivered! There are explanations given where consciousness comes from and how understanding evolves.
Although Dennett does admit: ..”the goal of delineating and explaining our
Angie Boyter
I have enjoyed many of Dennett's books, but I DID NOT LAST LONG AT ALL in this one )which is why I decided not to give it a star rating. MAYBE it got better.)! It seems everything in his writing that has annoyed me at all is here in spades. One is his EXTENDED use of what he considers clever metaphors that he is so proud of he grinds them into the ground and that I too often do not find very apt, like his term "Cartesian gravity", which I initially had trouble understanding and then decided was ...more
Ben Zimmerman
Feb 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
Daniel Dennett, as a philosopher, is known for engaging a bit more with cognitive scientists and evolutionary biologists in forming his ideas, which made this work look interesting to me. I've read some of his work in the past, and my understanding is that he takes a stance that consciousness is an illusion, which has always been a contentious position and one that is difficult for me personally to understand (an illusion for whom? aren't illusions something?). I decided to read this book to see ...more
Teo 2050


Dennett DC (2017) (15:44) From Bacteria to Bach and Back - The Evolution of Minds

List of Illustrations

Part I: Turning Our World Upside Down

01. Introduction
• Welcome to the jungle
• A bird's eye view of the journey
• The Cartesian wound
• Cartesian gravity

02. Before Bacteria and Bach
• Why Bach?
• How investigating the prebiotic world is like playing chess

03. On the Origin of Reasons
• The death or rebirth of teleology?
• Different senses of "why"
• The evolution of "w
Dan Downing
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This effort at philosophical science probably deserves 5 Stars. Maybe 6. Densely written but conversational in style, by the end of its 400 odd pages one is pressed to recall what Chapter One was about. Dennett explores ground he has mostly covered before. Indeed, he self-references frequently. He also openly praises other thinkers and researchers, and openly discusses, albeit not at gossipy length, disagreements he has had with several of the Twentieth Centuries' scientific luminaries. Of cours ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Okay, so I do have a problem with Dennett's ideas. On the one hand, you can't easily deny his naturalistic perspective. In fact, he plays a role in my "conversion" into it. As a philosopher and cognitive scientist, he can collect and analyze data of evolutionary sciences quite adequately indeed. So speaking about physical information, everything fits pretty nicely and all. Many qualities about Homo sapiens are not that unique (in a sense that would appear magically), there is no need for special ...more
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Daniel Clement Dennett III is a prominent philosopher whose research centers on philosophy of mind, science, and biology, particularly as they relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Dennett is a noted atheist, avid sailor, and advocate of the Brights move ...more

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9 likes · 3 comments
“Darwin’s “strange inversion of reasoning” and Turing’s equally revolutionary inversion were aspects of a single discovery: competence without comprehension. Comprehension, far from being a Godlike talent from which all design must flow, is an emergent effect of systems of uncomprehending competence: natural selection on the one hand, and mindless computation on the other. These twin ideas have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but they still provoke dismay and disbelief in some quarters, which I have tried to dispel in this chapter. Creationists are not going to find commented code in the inner workings of organisms, and Cartesians are not going to find an immaterial res cogitans “where all the understanding happens".” 5 likes
“That's a rhetorical question, and trying to answer rhetorical questions instead of being cowed by them is a good habit to cultivate.” 4 likes
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